Aloka

 

 BUDDHIST PERSONALITIES - Page 3.


 

  PERSONALITIES INDEX - Page 3 

 

P3.01   Most Venerable Hagoda Khemananda Nayaka thera - Born at Hegoda in Galle...

P3.02   Forgotten Buddhist pioneers from Galle

P3.03   My first encounter with a Buddhist Monk - Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi Remembers Ven. Thich Minh Chau

P3.04   Major General Ananda Weerasekera - Soldier in search of Supreme bliss

P3.05   Brahmachchari Walisinghe Harischandra - Saved sacred city of Anuradhapura

P3.06   Walisinghe Harischandra - The young revivalist

P3.07   Sir Cyril de Zoysa’s contribution to uplifting Buddha Sasana

P3.08   Sir Cyril de Zoysa, the great Buddhist devotee

P3.09   Understanding Ven. Nagarjuna

P3.10   Valisinghe Harischandra - The Fearless Buddhist Leader

P3.11   Alec Robertson - An eloquent propagator of the Dhamma

P3.12   Anagarika Dharmapala: His contribution towards the expansion of the teachings of the Buddha

P3.13    Rajah Kuruppu - A Good Buddhist

P3.14    Venerable Fa-Hien - Down the roads of a Buddhist explorer

P3.15    The Buddhist that Emperor Asoka was - An in-depth study of his services to Buddhism

P3.16    The continuing efforts of the Maha Theras to preserve the Dhamma in purity

P3.17    Anagarika Dharmapala: His vision and mission

P3.18    Anagarika’s efforts to foster Buddhism in Asia began in Adyar - The 151st birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala

P3.19    Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Nayake Thero - Irreparable loss of a tireless social reformer

 

 

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P3.01  Most Venerable Hagoda Khemananda Nayaka thera

Prof. Asanga Tilakaratne

Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, Colombo

The most Venerable Hagoda Khamananda Nayaka thera passed away on March 13, 2003 at the age of 83. His passing away marks the end of this worldly journey of another erudite Buddhist monk who was a combination of both traditional and modern scholarship.

Born at Hegoda in Galle on December 20, 1920, he entered monkhood at the age of 13 under the tutelage of the Venerable Hegoda Piyananda and the Venerable Hagoda Sumanatissa theras. Having received his early monastic education at Saddharmodya Pirivena, Katukoliha, Induruwa, he entered prestigious Vidyodaya Pirivena in 1942 and completed the course in 1944. He passed the final examination of Oriental Studies Society, Colombo in 1950 and obtained ‘Rajakeeya Pandit’ degree which was considered to be the mark of the culmination of traditional oriental scholarship.

The Venerable monk did not stop at that. In 1954, he went to India and entered Bihar University and competed a Bachelors (Special) and a Masters, winning awards at both examinations. Subsequently, in what is called the Doctoral Diploma, he claimed the gold medal by topping the batch. He did these studies in English medium while he gained a good working knowledge in Hindi language.

With Pracina Pandit degree and the final at Vidyodaya, the Venerable monk had acquired mastery over languages such as Sinhala, Pali, Sanskirt, Prakrit and subjects such as History, Literature, Archaeology and Logic. With his studies in India he was exposed to the rich academic tradition of South Asia was born even fifteen centuries prior to the birth of Christianity. With this rich academic background, the Venerable Khemananda Nayaka thera was undoubtedly a perfect combination of both traditional and modern traditions of knowledge.

Back in Sri Lanka, he served in several schools and pirivenas as a teacher for several years. He was the Principal of Vidyaloka Privena Galle, which was one of the leading centres of education in the region and it is said that the pirivena experienced its best years under his leadership. Before his brief illness, he was the Vice-principal of Vidyodaya Pirivena, Maligakanda and he also served in the Editorial Boards of Buddha Jayanti Tripitaka Translation and Abridged Sinhala Version of the Tripitaka.

Amid all these multifarious ways of contributing to the Sasana and the scholarship, his most outstanding contributions were his academic writings. Among his scholarly works - Theravada Nyaya must be counted as number one. The work is meant to develop logic and epistemology in Theravada Buddhism. The effort is the first of its kind and an innovative academic exercise.

In addition to this master work the Venerable thera wrote several big and small books and a large number of scholarly articles. His small but valuable book on the doctrine of anatta was translated into English.

A noteworthy of the character in his academic writings was his capacity to develop his own independent interpretations and views. As a Buddhist monk, the venerable thera was an embodiment of traditional monastic discipline; as a scholar, however, he was not bound by tradition. He had the courage to develop new ideas and to defend them against criticism.

Speaking of the personal qualities, we cannot but be impressed at his methodicity, punctuality and orderliness displayed in his public behaviour. The reason why he could achieve so much was the discipline that characterized his behaviour. At last movement also he taught a lesson to us by donating his body to the Medical Faculty of Colombo according to his last will.

There is so much more to say about this Venerable Bhikkhu who dedicated his life to academic pursuits.

There is so much to learn from his exemplary way of life. In a period when the monks with monastic purpose and academic distinction are a vanishing breed, the passing away of the Venerable Khemananda Nayake thera is undoubtedly a great loss to the Sasana and to the Buddhist scholarship.

May the Venerable Thera attain Nirvana!

island.lk/2003/06/10


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P3.02  Forgotten Buddhist pioneers from Galle

One hundred and third anniversary of the renovation of Sri Maha Bodhi

Dr. Janaka Goonetilleke

 

Representing Ceylon: E.R. Gooneratne, fourth from right, at the Buckingham Palace garden party for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee

It was with great elation that Mudliyar E R Gooneratne the Pali scholar, sec to Pali text Society, Member of the Asiatic Society visited the Gooneratne Mudalindaramaya (Simbali Avasaya) one day in 1906. He had just completed the translation of SARIPUTRA the book which describes the construction of Buddha Statues at the request of his friend Dr Ananda Comaraswamy. After discussion with the head priest of the avasaya Yatamalagala Somananda Thero it was decided to renovate and reconstruct a Buddha statue in Anuradhapura as stated by the above priest in his introduction in his veda book RAGOSHDANIDIYA a hand book of Medicine of the ancient kings of Sri Lanka. He further states in his introduction that Mudliyar E R Gooneratne suggested that they reconstruct the Buddha Statue which was headless with a damaged body in Sri Maha Bodhi and visited Anuradhapura with a view to the above. Permission was taken from the Atarnastana committee to repair and renovate the said statue and build its premises which was called the SUGATH BO MEDURA . Having built it he handed it over to the atamastana committee with the installation of an inscription.

Dr Valisingha Harischandra

Dr Valisingha Harischandra the great Buddhist archaeologist in his book PURAVIYAWA confirms the above. He states in his book that the Buddha statue first built by King Devanampiyatissa two thousand two hundred years ago (Now about 2300 yrs ago) had been repaired many a time over the years. However at the time Mudliyar Gooneratne visited it was in great disrepair having not been renovated for hundreds of years. Work commenced in the Buddhist years 2450 and completed in the Buddhist year 2455. He describes BUDDHU MEDURA as 62 feet long and 30 feet wide. He further states that the platform measured 17 feet in length and 8 feet wide with a height of 4 feet. The Buddha statue was 14 feet in height. He also states that this statue was south of the jayasree maha bodhi. The reconstruction was carried out under the supervision of the head priest of the Simbali Avasaya now Gooneratne mudalindaramaya Professor Somananda Thero and the head priest of the North Central province Sumada Medankara Thero who unfortunately died before completion of the project in the Buddhist year 2451. It is said that the pioneer priests use to walk to Anuradhapura from Polgahawela according to the present head priest of Gooneratnaramaya.

It is also interesting to note that many years prior to the above the jayasree mahabodhi was cleaned, and the surroundings filled with sand and a rock wall built around it under the leadership of the head priest of Bataduwe Sugatharamaya Ven Ratanajothi thero also from Galle.

Mudliyar E R Gooneratne was a diarist whose diaries are available in the Archives. According to his diaries the netra mangaliya was performed on 21st of June 1911. The surroundings were decorated followed by a large sangika dana. Later in the day recitations started and the nethra mangalaya was completed on the 22nd June. Buddha puja was performed around 8.30 am. Followed by a sangika dana. On the 23rd of June the perahera was promenading the streets all the Rate mahathayas with their retinue of dancers were also in town. Pirith was chanted right throughout the night. After the perahera ‘that night Valisingha Harischandra delivered the discourse. He spoke of the vihares in India , The great bodhi at Buddha gaya. and quoted from the Chinese monk HOEN SANG. He spoke for 2 hours followed by Uyanwatte Revata Thero. He got into the mandapaya taking for his text EKO PUGGALO from anguttara commenced the preach. Whilst he was preaching the perahera reached the temple on the orders of Sasana Adikari SANGHA RAKITHA thero of Issurumuniyavihare with dancers and a male elephant an atapirikara and 80 feet of white cloth. Almost with this the chiefs in their uniforms entered the premises and offered flowers. High Priest in his robes with a Siamese chaplet given to his tutor Sid Sumana Medankara thero by his majesty the King of Siam read an acknowledgement of thanks for the good work.

The certicate of Gift (punyano modana pathraya) issued to E R Gooneratne confirms the above.

Ref:

1) Ragoshdanidiya Ven Yatarnalagala Somananda (Printed 1933)

2) Puravidiyawa Valisingha Harischandra" (Printed 1927)

3) Diary E R Gooneratne"

17 11 2009  - The Island

 

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P3.03   My first encounter with a Buddhist Monk

In the first week of August 1965, after finishing summer school, I set out to travel by car from New York to California. I was twenty years old and in September would be entering my senior year at Brooklyn College. I wanted to visit a friend who was spending the summer in San Francisco, and I managed to find a ride with a couple of fellow students. We started from the Sugar Bowl, a luncheonette near Brooklyn College, on a bright Monday morning. After a full day on the road we stopped in Madison, Wisconsin to spend the night at the home of some friends of the people with whom I was travelling.

This was the first time I had travelled west of the Pocono Mountains and the experience promised to be an exciting one. After a good night’s rest, the next morning I decided to take a walk. It was a bright, sunny day. My steps led me through quiet streets to a large, beautiful lake bordering the University of Wisconsin.

Turning inland, I soon found myself on the campus. As I was approaching a mall in the middle of the campus, something astonishing happened. To the right of my field of vision, the door of a big stone building suddenly swung open and out stepped a middle-aged man with East Asian features, wearing a yellow-orange robe. He was immediately followed by a tall American man who then caught up with him, and the two walked side by side talking.

At once I realized that I was looking at a Buddhist monk. I had never seen a Buddhist monk before, and in America at that time the number of real Buddhist monks probably could have been counted on one hand.

I had just begun to read about Buddhism a few months earlier, and I knew from my reading of Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha that the Buddha and his ordained disciples wore saffron robes. Thus I could identify the person I was seeing as a Buddhist monk.

Lightness

I was struck with wonder and amazement at the sight of this serene, self-composed man, who radiated a lightness, inner contentment, and dignity I had never seen in any Westerner.

The American man alongside him, presumably a professor, seemed to show him a certain respect and deference, which suggested to me that he was not an ordinary monk but a person of some stature. Just watching him walk across the mall, I was filled with joy and happiness. I think my feeling might have been similar to what a young brahmin in ancient India might have felt if he looked up and for the very first time saw, walking down a path close by, a monastic disciple of the ascetic Gotama, the man that people called “The Enlightened One.”

Path

I must have been about sixty yards from the path along which the two men walked.

I wanted to approach the monk and ask him who he was and what he was doing, and many other questions; but I was too shy, afraid that I would appear foolish. So I just stood there watching him from a distance, devouring him with my eyes, observing his every movement during the four or five minutes it took for them to walk across the mall. I was transfixed; I felt transported to another dimension of being. Something in my heart stirred with a deep yearning.

I think that if someone had come up behind me and struck me with a pin I would have felt nothing, so absorbed was I in the figure of this monk. Then he and the professor reached another building, the professor opened the door, and the two men vanished inside.

I still felt joy at this chance encounter with a Buddhist monk, but my joy was now dimmed by a note of sadness. My heart sank at the thought that this adventure was over and I had lost the opportunity to tap a living source of the wisdom of the East. Now, I thought, that wonderful monk will go his way, and I must go my way, and our paths will never cross again.

Still, I put this momentary sadness behind me, hurried back to the house where we had spent the night, and before long we were again on the road, heading for San Francisco.

The workings of karma are indeed strange and unfathomable! A little more than a year later, in September 1966, I entered Claremont Graduate School in California (twenty-five miles east of Los Angeles) to begin a doctoral program in philosophy. In the spring semester a Buddhist monk from Vietnam came to study at the same university and moved in just below me in the graduate residence hall.

Striking

He was not ‘serene and self-composed’ like the monk in Wisconsin but had a ‘happy-go-lucky’ manner about him that initially discouraged me from striking up an acquaintance with him.

However, once I got to know him, I came to like him and eventually accepted him as my first Buddhist teacher. By the time the summer of 1967 arrived, we were sharing the same apartment in the graduate residence hall. I had taken ordination from him as a novice-monk in the Vietnamese Buddhist order, and later we moved to a small house off the campus.

One day (I think it was in November 1967) he told me that a distinguished Buddhist monk from Vietnam named Venerable Thich Minh Chau was in the US and would soon be visiting Los Angeles. Thich Minh Chau, he said, was the rector of Van Hanh University and an accomplished Buddhist scholar. He had gotten a doctorate from Nalanda Buddhist Institute in India and had written an important comparative study of the Pali Majjhima Nikaya and the Chinese Madhyama Agama. My monk friend was planning to go to LA to meet Thich Minh Chau and he invited me to accompany him.

So one bright morning in the late autumn we arrived at the house of the Vietnamese family with whom the distinguished monk was staying. When the Ven. Minh Chau came out from his guest room, I saw a middle-aged man draped in a yellow-orange robe, serene and self-composed, dignified in manner, radiating goodness and sagacity. He looked indeed very much like the monk that I had seen two years before crossing the campus of the University of Wisconsin. Still, I couldn’t be sure, as it was not unlikely that two middle-aged East Asian monks could look alike. I had seen the monk at Wisconsin from a distance of seventy or eighty yards and thus couldn’t distinguish his facial features very well. So I decided to inquire. I had to wait patiently while my monk-friend, Ven. Minh Chau, and the host family spoke in Vietnamese. When I got an opportunity I asked him, "Is this your first visit to America, sir?" He said, "No, I was here a few years ago." That was what I expected. Then I asked: "By any chance, could the Venerable have been on the campus of the University of Wisconsin in early August 1965?" And he said, "In fact I was. I was visiting my friend, Professor Richard Robinson, who started a program of Buddhist Studies there." Then I told him about that day when I had watched him walk across the campus. He chuckled gently and said, "So this is not the first time we are meeting."

Several years later, when Ven. Thich Minh Chau next visited the U.S. (perhaps it was 1969), he stayed with us for a couple of days at our house in Claremont. Still later, when I was planning my trip to Asia to receive bhikkhu ordination and study the Dhamma, he gave me useful advice and provided me with a beautiful open letter of introduction to Buddhist authorities in Asia. I kept that letter and still have it with my belongings in Kandy. It was he who suggested that, when I go to Sri Lanka, I study with Ven. Nyanaponika Mahathera, though I could not fulfill that aim for several years after my arrival in the island. During my first years as a monk in Sri Lanka I occasionally wrote to Ven. Thich Minh Chau for advice and he always answered me promptly and thoughtfully.

I lost contact with him after South Vietnam fell to the Communists in 1975, but when planning this lecture, I recalled our earlier meetings, and these memories became so vivid that I felt I had to make inquiries about him. Through the internet, I contacted a Vietnamese webmaster in Australia and found out he is still alive in Ho Chi Minh City, though weak and ill with Parkinson’s disease. He must be close to 90 years of age. I have written a letter to him and sent it by e-mail to the Australian Vietnamese webmaster, who has forwarded it to a friend of his, a monk in Vietnam who is a former student of Ven. Minh Chau.

Over the past few decades, before his illness incapacitated him, Ven. Thich Minh Chau translated into Vietnamese the four Nikayas of the Pali Canon. This fact I learned only very recently. Now here is the remarkable and uncanny thing that raises some interesting questions. On that day in early August 1965, a twenty year old American college student, who would one day be the co-translator of the Majjhima Nikaya, translator of the Samyutta Nikaya, and (let us hope) some day the translator of the Anguttara Nikaya, encountered by sheer chance a Vietnamese monk, almost thirty years older than himself, who would translate the four Nikayas into Vietnamese. The American student at that time was not at all involved in Buddhist studies and had just started to read about Buddhism. He had no intention of meeting the monk, and in fact they did not meet face to face. Looked at from the standpoint of objective causality, the encounter was sheer coincidence. The American merely made a chance turn while taking a walk in a town he had arrived at by chance, saw the monk from the distance, and then went away without even knowing who he was. The monk didn’t see the American at all.

But what made me decide to take a walk that morning, and to turn off the lakeside road on to the campus at just that point and at just that moment? Was it really entirely a matter of chance, a mere series of random decisions? And if we can raise these questions, then let’s ask: What broader loop of conditionality might have connected my trip to California with the monk’s trip to Wisconsin at just that time? If I remember correctly, we were due to leave Brooklyn two days earlier, but a last-minute hitch forced us to postpone our departure until that Monday morning. If we had left as originally planned, my meeting with the monk would probably not have taken place.

When I left the campus, convinced we would never meet again, I did nothing to consciously facilitate another meeting with him. Yet I made a whole series of decisions, without any conscious design, that brought us into contact once again, and this time in a situation where we would be facing each other as fellow Dhamma-farers. I selected a graduate school that eventually brought me into contact with another Vietnamese monk with whom I became friends – yet I selected it without even knowing that this monk would attend that school (in fact, without even knowing anything about Vietnamese Buddhist monks); and through my friendship with him, I came to meet the monk whom I had seen two years earlier, whose deportment had so impressed me – yet without knowing that these two monks were acquainted. Though I knew that Thich Minh Chau had written a scholarly comparison of Pali and Chinese texts, years later, when I took up the work of translating Pali texts, I didn’t know that he was engaged in translating Pali Nikayas into Vietnamese. Yet our projects, in our respective mother languages, are almost identical. Was this also in some way foreshadowed in that chance encounter at the University of Wisconsin, a place to which I have never returned since that meeting and to which I shall probably never return in the course of this life?

Source: Parabola

 

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P3.04   Major General Ananda Weerasekera - Soldier in search of Supreme bliss

Premasara Epasinghe

 

The Mahavamsa records an account, referring to the Ten Giants (‘Dasamaha-Yodayas’) or military commanders of the victorious army of King Dutugemunu (383-407 BC) who played an important role in the liberation of Sri Lanka from the Tamil king, Elara.

They were Nandimitra, Suranimala, Mahasona, Velusumana, Kanchadeva, Pussadeva, Labiya-Vashba, Gottaimbara, Bharana and Theraputthabhaya.

King Dutugemunu, after a planned and sustained campaign, united Sri Lanka under one canopy and ruled the country according to the ‘Dasarajadharma’, followed by Sinhala rulers.

Theraputtabhaya entered the order. After Theraputtabhaya’s ordination, the only incident in modern history of the Sri Lanka Army, was recorded a few years ago. He fought against terrorists, later renunciated lay life and entered the Buddhist order.

This great soldier is Major General Ananda Weerasekera, who entered the Buddhist order a few years back as Bhikku Buddangala Ananda. Today he is living in a forest hermitage in Buddangala, in the Ampara district, meditating and preaching the ‘Buddha Dhamma’ to villagers and lives a serene, peaceful life.

Ananda Weerasekera was born on 29 April 1943. His parents are Mendis Weerasekera and Sumana Weerasekera. Ananda has two brothers (Donald and Sarath) and three sisters, Mallika, Sujatha and Shanthi. Ananda started schooling at Nalanda Vidyalaya, Colombo and he was a brilliant all-round student. He excelled in soccer and was a member of the Sinhala and English debating teams.

He was one of the finest goal-keepers produced by Nalanda and later he went on to represent Sri Lanka. His moment of glory was the day he captained Sri Lanka at the Junior Asian Soccer Tournament.

Ananda Weerasekera participated in five Junior Asian Soccer Tournaments, as a goal-keeper, which is a rare achievement.

The liberation of Elephant Pass

He was a gallant warrior. Major General Ananda Weerasekera commanded the the Army unit which regained control of Elephant Pass from the clutches of the LTTE.

It was undoubtedly a landmark victory for the Sri Lanka Army.

In the field of sports, he represented the army soccer team for many years as an excellent goal-keeper and later became a fine soccer administrator. He served as the General Secretary of the Sri Lanka Football Federation.

After retiring from the Sri Lanka Army, he was appointed Commissioner General of Rehabilitation.

He was a prolific reader, writer and preacher. The Malwatta Chapter, in appreciation of his services to Buddhism bestowed him with the title ‘Keerthi Sri Dhammapaarkshka’ which was a rare honour.

Ananda and I developed our life long friendship on the playing fields of Nalanda College. He is a ‘Kalyanamitta’. When he was the goal-keeper at Nalanda, I was the wicket-keeper of the cricket team in the late 1950s.

His renunciation of ownership of worldly possessions reminds us of the stanza of Dhammapada – ‘Treasury of Truth’ (‘Magga Vagga – The way of the Path’).

 

Stanza 277-278:

Sabbe Sankhara Aniccati - Yada Pannaya Passati

Atha Nibbindati Dukkhe - Esa Masso Visuddiya

(277)

Sabbe Sankhara Dukkhati - Yada Pannaya Passati

Atha Nibbandati Dukkhe - Esa Maggo Visuddhiya

(278)

He who realizes that all conditioned things are painful will be passive in pain. This itself will lead him to purity.

The Buddha uttered these verses, residing at the Jetavana Monastery.

When Ananda Weerasekera was the Commanding Officer of NCP, he guarded the Sacred Jayasiri Maha Bo Tree.

He said; "Premasara, we got information that the terrorists were planning an attack on the Jeyasiri Maha Bodhiya. I personally stayed at the Udamaluwa, day and night for a couple of days and kept my troops round the premises. I was prepared to sacrifice my life to save our precious Jayasiri Maha Bo Tree. Of course, they never attacked it during my time when I was the Commanding Officer," stated Bhikku Ananda.

Military life and Buddhist philosophy are poles apart. Andnda is a rare personality, who possessed a golden heart. He is compassionate and kind.

His name will go down in military history as a brave Army Major General, who contributed his might to safeguard the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our beloved motherland from the clutches of terrorism.

After retiring from the Sri Lanka Army he served at Airport and Aviation Services as Deputy Chairman and later as a top executive at the Maharaja Organisation.

He was a dutiful father. His beloved wife, Sita, passed away a few years ago. She was the wind behind his wings.

They have three children. Suraj, who is a pilot, Manoj and Kanchana, both doctors. He was also a fatherly figure to his brother, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, the present MP for the Digamadulla-Ampara district. Sarath is a fine orator and a Buddhist scholar.

On Full Moon Poya Day in 2007, Major General Ananda Weerasekera entered the Buddhist order, under Kalutara Dhammananda Thera, who was his eacher. Presently, he lives at the Forest Hermitage, Aaranya Senasenaya, in Buddhangala, as Bhikku Buddangala Ananda.

02 03 2011 - The Island

 

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P3.05   Brahmachchari Walisinghe Harischandra

Saved sacred city of Anuradhapura

Walter Wijenayake

Edward De Silva, turned Brahmachchari Walisinghe Harischandra, was born on July 09, 1876, at Mahahunupitiya, (a suburban village of Negombo), to the family of Walisinghe Hendrick de Silva and Pehandi Marthnanda de Silva Gunasekera. He had been a law student at the age of 22 years.
His 96th death anniversary fell on Sep.13


After the end of the one, before the last century there emerged a number of National Heroes of whom one was Brahmachchari Walisinghe Harischandra. They had a common goal which was to regain freedom from foreign domination for the purpose of gaining political freedom.

Young Harischandra had his elementary education at the Hunupitiya Junior School under the guidance of the late Ven. Dharmaratnetissa Nayake Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Maha Hunupitiya Sugatharama Temple, and studied English at St. Mary’s College, Negombo. His parents wanted to make him a lawyer, and so he was admitted to Wesley College, Colombo. Later he was admitted to the Law College.

As an itinerant preacher, he travelled the country to the other, speaking on topics such as ‘Downfall of the Sinhala Buddhists,’ and ‘Temperance and sacred sites and shrines of the ancient city of Anuradhapura and Mihintale.’ At his age of 23 the Buddhist shrines of Anuradhapura had no land attached to them. All that land was claimed by the government.

The Government allowed dingy boutiques to spring up in the very front of the Sacred Bodhi Tree. They built shabby markets, allowed taverns and liquor shops, butcher stalls and all the paraphernalia of an unplanned little shanty town.

One great contribution by him was to make Anuradhapura a sacred city. His heart sank when he saw how Anuradhapura looked like in those days. Anuradhapura - the cradle of Buddhist culture, a city hallowed by visits from Mahinda Thero and Sangamitta Theri. His mind might have gone centuries back to the glorious times of King Devanampiyatissa and King Dutugemunu. What an ignominious contrast:

Catholic-dominated colonial masters showed no respect to Buddhist shrines and monuments of archeological interest.

The Kingdom of Anuradhapura came to be abandoned in 1017 with her capture by the Cholas. However, King Vijaya Bahu 1, by a supreme effort, expelled the invaders and restored freedom in 1070. After his consecration the King shifted to Polonnaruwa.

The greatness of the Anuradhapura era, the days of her achievements and glory were extinguished for ever, Until the British rulers virtually rediscovered her in the early decades of the 19th century, she lay abandoned and forgotten in the deep slumber, as it were, buried under a cover of impenetrable jungle.

The sacred places of worship, particularly the sacred Bo-tree were entirely neglected by the Buddhists. Even in those forgotten days, in the months of Wesak and Poson, particularly, in the month of Poson, at least a handful of devotees from the neighbouring villages continued to visit it, even in the darkest times, when the place was the untrammelled haunt of wild elephants and other denizens of the wild. A few devoted Bhikkhus always lived close to the sacred Bo-tree, eking out a precarious existence, attending to the daily rituals of worship without a break.

However, with the dawn of the 20th century, the Sinhala Buddhists began opening their eyes to the great heritage of religious and cultural remains lying buried under the forests of Anuradhapura. At this juncture, a Buddhist monk, who had come from the deep South - Naranvita Unnase - had taken upon himself, single handed, the impossible task of restoration of the Ruwanveliseya which at the time was no more than a mis-shapen mound of bricks, overgrown with trees; there was another monk named Singharakhita who had taken up the rehabilitation of Isurumuniya; then there was the case of a Siamese Buddhist Prince who thought he should restore the Mirisavetiya dagaba and had handed over a sum of Rs. 12,500/- to the Governor for the project.

Another monk - Pilagamuwe Rewatha - undertook the repair of Thuparama. But none of them had the required resources, either in labour or finance, and more than that, in the technical knowledge, how to get far with such massive undertakings and so, in a short time, their enthusiasm petered put and the monuments were left in worse condition than they were, for, under the cover of forest, nature had provided these structures a certain protection in its own way.

It is about this time that Walisinghe Harischandra appeared on the Anuradhapura scene. He devoted his time, energy and substance for the revival of Buddhism and restoring the sacred city of Anuradhapura which he identified with the departed glory of the nation, to its rightful owners, the Sinhala Buddhists.

He set up the Anuradhapura Buddhist Defence Committee for the protection and rehabilitation of the Buddhist monuments and, generally to promote Buddhist interests there.

Witnessing the senseless depredations that the British administrators were committing on the ruins of the sacred places under the guise of archeological excavations, Harischandra, as secretary of the ABDC, vehemently protested to everyone who, he thought, could stop this vandalism. He had other grievances, too; he took strong objection to the opening of an arrack tavern just opposite the sacred Bo-tree and foreign liquor shops in other places; he objected to the presence of beef stalls and market buildings amidst the sites of religious monuments; he objected to building of government offices and quarters within the sacred area.

With his numerous protests, petitions and memorials and other related activities, Harischandra soon become a marked man as a trouble-maker among the officialdom who thwarted him at every turn and, in fact, was waiting for an opportunity to nab him. He protested to the legal authorities when he found the Police unwilling to entertain his complaints; when that failed, he petitioned the Governor and when that, too, failed, he got Anagarika Dharmapala who was at this time abroad, to appeal to the King in England. All his efforts were of little avail for, even the King was misled. The only result of all this was reprisals and persecution.

The Government Agent of Anuradhapura was unwilling to recognise the rights of the Buddhists and Buddhist organisations of access to, and the use of, the Buddhist sites and lands of the sacred city:

Every attempt by the Buddhists to use this land for religious purposes ie., the area of the Mahameuna Yuana and the Mahamaluwa of the sacred Bo-tree, was thwarted by the authorities, influenced by the Catholics, and they were driven out from such lands. Further, the authorities said that the Buddhists had no claim on that land and that it all belonged to the Crown.

The Government Agent obviously proceeded from the promise that all land that had not been declared by the Temple Lands Commission under ordinance No. 10 of 1856, as temple land, was automatically vested in the Crown. There was at the time on ‘Atamastana Committee’ which had been set up to manage the sacred sites at Anuradhapura and to advise the GA on them when necessary but Harischandra was not prepared to accept its authority or its bona fides because, he argued, it was composed of the subordinates of the GA, namely, the three Ratemahatmayas, the seventeen Koralemahatmayas and the Chief of the Nuwarawewa family who would all be loyal always to the GA and never be willing to incur his displeasure; it would be useless to the Buddhists in the event of interests clashing between them and the GA.

It was when matters were simmering in this state that certain events took place to aggravate the already tense situation. On the Poson Poya day, 1903, a crowd of people had gathered on the Mahamaluwa opposite the sacred Bo-tree and through this crowd a certain Mr. Amarasekera, a Mudliyar of the Kachcheri, was riding his horse when the exited animal knocked down an old woman and injured her. The old husband of the woman ran behind the Mudliyar and remonstrated over what he had done; thereupon, the Mudliyar got down from his horse and severely assaulted the old man. Feelings of the crowd, who witnessed this act of brutality, ran high and there was a commotion: The infuriated crowd then ran amok and attacked a church and the Mission House and wrecked them and thereafter destroyed the meat stalls that stood close to the Sacred B-tree that had always been an eye-score to the devotees.

The police were called in to quell the uproar which they failed to do; first the Police Magistrate and then the GA intervened but the crowd refused to be quietened. It was then that the GA appealed to Harischandra who was there, to address the people which he did, and only then did the crowd quieten and soon peace was restored.

The Police Magistrate who heard the case against the Mudliyar found him guilty and fined Rs. 60/- but on appealing to the Supreme Court, the proceedings of the lower court were quashed and the Mudliyar was acquitted.

A few days later Harischandra was arrested on charges of having led a riot and committed arson and secrilegal. Though it was only a few days earlier that the Magistrate had occasion to praise and thank Harischandra for helping him to restore order when people were rioting.

However, sometime back he wrote to the local authorities who were under pressure from Catholic Missionaries. But it was in vain. Subsequently he wrote to the colonial office in London, explaining that the residential and commercial places, including non-Buddhist elements, should be shifted from the vicinity of the sacred places in Anuradhapura. It was later granted.

Harischandra organised a ‘Anusasana’ commencing from his home town, Negombo, and carried on a long struggle to wake up Sinhala people and review Buddhism. His appeal to the Nation was enriched with great Buddhist Value and thought.

He published a book entitled ‘The Sacred City of Anuradhapura’ where he described the adversities and abuses caused by the British. He also sent a copy of this book to King Edward VII to appoint a commission to inquire into the grievances of the Buddhist population of the country.

Harischandra protested at the detached attitude of the early archaeologists who were under the influence of Catholics. When the whole of Mihintale was about to be declared a Crown Land under the Waste Land Ordinance, he agitated on behalf of the Buddhists and was successful in getting a part of it as temple property.

He decided to take the life of a ‘Brahamachchari’ at the General meeting of Maha Bodhi Society held in January 1899 presided over by the Parivenadhipathy of Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Maha Thera.

He rendered a yeoman service for the restoration of ancient Buddhist shrines in Anuradhapura and Mihintale. His efforts caused the restoration of Ruwanveli Maha Seya and other ancient ruins in Raja Rata.

Further he was actively working in India for two years for the Maha Bodhi Society.

He had published a considerable number of books such as ‘Description of the Sacred City of Anuradhapura,’ ‘Great Story of King Dutugemunu,’ ‘Lumbini’, ‘Mahabodhi’, ‘The Significance of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi’, ‘Life of King Devanampiyatissa’, He was also the editor of the magazine ‘Mahabodhi’.

He breathed his last on September 13, 1913, with the satisfaction that he had been able to save the sacred city of Anuradhapura.

16 09 2009 - The Island

 

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P3.06   Walisinghe Harischandra - The young revivalist

Jayanatha Mendis

 

What is important to know of a man is how he lived not how long he lived Walisinghe Harischandra lived for only 37 years, but within this relatively short period what he did to protect the places sacred to Buddhists and other sites of archaeological or historical interest was much and invaluable.

The most important political event in the 19th century was the downfall of the Kandyan Kingdom and the establishment of British rule in 1815. When the march to Kandy began, Gen. Brownrigg declared it was "Led by the invitation of the Chiefs and welcomed by the acclamation of the people."

The Lion Flag that Vijaya had planted in Thambapanni was hauled down and the Union Jack went up on the 2nd of March 1815. On this day, in the Hall of Audience of the Kandyan Kings, the historic Kandyan Convention was signed. Its Article 5 guaranteed the inviolability of the national religion and the "Protection and the maintenance of its rites, priests and temples".

In a separate dispatch to the Secretary of State the General wrote, "In truth, our secure possession of the country hinged upon this point. I found it necessary to quieten all uneasiness respecting it by an Article of Guarantee couched in the most unqualified terms". So we know the British authorities were not serious about their promises.

Even before the ink had dried in the historic document, Keppetipola rose in open rebellion against the new administration proving that the people were disillusioned and dissatisfied with the Colonial administration.

This 1818 rebellion was ruthlessly put down but a smouldering discontent towards administration continued. The root cause of this hostility to the new regime was the fact Buddhist kings were succeeded by Christian governors who couldn't genuinely take part in Buddhist rites festivals, processions and so on with the same religious zeal as hereditary kings.

Buddhism flourished and granaries were replenished with regular harvests nourished by waters from a network of ingeniously built canals and tanks - all under royal patronage.

Now that this royal patronage missing, tropical jungle slowly and steadily crept over breached tanks, uninhabited villages, abandoned paddy lands, enveloping in itself medieval courtyards, monastic sites and many remains of archaeological or sculptural value vivified by nameless artists, all pointing to a civilization which, with all its ups and downs continued to flourished for nearly twenty four centuries.

It is against this background that Walisingha Harischandra launched his two-pronged campaign.

Now let's see what sort of person he was. We can glean an idea about what sort of person he was when Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithree Maha Thera recalled an event in the life of this national hero: "On the 5th of November, 1905 Walisinghe Harischandra arrived at Balangoda. Then I was a nine-year old boy. He made two speeches at Kumara Vidyalaya in the evening. He spoke to the children and advised them a great deal using such language as they could understand. He had marvellous eloquence. His voice was deep but pleasant to hear. As he spoke, his tone rose and fell in a resonant voice. He had great charm about him and a serene look like that of an ascetic radiating kindness.

He was born on July 9th, 1876 at Maha Hunupitiya a suburban village of Negombo. He showed his mettle and vision even as a student at college when he refused to sing in unison, "God save the King.," on Queen Victoria's birthday on May 24th.

The ambition of his parents was to make him a lawyer. The boy had the gift of the gab, the parents, the means to educate him here or abroad. But he was born to be an orator, reformer and a patriot. Had the parents succeed in their attempt only a very few people would know Obinamini Edward De Silva.

Fired by national feelings and religious zeal, he gave up a lucrative legal career, adopted the name Walisinghe Harischandra, vowed to be a celibate and embarked on his mission.

One of his objectives was to pass on to the future generations, remains of a civilization built by Sinhala Kings and nourished by Buddhist teachings. On his itineraries, he observed that they were in disrepair and subject to neglect and vandalism. He drew the attention of the White officials to this important national need.

He was moved by the sordid condition of Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Lanka. Among the business premises that had come up, there were meat stalls and liquor bars within close proximity to the Buddhist shrines. He made up his mind to stop this desecration and published a booklet named, the Sacred City of Anuradhapura and sent a copy to King George V. In this book he pointed out that the Crown representatives despoiled Buddhist Holy places and appealed to him to protect their sanctity. Before he died, he was able to hear that his request had been granted.

He also rose against the Wasteland Ordinance. The British authorities made use of it to acquire temple lands for construction work. When the government was about to acquire Mihintale Temple lands he made a vehement protest saying such action was real expropriation of clerical property. The government feared that this action might trigger off a major crisis and dropped the idea.

 

Statue at Anuradhapura

Walisinghe Harischandra's other objective was to uplift a decadent community. He was sad to see that the moral and cultural deterioration was now deep-rooted in the community. He adduced this state was due to centuries of foreign domination of the island.

He travelled from village to village addressing crowds of people who gathered to listen to his message. He aimed at the moral uplift of the people and their righteous living. In this respect he also helped build some Sunday Dhamma Schools and himself taught Dhamma at a few.

On his itineraries, sometimes not finding lodging, he had to rough it out in ambalamas'. He was in poor health owing to under-nourishment. He suffered all these to awaken people to the need of the hour.

In evaluating his contribution to the revivalist movement we must bear in mind the fact that he did so much in so short a time for so many.

When this iternent celebrate passed away on 13th of September, 1913, he had made 1363 speeches, visited Anuradhapura 80 times, Mihintale 63 times, at a time when motor transport was not available as in the modern day.

All these visits were not pilgrimages but were in connection with restoration of ancient monuments which are culturally important or sacred to the Buddhist population.

When Anagarika Dharmapala heard about his death, he mentioned, "I wish I were dead and Walisinghe living".

20 09 2009 - Sunday Observer

 

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P3.07   Sir Cyril de Zoysa’s contribution to uplifting Buddha Sasana

Ven. Tirikunamala Ananda Thera

 

The 116th birth anniversary of Sir Cyril de Zoysa who made a immense contribution for the upliftment of the Buddha Sasana in recent time falls today. This article is in respect of the commemoration.

Dullabho purisajanno - Na so sabbaththaa jayathi

Yaththa so jayathi dheero - Than kulan sukhamedhathi


Human beings who possess great virtues are rare. The above stanza, according to the Buddha’s word, means that if such a person is born in a generation or society, that generation or society will prosper. In this context, Sir Cyril de Zoysa, the benefactor was a wise and virtuous person whom we could really appreciate was a great personality, expertise, self confidence, wealth, far sighted knowledge, patriotism, business skills, lover of Buddhism, the man of the era, was born on the 26th of October 1896. Solomon de Zoysa, the Notary and Harriot de Zoysa who resided at Balapitiya, Welitara, Thotamune Kankanam Gedera were his parents.

He received his education at S. Thomas’ College, Matara, Richmond College, Galle, Royal College, Colombo and passed the Cambridge Senior Examination in 1916, entered the Law College and entered into the legal profession. He started his legal career in his village itself and before long he had to serve in Kalutara Courts as a Counsel. This transfer made a remarkable change in the lifestyle of young lawyer, Cyril de Zoysa.

At that time the historical and sacred Bo-tree at Kalutara was unsafe and not in a good condition. The environment was unfavourable that no devotee was able to worship freely. The British Government Agent had ordered the police to chase away the devotees who come there to offer flowers and light oil lamps. The young lawyer who had great faith in the Triple Gem observed this with sorrow. Despite objections, he made a mal-asana (flower trays) under the Bo-tree to offer flowers and later built four mal-asanas. It was after this that the devotees who went away in fear got the opportunity to offer a flower or light an oil lamp.

It may be that, while he was working as an eminent lawyer, he focussed his attention on the commercial sector with the intention of developing the sacred Bo-tree at Kalutara. The bus company which he started by the name of ‘Swarnapali’ was later changed into ‘South Western Bus Company’ and expanded into a company having 300 buses. Cyril de Zoysa who cultivated the habit of making donations to the sacred Bo-tree in every bus journey, utilised all this money for the purpose of developing the Kalutara sacred Bo-tree.

Sir Cyril who bought the circuit bungalow on the hill in front of the sacred Bo-tree and the Kachcheri on the right with its premises constructed a wonderful and attractive Dagoba on the hill and made it a place of worship. On looking at the attractive view at "Bodhirajaramaya"- the quiet environment - the immense benefit deeds of meritorious intentions. Sir Cyril de Zoysa is comparable to none other than Anepidu Sitanan, the benefactor. In order to maintain this Bodhiraja premises after his death for the benefit of the Sasana and society, Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Thera who always appreciated the noble service of Sir Cyril once mentioned, that anyone would understand how wise it was to establish a Trust to be in charge of the Bodhi by Sir Cyril who was far sighted.

On the 1st of January 1958, the South Western Bus Company was nationalised by the Government. It was one instance that showed well what a gentleman he was. He handed over the number of buses he had with all depots, sub depots and infrastructure after repairing all the buses with new tyres and filling the tanks of the buses with fuel. This shows how much he loved the country and the people.

Sir Cyril, when he was often attacked, was unshaken and became more and more self confident. He thought that all losses incurred were blessings. He proved the wise saying that "a nation that does not make new things will not rise", and he was fortunate enough to become the proprietor of five companies.

In 1941, he became the Chairman of Kalutara UC and later he was appointed to the Senate where he served for 6 years as Vice President and 8 years as President showed well his far sighted, political maturity and wisdom.

Sir Cyril who was appointed as Chairman YMBA Borella gave life to its onward march for progress. He constructed the hall there at his own cost and also made the YMBA building at Fort a large complex. Through his representation, various social institutions like Maha Bodhi Society, All Island Buddhist Association, Parama Vinnanartha Association, Boys’ Scout Association, Prevention of Tuberculosis campaign of Sri Lanka, Ceylon Deaf and Blind Association, Bar Association, Sinhalese Sports Club, Child Protection Association and a series of services of national and social level flourished. He was the President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka for nine years. He converted his "Brooklyn" residence into Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya. He was the founder of Buddhist College Kalutara Vidyalaya.

It was as a result of Sir Cyril de Zoysa’s perseverance, courage and wealth contribution that Kirivehera Dagoba at Kataragama was renovated and the surrounding area that was dark with jungle trees was cleared and made bright as a sacred place of worship. Not only did he fix a large generator to illuminate the whole sacred place of Kataragama, but also provided facilities for resting for pilgrims who visit the place. Not only this, he made big contributions for the renovations and development activities of Kande Viharaya at Aluthgama, Sri Vajiraramaya Bambalapitiya, Saddharmakara Privena at Pinwatte, Kuppiyawatte Temple, Gangaramaya, Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya and many other temples.

Sir Cyril de Zoysa will go in Sri Lanka’s Sasana history as a person who rendered yeoman service, bringing the Bhikkus of Amarapura Nikaya which was spread into twenty two sectors into one Sangha Sabha. In 1956 within three days after Venerable Pannaseeha Thera became the Mahanayake of Amarapura Sri Dharma Rakshitha Maha Nikaya, Sir Cyril de Zoysa who was then the President of the Senate, met the new Mahanayaka Thera and requested him to amalgamate the Amarapura Nikaya which was spread into twenty two sectors. For this purpose transport facilities were provided to go to all temples for discussions. The matter was discussed by our Maha Nayaka Thera with Ven. Kapugama Sumanawansa Thera, Ven. Weligama Gnanaratane Thera and all other responsible monks. By this time, as the background was set by Ven. Akurala Seelawansa Thera and Ven. Kogoda Pannaseeha Thera, this matter became fairly easy. Before long all parts of Amarapura Nikaya were amalgamated and the united Amarapura Sangha Sabha was established.

Sir Cyril was a man of the era with high reputation in history. This great benefactor with past meritorious actions, expertise, business management skills, who earned a great wealth righteously spent all this for the upliftment of the Buddha Sasana and social welfare and passed away on 2nd of January 1978 peacefully.

This great person realised what life is. He realised the temporary value of wealth. At the peak of his life, what he had expressed in the following statement indicates a great saying of a follower of the Buddha:

"Now I am free. Whatever wealth you may have, it is useless. I was born without any wealth. I die without any wealth. My joy, my consolation, my strength is Buddha Dhamma. As long as I live God will protect me".

26 10 2012 - The Island

 

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P3.08   Sir Cyril de Zoysa, the great Buddhist devotee

Bogoda Premaratne

 

On January 2, 2010, 32 years are completed since the demise of Sir Cyril de Zoysa. This article is to commemorate his death anniversary.

On October 26, 1896, a son blessed with luck was born to the couple, Solomon de Zoysa, Notary Public and Harriet de Zoysa who lived in the well-known house named 'Thotamune Kankanam Gedara Watta' in Welithara village in Balapitiya. This lucky son, who was the second child in the family, was named 'Cyril' by the parents.

Master Cyril de Zoysa, who received his primary education at St Tomas College, Matara, was subsequently admitted to Richmond College, Galle. Student Cyril de Zoysa was later admitted to Royal College in Colombo for higher education where he exhibited an exceptional ability in studies and passed the Cambridge Senior Examination in 1916 and was, fortunate to enter the Law College.

Mastering the subject of Law showing his great skills, Cyril de Zoysa was sworn in as an Attorney and took up the legal profession at the Kalutara Bar.

Though he was a lawyer by profession, in no time he became popular among the people as a great philanthropist and a social worker because of his relentless dedication to serve the Buddha sasana and society at large by generously spending his earnings following the foot steps of his illustrious parents.

Having started the Swarnapali Bus Company and the South Western Bus Company, he provided employment opportunities to a large number of people. He was the proprietor of many more business ventures being prominent as a Buddhist entrepreneur and spent generously the wealth earned through his entrepreneurship for the well being of Buddha sasana and the common masses.

Many are the temples and viharas constructed and renovated with the money spent by Sir Cyril and the most prominent among them is the sacred chaithya at Kalutara and its premises with the sacred bo tree. This land which was owned by a white colonial Government Agent was purchased by him and the dagoba, bodhi premises and the temple buildings were constructed under his patronage and offered to the Buddha sasana. It' is no exaggeration to say that the great chaithya at Kalutara which stands visible from a great distance in the sea is like a symbol of Buddhism.

Having spent a massive proportion of his wealth on the construction of this chaithya, he offered an opportunity for the masses of Sri Lanka too to contribute towards its construction by keeping a donation box for them to do so. The contribution of money so collected provides a strong financial assistance for the well being of the sasana even today.

Sir Cyril de Zoysa spent his wealth for the renovation of ruined temples and viharas scattered throughout Sri Lanka as well. Thus, having spent his wealth and time for the restoration of the Kiri Vehera in Kataragama, Sir Cyril saw the successful completion of its renovation activities and crowned his efforts by getting the then Prime Minister Hon Dudley Senanayake to lay the pinnacle on the chaithya. He was also instrumental in illuminating the walkway of Kataragama Kiri Vehera which was in dark at that time, by donating a generator for the purpose. In addition to that, he constructed a Pilgrims' Rest for the convenience of devotees who visit Kataragarna.

Apart from spending money and time on the above mentioned places of worship, Sir Cyril donated unreservedly a great deal of wealth on the restoration and development activities as well as the requisites of the bhikkus at temples like the Kande Vihara at Aluthgama, the Vajirarama at Bambalapitiya, the Gangaramaya Temple, Hunupitiya, Colombo; Kuppiyawatte Jayasekararamaya, Colombo and the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya. Such activities earned him the honorary title of the Great Philanthropist or maha daanapathi from the grateful public.

Having donated money for the development of the London Buddhist Vihara, Sir Cyril de Zoysa contributed to the restoration activities of the Ananda Bodhi in India too. Apart from that, he looked into the requirements of the Bhikkus in a number of pirivenas too and made whatever donations possible, generously, for their wellbeing.

Sir Cyril was an active member of Buddhist organizations such as the Maha Bodhi Society; the Colombo Young Men's Buddhist Association, the All Ceylon Buddhist congress etc. and held the honorary office of patron and president of such organizations.

Besides being engaged in the service for the sasana, Sir Cyril was actively involved in social work and the well being of the public and made generous donations for such activities and provided the necessary guidance as well.

He was also instrumental in starting the Kalutara Vidyalaya and the Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya by donating the necessary lands and started a textile production factory too for the benefit of the people of Balapitiya.

Holding responsible offices in organizations such as the Lanka Anti-Tuberculosis Association, the Sinhalese Sports Club, the Scouts Association etc, Sir Cyril de Zoysa provided the necessary services to those organizations in full measure and functioned as President of the Ceylon Bar Association for 9 years.

The people who were the beneficiaries of the religious and social services and the generosity and honesty of Sir Cyril showed their gratefulness by electing him as a Member of the Senate. Thus, he occupied the coveted position of the deputy president of the Senate for 6 years and president for nine years, bringing dignity to the House of Senate.

Proving to the world the immortal teaching of the Buddha that the body decays and good deeds remain for ever, the devout Buddhist, the great philanthropist, the generous social worker and the distinguished lawyer, Sir Cyril de Zoysa, having rendered an everlasting service to his mother land, breathed his last on January 2, 1978 and bade farewell to Mother Lanka.

I would like to end this tribute to this great son of Sri Lanka by quoting a meaningful sentence he uttered once:

"It means nothing even if one has a lot of money and wealth. They are all useless and empty things. I came into this world as a simple being and leave this world as a simple man. My only refuge is the Buddha Dhamma; the only wealth is the deeds I have done."

Let the meritorious deeds done by you lead you to reach the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

02 01 2010 - The Island

 

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P3.09   Understanding Ven. Nagarjuna

Pof. N.A.de S. Amaratunga

 

Ven. Nagarjuna was one of the most distinguished Indian Buddhist philosophers. Some writers have called him "The second Buddha". His treatise on "Sunyathava" or emptiness makes him one of the greatest analytical and original thinkers of the world. His method of analysis and logic has influenced both Eastern and Western thinkers. Several books have been written on his major work; "Mulamadhyamikakarika", some in praise but some critical calling it nihilistic. The other aspect of Ven. Nagarjuna’s writing which has led to controversy is whether he actually propounds "Mahayanic" thought and whether such writings could be ascribed to him. Some of the eminent Sri Lankan Buddhist scholars such as D.Kalupahana, A.Tilakaratne have written about Ven.Nagarjuna in an attempt to interpret his philosophy.

Ven. Nagarjuna it is believed was born in Andra Pradesh to a Brahamin family and had entered Buddhist priesthood early in life. He had advised both Theravada and Mahayana followers and also contributed a lot for the spread of the Dhamma and building of temples. There are several major works to his credit and several others whose authorship is uncertain though attributed to him. Mulamadhyamikakarika is his masterpiece which presents his "Sunyathavadaya."

To understand clearly Ven.Nagarjuna’s intentions in propounding his "Madhyamika" theory one has to briefly examine the background of the sectarian developments and the discourse that ensued as a result of these changes in Buddhism after the ‘parinirvana’ of the Buddha. About a century after Buddha’s parinirvana there was a major breach in the Buddhist priesthood and two schools; Theravada and Mahasangika came into being. This breakup had been due to the fact that the senior monks had been interested in pursuing the development of the Dhamma in keeping with the Buddha’s advise that Dhamma would be equal to the Buddha and should be treated as such after his parinirvana and the junior monks instead of concentrating on the Dhamma, had attempted to preserve the memory of the Buddha and elevate him to a transcendental status. Later these two schools also had splintered into several sects. For the purpose of this discussion two groups that broke away from Theravada; Sarvasthavadins and Savthanthrika are important while the two schools that came out of Mahasangika; Madhyamika and Yogachara are also important.

It is believed that Ven.Nagarjuna lived in the latter part of the 2nd century and the early part of the 3rd century of the Christian era. Almost all the schools of Buddhism that existed during this time had accepted the view that the world and life in it have no self or anything related to self and also that they are impermanent. During Buddha’s time there had been much opposition to this view and he had to fight a long and hard struggle to defeat these opinions. After his parinirvana however the Anathma theory or the non existence of a self had created problems regarding moral responsibility, and the doctrines of ‘karma’ and rebirth. Several questions were raised; if there is no individual, who would take moral responsibility, who would receive merit or demerit of karma and who is reborn? As a response to these questions the Sarvasthavadins put forward their "Swabava" Theory. This theory was to a certain degree a deviation from the early Buddhist theory of "anathma". To understand this idea another theory of the Abhidhamma called "Dhamma" Theory has to be briefly considered.

According to the Theravada Dhamma Theory all phenomena of the world can be dissected into ultimate irreducible constituents called "Dhamma" (see "Dhamma Theory" by Y. Karunadasa). The occurrence of Dhammas according to Theravadins is that, they arise, undergo change and disappear to arise again. This idea accords with the "anithya" theory.

Sarvasthavadins, however, attempted to introduce an element of substantialism into this Dhamma theory in order to overcome the afore-mentioned problem of the individual. They contented that there was an intrinsic character in all Dhammas which was imperceptible and impermanent but which exists in the past, present and the future and they called it "Swabava". Dhammas also have another component called "Karithra" which was the functional part and it existed only in the present and was perceptible.

In order to explain the impermanence of Dhammas the Sarvasthavadins put forward the "Kshana-vadaya" or the theory of momentary existence. They said the Dhammas existed only for a moment in the present. Early Buddhism and also the Theravadins had held a different view, they had said that all phenomena and the Dhammas arise, undergo change and disappear to arise again in a never ending samsaric process. Sarvasthavadins had modified this theory and added another phase to this process; "jathi’ (birth), ‘sthithi’ (static), ‘jara’(change) and ‘nasha’(death). Their "Kshana-vadaya" came in here and they said all Dhammas existed for a moment (Kshanaya) during the ‘sthithi’ (static) phase. Due to these new theories the Sarvasthavadins had to submit new interpretations for "Paticca-smuppdaya", and also for the theory of perception by sense organs and the doctrine of ‘karma’ which they did in a thorough manner. However the Theravadins rejected most of these theories.

Stronger opposition to these views came from another breakaway group of Theravada, the Savthanthrika who took strong objection to the ‘Swabawa’ theory and also to the idea that Dhammas existed in the past, the present and the future. They said all these interpretations could mean that the Dhammas are permanent and had within it a self or something related to self which meant that the theory did not conform to the Buddhist doctrine of Anithya and Anathma. But their view on physical matter and dependent co-origination was different from that of early Buddhism and did not make them less substantialist than Sarvasthavadins.

It is believed that Sarvasthavadins came into being during the time between the second and third "dharma sangayanavas" (convention of Buddhist priests to revise the Dharma) and had been quite strong and influential in the 3rd Century BC. The reason for the third Dhamma sangayanava may have been the conflict of opinion between Sarvasthavadins and Theravadins. King Dharma Asoka under the influence of Moggalliputha Tissa did not extend his patronage to Sarvasthavadins and they migrated to Gandhara – Kashmir region and developed their teaching with the help of King Kanishka.

Savthanthrika sect on the other hand began their school in the 2nd Century of the Christian era, that is, about 500 years after the Sarvasthavadins. The meaning of the word Savthanthrika is that they believe in the original ‘suthra’ and not on ‘shasthra’ for the former originated from the Buddha while the latter like the Abhidhamma originated from the monks. For this reason they did not compile their own abhidhamma while most of the other schools including Mahayana did.

While these breakaway groups of Theravada developed their teaching in a scholarly manner the other major school of Buddhism, the Mahasangika developed closer links with the people as they concentrated on worshipping of stupas and statues and enhancing the memory of the Buddha and elevating him into a metaphysical and transcendental status. During the 1st Century AD new publications expounding these ideas appeared on the scene. These writings were also critical of certain main Theravada Buddhist doctrines such as Nirvana, the path to Nirvana, Thathagatha etc. These writings referred to sutras as fodder for the dim witted.

This is how the major school of Buddhism that rival Theravada even at present namely the Mahayana came into being. They called their dharma Mahayana meaning that their vessel could take everybody to freedom. They called other schools Hinayana because according to them Hinayana could take a person a certain distance but not all the way to Nirvana where as the Mahayana could take everybody all the way. Interestingly no school had called themselves Hinayana. Further Mahayana had put forward a new theory on Nirvana and also the path to Nirvana. Unlike other schools these views were not presented as interpretations of original Buddhism but as original Buddhism itself.

This was the picture at the time Ven. Nagarjuna appeared on the scene. The Sarvasthavadins had been in existence for 500 years, Theravadins and Mahasangika had been there for a longer time and the Mahayanists and a little later the Savthanthrika had just made their appearance. Thus the Buddhist discourse had been full of conflict and contending sects though it was of a very high intellectual standard and there had been no serious animosity between the different schools.

It is not clear whether Ven.Nagarjuna originally belonged to any of these sects and it is known that he interacted with both Theravada and Mahayana schools. He had formulated his "Sunyathavadaya" based on early Buddhist preaching where the word ‘sunya’ had been used to denote the emptiness of the world of self. This word appears in Suthanipatha, Chula-sunnatha suthra and Kachchayanagotta suthra where the text clearly indicates that what is meant by ‘sunya is not the non-existence of phenomena but the impermanence and the absence of a self in all phenomena and therefore the meaninglessness of attachment to oneself, others or things.

Ven.Nagarjuna therefore had several schools of thought to contend with. To reiterate these different ideas; the Theravadins had in their Abhidhamma presented a Dhamma theory which apparently was an expansion of the early Buddhist analysis of phenomena which was based on ‘skanda’, ‘ayatana’ and dhatu’. The Sarvasthavadins had modified this analysis by an introduction of their ‘swabawa’ theory and ‘kshanavadaya’. The Savthanthrika had rejected this theory and also all Abhidhamma presentations but had their own substantialism as an alternative. The Mahayanists were talking about the non-existence of all dhammas and presenting their own theory of Nirvana and the path to Nirvana. The Yogachara who are also called Vingnanavadins which was the other major school of the Mahayana sect had not yet come into the picture and when they did they mounted a strong objection against Ven. Nagarjuna’s ‘sunyathavadaya’ calling it nihilism.

The Madhyamika theory of Ven. Nagarjuna was presented in his major work "Mulamadhyamika karika". He became famous as a great original thinker not because of a view that he put forward, for he had none, but for the analytical method he adopted and the ‘chathuscoti method of logic he applied to reject the views on metaphysical issues of the different schools of Buddhism prevalent in his time. Mulamadhyamikakarika has 27 chapters and 448 verses. His method of criticism had not been used in Buddhism or elsewhere before him except by Buddha. He used the inherent contradictions of these views, one against the other, to negate or reject them. According to Dr.Asanga Thilakaratne (see "Nirvana and Ineffability") there is no coherent theory that he expounds in the ‘Mula madhyamikakarika’ but there seems to be a single objective that holds the disparate themes dealt in the different chapters and this single objective seems to be the negation of the extreme views. The discerning reader could understand that his attempt is to strengthen the early Buddhist views on selfless nature and impermanence of life and the world. The ‘swabawa’ theory of the Sarvasthavadins was particularly targeted. If the Buddha had to fight against ‘Athmavadaya’ pertaining to the individual, Ven. Nagarjuna had to fight against an apparent ‘Athmavadaya’ pertaining to ‘Dhammas’ the constituents of all phenomena.

Ven. Nagarjuna’s logic, the ‘chathuscoti’, was far advanced of its time. Buddha too had used this method on several occasions. In ‘chathuscoti’ four alternative possibilities are considered instead of the two valued logic introduced by Aristotle. Ven. Nagarjuna had used the ‘chathuscoti’ on questions that Buddha refused to answer to explain why Buddha had not answered them and also similar questions. He uses it on eight occasions in three chapters on issues such as the nature of ‘thathagata’, the liberated one, freedom, living and the dead arahath, divine beings and the physical world where he dialectically rejects all four possibilities to show that they are empty of self.

Further Ven. Nagarjuna employs ‘paticca smuppadaya’ as it appears in early Buddhism and in Theravada to strengthen his viewpoint that all phenomena are empty of self. It is significant that he did not think that any other interpretation of ‘paticca-samuppadaya’ given by other schools would suit his purpose. According to ‘paticca-samuppadaya’ all phenomena are conditioned, what is conditioned is impermanent, what is impermanent is suffering, and what causes suffering cannot have a self. Buddha did not claim that ‘paticca-samuppadaya’ is his view for it is the reality of the world and neither did Ven. Nagarjuna. This is what he meant when he said he has no point of view that needs to be proved.

Ven. Nagarjuna’s ‘sunyathavadaya’ created turmoil in the philosophical world. Some said it had brought down the whole edifice of Buddhism and that it had caused a Copernicusian revolution in Buddhism. This kind of misconception had taken place during Ven. Nagarjuna’s time too. He had to defend his treatise against the accusation of being nihilistic. He further said that ‘sunyathavadaya’ was not a philosophy and to grasp it wrongly was like grasping a snake by the wrong end.

There is hardly any major Mahayana writing that could be ascribed to Ven.Nagarjuna.

The "Mahapragnaparamitha-sastra" which carries major theories of Mahayana is attributed to Ven. Nagarjuna by those who argue that he was one of the main authors of Mahayana. Most researchers on these aspects however disagree and say that there is no evidence to support such a theory.

Further Ven. Nagajuna’s other major work the "Sardhlehka" – a letter to a friend – very closely adheres to early Buddhist doctrine in its dealing with morality, the path to freedom and the nirvana. In writing "Sardhlekha" Ven.Nagarjuna seems to have been inspired by the early discourses which the Mahayanists had dismissed as fodder for the dim witted. Hence labeling Ven. Nagarjuna as belonging to a Mahayanist school seems to be a controversial issue and some scholars believe that such a view cannot be substantiated (see D. Kalupahana; Nagarjuna – Philosophy of the Middle Way).

 

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P3.10   VALISINGHE HARISCHANDRA

The Fearless Buddhist Leader

Upali K. Salgado

 

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VALISINGHE HARISCHANDRA, was a close friend and mentor of Anagarika Dharmapala. Remarkably,- they had many things in common between .them. They were both Buddhist Leaders who lived at the same time; they lived calibrate lives, were forceful popular speakers, and were committed to fight against injustices. Whilst Dharmapala wrestled it - out with an influential Mahant (local Overlord) at Buddha-Gaya, to - obtain a measure of control of that hallowed place of Buddhist. worship; Harischandra was the cause of constant annoyance. to the Provincial Government Agent, Anuradhapura, and the Governors at Queen’s House. Representations on behalf of the Buddhists hem made, was not unusual, by despatching, telegraphic messages, and Memoranda to Whitehall, complaining against the Governor, Sir Hugh Clifford, in particular.

Harischandra was born on the 9th July 1876. at Maha Hunupitiya, a village off Negombo. He had his early education at the village Temple, and later attended Wesley College Colombo. The study of the - Laws interested him for a brief .period of about two years, but his calling was to be, a Religious and Social worker.

The educational activities of a school Founded and Managed by the Maha Bodhi Society, at Rajagiriya took much of his time. As an active member. and later serving as General Secretary, and also Editor of MAHA BODHI, he became a. trusted lieutenant of Anagarika Dharmapala. Like his friend Dharmapala, who had voluntarily changed his name (which previously was DON DAVID), Harischandra too who had been named AT BIRTH AS, EDWARD DE SILVA changed his name toe be VALISINGHE HARISCHANDRA on 1st January 1899, in the presence of the Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Mahanayake Thera, at the Vidyodaya Pirivena Maligakanda.

A SILVER TONGUE ORATOR

The golden threads of Buddhism, woven centuries ago into the Sinhala Peoples’ social web at Mihintale and Anuradhapura, lay buried after Magha’s historic invasion from South India. In Valisinghe Harischandra the Sinhala people found a Buddhist leader and a patriot, whose mission in life was to lighten-up ruins that lay in darkness.

He was a born orator, blessed with clear diction. There were none to equal him. With charisma he won the hearts of the simple villager of the N.C.P. He travelled by train and cart and often on foot many, many miles. Magnetically like, people in their thousands gathered to hear him speak on temperance, and the ugly habit of sinners consuming, Beef and Venison. Whenever he spoke at Anuradhapura, (usually on Poya days) there was a sea of heads. He often reminded the vast gatherings present, that they stood before A city in ruins, where every cluster of fretted granite pillars, appeared to be large Monasteries, and Shrine Rooms. He spoke with great emotion, reminding his listeners that, where gangs of wild. Monkeys ruled over the densely over grown habitat of thorny trees, Arahants had paced to and fro down Avenues, meditating on the. impermanency of life whilst, the air of the city in the 6th Century A.D. was filled with sound waves of paritta (Pirith), chanted by thousands of pious monks. As a reward for his labour, the Anuradhapura Preservation Scheme was enacted.

The Waste Lands Ordinance of 1910 was a typical Colonial, unpopular piece of legislation. He Collected historical, and social data from hundreds of Villages and Temples, in the Anuradhapura and Mihintale Districts; and submitted several Memoranda, to the Secretary of State for Colonies, to finally succeed in preventing the alienation of vast tracts of Temple and Village land to the State.

This patriotic son of Lanka was also a prolific writer. His "golden pen" never ran short of ink. His writing had a punch and a style of his own. He authored thirteen publications; The PURA-VITHYAVA, and the RUWANVELI CHETIYA WARNANAWA are considered two of his best efforts. King Dutugemunu, the Sinhala hero, inspired him to speak-out fearlessly: and in 1902, alongwith the Venerable Naranvita Sumanasara Maha Thera of the Ruwanveli-Seya Temple, he inaugurated the Ruwanveli Maha-Seya Restoration Society. It is recorded that when the late Venerable Heenetiyane Dhammaloka Mahanayake Thera, had first listened to Harischandra at the age of 10 years, he was inspired to beg of his parents that he be ordained a Buddhist monk. This Venerable Mahanayake Thera was known to be a pious monk, an untiring popular preacher of the Buddha Dhamma, blessed with a mellifluous voice. It was he who in 1925, founded the LANKA DHARMADUTHA SABAVA, two Pious monks the Ven. Aggamaha - Panditha Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahanayake Thera, who lived with us had also been inspired by Harischandra in 1905.

CHARGED FOR INCITING THE "HOI POLO" TO RIOT

The Government was often criticized by Harischandra in his speeches, because Colonial indifference had been shown to his pleas. Undeterred by Police harassment, on his initiative, Memoranda was submitted on behalf of the Buddhists, direct to King Edward VII. This action resulted in a Special Commission of Inquiry being appointed to examine the grievences of the Buddhists. Though physically weak after several attacks of the Malarial fever, Harischandra’s lone voice could not be stilled. He urged that no Government building should be built over Buddhist ruins, and no Archaeological evidence such as a granite pillar or stone statue should ever be removed to make way for a Government building. He urged that lands within one mile -radius of the Sacred Bo - Tree should be considered a Buddhist Preserve. About that time, on 20th June 1903 (which happened to be a Poya day), a young Kachcheri Mudaliyar named Amerasekera, had ridden on his Steed, at speed, in aninexperienced manner, over the glades overlooking the Ruwanveli Maha-Seya, where pilgrims observe Ata-Sil. The horse had kicked an aged lady, pilgrim, resulting in injury. The crowd that witnessed the incident, became angry and demanded that the Kachcheri Mudaliyar be punished forthwith. Whilst he hid in his bungalow, the crowd’ HAD GOT OUT OF HAND, and then destroyed the Venison. and Beef stalls, and also a large Roman Catholic Church, in one night. At the time, that British Colonial, Administrators gave little "protection" or support for Buddhist causes. On hearing of the unruly mob behaviour, Harischandra together with the Ven Sumanasara Maha Thera had addressed the masses, to be calm, but a mischievous informant who was a friend of the Kachcheri Mudalyar had indicated that Harischandra was one of the principal incitors.

He was therefore arrested, and lived in a Remand Prisons for17 days, until bail was granted in Rs. 2000/- (which at. that time, wads considered a very large sumo., Later, alongwith several others, he was indicted in the Supreme Court, in Colombo, before Chief Justice J. P. Middleton, on five counts, including "inciting the hoi-poli to riot". With financial support readily donated by the Buddhist public, the best Lawyer who was, available, Fredrick Dornhorst KC, was retained to defend all the accused. Mr. Advocate Dornhorst KC, very eloquently addressed the Jury for four hours and thereafter, when British.justice echoed through the halls at Hultsdorp hill, Harischandra and two others were honourably acquitted.

HIS EARLY DEATH

This human dynamo had no financial organisation to support him. According to his Diary leaves, the Brahmachari had addressed over 1300 public’ meetings all over the Island. As a result of his efforts, hundreds of Toddy Tavern’s and Beef Stalls were closed. Temple Daham Schools began to function. He spoke aloud and fearlessly; giving the Buddhists courage to raise their heads to organise Pereheras, establish Buddhist Schools, build Temples, adopt Buddhist, names, and appealed to ‘them not to culturally ape the bourgeoise West. He gave up ties of family bondage. Some of his better known dearest friends were Mrs. Mallika Hewavitharana, Dr. C. A. Hewavitharana, Anagarika Dharmapala, a Philanthropist, Mudaliyar J. M. Weerasuriya of Anuradhapura, Arthur V. Dias of Panadura, Amadoru Mendis, D.S. Senanayake, F. R. Senanayake Advocate C. Batuwantudawe, D.S.C. Jinadasa and the Ven Naranvita Sumanasira Thera. When he had blossomed out in the eyes of the. Buddhist public as an energetic Leader, at the young age of 37, he fell-ill to suffer great pain from a carbuncle on his shoulder.

Though nursed and medically cared for at the hospitable home of Mrs. Mallika Hewavitharane, at Aloe Avenue, Kollupitiya, he passed away on 13th September, 1913. The day he died, the Buddhists of little Lanka mourned his demise in their thousands, with deep sorrow, all dressed–up in spotless white. That night, after the funeral pyre had been lit, there remained an air of gloom, as if an eclipse of the moon had taken place.

After his death, the MAHABODHI, published an IN MEMORIAM which said: His body lies, but the work lives on; the lips that utterred enthusiastic words are silent, but the words themselves perpetuated on living records, will carry their message of love, charity, patriotism to generations unborn.’

06 07 2013 - The Island



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P3.11   Alec Robertson - An eloquent propagator of the Dhamma

Rajah Kuruppu.
 

Ten years have passed since the demise of that outstanding lay propagator of the Dhamma and Buddhist scholar, Deshabandu Alec Robertson.

Born on 30th October 1928, he died on the last day of 2002 at the age of 74. He did not have Degrees or Post-graduate Degrees on Buddhism. But he was a self-made Buddhist scholar with the knowledge of the Dhamma acquired by wide reading of the ‘Suttas’ and learning and discussing the Dhamma with recognized lay Buddhist scholars and at the feet of Buddhist scholarly monks, including Ven. Nyanatiloka and Ven. Nyanaponika, two scholarly, and meditating monks, who made Sri Lanka their home for several years of their latter life. He had the ability to fluently convey the message of the Dhamma both in English and Sinhala. Yet he reveled in the English language with ready and appropriate quotations from English literary giants, such as William Shakespeare and John Milton.

Born to a Catholic family, he became a Buddhist by intellectual conviction as a teenager. His father, in latter life, became a free thinker and had a large collection of books on leading religions, including Buddhism. The young Robertson read these books and convinced himself regarding the validity of the Buddhist identification of the central problem of life as ‘Dukkha’ or unsatisfactoryness and the way to overcome the problem was the priceless Noble Eightfold Path enunciated by the Buddha, 2600 years ago.

Mr. Robertson was closely and actively associated with the servants of the Buddha Society founded in 1921, which continues to meet every Saturday evening at Maitri Hall on Lauries Road, Bambalapitiya.

He was the first Assistant Secretary and then Secretary of this society. Subsequently, he served as its President for a continuous period of 30 years from 1968 to 1998, when he relinquished office due to declining health. Yet, he continued as an adviser of the association until his demise. At the meetings of the society, as President, he usually delivered the first Saturday Dhamma talk of the month. With his profound knowledge and oratorical skill, many were eagerly listen to his talks. He often emphasized the importance of discussion and raising of questions to clarify doubts. In this connection, he quotes the words of the Buddha as recorded in the ‘Mangala Sutta’:

"Kalena Dhammasavanam

Kalena Dhammasacacca

Etam Mangala muttamam"

"To hear the Dhamma at the opportune moment

To discuss the Dhamma at the opportune moment

This is a Supreme blessing."

In the 1950s and the early 1960s, the late Ven. Kassapa Thera (formerly Dr. Cassius Pereira), presided at the evening meetings of the society. Mr. Robertson acknowledged the training and guidance given to him by the Ven. Kassapa Thera at Maitri Hall and stated that the training he had received from the Thera stood him in good stead in preaching the Dhamma.

Mr. Robertson was connected with broadcasting for around 50 years, delivering talks and participating in discussions on the Dhamma over the airwaves of the SLBC.

He was first a member and later the Chairman of the very popular Buddhist radio programme, namely, the Buddhist Forum. Earlier, this forum went on the air at prime time on Tuesday at 8.00 p.m. Unfortunately, this programme is now aired at 5.30 a.m. due to financial constrains, but it is an inconvenient time for many. A number of well-known Buddhist scholars participated in this forum, including the late Prof. K. N. Jayatilake, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Ceylon; the late Mr. Siri Perera, Q.C., a Buddhist leader who was the President of the Colombo YMBA; Dr. Rienzie Piyasena, who served in the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UNO in Vienna, Austria, for a considerable period of time; the late honourable S. R. Wijayatilake, a former Judge of the Supreme Court and the late Austin de Silva, a dedicated Buddhist worker. In 1979, he joined the SLBC on a full time basis as Programme Organiser for Buddhist activities and remained so, until his retirement from public service in 1988.

To me personally he was a ‘kalyanamitta’ in respect of the study of the Dhamma and encouraged me to deliver talks at the Servants of the Buddha Society. He introduced me to the Buddhist Forum where after his retirement I was Chairman for a considerable period. He also appointed me as President of the Servants of the Buddha Society when he gave up this role due to failing health.

Mr. Robertson has a large number of publications on the Dhamma to his credit. These include ‘Buddhist Attitude Towards Christianity’, ‘Nibbana-Happiness Supreme’, ‘The Triple Gem and The Uposatha’, and ‘Buddha - the Healer incomparable’. He also contributed Buddhist articles to journals and newspapers.

In his younger days, Mr. Robertson travelled to many parts of the country to deliver Buddhist talks in Sinhala on the invitation of Buddhist organisations.

In 1989, President Ranasinghe Premadasa appointed Mr. Robertson as a Member of Parliament on the National List of the UNP to represent Buddhism and Buddhist cultural affairs. Thus, he served the Supreme Legislature of the country from 1989 to 1994.

Deshabandu Alec Robertson served as advisor on Buddhist Affairs to both President Ranasinghe Premadasa and President D. B. Wijethunga, during their tenure.

In recognition of the rare service rendered to the nation and the Buddhasasana by Mr. Alec Robertson, a Commemorative stamp in the denomination of Rs. 5.00 was issued recently on 30th October, 2013, by the Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts. The event took place at the Mahaveli Centre in Colombo.

A large and distinguished gathering were present at the event. Ven. Dr. Mirisse Dhammika Thera delivered a brief sermon and an account of the services rendered by Mr. Robertson for the cause of the Dhamma. The stamp was cancelled by Patali Champika Ranawaka, Minister of Technology, Research and Atomic Energy.

By his Buddhist writings, talks and participation in discussions, Mr. Robertson has given to thousands of people the gift of the Dhamma, the greatest of all gifts.

May this dedicated servant of the Buddha realise early the supreme bliss of Nibbana.

11 01 2013 - The Island


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P3.12    Anagarika Dharmapala:

His contribution towards the expansion of the teachings of the Buddha

Justice Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake
 

HERO: "Ceylon, with her twenty-five centuries of recorded history," said Dr. Ananda Guruge, "is endowed with a generous quota of national heroes who are gratefully remembered by the people for the wars they fought, for national independence, the movements they sponsored, for the welfare of the masses, the books they wrote, the monuments they erected and the contributions they made to the individuality and richness of the national culture.
 

Out of the many heroes who are remembered in numerous ways and who still live in the hearts and minds of a grateful nation, Anagarika Dharmapala shines as the brightest star among many other distinguished stars of the galaxy of heroes.

National heroes of any country, as stated earlier, belong to different categories not only due to the work they have carried out, but also due to the methods they have adopted for such purpose.

Considering the contribution of Anagarika Dharmapala there are certain key factors of his character, which could be seen from the service he has rendered, that makes him outstanding among the other heroes.

This special quality could be clearly identified, when one observes the work he had been carrying out for several decades in several countries. Although several chapters could be written commenting on the work of Anagarika Dharmapala, a brief attempt due to the limited time frame, is made here to describe his work in order to highlight not only his untiring efforts, but also his desire to spread the teachings of the Buddha in many countries and the skills he had exhibited in achieving his ambition.

Anagarika Dharmapala was born on 17th September 1864 in Colombo to a prominent and influential Buddhist family, who was named as David Hewavitharana. Ceylon (as it then was) was a British Colony at that time and the strong influence of the Christian missionaries of all denominations, which were attempting to add the country to Christian faith could be clearly seen in the capital city of the island.

Irrespective of such strong influence of Christian Missionaries, his parents, Mudliar Don Carolis Hewavitharana and Srimathi Mallika Hewavitharana, who had donated the major portion of their wealth to the cause of Buddhism and Buddhist education, had brought up young David Hewavitharana in a traditional Sinhala Buddhist atmosphere.

His formative years of education were spent at Pettah Catholic School known as St. Mary's College, Colombo, St. Benedict's Institute, Kotahena, Christian Missionary School at Kotte and St. Thomas' College.

It was during this period that young David Hewavitharana had the good fortune and opportunity of meeting Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Nayaka Maha Thera and Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera which resulted in developing a great attachment to Buddhism and the teachings of Lord Buddha.

Reminiscening of his early life, Anagarika Dharmapala referred to the beginning of his interest in the work carried out by the Buddhist Theosophical Society and Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky.

In his words, Daily when attending St. Thomas School I had to pass the Temple known as Migettuwatte Hamuduruvo's temple. It was there that I came to hear of the Theosophical Society and Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky.

The monk had received as a gift the two volumes of the Isis Unveiled, from Madame Blavatsky with a covering letter from Colonel Olcott that they are Buddhists and expect to visit Ceylon on their way to India, that they had heard of the Panadura Controversy, and they conveyed their sentiments of pleasure in the expectation of starting shoulder to shoulder to fight against Christianity in Ceylon.

The Buddhist monk soon began to give public lectures on Buddhism and Christianity and translated extracts into Sinhala from Isis Unveiled and also from the Adepts of Tibet.

My delight in hearing the news of Olcott and Blavatsky was great and from that time onwards I began to take interest in the Theosophical Society although I was then only 14 years old.

Such was the beginnings of the remarkable and yeoman service rendered by a Great Leader of our proud soil who served the nation tirelessly for over 5 decades.

Anagarika Dharmapala's service, which spanned over several areas was mainly based on the happiness and contentment of the rural folk, who represented the majority of this island nation, which was governed by the British administration as a British Colony.

Irrespective of the tremendous difficulties and obstacles faced by him at that time, he campaigned tirelessly to resuscitate Buddhism in the country and strongly contributed to the nationalist movement.

Anagarika Dharmapala firmly believed that for the Ceylonese to be proud nation, it is essential that the island should be politically independent. Referring to the vision and mission of Anagarika Dharmapala, Dr. Guruge had clearly pointed out that his conviction was that it is necessary for the country to be an independent nation.

Anagarika Dharmapala had clearly expressed his thoughts on this aspect and had stated that, "When a nation is politically dependent on another nation, the weaker nation loses its individuality. A subject race could not produce heroes... As slaves no social or economic progress is possible... If a nation that is able to supply their own wants finds themselves handicapped by the obstacles that are set forth by a superior race, no progress is possible.

Having political independence in mind, he inaugurated a campaign for independence against the imperialism of England. Whilst campaigning for an independent motherland, Anagarika Dharmapala appreciated the fact that out of the foreign rulers, which had governed the country since 1505, the British administration was the best compared with the Portuguese and the Dutch.

Anagarika Dharmapala whilst campaigning for a free and independent island, was also mindful that the benefits of what were introduced under the British administration should be retained. Accordingly he not only supported, but also rendered yeoman service to the upliftment of the education in the country.

He firmly believed in the traditional Buddhist education and took steps to revive the ancient systems, which prevailed in this country prior to the invasion by Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.

Anagarika Dharmapala thus paved the way for the establishment of several schools in the island, which have become prominent educational institutions in the country. He also believed in the concept of life-long education, which connotes education as a continuing life-long process.

The concept of life-long education included Adult Education, Workers' Education, Continuing Education, Community Education and Social Education and Anagarika Dharmapala took pains to carry out a campaign of Adult Education.

For such a campaign he was assisted by the Maha Bodhi Society, which he had established on May 31, 1891 under the Presidency of Ven. Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Thero at the Vidyodaya College premises at Maligakanda, Colombo. The Maha Bodhi Society was the first Buddhist Organization during that era, which began the dissemination of the teachings of Lord Buddha.

For this purpose he started his weekly publication 'Sinhala Bauddhaya' in May 1906. This publication, which is still in circulation due to the magnanimous efforts taken by Rev. Banagala Upatissa Thero and Rev. Thiniyawala Palitha Thero, the present President and the Secretary of the Maha Bodhi Society respectively, rendered a silent, but zealous service to the nations, religious and national campaign.

Reference also should make to the efforts Anagarika Dharmapala had taken to establish Journals in order to expand the teachings of the Buddha, not only in his motherland and India, but also in other European countries. Having this purpose in mind he had established the Maha Bodhi Journal in May 1892.

The Journal was warmly accepted by many, who had read the Journal and led to the opportunity for Anagarika Dharmapala to attend the World's Parliament of Religions. Later in August 1926 he started a monthly journal known as 'The British Buddhist' of which the first Volume was written entirely by himself.

It was the vision and mission of Anagarika Dharmapala that the teachings of the Buddha should be introduced to the European countries. Through the Journal of the Maha Bodhi Society, the world became aware of the existence of the Maha Bodhi Society and Anagarika Dharmapala was invited by some of his American Buddhist brothers Philangi Dasa, Editor of the Buddhist Ray of California and Chas of New York to preach Buddhism.

That was the time he was also invited to attend the World's Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. Anagarika Dharmapala, had succinctly stated is purpose and desire to visit America. in his own words: "The one motive I had all along to visit America was to disseminate the law of the gentle Buddha abroad and of bringing into prominence the great idea originated by the Maha Bodhi society."

Such visits of Anagarika Dharmapala had been extremely successful, where he was able to create a fascinating impression not only of the teachings of Buddha, but also of the speaker and his preaching. Describing him at the World's Parliament of Religions, a contemporary American Journal had published the following: "With black curly locks thrown from his broad brow, his keen clear eyes fixed upon the audience, his long brown fingers emphasizing the utterances of his vibrant voice, he looked the very image of a propagandist, and one trembled to know that such a figure stood at the head of the movement to consolidate all the disciples of Buddha and to spread the light of Asia throughout the civilized world."

Several American newspapers published extracts of the speech made by Anagarika Dharmapala at the World's Parliament of Religions. Almost all the articles among several points illustrated agreed on one point, which was common to all.

That was of his 'eloquence, enthusiasm and genuine Buddhism' that contained in his speeches.

His speech had been so spectacular and breathtaking that the Journal Indianapolis had described it so vividly in the following terms: "Watches and chains disappeared from the pockets of vests and dresses and a pair of diamond earrings were actually extracted from the ears of the fair wearer as she sat spellbound under the influence of the perorations of a Buddhist.

The papers had thought that his speech was so important and therefore had taken the trouble to publish his speech. This instance alone would be sufficient to indicate the highest regard Anagarika Dharmapala had received in the United States of America at a time even a simple visit to United States of America was only a dream for the larger majority.

Moreover applaud received by him is a fine example for his ability and effectiveness in strengthening the awareness of Buddha's teachings not only in Asia, but also in the Western world.

His mission was not limited to preaching the teachings of Buddha to the Western world. Whilst continuing his preaching he had made several important and life-long friends, who were not only his admirers, but also were people, who took pains to assist him in numerous ways to fulfill his struggle to restore Indian Buddhist sites to Buddhists.

At the time he was invited to the World's Parliament of Religions he visited England en route to America and met Sir Edwin Arnold, the author of the much celebrated 'Light of Asia'. Sir Edwin Arnold had addressed Anagarika Dharmapala in his book titled 'East and West' as 'my excellent friend' and used to address him in his correspondence with the warm salutation 'Very dear and honoured friend'.

The experience of such influence from the British had encouraged Anagarika Dharmapala to set up a Vihara with Ceylonese resident Buddhist priests, who could disseminate the teachings of the Buddha not only for the countrymen, who were resident in England, but also for the citizens of that country.

Until such time there were no Buddhist temples or resident Buddhist priests outside Asia. Anagarika Dharmapala had obtained assistance from Mrs. Mary Foster whom he had met whilst travelling to Honolulu for the establishment of the first resident Vihara in England.

Mrs. Foster had readily agreed to finance the setting up of 'Foster House' in Ealing and the London Buddhist Vihara was inaugurated in 1926. Later the Vihara was moved to premises at Gloucester Road and during the Second World War the Buddhist priests, who were residing at the London Buddhist Vihara had to return to Ceylon as the house was requisitioned.

It was re-opened in 1955 and the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust had purchased a new building for the Vihara at Heathfield Gardens in Chiswick in 1964. Later in 1994 the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust had purchased a spacious property and moved the Vihara to its present location at The Avenue in Chiswick.

The service rendered by Anagarika Dharmapala in the revival of Buddhism had no bounds and several features could be related to demonstrate the courage and vigour he exhibited in this regard. However, with the limited scope of this paper, reference would be made briefly only to an outstanding feature of his initiation in the revival of the Buddhism in the 20th century.

Whilst he was on a pilgrimage to Bodhi Gaya, India in 1891, he had been distorted by the states of the Maha Bodhi Temple, which had been restored in the hands of a saivite priest, where the Buddhists were banned from worship.

With the generous assistance from few close friends, Anagarika Dharmapala established the Maha Bodhi Society and one of its foremost aims was to restore the Buddhist Centre of the Maha Bodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya. For this purpose he had to litigate and after a successful struggle managed to partially restore the management of the Maha Bodhi Society, which was the first Buddhist organization in the modern era, which started a programme for the dissemination of Buddhism in a non-Buddhist country.

As referred to earlier there are several world famous heroes and heroic action spoken of by many in different disciplines. They vary in number and of the type of action, but what is common in all of them is that they are held in high esteem.

Such heroes are common and it is difficult to find uniqueness in their approach. Anagarika Dharmapala, in that sense, belongs to a different group as he cannot be compared with any of those heroes for various reasons.

His only ambition was to disseminate the teachings of the Buddha among the non-Buddhists, and his aim was to establish an 'evil free' society. He lamented ceaselessly of his own Sinhalese brothers had sisters whom he regarded as lackadaisical in their approach, and called upon them to rise.

He took up a strong protest against the killing of cattle and partaking of beef. He realised that driving these values into the minds of the people would take time and yet he wanted to accomplish his mission. His untiring and selfless efforts had even found a solution for the struggle to be continued beyond his life.

Such were the heroic attributions of this great human being and at a time we are celebrating Anagarika Dharmapala's 143rd birth anniversary, let me conclude this brief reflection referring to his last wish, with an aspiration that Anagarika Dharmapala's last wish would be granted, solely for the purpose of spreading the teachings of Buddha throughout the world.

'Let me die soon
Let me be born again
I can no longer prolong my agony
I would like to be reborn twenty five times
to spread Lord Buddha's Dhamma'.

The writer is LLB (Hons) Sri Lanka, M.Phil (Colombo) Ph.D (London), Attorney-at-Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Judge of the Supreme Court, formerly Associate Professor of Law and the Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

dailynews.lk/2007/09/26/

 

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P3.13    Rajah Kuruppu - A Good Buddhist

 

Two weeks ago I reviewed the The Vesak Sirisara, which reviewing I have done in previous years too. So the next most logical step was to talk with its editor-in-chief - Rajah Kuruppu, who has served in this capacity for many years. Here is a person who is verily a beacon of light in a dark land of muck and corruption, a cut diamond among rough stones; in short a person who renews confidence in Sri Lankans in the mind gone numb with despair and desperation.

The person

Rajah Kuruppu is the rare person who is sincerely and genuinely living the Buddhist Dhamma and steadily, but surely, propagating it so others too could better understand the Buddha’s teaching and improve their lives and living.

His propagation of the Dhamma is through the many books he has authored; his editing of the Vesak Sirisara since 1988 and more recent editorship of the Vesak Annual; his presidency of the Servants of the Buddha; being Chairman of the SLBC Buddhist Forum and for long serving the Young Men’s Buddhist Association. Of course there are others who serve and have served this premier Buddhist organisation - the YMBA - women included, but many, I boldly say, have gone into it in a political manner - to enjoy the conferred clout and bask in the limelight that focuses on the organisation from time to time.

Rajah is in sharp contrast to Buddhist do-gooders who throw tens of thousands of rupees into this charity and that, whose principal preoccupation is ‘dane’ giving, who are outwardly full of charity and goodness but inwardly crabbed and prejudiced with no true charity of spirit. Some do good with one eye on the publicity they could garner, others with pride and a holier-than-thou-attitude. Rajah’s charity is giving of his time, energy, organising ability and money to spread the Dhamma, in a quiet, albeit consistent and effective way, while being a sincere Buddhist himself.

He is vegetarian, teetotal and happy. He meditates but hardly talks about it. He takes his daily stint of exercise both swimming and walking and bears the inevitable burden of having to take extra care of his health now. His joy and satisfaction in life are apparent, his goodness almost a palpable aura around him, his modesty and sincerity of purpose obvious, but his feet are firmly planted on the ground. I am sure the summation of him that he would appreciate is: ‘here is an ordinary man.’ But we have to add, ‘with an extraordinary sense of conscientious responsibility and feeling for his fellow creatures struggling in this cycle of births, decay and death.’ The biggest compliment I pay him is that he is a person easy to be with, talk to, yet elevated to being an inspiration and ideal to emulate.

He says he was a run of the mill Buddhist, born to it and practising it with no intrinsic understanding or commitment until in 1979/80, he developed a greater interest. He read Venerable Walpola Rahula’s What the Buddha Taught and that opened the door, as it were, to the richness, depth and satisfaction-gaining study and practice of the Dhamma in its pure form as expounded by the Buddha and explained by Ven. Rahula Thera. He felt the inclination to join others in further investigation of the Dhamma and so came under the influence of persons like Alec Robertson. Soon enough he was involved in the organisation of the propagation of the Buddha’s teaching via the Servants of the Buddha which he joined in 1982, the YMBA in 1989, as assistant editor of the Vesak Sirisara in 1988 and the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.

Those who go on Saturday evenings by 5.00 o’clock to Maithri Hall at Mettarama Vihara on Lauries Road, Bambalapitiya, know Rajah and know better the precision of his arrangement of speakers and subjects for these weekly Buddhist talks. Consider (which we don’t often do) the amount of planning and arranging that goes into this programme which continues week in and week out with nary a glitch or bump. That’s because Raja so meticulously plans a month’s programme well in advance. It means several phone calls and discussion of topics, a reminder or two, and then the introduction of the speaker and most admired by me, the summation of the gist of the talk. I listen to this summary intently for two reasons. One: to catch up on things missed by my wandering mind (OK, sometimes drowzy mind!). Two: to catch Rajah out. I may feel sleepy but critical faculties are honed. Will he miss out an important point; will he misinterpret? NEVER! And that really is a wonder, since not all speakers are erudite, attention grabbing and holding, and some go really esoteric. But Rajah catches the main points and nuances too.

His writing too is very precise, clothing fundamental issues, views and deep truths in simple language which is a result of his sincerity of purpose. He attributed the ease with which he writes to his 1969/70 stint at the London School of Economics where he read for a post-graduate diploma in development administration. Apparently he loved the immersion in reference reading and submission of assignments in London.

A quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) is apt here: Great men are they who see that spiritual is stronger than any material force; that thoughts rule the world.

Family

Rajah Kuruppu was born to a privileged, moneyed family. His father, many will remember, was a politician of the high calibre that most politicians were then. He was Minister of Local Government and Cultural Affairs when ill health forced him to retire. Educated at Royal College, Raja graduated from the University of Ceylon and then joined the Port Cargo Corporation. He moved to government service, being absorbed to the CAS and joined the Ministry of Industries and Fisheries. He ended his very prestigious and successful career as State Secretary, Ministry of Plan Implementation and Finance. Retiring at the comparatively young age of 60 he thenceforth devoted his time and energies to Buddhist work, including charity and helping with homes for the disadvantaged.

The family life of a person is private but suffice it to say that Shakuntala Wijayatilake, from an excellent Buddhist family with strong ties to education in the country, had all the qualities to make an ideal Buddhist wife, beautiful and accomplished too, holding very high positions in the State sector herself.

Service

Why do you do the work you do, weekly meetings of the Servants of the Buddha, monthly discussion forums at the YMBA, radio discussion programmes such as Buddhist Forum and Has Buddhism the Answer, in addition to writing and editing, I asked. He seemed to feel it was not much. Surely it eats into you time, social life, costs money too. His reply was that he was fortunate that after retirement he did not need to work again for a salary. Pension and private income suffice. Also his family is accommodating and he postpones social matters for after 7.00 on Saturdays. His concern now is to encourage others to take his place.

His answer to the question about pains and pleasures of arranging Buddhist programmes was a direct translation of the words of the Buddha. "He honours me best who honours my teaching." Rajah obviously takes joy in the work he does to help others to understand the Dhamma and walk its path.

Do you see much change in the practice of Buddhism from how it was fifty years ago was my next question.

Rajah sees a positive elevation of the way people go about observing their religions in Sri Lanka of today, in spite of the rot that has set in and decadence in everything. Buddhists are into meditation now whereas fifty years ago it was more worship, rites, rituals and lip service. He admitted that the pooja of devas and the Hindu gods goes on apace, but tolerant man that he is, he sees nothing really wrong in it. "It does no one harm, and probably does the bodhi popja offerer calm, peace and hope that his trouble would be over. So he is welcome to the rites and rituals, even those highly criticized by purists."

That too is Rajah - tolerant, sympathetic, not thrusting his views and ways down others throats. Live and let live seems to be his creed, but hoping others realize sooner than later that living according to the Buddhist five precepts, walking the middle path and doing what one can to shorten the samsaric cycle of unsatisfactory births and deaths, is best.

He did not want to comment too much on the current political culture pervading the country. What he said forcefully was that people do not respect the deserving, that ethical and moral standards are way down. Prompted, he agreed that one reason may be the lack of good education - not only higher but quality education that schools fifty years ago concentrated on.

I was very curious about his reaction to the daily papers and TV news, specially that dished out by the so called government press and government controlled stations. I see red and get annoyed and then depressed, I said.

One must cultivate equanimity, Rajah said. This is very difficult but with deliberate effort it becomes second nature. And why fret and fray, sweat and fever if one cannot remedy the situation. If there is something to do to improve the situation, go ahead with alacrity. But if one is helpless, then the best is to remain on an even keel. Not close the mind to what’s around, but seeing it all, note and remain unperturbed.

He retailed advice given a friend by his doctor: "Don’t read the newspapers until its past 9.00 o’clock, when you have done your walk, had breakfast and are ready to face the day."

Looking around, it is a sobering and sad fact to note that people like Rajah Kuruppu are getting scarcer and scarcer. There still are very good people among us, who in their quiet way contribute so much, but the riff raff from the gutter that is rising fast and furious is very threatening.

PS

As if to prove my point, when I was calm, joyful, at peace after my conversation with Rajah on Tuesday (June 8), the gutter arose in Parliament, shattering the mood I was in with the news reportage on Channel I. It was worse than gutter vermin who caused the horribly disgraceful commotion in the well of the Parliament. Uneducated, deeply psychosised villains from cesspits showed their true colours, though elected passers of laws and makers of policy. Who on earth will manhandle monks? These pests of violence think they are always right and must have their way. Starts in the university and progresses. No, starts in schools of certain sorts, since some of our Parliamentarians have passed no exams, not gone beyond 9th grade, is the whisper. And they are our leaders, wanting us to look up to them. Bah!

Worse was the statement made by leaders and Ministers of State. There was no fighting or violence in the Parliament, they said. Just an argument.

We the voting public are fools, and treated as such.

island.lk/2004/06/13/

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P3.14   Down the roads of a Buddhist explorer

Janaka Perera

 

This year marks the 1600th anniversary of the itinerant Chinese Buddhist monk Venerable Fa-Hien's (also known as Faxian) visit to Sri Lanka. The exact day and month of his arrival in the island is not known but the year, according to Chinese records, is 410 AD - four years after Bhikku Dhammayana took the first Buddha statue from Sri Lanka to China.

The Sri Lanka-China Society jointly with the Chinese Embassy have organised special religious events this Vesak month at Anuradhapura in memory of Ven, Fa-Hien's visit.

In a commemorative lecture on the event, Senior Lecturer, Sabaragamuwa University Dr. Hao Weimin said that the key aspects of the age-old ties between his country and Sri Lanka were the Silk Road and Buddhism. He was speaking in Sinhala on 'China-Sri Lanka Historical relations: An overview,' at the Royal Asiatic Society auditorium at the Mahaweli Centre, Colombo. Dr Weimin's own parents were born close to Ven. Fa-Hein's birth place in the Yellow River Valley in China's Shanxi Province. Fa-Hien's original name was Kung. Admitted to the Buddhist Order at the age of three he was given the religious name Fa-Hien which means Law Manifest.

Fa-Hien's travel record

Dr Weimin observes that Fa-Hien's A Record of the Buddhist Countries, (also known as The Travels of Fa-Hien) carries some invaluable historical information on Sri Lanka not found in the Sinhala Chronicle Mahavamsa. The most noteworthy of these is the vivid description of the ceremonies connected with the exposition, procession conveying the Sacred Relic of the Buddha from the then King Mahanama's Palace to the Abhayagiri Vihara and also of Anuradhapura city, the King and the people of Anuradhapura at the time was a well-planned, beautiful city. Fa-Hien's travel record - which gives a complete description of his journey - is the earliest comprehensive account the world has of the customs, geography and history of Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean. A Record of the Buddhist Countries has been published in over 20 official and private editions since the Sung Dynasty. This well-known Chinese classic is comparable to the later Record of The Western Regions by Bhikku Xuan Zang (also known as Heung Tsang) of the Tang Dynasty.

According to Chinese chronicles Buddhism proper was introduced to China during the reign of Emperor Ming (58-75 AD) of the later Han Dynasty. During the second Century more Bhikkus arrived in China from India and other countries. The flourishing caravan trade at that time greatly helped the spread of Buddhism. Most of the early Buddhist canons which reached China came from Central Asian Kingdoms and not directly from India, many though Chinese Turkistan by way of Khotari on the South route, or Kuch on the North route. However the Buddhist cannons brought to China during this period could not satisfy the needs of Chinese Bhikkus, who wanted to make thorough study of Buddhism. This was one of the two reasons why Chinese Buddhists risked their lives and endured great hardships to make the journey to the Indian subcontinent in search of more Buddhist texts and sutras. The other was the rapid growth of Buddhism in China at the time. The number of monks had risen and monasteries were growing causing an urgent need for better monastic rules. This was Fa-Hien's main purpose in travelling Westwards whereas other Chinese monks who journeyed before him in search of Buddhist texts had gone no further than North India. When Fa-Hien went there, he found that the monks handed down the precepts orally and had no written records. So he pressed on to Central India to obtain monastic rules.

A humble pilgrim

The significant feature of the travels in Asia of the Chinese Bhikkus Fa-Hien and Xuan Zang was that they were not adventurers but humble pilgrims in contrast to many European explorers like Columbus who were hell bent on conquest, exploitation and forced conversions. Fa-Hien and Heung Tsang dedicated their lives to strengthening ties between their country and the rest of Asia through faith by example, not compulsion. Chinese believed that the Buddha Dhamma in its original form was found only in Sri Lanka.

Fa-Hien set out from Changan in China in 399 AD at the age of 65 on a 14-year odyssey with eight or nine fellow monks, who soon found themselves in the trackless Gobi wastes, where even today high-powered vehicles and modern communications can hardly guarantee safe passage. So not surprisingly, one member of the team died of thirst. He crossed the deserts and the Pamir Plateau, traveled through the North, Central and East India, down to South India, Sri Lanka and Sumatra before returning to China by sea in 413 AD.

During his two year period in Sri Lanka Fa-Hien stayed in Abhayagiri which was a vast monastic complex where every third month of the year the Sacred Tooth Relic was exhibited for 90 days for the public to pay homage. Today it is the site of the Mahatissa Fa-xian Cultural Complex which also houses a museum (to house the artefacts found during the excavation). an information centre, a book stall, a storehouse for archaeological finds and a record room and residential quarters for Bhikkus built according to the ancient plan of five-unit complex as found at Abhayagiri. The cultural complex is in fact a gift from China to Sri Lanka.

Fa-Hien had been away from China for many years and associated only with people of foreign lands. All the mountains, rivers, plants and trees he saw were strange to him. Moreover his companions had left him, some had remained behind and others died. Looking at his lonely shadow, he was often filled with sadness.

After leaving Sri Lanka by ship in pirate-infested seas and braving a hurricane that lasted 13 days Fa-Hien reached Sumatra (then known as Yavadvipa). On his return journey to China from Sumatra on board a Kwangchow-bound merchant ship, they were caught in another heavy storm that nearly sank the vessel. Among the passengers were a number of Brahmin merchants who imagined that Fa-Hien being a Buddhist monk was the cause of ill-luck and decided that they should put him ashore. But Fa-Hien's patron reacted strongly to this attempt by threatening to report them to the Chinese Emperor if they dared to do so. This threat made the troublemakers hesitate and the monk was able to reach home with copies of valuable Buddhist texts not found in China at the time.

Momentous turn of events

On his return to China, he was so eager to translate these documents as quickly as possible that instead of going to Changan to rejoin his former teachers and companions as he had first intended, he went to Chienkang (Nanjing) where he translated the sutras with the help of the Indian monk Buddhabhandra. Fa-Hien was 79 by the time he finally made his way back to China. In 414 AD the year after his return to Chienkang, he wrote the record of his travels; and later, by request .added certain material to make the version which we have today. (From the Foreword by Ho Chang-chun to the English translation of A Record of the Buddhist Countries published by The Chinese Buddhist Association, Beijing 1957)

In a postscript by another Chinese monk, Fa-hien is quoted as saying,

"When I look back on what I have been through my heart begins to pound and I start to sweat. I risked all those dangers with no thought for myself, because I had a fixed purpose and - simple as I am - was single-minded. That was why I embarked upon a journey in which death seemed almost certain, and had one chance only in ten thousand of surviving."

Dr Weimin said that Fa-Hien's writings and those of Xuan Zang as well as other ancient Chinese records referred to Sri Lanka as the land of Sinhalas. The different Chinese names Shizi guo, Sit Tio, Si Tiao, She Tiao, Seng-Kia-lo denoted the same meaning - Simhala, Sinhaladipa or Kingdom of the Lions. (Xuan Zang's plan to visit Sri Lanka in 638 AD did not succeed due to internal strife in the island at the time)

Dr Weimin made a special reference to the period that saw momentous turn of events in 433 AD when a Sinhala ship-owner called Nandi took with him eight Theravada Bhikkunis from Sri Lanka to China. These nuns led by Ayya Sara (Devasara) established the Order of the Buddhist Nuns in that country where it survives to this day continuing the same Higher Order introduced to Sri Lanka in the 3rd Century by the Arahant Bhikkuni Sanghamitta.

According to Dr Weimin the biggest ships that called at Chinese Ports during this period were from Sri Lanka, proving the marine engineering skills of the ancient Sinhalas.

Today when the two countries enjoy the best of relationships it is vital that the Sri Lankan-Chinese cultural - religious connection be well-maintained for the benefit of future generations.

dailynews.lk/2010/05/22

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Fa-hien (337-c.422 AD)  was the first Chinese Buddhist pilgrim to leave an account of his travels to Central Asia, India and Sri Lanka. The name of this monk may correctly be pronounced as Faxian but is also written as Fa-hsien. A native of sanxi (Shansi), he left home at the tender age of three to join the Buddhist Samha. After his novitiate, Fa-hien wanted to go to India to search for the treatises of the Vinaya Pitaka, the monastic rules of buddhism. He departed for India in 399 AD.

Travelling through Central Asia and Northwest India, Fa-hien reached northern India and then visited the holy Buddhist sites located in the Ganges valley: Kapilavastu, the birthplace of Buddha; Bodhgaya, the site of Buddha’s enlightenment; Sarnath, where Buddha preached his first sermon, and Kusinagara, the place of Buddha’s nirvana. He spent much of his time visiting and describing mid-India or Magadha. Fa-hien did not visit peninsular India, and left India by sea to return to China after visiting Sri Lanka. His is the only firsthand account of that island from a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim. Fa-hien returned to China in 414 AD after enduring many hardships at sea.

It took Fa-hien six years to reach Central India from Changan (then the capital of China); his itinerary there extended over another six years; and on his return it took him three years to reach Qingzhou (Ch’ingchou) in modern Shandong, a coastal province in east China.
Fa-hien’s pilgrimage to India inspired for generations other Chinese monks who defied the hazards of travel by land or sea to reach the desired Holy Land of the Buddha in search of the Ultimate Truth (Dhamma).

Towards the end of his travels he entered Bengal through the bordering kingdom of Champa, his destination being tamralipti (Tamluk, in modern Midnapore district, West Bengal), the famous international port of the time, from where he ultimately intended to go to Sri Lanka, the other Buddhist land, by the sea-route.

However, before doing that he lived in Tamralipti for long two years, copying Buddhist sacred books and drawing pictures of Buddhist images. Fa-hien does not record any details but only informs us that there were twenty-four Buddhist monasteries and a large number of monks at Tamralipti. 

Fa-Hien's work is valuable evidence to the strength, and in many places to the dominance, of Buddhism in central Asia and in India at the time of the collapse of the Roman empire in western Europe. His tone throughout is that of the devout, learned, sensible, rarely hysterical pilgrim-traveller. His record is careful and accurate, and most of his positions can be identified; his devotion is so strong that it leads him to depreciate China as a " border-land," India the home of Buddha being the true " middle kingdom " of his creed.

See James Legge, Record of Buddhistic Kingdoms, being an account by the Chinese Monk Fd-hien of his travels in India and Ceylon; translated and edited, with map, &c. (Oxford, 1886); S. Beal, Travels of Fah-Hian and SungYun, Buddhist pilgrims from China to India, 400 and 518 A.D., translated, with map, &c. (1869); C. R. Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, vol. i. (1897), pp. 478-485.

Haraprasad Ray - banglapedia.org

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P3.15   The Buddhist that Emperor Asoka was

An in-depth study of his services to Buddhism

M. B. Mathmaluwe

 

AMIDST tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Asoka shines, and shines alone like a star’. — H. G. Wells: Outline of World History

‘In the History of mankind no ruler has been subjected to study and evaluation as King Asoka has been – and that has been going on for more than 2000 years’ — Dr. Ananda Guruge: In his contribution to King Asoka and Buddhism’ ed by Anuradha Seneviratne.

MUCH as the origins of the Maurya Dynasty could be picked only in the remote annals of India of antiquity, it is yet possible to trace the history of Maurya Kings with a fair measure of accuracy for, after all, the really important kings of their dynasty are few. The royal line begins with Chandragupta followed by Bindusara and ends with Asoka. The rest, if any, have no history to record, and add to this the fact that the numerous lithic records set up by Emperor Asoka himself have greatly facilitated the piecing together of the history of the dynasty, more so, of Asoka in particular. Notwithstanding the remoteness in time, of their beginnings, though it may not always be possible to name exact dates, it is yet possible to fix timeframes with fair reliability for events and personalities in the history of this dynasty.

At the zenith of its power it held its hegemony over an empire which covered the whole of India except a very few of the Southern most states which, too, had tacitly acquiesced in the emperor’s power and stature.

For a brief background account of the commencement of the Mauryan rule, starting with Chandragupta Maurya, it may be stated that its beginnings go back to Alexander’s conquest of the western border provinces of India. Before leaving, Alexander handed over to King Porus, the chief Indian leader who contested Alexander’s intrusion at the time, all the Indian territories he had occupied. On the death of Alexander in 323 B.C. the Greek ‘agent’ ruler of Central Asia, Selukus Nikator was slain by another Greek aspirant, Antigonus who, after establishing himself, launched an ambitious (so he thought) invasion of the Indian Western border regions Punjab and the other Indus territories. But here, he suffered reversals he had never expected when he was repulsed and driven out by Chandragupta Marya, who was ruler there at the time. Antigonous was forced to agree to a humiliating treaty with Chandragupta where he was compelled to cede several Greek provinces to the Indian King in addition to a Greek Princess to Chandragupta’s harem. This was in 322 B.C. which, now, is the formally recognised date by historians for the commencement of the rule of the Maurya dynasty kings of India, beginning with Chandragupta Mauryarja. His rule lasted for 24 years, followed by king Bindusara’s for another 28 years. Today, the date of accession to the Maurya throne by Asoka is accepted by historians as 273 B.C. at Pataliputra, the Capital of the Magadha Kingdom.

Main thesis

With the above brief account of the antecedents to Asoka’s reign, as preamble, this paper will try to deal with its main thesis, the espousal, and patronage given to Buddhism and also of the ‘brand’ (for lack of a better word) of Buddhism he had accepted which can be recognised as transpiring in his numerous—students say, to be as many as 200— lithic records which he had set up in the course of his long reign of nearly 40 years and found scattered all over his vast Empire, indited on pillars, rocks and caves and thus, in a way, marking out for posterity where and how far in that subcontinent his authority held away and his diktat ran.

But, before going further with Asoka’s association with Buddhism, it has to be clearly stated that Asoka’s espousal of, and conversion to Buddhism, was several years after his accession to the throne;

It has to be stated clearly that he was not a declared Buddhist at the outset of his reign. Historian Rajkumund Mookerji, in his well-researched work ‘Asoka’ (1928), avers that he was born a Jain. He says Asoka called himself a Buddhist after his conversion to that faith, which took place only in 266 B.C. However, this date is disputed by other authorities who say that if the official date of his accession had been 273 B.C. it have taken at least another seven years to convert. Incidentally, these dates arrived at by Indian historians do not seriously conflict with the dates transpiring in the Sri Lanka chronicles, Mahavamsa and Dipavansa, when dealing with them. According to Vincent Smith, the Kalinga war of Asoka took place in the 13th regnal year, i. e. in 266 B.C. Asoka, however, says in one of his Inscriptions, that his conversion took place about two and a half years from that date, which would be around, 258 B.C. A student would see, therefore, that there is confusion in dates related to the various events in Asoka’s life and work; these discrepancies, it is apparent, are because of the differences appearing between the lithic and the literary records.

Judging by the dedication shown to the cause, and his tireless efforts, it would be no exaggeration to say that Asoka’s services to Buddhism in propagating it far and wide in the then civilized world—and , that includes Sri Lanka—know no bounds, more so, in the context of the severely limited transport and communication facilities available at that time. As for the dispatch of mission, it has to be remembered that the idea came to him in the aftermath of the Third Council which he organised under the presidency at Moggaliputta Tissa Thera (258 BC) which, on the basis that the Dhamma and the Order had been cleansed and therefore, it was time to set in motion the elaborate missionary programme that Asoka had in mind. Sri Lanka was one of its chief beneficiaries. The time frames mentioned in the lithic records agree with dates transpiring in our chronicles for the regnal period allocated for the monarch on the Sri Lankan throne, i. e. from 247 B.C. to 207 B.C. for King Devanampiyatissa, as ruler from a friendly neighbouring country who had established friendly relations with Emperor Asoka. It was therefore, as a gesture of friendship and honour that Asoka entrusted the mission to his son, Mahinda Thera for that onerous task. Although this date for this historic event as mentioned in Asoka’s lithic records agrees with the Mahavamse dates, it is not so with other source.

Language

Now while being on the subject of missions, it would interesting to know what language/s the Emperor’s missionaries used in the transmission of the Dhamma in those foreign countries, some of them in Europe, thousands of miles distant, with little connection to India. This is a moot question but apparently, little attention has been paid to it; with intelligent guesswork and reasoned speculation, it can be inferred that languages used may have been Greek, Pali and Sanskrit. In India the language that Asoka used for his Inscriptions was mostly, the Nagadhi Prakrit, and also a few inscriptions in the extreme North-west it was Greek and Aramaic, where a minority, residual population still used those languages in that close aftermath of the armies of Alexander and their descendants. Now that his Inscriptions have been mentioned, a couple of words about them would not be out of place. For a long time, at the outset, scholars were at a loss to know who, in fact, had set up these inscriptions on rocks, pillars and caves, and, who their author was because the only name mentioned was of one, "Piyadassi" or "Devanampiya". However, the riddle was solved with the help of the Sri Lankan Chronicle, Mahavamsa, where the reigning monarch’s name bore the surname "Devanampiya" before his name, Tissa and also together with them his friend’s a name ‘Asoka’ was also mentioned.

Emperor Asoka’s relations with Buddhism deserve an in-depth study as the title of this paper also indicates. From time immemorial, India has been a land with many, religions Hinduism, Brahminism, Jainism to mention just a few and here was Buddhism, comparatively new, sectarian little-known even at the time of Asoka and, at the time, yet a regional religion which he, a commanding personality, of a great country espoused and before long, with single-minded dedication and sustained effort, in his own life-time, brought to the status of a world religion. It would have been a great day, no doubt, when benign gods would have smiled for that momentous single act was to have a tremendous and lasting impact on not only on the country that received it but also on this gentle religion as well. If one would pause to consider just one fact, one would realise how far-reaching this impact has been. Around 2200 years after Asoka had dispatched his missionaries to Europe and at the same time to Sri Lanka. When in 1894 A.D. Anagarika Dharmapala went to America to address the World Fair held in Chicago to mark the 400th Anniversary, he asked those in that august assembly, who had read any biography of the Buddha to raise their hands. It may be difficult to believe this, but only just FIVE raised their hands.

Europe



So much for Asoka’s Buddhist missions! Everyone knows that for all the efforts of Asoka, Buddhism has had no impact on any European country. It has been wiped out almost immediately without leaving a trace, any sign of its presence there, ruin, a figure or image, even a simple artefact! That was distant Europe, now, how about India itself, the very birthplace of the Religion and its Teacher? Once again, when at the end of the 19th Century, when Anagarika Dharmapala went to India to reclaim Buddha Gaya for the Buddhists, the situation there for Buddhism was even worse. The Anagarika was virtually chased out. Buddha Gaya did not belong to the Buddhists because by that time, Buddhism had all but disappeared from its home!

It is against this backdrop that this writer would make bold to say that had not Sri Lanka received and retained and protect and actively practised it for all these 2300 years and more, Buddhism, at least the purified and pristine Theravada Buddhism, as we know it today, it would have disappeared from the face of the earth! It was Sri Lanka alone that had Theravada Buddhism with its Sangha and all the ritual and formalities so native to it from the day it was brought here and in no others country except for a couple of Southeast Asian nations like Burma Siam, to which Buddhism was dispatched from Sri Lanka during the reign of Vijayabahu I in the 12th century after this religion had disappeared from those lands.

     

Part II

For Sri Lanka, a friendly neighbouring country, there could have been no better gift that Emperor Asoka could give than the noble Buddha Dhamma; to her, it has made all the difference: it has nourished and enriched her culture; its people have since, carried its ennobling spirit in their gut and senew; they are what they are today, because of Buddhism’s gentle humanising nature. A native may have grown insensitive to it, but the first impression of a foreigner has always been that the Sri Lankans are a gentle and hospitable people, a result, no doubt of the humanising influence of more than two millennia of Buddhism, for their part, they have maintained and protected it with love and devotion, in its most pure, pristine form, as Mahinda Thera first brought it here, immediately after the Third Council. Since then, when this lamp of the Dhamma had been snuffed out everywhere else, even, in its land of birth, Sri Lanka alone retained it, watched its well-being, protected it like the tower of light it was, shedding its gentle soft effulgence on all mankind: happily today, its light is seen spreading over regions and peoples of the world, as it has been never done before.

Now, coming to the main thrust of this paper, as declared afore, the importance of Asoka for Buddhism and its survival as a moral force, not merely as an activity practiced religion, but also as an instrument of discipline binding on organised civil society, is invaluable for, the present writer’s, considered view is that Asoka gave his unlimited patronage to and so warmly espoused the cause of Buddhism not merely as he was a whole-hearted devotee of it, guiding his life and thinking but equally well, or even more so, because he found the basic spirit of Buddhism and its tenets that beckon man to virtue and moral conduct, ideally suited for a monarch truly concerned for the well-being of his subjects, to use as a reliable instrument in the efficient administration of his government in the onerous task of running his Empire, here is what the reknowned historian, Raj Mookerji says about this.

"We shall now treat of his public religion which he sought to present before his people... we may say that it was not to be identified with any of the then prevailing Faiths of the country; it was certainly not Buddhism that was his religion".

Then again,

"We hear from him nothing concerning the deeper ideas or, of the fundamental tenets of the Faith; there is no mentions of the Four Grand Truths, the Eight-fold Path, the Chain of Causation, the Supernatural qualities of the Buddha; the word and the idea of Nirvana fail to occur.... etc. etc."

Rajkumund Mookerji; "Asoka" P.65.

Numerous similar extracts could be quoted from this author as well as from other historians to prove this point, but this should do to convince a reader.

But the above should not be taken to mean that Asoka cared little or nothing for Buddhism except to use it as a convenient instrument for his administrative purposes in the complicated business of running his Empire. It should not be construed that way. We have to remember, though he was born, as an Ajivak a, or a Jain he certainly, converted to Buddhism. Historians are replete with details concerning this matter - how, after the Kalinga war, after which he triumphantly proclaimed:

".... 50,000 were carried away 100,000 were killed and, many times that number perished....." Asoka Edict Nos. III and Xiii.

As a part of his Faith and as a practising Buddhist, he undertook extended pilgrim-tours to Buddhist sites scattered all over his vast Empire accompanied by scores of Courtiers and hundreds of entourage. Such public acts no doubt, served both as a religious and an administrative purpose, in the eye of his subjects. He set up new places of warship at places known today as Sanchi, Saranath, Kausambi etc. etc. For the benefit of pilgrims he built rest houses,planted Shade-trees along public roads to provide shade to travellers. setting up Inscriptions, as he did, quoting copious extracts from the Buddhist Scripture, was a part of his contribution to the maintenance of the Dhamma; reading carefully some of his Inscriptions, one could gather that he believed in some of the bench-mark teachings of the Buddha like Rebirth, Nirvana; he refers to a ‘Paraloka’. In addition however, he also mentions as a part of his beliefs, of an "immortality of Soul", and also of "eternity of Heaven", which beliefs, of course, as knowledgeable Buddhists would know, are outside the Buddha’s Teachings. Such, therefore are some of the reasons why the orthodoxy of Asoka’s brand of Buddhism is rather questionable.

Now, finally having said all this, and having observed, in some detail, the interest taken, and the labours involving Asoka’s espousal of, and measures taken for the propagation and the transmission of the Dhamma, there could be no doubt in the readers’ minds that Asoka was, without doubt, a Buddhist. But it behoves us to ask ourselves in the light of foregoing evidence what sort of Buddhist be was!.To what extent he accepted and believed and conducted himself in the use and practice of this religion - the stream of Theravada Buddhism as we understand it today. In his Inscriptions he repeatedly refers to a "Dhamma" and also, he refers to a certain concept which he calls "The Law of Piety" to which he refers quite often, this latter concept clearly is a stranger to Buddhism; Asoka no doubt, has borrowed it from Hinduism; similarly, it has to be said, that the concept of the "Dhamma and the term for it, are not exclusive to Buddhism. So that the term "Dhamma" he so glibly uses too, has been borrowed from Hinduism which is the older religion, and therefore, had made these terms quite familiar to the people by the time the Buddha arrived and set his "Dhamma Chakka’ rolling and the people, for their part, would have accepted it in terms of the concepts they already had in their minds, - at least some of them. It is well-known that Hindu- society is heavily caste-ridden and that the Hindu concept of "Dhamma", tacitly accepts caste as an institution, but, in Buddhism Caste, as a social institution, has absolutely no place; in fact, while recognising its presence in society in his time, the Buddha totally rejected its validity in the evaluation of the worth of a man: the ‘Brahmin’, to the Buddha was the upright, well-conducted moral man.



The enigma of Asoka’s ‘brand’ of Buddhism has puzzled thinking Buddhists ever since his day and, perhaps, will remain so in the future too, still, his unflagging services to Buddhism will, for ever remain to benefit mankind and they, in turn would gratefully remember him for it

Keen students of History have questioned the genuineness of Asoka’s Buddhism some, in fact, have expressed serious doubts as to whether he was a Buddhist at all! One says:

"He used Buddhism, or rather, the wide social movements endangered by it, for his political purposes just as a shrewd politician does".

J. S. Sirong, Contribution to:, "Emperor Asoka and Buddhism" E. Anuradha Seneviratne. P17.

Also, in her prestigious two-volume "History of India", Romila Thapar devoting two whole Chapters to discuss Asoka’s imperial policies and here, she says:

"To him Buddhism was a convenient instrument of Statecraft; there is nothing specifically Buddhist in his "Dhamma" for, the same ethical teachings are to be found in various Brahminical texts" Again, Richard Gombritch in a Contribution to "King Asoka and Buddhism" Ed. Anuradha Seneviratne says:

"Almost all of Asoka’s Inscriptions are, about the "Dhamma" by this he does not mean specifically Buddhism, but righteousness as he understand it".

All this said, still it is the considered opinion of this writer that Emperor Asoka is the greatest monarch to have ever sat on his people’s throne to rule, to reign, or preside over the destinies of his people; he remains still the one conqueror to have abandoned conquest at the height of his victories; his mind was, at least two millennia ahead of his time!

21 06 2014 - The Island

 

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P3.16   The continuing efforts of the Maha Theras to preserve the Dhamma in purity 

M.B. Mathmaluwe


"And the Blessed One thought: 'I have taught the Truth which is excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle and excellent in the end; it is glorious in its spirit and glorious in the letter, but simple as it is the people cannot understand it. I must speak to them in their own language.... they are like unto children and like to hear tales; therefore I will tell them stories to explain the glory of the Dhamma....'"

....Quote from: Paul Carus: "The Gospel of the Buddha". - (P. 154) That is how the Buddha is reported to have thought of His own Dhamma. It at once gives an idea of the kind of audiences the Master had to address the excellence of the Buddha as a teacher and the nature of the doctrine itself. A reader of the Buddhist scriptural literature would be continually astonished by the methodologies the great teacher employed to carry home a point to even the most obtuse of his listeners to leave a lasting impact.

It is usual for a Buddhist to read the Dhamma with an attitude of reverence or even of devotion; this is in spite of the fact that it is not all who could read the scriptures in the original Pali, apparently an Indo-Ariyan Prakrit in use in the Magadhan Kingdom at the time and in which dialect the Buddha is supposed to have spoken.

So we are compelled to read it in translations; even so, one cannot fail to be stuck by the remarkably forceful, fresh and enlightening thought.... the wisdom apart.... and this, in spite of the loses it may have suffered in thought or in the felicities of usage for, it is well-known that translations very often fail to carry the entire burden of not only the charms of idiom language, metaphor, simile, imagery, analogy etc., etc.

Native to the original speech, but also something of the original thought. The Buddha is reported to have once told Ananda, His devoted disciple:

"My doctrine is like the ocean, having eight wonderful qualities. Both the ocean and the doctrine gradually get deeper; preserve identity under all change.... As the great ocean has only one taste, that of salt, so too, my doctrine has only one flavour, the flavour of emancipation." (Maha Parinibbana Sutta).

Reading all this, one would notice that the Buddha was one of the greatest teacher, the world has ever known. If further evidence is necessary, one has only to read some of the simpler and shorter Sutras for instance from those like the Udana or the Dhammapada: These two are named here for their popular applicability, clarity and brevity; and for these very reasons apparently, they have been classified in the Kuddhaka Nikaya (Short discourses) of the Sutra Pitaka.

Take for instance, some of His beautiful pronouncements relating to the events in the story of Nanda (His step-brother) and the pink-footed nymphs or of the story of the blind men and the elephant; also, Rev. Narada, in his introduction to his edition of the Dhammapada refers to others like similes of the cart-wheel, man's shadow, the ill-thatched house, the sleeping village and the flood etc.

Now, a word seems appropriate here, about the constitution and the classification of the whole corpus of the Scriptures themselves, as briefly as possible. On this matter it would be expedient to quote Dr. E.W. Adikaram: He says:

"We may safely state that there were two main collections: the Vinaya Collections or the Collection of the Rules and Regulations for the Guidance of the Monks and the Nuns and the Dhamma Collection or, that of the Discourses. The division of the Dhamma into Sutras and Abhidhamma is evidently, a later one."

..... "Early History of Buddhism in Ceylon" (P. 246), again, for reasons of space, it is not intended here, to go into the more elaborate classifications of the Tripitaka (the entire Canon) into, for example, Sutras, Nikayas, Pitakas etc. -For details, reference can be made to any authoritative work on the subject like "The History of Buddhist Thought" by E.J. Thomas (P. 261- 286). Appendix I; or "The Path of the Buddha": Compiled by Kenneth W. Moragan (P. 68-75).

Having said that the question arises as to how much of the Dhamma as it exists today, is authentic and pristine: could there be later accretions interpolations, anything spurious or perhaps, anything missed out? The answers to these questions would have to be necessarily in the realms of conjecture and speculation; yet they are important to a practising Buddhist for, the Dhamma is His only guide! On His death-bed, the Buddha is reported to have told Ananda:

"It may be Ananda, that you will say thus: "Without the Teacher is the sublime teaching..... May, Ananda you should not think thus; whatever doctrine and discipline have been taught are promulgated by me..... they will be your teacher when I am gone".

..... Rev. Narada: "The Buddha and His Teachings" (P. 145).

Thus, to a Buddhist, the Dhamma is as good as a living Buddha: If this so, it is only logical that it behoves us to consider the vagaries that the Dhamma has weathered upto its survival till now.

Apparently, the Enlightened One, while He lived did not think it either necessary or expedient to have His doctrine recorded or subjected to any sort of Codification.

However, His devoted disciples led by the Maha Theras, awoke to a serious situation. Now that the Master was no more, there would be no one to ask to verify from or rectify an error inadvertently committed in anything relating to the Dhamma. There was a real danger that with time, it may get lost, corrupted or that spurious accretions, impurities may creep into it. That such dangers were real was found when a rebel monk, Subaddha by name, after the Buddha passed away, went about declaring: Now that the Great Recluse has passed away, let us live as we please and not be bound by multiple precepts." ("Path of the Buddha" - P. 36).

To remedy the situation, steps had to be taken without delay: Three months after the Great Demise, the Maha Theras led by Maha Kassapa who was Chief of the Sangha at the time (Maha Theras Sariputta and Moggallana had predeceased the Master) called a council, the first of six such Great Councils in the Theravada Tradition of the learned Brotherhood to recite the Dhamma to review it, to rectify any irregularities and to preserve it so that nothing was lost or inadvertently included; First Great Council was held at Rajagaha under the patronage of the King of Magadha.

The First Great Council is important in its own way for, it not only set a precedent but also because it was at this Council that the Maha Thera Maha Kassapa, under whose leadership it was done, for the first time, assigned specific sections of the Dhamma to particular individual Monks and groups of Monks to be their custodians and to have them memorised and handed over from teacher to pupil.

Apparently, the selections and assignments were carefully made, and on certain valid grounds, taking into consideration legibilities for such onerous responsibility. Thus, the Vinaya Pitaka was entrusted to Upali Thera and his pupils; the Digha, Samyutta and Anguttara Nikayas were given to Ananda. The pupils of Sariputta, Mahakassapa and Anuruddha respectively. Incidentally, it may be noted that the main source of material later systematised as the Abhidhamma is contained in some of the Suttas of the Majjhima Nikaya: it is not surprising that it was handed over to the pupils of Sariputta because he was known for his knowledge of the Abhidamma.

These Theras to whom these tracts were assigned, together with their pupils were expected to be able to recite them from memory without flaw: such reciters were called "Bhanakas". Here, the readers' attention is drawn to the tremendous fact that the Doctrine (the entire Canon) was handed down in the oral tradition for the next 500 years until it was finally committed to writing at the Fourth Great Council held in Sri Lanka in circa 25 B.C. This fact is important for the purpose of this paper.

That such councils.... six of them, according to the Theravada (the Southern) Tradition.... had to be called from time to time, is itself enough evidence to show that all was not well with this system: that, in the course of time, doubts arose, impurities gathered and so, a general review for cleansing became necessary.

The Second Great Council was held at Vesali, one hundred years after the Great Demise and under the patronage of King Kalasoka; the Third Great Council was taken at Pataliputra in the reign of Emperor Asoka mainly, it appears, to cleanse the Sangha of Undesirables and those disseminating spurious teachings. As mentioned above the Fourth Council is important to Sri Lankans particularly and to all Buddhists everywhere because it was here that the Dhamma was committed to writing for the first time and the text was 'fixed' finally for all time.

This Council was held in extremely strained circumstances and under dire nessity.

The fifth Council was held at Mandalay, Burma (Myanmar) in 1871 A.D. under the patronage of King Mindon and the sixth and the last Great Council was held in Rangoon to mark the 2500th Year after the Demise of the Buddha (1956).

Before returning to the Fourth Great Council held in Sri Lanka, which was one of the utmost importance to the Sasana (Buddhist Establishment) for it was held under grave threats to the very survival of Buddhism not only in this island but even of the world for by this time.

Buddhism was being eclipsed in the land of its birth, India, under onslaught of the resurgence of Brahminism and Hinduism on the sub-continent.

There was no tradition at the time of preserving knowledge in writing; this was prominently seen in India where extensive Hindu and Brahminic religious tracts were preserved in the oral tradition... handed down regularly from memory from teacher to pupil. There were good reasons for this, like the paucity of suitable writing material, a lack of literacy among people and also the non-availability of scribes etc.

Students would recite their tracts for days and weeks at single session without missing a single sentence, word or syllable! On this matter, here is what Stuart Piggot, former Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh says: "The writing down of early Hindu religious literature was achieved only in the late 18th centaury and the early 19th centaury at the instance of British scholars like Sir William Jones with, what was regarded as the highly treasonable collaboration of a few Brahmin priests."

....."Prehistoric India" (P. 253).

And again:

"The exact pronunciation of every syllable and accent was thought to be of the utmost importance; every sound, it was thought, had a magical significance that could be varied only at the peril of the reciter."

"It is necessary now to return to the fourth Great Council held in Sri Lanka at which, as already said, the Tripitaka for the first time in its existence, was committed to writing.

Rev. Dr. Walpola Rahula Thera in his comprehensive study, "The History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka", writing at length on this Council, explains why it was found absolutely necessary to write down the entire Cannon; in the whole history of this island there has never been a period more chaotic or anarchic as the last few decades of the First Century B.C.

Immediately after King Vattagamini Abhaya (29 - 17 B.C.) ascended the throne, there occurred a massive invasion of the island by five Tamil brothers from South India and simultaneously, a Brahmin called Tiya, from Ruhuna raised the standard of rebellion and marched upon Anuradhapura with a great force: The King having just ascended the throne was unable to face the situation and so, fled the capital and had to remain a fugitive for the next 14 years. Law and order collapsed and anarchy reigned supreme and worse: an unprecedented crop-failure occurred following a long drought resulting in widespread famine; the people could not provide the Sangha....

There were thousands of them in Anuradhapura alone.... with the barest needs of their food; hundreds of them died and other hundreds deserted their temples and scattered, some going to India.

Now the Sasana was in peril; many of the monks who had memorised the Dhamma were either dead or had left the country. The Maha Theras realising the danger, decided to call up a Council immediately and recite it and have it written down before everything was lost.

And so, for the first time ever, in the reign of King Vattagamini Abhaya at Matale (Aluvihare), under the patronage of a local chief, the Dhamma (or perhaps, what remained of it) was put down in writing and preserved for ever: for once, the Text was at last, 'fixed' (circa 25 B.C.). The importance of this event in the history of the Dhamma is paramount and even imponderable: if this had not happened on that fateful day, what would have happened to the Buddhist Doctrine is difficult to say; if it had not become extinct totally, what would have remained of it would be anybody's guess!

Even so, it is worth reflecting upon the Dhamma as it has come down to us today.... not in an attitude of irreverence or even of doubt but in an agony of concern and in an effort to unravel the tremendous possibilities that could have followed. When dealing with this matter, what one must not lose sight of, is the fact that the dhamma existed in the oral tradition for no less than 500 years; today, historians agree that a century comprises four human generations, so that at least for 20 generations the Canon was handed down orally from teacher to pupil.

Considering the possibilities, one cannot forget that the fortunes of the Dhamma depended upon a very fickle and manipulable human factor. The tremendous question is, under these conditions, could the Dhamma have maintained its pristine purity and authenticity. The very fact that from time to time, even so early as within three months of the Master's Demise, already doubts and disputes had surfaced, proves that the path ahead was insecure and that the Dhamma was susceptible to gather impurities or suffer deletions.

These disputes concerned not only just matters of the Vinaya (rules of discipline) but also the main discourses, the Sutras: the parties involve would stand obdurate within their individual premises of beliefs and convictions.

In Sri Lanka the first of such disputes arose in the reign of King Vattagamini Abhaya himself after he returned to the throne: he built a Vihare in the northern premises of the city and offered it to a Maha Thera, Mahatissa by name, who had greatly helped him in the days when he had been a fugitive. Now, the Mahavihara, the Traditional Centre of Theravada Buddhism in Sri lanka would not approve of Maha Thera Mahatissa accepting it.



This dispute triggered off the first Schism that was to take place in the country when, a pupil of Mahatissa Thera took umbrage over the attitude of Mahavihara to his teacher and taking a large following of some 200 other Bhikkhus, went and settled down with his teacher at Abhayagiri Vihara which was the cause of the dispute. This break-away was just only one such: There were others like that which occurred in King Mahasena's reign later.

One more factor to reckon with is that the Dhamma could have lost something or acquired a deviating interpretation or twist in translation for, translations any day have this habit of being at times notoriously unfaithful to the original... not merely factually, but in the felicities of idiom and usage; there is ample possibility that such losses could have taken place before it finally came to be written down and the text 'fixed' for posterity.

Thus, if one may venture to say it, in all honesty and responsibility, the Dhamma, as it has come down to us, a little more than 2500 years after the Demise of the Enlightened One, may be not be exactly the same words or even all the words the Great Master Himself had uttered; even as it exists at every turn, we are reminded again and again, that it is only 'reported': ("Evam Me Sutam"), as the reciter had begun his piece, even in the earliest days after the Buddha had passed away). In the context of what I have so far said, it may be reasonable to say that the pristine Dhamma is not available anywhere today.

This has been said before and can be said again. But this is not in any way to minimise either the greatness, validity or relevance of the Great master's Teaching even as it exists today.

Finally, it would be appropriate here, to quote one of the greatest students of Buddhism of the West, E.J. Thomas on the State of Dhamma as it exists today. Quoting an earlier authority, he says".

"Franke has stated that the books of the Canon are not authentic; that the Canon was not composed and compiled in one and the same period of time... Even the First Pitakas (leave alone the Abhidhamma) cannot possibly have been presented as finished before the First or Second Council......" and continues further to say:

"This conclusion, in the sense that we do not possess a verbatim report of the discourses, is so obvious that it scarcely needed saying....."

..... E.J. Thomas: "History of Buddhist Thought" (P. 265 - Appendix I). 

 

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P3.17   Anagarika Dharmapala: His vision and mission


The text of the keynote speech delivered by Prof. J.B. Disanayaka at the inaugural session of a recent symposium on Anagarika Dharmapala and India-Sri Lanka Relations. The symposium was organised by the Centre for Contemporary Indian Studies of the University of Colombo to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary of the Great Buddhist Revivalist.

A Sri Lankan who goes on pilgrimage to sacred Buddhist sites in India, particularly in the North, cannot bypass the presence of Anagarika Dharmapala, the Sinhalese Buddhist who led the Buddhist revival in the latter part of the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century. As the pilgrim walks along roads that have been named after him and relaxes at the guest-rooms in the Mahabodhi societies, he cannot but thank the man who made all that possible, Anagarika Dharmapala.

Anagaika Dharmapala is considered the most outstanding ideologue of the Sinhalese Buddhist revival of the last century. It was he who provided the conceptual framework for this movement. He was a man with a vision and a mission. His vision was to regain the lost identity of the Sinhalese Buddhists and his mission was to spread the universal message of the Buddha beyond the land of His birth, India.

The Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was born in India, which was then called ‘Jambu-dvipa’. Sri Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime-minister of modern India, says in his ‘Glimpses of World History’ that the Buddha is “the greatest son of India”. The English historian, H.G.Wells, says in his ‘Outline of History’ that Buddhism is “clear and simple and in the closest harmony with modern ideas. It is beyond all dispute the achievement of one of the most penetrating intelligences the world has ever seen.” Albert Einstein has said that “if there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism”

Until the onset of Western colonialism in Sri Lanka at the turn of the sixteenth century, this island was a Buddhist kingdom where the majority was ‘Sinhalese Buddhist’. The term ‘Sinhalese Buddhist’ had not come into currency because there was no need to identity them as a distinct ethno-religious entity. The Portuguese, the first colonial masters who arrived in this country in 1505, came here with “a sword in one hand and the Bible in the other”.

With colonialism, the Sinhalese Buddhist identity began to lose ground. To seek employment under the colonial masters, the Sinhalese were compelled to give up the two most distinctive features of their identity: their Sinhala names and their religion, Buddhism. This continued under the Dutch and the British, the two nations that followed the Portuguese.

In that colonial tradition, young Dharmapala was named ‘Don David’ by his father who was ‘Don Carolis’. His younger sister was named ‘Dona Engaltina’ and his younger brothers were given alien names such as ‘Edmond’ ‘Simon Alexander’ and ‘Charles’. Since charity begins at home, Don David began the revival by changing his own name from ‘David’ to ‘Dharmapala’: ‘the one who is governed by the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha’

Since there were no Buddhist colleges of any standing at that time, he had no choice but to attend several Christian missionary schools, such as St. Thomas’, St. Benedict’s and Christian College at Kotte. The atmosphere in these schools was alien: boarding masters shooting birds that alight on the trees, and teachers throwing non-Christian books into the dustbin. Young Dharmapala was determined to change this sad state of affairs.

His mission was both ethnic and religious. Ethnically, he wanted to regain the lost identity of the Sinhalese and religiously, he wanted to spread the teachings of the Buddha. To regain the lost identity of the Sinhalese, he ridiculed those Sinhalese who had foreign names and those who wore the European dress.

Once he asked a bright boy whom he met at a meeting what his name was and the boy answered “Pedrick Silva”. Snapped Dharmapala “Who is the bloody fool that gave you that silly name? Hereafter you will be called Piyadasa Sirisena!” Piyadasa Sirisena grew up to become one of the most outstanding writers of this period.

As Sarath Amunugama says, in his paper on ‘Anagarika Dharmapala and Sinhala Buddhist Ideology’, “Dharmapala launched a frontal attack on the concept of English superiority. He reversed the existing relationship and contrasted the past of English civilisation with that of the Sinhalese. In place of the imperialist stereotype of the coloured man as a savage and heathen, Dharmapala, with a sense of mass psychology, substituted his own stereotype of the Englishman as a barbarian. In contrast, the Sinhalese were portrayed as the heirs of a magnificent civilisation: “What other nation on earth is there which could boast of a history of the island, a history of the great line of kings, a history of religion, a history of sacred architectural shrines, a history of the sacred tree, a history of the sactred relics?”

To revive Buddhism, he had the support of many others: monks and laymen; Sri Lankans as well as foreigners. Among Sri Lankans were distinguished monks such as Ven. Hikkaduwe Sumangala, Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda, Ven. Heyyantuduve Devamitta, Ven. Valane Siddhartha and Ratmalane Dharmarama — monks who were instrumental in conducting the so-called ‘Debates’, such as the Debate at Panadura, that inspired many a foreigner to come to Sri Lanka and embrace Buddhism.

Among Sinhalese laymen were scholars such as Valisinghe Harischandra and among non-Sinhalese Sri Lankans were men such as Leadbeater, (who later became the principal of the most prestigeous Buddhist school). Among foreigners were men and women such as the American colonel, Henry Steele Olcott; the Russian theosophist, Madame H.P. Blavatsky and the American philanthropist Madame Mary Foster Robinson (from Honolulu).

To revive Buddhism in Sri Lanka, he established a series of Buddhist colleges for boys and girls to educate them in a Buddhist environment. Among the boys’ schools were Ananda (Colombo), Dharmaraja (Kandy), Mahinda (Galle) and Maliyadeva (Kurunegala); and among girls’ schools were Visakha (Colombo), Mahamaya (Kandy) and Sanghamitta (Galle). To teach Buddhism per se, an educational institution known as a ‘Dhamma school’ was established and it was conducted on Sundays.

To coordinate work he established an organisation that was named ‘the Mahabodhi’ in Colombo, which continues even to this day. To educate the Sinhalese Buddhists, he published newspapers and periodicals both in Sinhala and English: in Sinhala, the most prestigious Sinhala weekly was ‘Sinhala Bauddhaya’(Sinhalese Buddhist); in English, the most prestigious periodicals were ‘The Buddhist’ and ‘The Mahabodhi’.
To revive Buddhism in India, the land of its birth, he spent the best years of his life in India. His first visit to India was in 1884, when he was just a young man of twenty. It was Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, the Buddhist theosophists that invited him to join them to visit Adayar in Madras where they had their Theosophical Society.

His visit to Bodhgaya, six years later, was an eye-opener. He found that the temple at Bodhgaya, where Prince Siddhartha attained Enlightenment, was under the control of the Hindus who religiously conducted Hindu rites and rituals in full vigour. His mission was to reestablish Buddhism at the place of its birth. Over many years, he had to fight a hard battle in a foreign land, and was able to gain a foothold for the Buddhists there. In this struggle, there were many Indian Buddhists who helped him. Today, Bodhgaya has become a UNESCO heritage site and the Mahabodhi there caters to the needs of the Sinhalese Buddhist pilgrims.



In Saranath, where the Buddha delivered his first sermon, he set up not only a Mahabodhi but also a new temple, named ‘Mulagandhakuti Vihara’. In old Culcutta, he built a vihara, which was named,’Dharmarajika Vihara’, to recall a temple built by Emperor Dharmasoka in Gandhara.

To spread the teachings of the Buddha and help pilgrims, branches of the Mahabodhi were established in many parts of India: Madras (Chennai), Culcutta (Kolkata), Bodhgaya, Saranath, Kusunagar and Lumbini (in modern Nepal).

It was Anagarika Dharmapala who took the message of the Buddha beyond India to the West and the East: His participation at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 was a landmark in the history of Buddhism in the West. His speech, made with eloquence and elegance, made such an impact on the non-Buddhist audience that Prof. Barrows who chaired the sessions is reported to have said that Dharmapala looked “like Christ in a saffron robe”!

To establish Buddhism in Britain, he went to London a couple of times. His visit in 1925, when he was 60 years old, was to open a Buddhist vihara in London. As Sinha Ranatunga, (Managing Trustee of the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust) says, “His arrival in England, ten days after his 60th birthday, was to realise his dream of opening a Buddhist vihara in London…As he sailed the Atlantic Ocean his diary entry for New Year’s Day (January 1st 1926) is as follows: ‘May the Sasana be established in England. Thirteen hundred years ago, the Roman clergy established the Catholic Church in England. In the 16th century, Henry VIII established the Protestant Church. Why should not England also have the Aryan Religion of the Shakya Prince?” (‘Anagarika Dharmapala and Spread of Buddhism’, London Buddhist Vihara publication 2014). As a result of his endeavour, the London Buddhist Vihara was established in Chiswick, which celebrated its 88th anniversary this year.

Anagarika Dharmapala also inspired Buddhists in other Asian counties such as China, Japan, Korea, Thailand and Myanmar to revive their Buddhism to keep up with modern trends. He visted all these lands where he was given a warm welcome.

For many years he was called ‘Anagarika’ meaning ‘the Homeless’, the one who has left household in pursuit of truth. In his last years, he entered monkhood and called himself ‘Devamitta Dhammapala’, after his teacher, Ven.Heyyantuduve Devamitta. His spent the last years of his life in Saranath and died on April 29th 1933 at the age of sixty nine, with the hope that he would be born at least twenty five times more to reestablish the Buddha Sasana by taking the universal the message of the Buddha to the world, for “the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world”.

19 10 2014 - Sunday Times

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P3.18   Anagarika’s efforts to foster Buddhism in Asia began in Adyar

The 151st birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala

Dr. Sarath Amunugama

 

The Theosophical Society (TS) opened its new headquarters in Adyar, near Madras, in 1882. New buildings were constructed, a library containing valuable Hindu and Buddhist manuscripts was established and a translation and publication programme was launched.

Another significant development was the institutionalisation of the TS’ annual convention which was attended by representatives of TS branches in India and Ceylon.

Though started in Bombay, it was in Adyar that the Theosophical Society convention became a well organised feature.

“The delegates to the convention now begin arriving, and the whole of our house-room was occupied. It is always a strange sight to European friends to see the place filled at night by camping Indian delegates. Each brings his sleeping mat and rug and his pillow, and makes his choice of his share of floor area to spread them on” (Olcott; 1975:34).

Dharmapala attended these conventions from his 20th year. Just out of school, he had been taken to Adyar by Madame Blavatsky for the 1884 TS convention.

It was during this week in Adyar that he was instructed by Blavatsky to study Pali. Impressed by the gathering in Adyar, Dharmapala vowed “that henceforth my life should be devoted to the good of humanity.”

In 1886, he accompanied the Ramanya Nikaya monk Ilukwatte Medhankara to Adyar. Medhankara was a favourite of the ‘Theosophical Twins’ Blavatsky and Olcott:
“A word must be said about this Medhankara. He was of the Ramanya Nikaya, a young man truly holy in his life and aims to a degree that I have never seen equaled among the Bhikkus of Ceylon.
A part of each year it was his custom to retire into the forest and spend the time in meditation, subsisting on berries and such other food as came his way. Almost alone among the monks, he believed in the existence of our masters, and his strongest yearning was to go to Tibet in search of them” (Olcott; 1972:400).

In 1887, together with Leadbeater, the Anglican padre turned Theosophist, who joined him from Colombo, Dharmapala was one of the 127 participants in the Adyar assembly. By now he was the General Secretary of the Buddhist section of the Ceylon Theosophical Society and manager of its schools and press.

He was looked upon by the TS leadership as a very promising “brother” on account of his strong commitment and social connections in Ceylon.

A contingent from Calcutta, led by Norendranath Sen, also attended these conventions. Sen had attended these meetings from 1882.

His paper, the Indian Mirror, had drawn on the TS experience to suggest to provincial political associations in Bengal, Bombay and Madras to hold “a national assembly for India.” It was such a national assembly which became the precursor of the Indian National Congress.

Visit to Buddhagaya

In December 1889 Dharmapala was back in Adyar. This year he was accompanied by Noguchi, a Japanese Buddhist who had arrived in Colombo en route to Adyar. Noguchi aimed to persuade Olcott to return with him to Japan.

As he described his mission “(Olcott) has helped the Buddhists of Ceylon to work a change for the better in their religion, so wonderful that no one could believe it without going to that island and talking with the priests and the people” (Olcott, 1975: 82).

He wanted Olcott to do the same for Japan. Acclaimed by the convention, the TS leader agreed. At the request of Noguchi he decided to take young Dharmapala with him.

Though ill for the better part of the tour, Dharmapala created a good impression in Japan and established links with Buddhist groups there. These contacts helped Dharmapala to draw Japanese monks to Sri Lanka, two of whom, accompanied him to Buddhagaya.

Thanks to this tour Dharmapala was able to study Olcott’s “technique” of approaching the highest personages in a country in the cause of Theosophy. They met with the Japanese Prime Minister, General Count Kuroda, Cabinet Ministers, the Imperial Chamberlain Viscount Sannomiya and the Governor of Tokyo.

In December 1890, Dharmapala, now acclaimed by Sinhala Buddhists as the “first Sinhalese to set foot in Japan,” returned to Adyar for the TS convention.

He was accompanied by Kozen Gunaratne and Tokuzawa, two Japanese monks who had come to Sri Lanka, as a result of Olcott’s tour of Japan, to study Southern Buddhism. After the convention the three Buddhists embarked on a pilgrimage to Saranath, Benares and Buddhagaya.

The need to reclaim Buddhagaya for the Buddhists had been emphasised by Sir Edwin Arnold who visited the site in 1886.

In a letter to a Lankan monk, Weligama Sumangala, Arnold claimed to be the pioneer of the Restoration; “I think there never was an idea which took root and spread so far and fast as that thrown out thus in the sunny temple court at Panadure.” Some Lankans including the chief priest of the Ramanya Nikaya, Ambagahawatte Indrasabha, had claimed to have visited this site earlier.

“Dharmapala wrote that while these Buddhist dignitaries had remained silent after their visit, he was moved to tears, even by reading Arnold’s description of the sacred site in India Revisited (Dharmapala 1963: 235).

From Madras the pilgrims went to Benares through Bombay. From there they reached Gaya and on 21st January 1891 arrived at the sacred shrine in Buddhagaya. This encounter changed Dharmapala’s life and had far reaching consequences for Sinhala Buddhists.

Though Dharmapala and the two Japanese Buddhists, decided to “stop here and take care of this sacred place,” it was not a feasible proposition. They moved into the Burmese Buddhist pilgrims resthouse in Buddhagaya which had been constructed on the orders of King Mindon of Burma in 1875.

After a month of privation Tokusawa left. Dharmapala, familiar with the methods of the Theosophists, vowed to set up an organisation for the reclaiming and preservation of Buddhist sacred sites in North India.

First visit to Calcutta

Leaving Kozen Gunaratne behind in Buddhagaya, Dharmapala left for Calcutta. When I came to Calcutta in March 1891 nothing was known of Buddhism and there was no place where a Buddhist could stay in Calcutta.

When I arrived in Calcutta an impulse led me to call on Babu Neel Comul Mookerjee, Secretary of the Bengal Theosophical Society, at 22 Baniapukur Road, and he received me kindly and offered me hospitality, and for a week I was his guest, and when again I returned to Calcutta to begin Mahabodhi work, I was welcomed by both Neel Comul Babu and his only son, Babu Neerodh Nath Mookerjee.

As examples of what Olcott called the “impulsive working of Dharmapala’s mind,” as well as his determination, we may take the latter’s immediate decision to build a Buddhist Vihara in Calcutta.

This dream was realised 29 years later, with the construction of the Dharmarajaika Vihar in College Square.

The Mahabodhi Society

From Calcutta Dharmapala went to Burma. He returned to Sri Lanka a month later and established the Mahabodhi Society (MBS).

The objectives of the society were described as “to revive Buddhism in India, to disseminate Pali Buddhist literature, to publish Buddhist tracts in the Indian vernaculars, to educate the illiterate millions of Indian people in scientific industrialism, to maintain teachers and Bhikkus at Buddhagaya, Benares, Kusinara, Svatthi, Madras and Calcutta etc., to build schools, Dharmasalas at these places, and to send Buddhist missionaries abroad” (Mahabodhi Society Journal, 1907).

Hikkaduwe Sumangala was appointed President of the MBS. At this time Dharmapala was very much a supporter of the TS and the membership of the new society was drawn largely from Theosophists in Ceylon and abroad.

The Mahabodians were really Theosophists in another guise. Dharmapala was appointed General Secretary of the Society while a special post of Director and General Advisor was created for Olcott.

At the inaugural meeting of the MBS an appeal for financial support was launched. Dharmapala managed to persuade four Ramanna Nikaya monks, led by Matale Sumangala, to travel to India and take up residence at the Burmese rest house in Buddhagaya.

He wrote triumphantly, “after 700 years we have raised the banner of Buddhism in India.”

11 06 1991 - Daily News
 


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P3.19   

Sisira Wijeysinge

 

The unexpected demise of the effervescent colossus among the community of the Maha Sangha in contemporary times, The Most Venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha Nayake Thero who was greatly admired and endearingly respected by all walks of life for his distinctive articulation, outspoken and fearless stance on socio-political issues that have plagued the fabric of our society for long, touched all Sri Lankans deeply as the news about his loss, broke in Singapore.

Our protagonist, Ven Sobhitha Thero who had a reputation for being a forthright social critic stood out not only as a clever epigrammatic Dhamma orator across the island, but also as the unfailing social reformer who championed the cause of the under-privileged, and single-handedly rose against corrupt politicking that has brought about an immense destruction to the Mother Lanka in our post-independence era.

"Ven Sobhitha Thero who had a reputation for being a forthright social critic stood out not only as a clever epigrammatic Dhamma orator across the island, but also as the unfailing social reformer who championed the cause of the under-privileged, and single-handedly rose against corrupt politicking that has brought about an immense destruction to the mother Lanka in our post-independence era"

In his 60 years of monk hood, needless to repeat, he emerged himself to be one among the handful of erudite and most articulate Buddhist monks that inextricably intertwined ethno-religious issues with those of socio-political importance and dimension. His entire monkhood was devoted for resolution of issues, pertaining to the Sasana, nation, language, society, morality, politics, education and more prominently the progress of the country at large as a civilized society. 

Early Life

Born in Maduluwawe, Padukka, Ven. Sobhitha Thero, having entered the monkhood at the age of 13 years in 1955 received his higher ordination on June 15, 1962  under the tutelage of the then Sri Naga Vihara incumbent, late Ven. Mulleriyawe Rewatha Thero, Ven Dewahandiye Sri Saddhatissa Nayake Thero and Ven Angammana Gunarathana Thero, both from Kotte Road Sri Jayawardhanaramaya and entered the Vidyodaya University ( currently the Sri Jayawardenepura University) for higher studies after completion of his Pirivena education at Kelaniya Vidyalankara Pirivena.  He became the incumbent at Kotte Sri Naga Viharaya  in 1967 and founded many a daham project in the premises. Upon his graduation - B.A (honours) degree, our amiable Thero as a young dynamic monk commenced his teaching career and later became the Principal at Sri Perakumba Pirivena, Ethul Kotte and the Principal at Kuda Uduwe Nalanda Pirivena after he had a stint as the vice principal at Gangodawila Subhadrarama Pirivena.

As he himself declared during his 70th birth anniversary felicitation ceremony at the BMICH in May 2012, the Ven Thero, born to a middle-class family in Maduluwawe, refreshed the memories of his humble beginnings and told the gathering how he underwent hardships as he took to schooling where he used to walk back and forth about 5-10 miles every day from home to the school, for which he could now be really proud as he used to reminisce such practices as exemplary to the budding youth and  all other segments  in society.  

Dedication for Public Well being

Ven Sobhitha Nayake Thero’s sustained role as a social reformist distinctively unparalleled went deep into the hearts and minds of the people who kept closely in touch with this personage, largely because of his soft-spoken and friendly nature. His patient hearing to grievances or criticisms, maintaining the highest degree of composure was remarkably noteworthy and his charming smile, robbed the hearts and minds of everyone who came before him. He symbolised the true compassion that a Buddha Puthra should harbour, irrespective of his hectic day’s workload or schedules. This embodiment of virtues was also the guiding light to hundreds of novice monks who reached him in search of solutions. 

In essence, he carved a niche for himself among the masses as the defender against injustices of all sorts and corrupt political machinations, following the words of the Exalted One who instructed his followers, the Bhikkus to wander and render work for the benefit of the multitude of the masses (Charatha Bhikkawe Charikan….Bahu Jana Hithaya-Bahu Jana Sukhaya). He was exactly the living replica of such a follower of the Buddha until the last moment of his illustrious life which could be documented in many volumes.

His epoch-making characteristics inevitably favoured the oppressed as a true patriot cum social worker as he gradually began to fathom out the social realities, shedding a sarcastic eye on the stereotype. He had the wisdom of focusing on issues and systems that erode the social fabric in the land in varying proportions. He foresaw all those and  raised his piercing voice against tyrannical suppressive measures of respective governments or their leaders. 

While growing to be a towering strength to all,  he all alone flexed his muscles, pooh-poohed Machiavellian practices of corrupt political stalwarts and began to publicly ridicule them, despite many risks, involved in such verbal attacks during those dark days. His Kotte Sangha Sabhawa stood behind him and supported his initiatives. Besides his role as the incumbent at his simple abode, Kotte Sri Naga Viharaya which functions as the umbrella centre for more than 50-75 organisations, Ven Sobhitha Thera spearheaded the well-known National Campaign for a Just Society, Temperance Youth Organization, National Heroes’ Foundation, National Sangha Council, All island Pirivena Teachers’ Association, Sri Lanka-Korea Buddhist Association, Eye Donation Association, etc. His multi-faceted society-oriented assignments which received his patronage, leadership and guidance were numerous as he himself once publicly admitted because they all liked him so much and were behind his lively advice.

Our beloved Nayake Thero was one among the firsts to visit the so called ‘border’ villages with lorry loads of relief items when the war was waging. He slept inside jungle temples with village monks whose poor hamlets faced terrorist threats  from time to time. His consoling words of Dhamma and spiritual blessings to hundreds of our battle-fatigued war heroes who were vigil in the north and east round the clock for the sake of peace then, relieved them of their stress, fatigue and isolation from others. His soothing and inspirational words were a disguised blessing which they even to-date recall with gratitude.  

Preacher Par Excellence

The Ven Thero mainly due to his inborn talents enjoyed his own intonation pattern of articulating most difficult sections in Dhamma, Tripikata and the Buddha’s doctrine in an impressive manner which lured the devotees en masse. On some days, he had to deliver more than 3-4 sermons (Bana) every evening at a stretch at different venues, leaving some 30-45 minute gaps in between because of the popularity he had mustered as someone who could simplify and explain even complicated Abhidhamma sections of Buddhism to laymen. Our monk was so magnanimous that he never wanted to decline any invitation if his hectic schedule somehow or other permitted it or otherwise. Otherwise he himself used to propose an alternative date with a kind comment to ensure that his dayaka who invited him would go off fully contended.  

His erudition in Dhamma as a true ‘Buddha Puthra’ enabled him to reach every layer in our society, mostly the underprivileged in far remote areas, and in many instances, the Thero after accepting what he was offered as ‘Pirikara’ for a sermon, returned all of them then and there to the same rural temple with overwhelming pleasure. His economical (alpechcha) life pattern using no footwear for any occasion was evident wherever he went and stayed, no matter how influential or powerful the invitee would have been. He was the same to everyone.  His exceptionally talented Dhamma sermonising ability surpassed all other orators as they were well blended with earthly examples and humour. 

Devotees used to flock in their hundreds and attentively listened to his sermons everywhere because those Dhamma story texts were explained, extracting refreshingly down-to-earth parallels in our day-to-day society, most of which sometimes found articulation through sarcastic similes. His preaching was rich in metaphor and thought-provoking. To cite one example: His interpretation to the popular belief of 33 billion celestial deities (thisthun kotiyak deviwaru) was one such unforgettable remark he often used to quip, saying that those gods appear to be living forever and would never diminish in number which is not realistic, in his opinion. His was a life full of excitement and devoted to the best interests of the public, no matter whether it was day or night or where he would be.

Social Reformist Role

Ven Thero’s pervasive role as a socio-political cum religious reformer in the past 3-4 decades distinctively came to the fore during different stages of the country’s social and political crises and upheavals as well as during urgent moments of decisiveness. As a vibrant catalyst, he threw his full weight behind struggles against attempts of the terrorists for separation of the country, deprivation of student rights, injustices against public sector employees, ordinary folk, etc. Of them, his dedication to the ‘Maubima Surakeeme Viyaparaya’, National Sangha Council, and lately to the mobilisation of more than 70-75 civil organisations under the campaign for a just society (saadarana samajayak sandahawu viyaparaya) which is believed to have now laid the concrete foundation for the much-awaited social reforms after an absence of nearly 65 years of our independence, looms prominent. This turning point in his lifespan, in my opinion, brought his reformist vision to the zenith as political complexities in the year 2014 took a dramatic turn against the then regime’s plethora of undemocratic moves and corrupt practices that were fast brewing in society. Our monk unmoved by various manipulative schemes of ill-doers did not bother to mince his words to call a spade a spade, and as a result his genuine efforts have begun to blossom with the advent of different public forums, such as the ‘Purawesi Balaya’ (Citizens’ Power), coming up as an organized collective voice of the civil society which highlights social issues in correct perspective. Never had there been such powerful civil assemblies, comprised of mobilized segments of our society voicing their concerns against those in power jointly and unanimously, were in existence in such strong proportions. This novel emergence of civil might, of course considered as a very progressive and a democratic right of the denizen, itself will serve as a fitting tribute to this great scholar. The architect of those healthy and positive wings rising above petty self-centered motives, never bothered about his health, nor did he feel that he should examine his own health at least once in a way. That was how our most revered, Ven Sobhitha Thero spent the day. Although he was considered a radical leftist in the formative years, his maturity made him to be an apolitical character with the highest degree of integrity and impartiality in the face of very many formidable challenges that he faced during his journey to achieve social justice.

In the 1970s, he was regarded a traitor to the then regime and came under physical harassment, together with scholars, like late Dr. Ediriweera Sarathchandra. In the 1980s and early 1990s/2000s his association with progressive fronts and drives, like the Mawbima Surakeeme Viyaparaya, National Sangha Council, etc antagonised the authorities, but his unflinching passion and determination drove him up until the collective goal. With  passage of time and owing to the flood of public appeals, this religious giant’s  final national voyage to establish a corruption-free social democratic  governance, began to take roots in early 2014 as a formidable force to be reckoned with  since his foresighted pleas for rectification of those rampant social ills, fell on deaf ears at that time.

Stories abounded in Media those days that certain political elements were even trying to harm his life as he was marching to be an unbridled national leader. Thus stories swiftly rumoured that he was to be a presidential candidate but he gradually grew to be the only beacon of hope for the suffering masses, by then thoroughly fed up with the chaotic and fast degenerating politicking. 

This much-admired firebrand overwhelmingly inherited the gift of the gab, and his inspiring elocution as well as the spirited eloquence, perhaps not found among any of his contemporaries, came under criticism too in many political quarters, but his determination and perseverance overcame all those trivial hurdles in a humble manner, making him more energetic, undeterred and unmoved. That was what Ven Thero meant to be, he firmly believed. 

Sensitive Figure

The revered orator, Ven Sobhitha Thero was an exceptionally sensitive human being who saw no bounds in his compassion and empathy towards others. Political stalwarts who criticized or abused him in public had to come back to him, apologised to him and asked for pardon or clemency.  My recollection goes to the times how this concerned monk when Field Marshal Fonseka was made to leave the Army to take to politics, had a very moving and candid pow-wow with this writer in his monastery, apparently being unable to tolerate and cope up with the injustice, meted out to the former war veteran by the  then authorities. Disgusted Ven Thero disagreed with that government decision vehemently and spoke bitterly, urging rectification, hinting that he would otherwise place the issue before the public unless nothing was done at the then government level. He thus honoured his commitments and fought for the well-being of others, despite the risks that would befall him. It was an arduous task with so many others, holding varying ideas but he never thought twice. Such was his valour and fearlessness as the Buddha preached. He possessed the extraordinary ability to work both with youth or the adults in unison even amidst trying circumstances, a  quality that is generally lacking in our approaches.

There were times when his Dhamma sermons were not permitted in the then SLBC but those elements did not have the courage or the ability to pose a setback to his brilliant career which had a magnificent personality in it. Power hungry political elements used various tactics to silence his reverberating voice for the sake of their own ends during 1980s, but failed miserably. Despite those threats, he harboured no malice towards any of them and ignored them as evident in his memoirs, now compiled into a book. 

Information further confirmed how the late Thero, irrespective of his convalescence while lying in the hospital even in the final few days, was eager to learn what was going on in the country and maintained  close contacts with social and political developments that were unfolding under the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremasinghe. The habit of reading was inherent in him and his memory never failed him. He remained an avid reader of all  daily newspapers. Just a few days before this great monk was flown to Singapore with a relapse, he was fairly in good spirits in the room on the 9th floor at the private hospital along the Norris Canal Road where I had a very brief interaction with him with a wish for fast recovery. Leaving an additional note in the Visitors’Book, I left his serene smile after exchange of a few words and pleasingly assuring that I would call on him again. Those last glimpses in the hospital would certainly continue to reverberate for years to come and remain etched in my memory for ever. In the same vein, his temple too was eagerly getting ready to receive him back for the annual Katina on Saturday (7) since our Thero himself has pledged that he would be present for the event. Fate however worked otherwise and speedier than him, depriving us of this roaring lion. 

His elevation, identical with glorious prelates of yesteryear, like the Most Ven Kudahapola Thero, Ven Wariyapola Sumangala Thero, Ven Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thero, Ven Tibet Mahinda Thero, Ven Migettuwatte Gunananda Thero, Ven Gangodawila Soma Thero, the Buddhist revivalist, Anagarika Dharmapala, et al who purely with the sole intention of bringing about a reformation in society, would be definitely remembered since he was, to contemporary Sri Lanka, a preacher, a social critic, a beacon of hope, a revolutionist and a social reformer par excellence. The fitting tribute that all of us could offer to this visionary Sri Lankan Maha Thero is nothing else but the realisation of the noble goals that he set, launched and was striving  tirelessly to achieve in the best interests of our country. His demise would certainly portend a catalyst to regenerate and revive those great ideals from the point he paused and left us behind as his mortal remains are left at the parliament grounds on Thursday (12). 

Bhante ! as they say: ‘Men are judged by what they have achieved for this society and not by their words’ . You deservingly honoured those words and bade adieu to us to meet again somewhere, some day.

May our Ven Sobhitha Thero attain the supreme bliss of  Nibbana !

11 11 2015 - Daily Mirror

 

 

 

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The Fragrance of the Rose

The disciples were absorbed in a discussion of Lao-tzu's dictum:
"Those who know, do not say;
Those who say, do not know."

When the master entered, they asked him what the words meant.
Said the master, "Which of you knows the fragrance of a rose?"
All of them indicated that they knew.
Then he said, "Put it into words."
All of them were silent.

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