The Siyam (also Siyamopali and Siam ) Nikaya is a Buddhist monastic order of Sri Lanka. It is so named because it was established by a monk from Siam. The Siyam Nikaya has two major divisions ( Malwatta and Asgiriya) and five other divisions within the above two major units. The Malwatta and Asgiriya chapters have two seperate Maha Nayakas or chief Monks.
On the initiative of Ven. Weliwita Saranankara (1698-1778) the Thai monk Upali visited Kandy in 1753 during the reign of king Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747 - 1782), and performed upasampada (higher ordination, as distinct from samanera or novice ordination) for a group of Kandyan monks.
The Buddhist order had become extinct thrice during the preceding five hundred years and was re-established in the reigns of Vimala Dharma Suriya I (1591 - 1604) and Vimala Dharma Suriya II (1687 - 1707) as well. These re-establishments were short lived.
Upali Thera believed the Buddhist Sangha in Kandy was suffering from a state of corruption, which included having families and practicing astrology . His efforts were aimed at "purifying" the practices of the monastic order.
Introduction of caste discrimination
However, the Siam Nikaya now grants Higher ordination only to the Radala and Govigama castes. In the Kandyan region, higher ordination is further restricted only to 'Kandyan Govigamas' and high positions within the sect are reserved purely for the Radala caste. These discriminations are meant solely to exclude non-Govigama Sri Lankans. No restrictions seem to apply on ordaining foreigners of any nationality or on attracting non-Govigama patrons and receiving their donations.
The conspiracy of restricting higher ordination to the Govigama caste is attributed to the year 1764 - just over a decade after the establishment of this Siyam sect by Reverend Upali. This was a period when Buddhist Vinaya rules had been virtually abandoned and some members of the Buddhist Sangha in the Kandyan Kingdom privately held land, had wives and children, resided in private homes and were frequently called Ganinnanses. This was a period when the traditional nobility of the Kandyan Kingdom was decimated by continuous wars with invading Dutch armies from the Maritime Provinces or by falling into disfavour wih Kandyan kings who were swayed by intrigues. In the maritime provinces too a new order was replacing the old.
Mandarampura Puvata, a text from the Kandyan perid, narrates how the Siyam Nikaya came to be a Govigama preserve. The increased numbers ordained by the Sangharaja would obviously have brought in large numbers of monks from the Govi caste. They appear to have used their numbers to push out all others from the monastic order. Unlike in previous periods, the Vaduga dynasty did not have any princes in the sangha. This radical change of excluding all but the Govi caste from the monastic order had not been a unanimous decision by the body of the sangha. The Mandarampura Puvata goes on to say that thirty two ‘senior’ members of the Sangha who opposed this change were banished to Jaffna by the monks who led the despicable conspiracy.
Consequenses of Caste discrimination
The Govigama exclusivity of the Sangha, thus introduced in 1764, was quickly challenged by other castes in 1772 and 1798 by performing higher ordination ceremonies, respectively in Totagamuwa and Tangalle. However the validity of these ordinations was questioned on the grounds of unbroken pupillary succession.
Therefore, in 1799, a Buddhist monk from the Salagama caste proceeded to Burma, obtained higher ordination, returned to Sri Lanka and established the Amarapura Nikaya sect. He was followed by Karava and Durava monks and by 1810 all three castes had regained the higher ordination denied to them in 1764 by the Govi conspirators. Ven. Weliwita Saranankara who survived several attempts at his life had also ordained a few non-govigamas even after the ban.
The Buddha has frequently referred to himself as ‘the kinsman of the Sun’ (ie. that he is a descendant of the Solar Dynasty Kshatriya Caste) in the Atanatiya Sutta, Upakkilesa Sutta, Phena Sutta and several other Suttas, emphasizing his Kshatriya caste. And in the the Agganna Sutta, Ambattha Sutta, Madura Sutta and several other Suttas the Buddha says : “the Kshatriya caste is the highest caste”.
Ancient texts such as the Pújavaliya say that a Buddha will never be born in the Govi caste as the Govi caste is a low caste. The 10th century Dampiyaatuvagetapadaya and the 12th century Darmapradeepikava go even further and state that the Govi caste is a 'Neecha' (despised)caste. (Dampiyaatuvagetapadaya 217. Darmapradeepikava 190). However, historically caste discrimination was never practiced in the Buddhist monastic order and persons of all castes had been ordained in the order.
The Buddha has also preached that creating divisions within the sangha by such divisive practices as caste discrimination. As such it introducing caste discrimination into the Buddhist order is a heinous crime. However, the radical change of ordination rules adopted by by the Siyam Nikaya in 1764, are still strictly observed by it and it plagues the Sri Lankan Buddhist Sangha, and the Sangha remains divided on caste lines.
The Siyam Nikaya justifies it's caste discrimination policy by citing a decree issued by a Hindu king. However this so called decree has never been made available for inspection and the existence of a genuine royal decree is doubtful.
Watch youtube video of Rev. Dodampahala Rahula speaking about the need to end caste discrimination in the Siyam Nikaya, in the presence of Rev. Maduluwave Sobhita, a Siyam Nikaya chief monk. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJhX9XEZA8U
However, despite the unbuddhistic and despicable caste discrimination practiced by the Siyam Nikaya, Sri Lankan governments continue to recognise this sect as the premier Budhist sect in Sri Lanka and accords it primacy over all the other Buddhist sects.
The number of Siyam Nikaya Temples and monks
(Estimates from Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka)
Malvatu Parshavaya (including Sri Rohana Parshavaya)
Rangiri Dambulu Parshavaya
Mahavihara Vansika Vanavasa Nikaya
Kotte Sri Kalyani Saamagri Nikaya
In 1764, the Siyam Nikaya became a Govigama only Nikaya. Even now it discriminates against all Buddhists of all other castes and denies them ordination.
Ironically, ancient Buddhist texts such as the Pújavaliya say that Buddhas have never been and will never be born in the Govi caste as the Govi caste is a low caste. The 10th century Dampiyaatuvagetapadaya and the 12th century Darmapradeepikava go even further and state that the Govi caste is a 'Neecha' (despised)caste.
The Buddha has frequently referred to himself as ‘the kinsman of the Sun’ (ie. that he is a descendant of the Solar Dynasty Kshatriya Caste) in the Atanatiya Sutta, Upakkilesa Sutta, Phena Sutta and several other Suttas and emphasized his Kshatriya caste.
However, Govigama dominated Sri Lankan governments continue to recognise the Siyam Nikaya as the premier Budhist sect in Sri Lanka and accords it primacy over the Amarapura and Ramanna Buddhist sects which are open to all castes.
Kshatriya Maha Sabha, Sri Lanka