P1.01   Why I became a Buddhist - The text of a lecture delivered by the late Mr. A. E. Buultjens B.A. Cantab...

P1.02   Master of meditation - Kiribathgoda Gnanananda - Born into a non-Buddhist family with hardly any religious background...

P1.03   Into the West: Spreading the practice of Dhamma - On June 15, 1957 three scholar monks from...

P1.04   Solutions through Buddhist stories - Meeting Ajahn Brahmavamso during his visit...

P1.05   Venerable Ajahn Sumedho in Sri Lanka - The most appealing feature of Venerable Sumedho's discussions...

P1.06   SWRD Bandaranaike: "Why I became a Buddhist" - The requests made to me to deliver...

P1.07   A meditator and her dogs - This lady I write about is perceptive, extra perceptive and very much in the Dhamma...

P1.08   Canadian monk's way for peace of mind

P1.09   Dr. Paul Dahlke championed the cause of Buddhism in Europe

P1.10   Colonel Henry Steele Olcott - A pioneer in the field of Buddhist Education

P1.11   Colonel Olcott - The great Buddhist revivalist

P1.12   The necessity for promoting Buddhism in Europe - Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

P1.13   Sanghamitta Theri - A liberated woman

P1.14   Alec Robertson: Quiet broadcaster of the dhamma

P1.15   The recluse of Bundala: Nanavira Thera - More than 50 years ago, I had the once-in-a-lifetime fortune...

P1.16   The legend of Bundala: Nanavira Thera - Harold Musson was an only child, born in army barracks in Aldershot...

P1.17   Impressions of an International Buddhist Activist: Dr. Ambedkar

P1.18   His mission was moulding man - Madihe Pannghaseeha Maha Nayaka Thera

P1.19   Nalin Swaris – As I saw him - Nalin Swaris passed away on 17th April 2011 while he was on a tour in China...

P1.20   Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, a tribute - on his 145th death anniversary...







Aloka Home

P1.01   Why I became a Buddhist

 The text of a lecture delivered by the late Mr. A. E. Buultjens B.A. Cantab.

On 25th March 1899 at the Buddhist Headquarters, Colombo, Sri Lanka

Why I, though born and educated as a Christian, gave up my belief in Christianity. Why I became a Buddhist rather than a Muhammedan or a Hindu?

I was born of Christian parents, amidst Christian surroundings and influences and associations. At that time the Christians of Matara, about 400 in number were divided into denominations, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or Dutch Reformed Church, Wesleyan and Church of England.

Hence at about the age of one year, I was reported to have been duly taken to the Church of England by an admiring circle of relations and their friends and there handed over to the tender mercies of the Rev. Abraham Dias - a gentleman who is Sinhalese by nationality though rejoicing under a Hebrew and Portuguese name.

I am told that at his hands I duly received the rite of Baptism, a sign of the cross on my infant forehead with water, and thus I was stamped with the hallmark or rather the watermark of a Christian. Tradition dose not say whether I objected to this treatment by infant struggles and kicks, but I am inclined to think I protested by setting up a continuous scream and howling.

Till the age of 14 I remember I was under the tuition chiefly of Mr. R. H. Leembruggen, now government Inspector of Schools and of the Rev. J. Stevenson -Lyle. I recall these influences of early life, because the impression of that tender age often follows us through our life. The child is often father of the man.

Now Mr. Leembruggen was not a churchgoer, and was reported, in the family conversations of the time, to be an avowed free thinker and agnostic. He did not, I must say, at any time talk to the boys against the Church. But his example has had a great effect upon my mind - for all his school boys held him in the greatest awe and veneration as a strict disciplinarian of my other tutor, "Father" Lyle as he generally was known, I can recall strict high Churchman or Ritualist, and during the 6 months I was boarding with him, he impressed upon my mind the extreme importance of minutely following the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer, of fasting on Saints days, of dully attending "matins" and "evensong" daily in his private chapel.

He was so pleased with my proficiency that on Prize day he presented me with a Book of Common Prayer and an imitation of Christ. "Father" Lyle was a man of strong determination, but somewhat impetuous.

He lived a life of self-denial and self-sacrifice. He was suspected at that time as a Jesuit agent of the Pope of Rome. A great controversy was going on in the Diocesan Gazette between the High Church and Low Church parties.

My father was a staunch opponent of the lighted candles, wafers and other innovations of "Father" Lyle and the High Church party. The opposition used to meet in my father's office for discussion and for indicating attacks upon the Ritualists in the Diocesan Gazette.

As a boy I used to listen in silence in a corner of the room to these discussions, and a spectacle of a Church divided against itself must have had a most edifying effect on my mind!

Shortly after Father Lyle seceded from his allegiance to the Bishop of Colombo and the Church of England, and "perverted" to the Church of Rome. With Father Lyle went Father Ogilvie and Father Duthy away from the Anglican to the Roman faith.

When I think today of the number of clergymen who helped to mould my mind, I am surprised that I am not occupying the pulpit of a church to defend the faith of the Church.

Rev. William Henley took me in hand in conjunction with Father Lyle. He was then fresh from England, and plain Mr. Henley, a schoolmaster. Of religion he taught me little, but I thank him for making me proficient in Latin Grammar and in the game of chess.

From the age 14 to 19 I was brought under the shadow, and influence of the Cathedral of St. Thomas' College, during the regime of Rev. Warden F. E. Miller and Sub-Wardens Rev. T. F. Faulkner and Rev. H. Meyrick. During these 6 years besides being thought the subjects required for the Calcutta and Cambridge Local Examinations, we were carefully drilled in an intellectual knowledge of the Book of Common Prayer and the several books of the Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, together with a critical acquaintance with the commentaries and the original Greek of Gospels.

I devoted myself to these studies and obtained so great a proficiency that the first year I topped the list in the examination for the whole upper school and obtained the much-coveted Bishop's prize.

At this time, what with having been the first from St. Thomas' to pass the Cambridge Local - both Junior and Senior - and having passed in the Calcutta entrance in the First Class - I became the prime favourite with Warden Miller. During all these 6 years, according to the rules of the college for Boarders, every boarder is obliged to attend College chapel morning and evening, every day.

I had already some 3 years previous to 1884 - a year important in my life - received the rite of confirmation, or the laying on of the Bishop of Colombo on my head, as a token of my being confirmed as a member of the Church of England. And right here let me say that I do not acquiesce in the compulsory baptism performed on me "by pastors and masters" when I was a legal "infant". I denounce the practice and rebel against it as an infringement of the rights of the children.

I have started the foregoing by way of introduction, to explain the remote conditions and circumstances, which ultimately led to the position I took up later when I gave up my belief in Christianity. It was at St. Thomas' College itself that I received the first hint, that I entertained the first passing doubt, about the truth of Christianity.

It was to a book found in the library of St. Thomas' College that I attribute the first faint suspicion that what clergymen say, and the church teaches, is open to question. It was by reading this book that my faith in the creation and in a Creator received its first shock. The very foundation of the creed built on Faith was almost shattered by the sledgehammer arguments contained in the materialistic work I refer to - Dr. Buchner's "Matter and Force".

The book was ransacked from the mouldy and dusty shelves of the College library - and given to me by senior fellow student, Mr. J. R. Molligoda, now a distinguished and keen minded lawyer of Kegalle. We argued long and for several days upon the atheistic and deistic views of the universe.

I was a hot champion of Deism then, but my opponent was ever ready with calm retorts and replies. I was about 19 years old then, and from that time I was naturally opposed to authority and disposed to rebel against what people accept as gospel truth upon mere blind belief.

If I was at that time to analysed the state of my mind at the period under review - when I was between 19 and 21 years of age - I should say I still was a Christian, but gradually drifting away - or shall I call it, advancing from Christianity to Materialism.

In 1884 I won the University Scholarship of £ 150 a year tenable for 4 years open to the whole island and thus obtained a triumph for Warden Miller and St. Thomas' College.

I left for England and entered St. John's College, Cambridge University. While here, I met men of all shades of opinion, devout and staunch churchmen, Embryo clergymen sowing their wild oats while preparing for the Theological tripos to become full fledged Ministers of the Word of God, divinity students who were then being thought that the Bible was not an inspired book literally, but a historical account of the Israelites.

This was the advanced school of the Church, which changed its front to meet the onslaughts of Agnostics and Freethinkers. I met also a select number of Englishmen, who were avowed agnostics, and admirers of Huxley and Bradlaugh. The controversy of the former with Gladstone was then being waged in the columns of the exercised over the account of the creation in the Bible.

I had previously read up Physical Geography and Geology and obtained the mark of distinction in the former at the Senior Level. My mind was therefore prepared to accept the Nebular Theory of the formation of the world, and to give up forever the Christian theory of a 6 days' creation. Of course, Christian commentators and apologists of the biblical narrative interpret "day" as a period of time, but this was merely forced upon them in these latter days, after geological scientists proved beyond doubt that the world assumed its present condition after millions of years of natural phenomena.

A study of the strata of the earth, its fossils, the action of the seas, and volcanoes and rivers in moulding and shaping the earth helps greatly in modifying, if not completely altering, a belief in the Genesis of the Bible. Having once become convinced that God did not, as related in the Bible, create the world, I gave up one by one the fond and cherished beliefs of my childhood. It was a serious question to me only those who have experience in their hearts the throes of agony, which must be endured, alone and in silence, when they are compelled upon sincere conviction to give up beliefs, which they have hugged to their bosoms, know the pain when it becomes necessary to wrench those beliefs away from heart and mind. One by one every cherished faith was destroyed. I began to argue to myself: if the world was created by a merciful and infinite Being of tender compassion, why did he create a hell and a Devil. God creates everything. Why did a good God create Evil? Why did he create Pain and Misery?

The hospitals are filled, throughout the world, with disease, with sickening forms of leprosy. Christians say it is a punishment to them. Nonsense! Why should infants be born, some blind, some deaf, others with one leg, or one arm, and others idiotic? Why are thousands slain by a just God by volcanoes, by bubonic plague, by famine? If God were all-powerful and all merciful, he could easily have made the world without a devil, a hell and pain. But I suppose an ignorant man might say that the devil was made for the special purpose of tempting Mohammedans, Hindus, Agnostics and Buddhists and hell was made to put them in.

I regret to say that there are some Christians so bigoted as to think so. They rely upon the passage in the New Testament, which condemns all disbelievers and heretics for eternal damnation in hell!

While on subject of the creator, I may say that I received yesterday a letter evidently written by a Christian, requesting me to refute certain arguments against Buddhism contained in 8 pamphlets written some in English and rest in Sinhala, which he sent me. I replied that I would not have time today to reply to anti-Buddhist tracts which I had not yet read but that I hope at a future opportunity to give a lecture on "A reply to attack on Buddhism by Christian pamphleteers.

Today I shall touch upon one point mentioned in one pamphlet issued by the Christian Literature Society. The anonymous pamphleteer of "Buddha and his Religion" says at page 23: The existence of a Creator may be shown in the following way: Whenever we see order and means intended to accomplish some end, we are certain that they must have originated by the action of an intelligent being, and construction that we infer that it must have had a maker, who knew what it was for and designed its use. The different parts could not have formed themselves and come together. If the watch could have been so wonderfully constructed that it would produce other watches, this would duly increase our idea of the wisdom of its maker. The world we live is far more wonderfully formed than any watch - Therefore it had a Creator!

I am familiar with this argument. It is known among Freethinkers as Paley's Watch Argument of Design in nature. If a watchmaker makes bad watches, we call him a bad watchmaker. There is in this world on every side monstrosities, evil things, wild beasts, in the animal world, thorns and brambles in the vegetable world and poison, disease and insanity, misery and pain - A bad watch has a bad watchmaker, for no good person will create evil things.

Moreover the watchmaker makes his watch of wheels, hairspring, dial, hands and case; he puts together previously existing materials. He dose not act in the manner of a prestidigitator making the world out of nothing, for as the phrase goes ex nihilo nihil fit, out of nothing, nothing is made. Even supposing the possibility of a creation of the universe out of nothing, simply by an act of volition by an Omnipotent Being, it is a reasonable query to put: what was the creator doing before he made the sun and the moon and stars, birds if the air, and the fishes of the sea? He must have been existing in chaos doing nothing.

To proceed from this digression. Having given up my belief in a Personal Creator - an anthropomorphic God - I gave up prayer and belief in the Immaculate Conception of Christ - whom I regard as a divine and holy man. I refused to believe in the doctrine of vicarious sacrifice, which teaches that through the death of Christ we must receive pardon.

I also gave up belief in the doctrine of forgiveness of sins; for if there be no God, who will forgive sins? I would no longer believe in the abominable doctrine of eternal damnation in hell where shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Having thus given up intellectual assent to the teachings of Christianity, I considered whether I was to remain as many do, a nominal and outward Christian, or whether it was not more honourable not to act a lie? Was I to say that I was no longer a Christian, or was I to remain silent? I preferred to speak out. I was not alone in my agnostic views - several university men, Englishmen, especially those who were studying for the Moral Science and Natural Science Triposes, and some who were going in for the Law thought as I did.

I therefore determined to bring matters to a crisis, There was a rule in Cambridge that man should attend College Chapel at least five times a week. I gave up attending Chapel, and I was sent for by the Dean of the College. I believe his name was Dean Maitland - a liberal minded, tolerant and sympathetic man. I had an hour's talk with him. The following is the purport of his conversation:

"Good morning"!

"Good morning Sir".

"I hope you will be more regular at Chapel in future. Good morning!"

And with this he was going to dismiss me, as other men who cut Chapel were waiting to see the Dean. But I was determined to continue the interview.

"If you please Sir, I wish to talk with you about Chapel".

"Yes, what is it. Sit down".

I took a set.

"I don't like to attend compulsory Chapel. It dose me no good".

"Very well, I excuse you in future from doing so".

Having obtained leave keep away from chapel, on the ground that compulsory attendance at a Christian worship did me no good, I was willing to terminate the interview.

Not so the good Dean, who next addressed me not as Dean, exercising disciplinary authority over a college student, but a minister of Christ's church sympathetically endeavouring to guide back into the fold sheep which, in his view, was wondering astray.

"Now tell me if you have any further reasons why you do not wish to attend chapel".

"I would gladly speak out my mind, if in my position at College I would not suffer thereby".

"No I assure you that whatever you say will not go beyond me".

"Then Sir, I do not wish to shock your mind with my infidel and agnostic views".

"However much it may grieve me, it is my duty to hear your doubts, and try to set them at rest. In the course of a Clergymen's life, he has to meet with men with varying opinions, and it is his duty to guide them aright to God".

"I do not believe in everything written in the Bible, I do not believe in an eternal damnation in Hell and most of all I can not believe in a Creator".

"You have been reading Huxley and Bradlaugh?"

"Yes Sir, and I no longer believe in the Inspirations of the Bible, nor the Immaculate Conception, nor in the vicarious atonement nor even in the Divinity of Christ".

"I am grieved to hear this, Have you tried Prayer? God helps those who pray to him with faith and sincerity".

"Yes, I have been earnestly praying, but for sometime since my belief in God is lost, reason mocks at my faith and says that prayer in a non existent Creator is useless".

"Then I would ask you to consider the Christian family, what peace, what happiness is in the Christian Home! Have you not looked at it in the light?"

"Yes Sir, I can quite conceive that there is happiness in the Christian Home, where the moral teachings of Christ are followed. But I come from a Buddhist country, where Buddhist home would be just as happy, if the moral precepts of Buddha were observed. It would be same in a Hindu or Mohammedan Home, if the believers in those faiths followed the rules of their religion".

The above was, as far as I remember the gist of our conversation. The kind Dean talked with me for nearly an hour and at the end gave me book by Dr. Wace to read over carefully and to come to him again. I read the book, but it was unsatisfactory, for it started with the assumption of an Omniscient Creative God - which was just the very difficulty I felt of conception. In returning the book I stated that it did not meet my case, and so that matter dropped.

Henceforth I was an avowed Agnostic. But this made no difference to me socially in England, and though I had some agnostic friends especially among the Moral Nature Science men, yet the theological men who, knew my infidel views, did not "cut" me, and some of my best friends are now clergymen of the Church of England.

An amusing incident followed when it got about that the Dean excused me from chapel in future. A man of another college went up to the Dean and asked leave to keep away from chapel, because he did not believe in God. Said the Dean: "I will give you 24 hours either to find your God, or to find another college".

In common with a large number of Christians in Ceylon, I had been brought up in the belief that wickedness and crimes prevailed only, or especially, among the Buddhist or other "heathens", but that in Christian England crime was comparatively absent.

This was an argument from the practical aspect to Christianity. I do not know whether this impression prevalent in Ceylon was created by Missionaries, but I saw practical effects of Christianity among Christians in Christian lands.

I need not dilate the extreme wealth side by side with the grovelling debasement, poverty and misery with the East end of London. The object lesson of nighly dgbaucheries of hopeless drunkenness in the gin places, of the homeless and starving thousands, of the piteous cries of government, and the public demonstrations of dissatisfied socialists, all this was a picture I shall never forget.

Thousands of men, women and children have been huddled together at night, homeless, roofless, making their beds on the bare, grass-less snow-covered ground, with non to help them.

Could such things be in Christian England? The Bible says, "Sell all that thou hast and give to the poor". But amidst the squalor, misery and poverty of the Christian fellowmen, I saw the great body of the Christian Bishops and clergy complacently enjoying the luxuries of life.

Immense wealth was also spent upon grand churches, like the Westminster Abbey, and St. Paul's, while there was no money to feed starving poor. I witnessed the public send off young, zealous and enthusiastic preachers of the Gospel to China, to Africa and to India, in the midst of the plaudits and prayers of righteous Christian assemblies convoked by the Missionary Societies.

It seemed to me that practical Christianity was a mockery, for with the export of missionaries and Bibles, there was a far larger export of bottles and bullets, the one to kill the mind, the other the body. And all this from a town where, more than in any other place in the world, thousands of Christian women nightly sold themselves in open street prostitution.

I remember one occasion, when one of our leading Ceylon's lawyers, then on a visit to the modern Babylon, could scarcely believe his eyes when he first saw the stream of well dressed streetwalkers opposite the theatre at midnight. He wept to find that such things could be in Christian England.

The social evil is not confined to London alone, but is rampant and shows no signs of abatement in all larger Christian towns, notably at Liverpool, Paris, Berlin, Vienna and New Yolk. Universal love, friendliness, loving kindness, or however we choose to call it, is a firm ethical basis for human life beyond the confines of any religion, though

Just as a misunderstanding prevails in the East as to the vileness of man in ''heathen'' lands alone, and his virtue in Christian countries of the west, so is there a misunderstanding in the West as to the trials and troubles of missionaries sent to the ''heathen''.

I had to frequently assure educated and intelligent people in English that it was not considered a delicacy here when a roast missionary was served at dinner!

There were people still who believed that Ceylon was a cannibal island, and that missionaries have hard time from tigers, elephants, crocodiles and snakes. Evidently these stories were circulated to magnify the self-sacrifice of missionaries and help to fill the coffers of the Gospel Societies.

I pass on now to the time of my return to Ceylon. I had not been to a church for two hears for devotional purposes. The University Sermons I occasionally listened to, when preachers of note came to Cambridge, and their discourses were eloquent and interesting, and being unaccompanied by ceremonial ritual were attended by men of all shades of Ceylonese. For two years I had not attended a church except some in Holland and the Notre Dame in Paris for architectural beauty. Therefore when a few Sundays had passed in Matara without my accompanying my brothers and sisters to church, my mother enquired the reason of ungodliness in thus keeping away from the House of God.

I replied that the whole world was the house of God, and not only a particular building with four walls and roof. I was then looked upon as peculiar and strange, and she judged that something was evidently wrong with my upper storey, a doctor should be sent for to cure me - not as a medical doctor - but a doctor of divinity.

Accordingly one morning, the Rev. F.D. Edirisinghe came to see me. After preliminaries the following conversation ensued:

''How is it that I did not see you in church after you arrival?''

''May I inquire whether church going is essential for salvation?''

''Yes, you take part in the services, in prayers and in hearing sermons''.

"I prefer to read sermons in stones and good in everything''.

''But your father and all your people have been going to church''.

''Yes, so have I at the rate of twice a day, every day for six years at St. Thomas' College Cathedral. That would make a total, leaving off holidays of nearly 3600 church goings. Plus five times a week for one year at Cambridge, about 200. Grand Total 3800. If church going was sufficient I consider I have done my share to qualify for Heaven and I may be excused for the rest of my life''.

''But surely are you not a Christian?''

''Well, if you ask my opinion, I am not. Do you want me to believe in Noah's Ark and Jonah in the Whale's belly and several other fables?''

At this stage my mother, who was present at the interview, retired in disgust leaving the reverend gentleman and myself to a nice discussion, and so that interview terminated soon after.

It became noised about that an infidel was let loose on society at Matara, and I became a marked man-mod some said. Then some Buddhist friends met me, and enquired whether I would see a Bhikkhu on the subject of Buddhism. I consented and so in the company of Mohandiram De Saram Siriwardene and others I had a long talk with Bedigamd Ratnapala Unnanse at Weliweriya Pansala.

I learnt from him that Buddhism agreed with the agnostic view I held on the subjects of the Creator and creation, and that Buddhism does not want belief in Personal God. I learnt that the Christian doctrine of Soul was replaced by the doctrine of the Five Skandas, and that I need no longer believe in new souls being created by an omnipotent God for new-born infants, some of which ere to suffer eternal damnation in a hell created by the self-same God. I learnt from him the doctrine of karma, which, while contradicting the Christian theory of forgiveness of sins, satisfactorily explains the inequalities of life. The Doctrine of karma which, while contradicting the Christian theory of forgiveness of sins, satisfactorily explains the inequalities of life. The doctrine of karma, while doing away with the belief in the efficacy of prayer, teaches that man reaps the consequences of his own deeds, and must work out his own salvation.

In explaining what Christianity could not satisfactorily tell me, how the lunatic asylums are filled with the insane, how leper asylums and hospitals are filled with the diseased. Karma explained in a reasonable manner that every cause must have an effect, and that this great law rules in the moral world. I had several interviews with the monks and the more I learnt about Buddhism, the more did- I remain convinced of its truth. Why should we suffer at Adam's sin?

Karma teaches we suffer for our own mistakes. Why should we get pardoned by Christ's atonement? We must ourselves step by step, life after life, strive to reach the goal. Why should we believe in a soul manufacturer above, we are what we make ourselves to be.

How could a God, who is merciful and just, and who taught ''forgive your enemies'' have created a Hell and Devil? We make ourselves god or devils, and we make for ourselves a hell upon earth.

Buddhism agreed with Science in that force and matter are eternal and indestructible and taught law and order without a God, and transformation without creation. Especially was I stuck with the truth of the simple but profound teachings of anicca, dukkha, anatta, change, suffering, and non-ego.

Christianity is faith religion, Agnosticism a negation, Buddhism goes beyond Agnosticism in the affirmation of the Law of Karma, of Reincarnation and of Nirvana. Christianity in the ages past disgraced the teachings of Christ by wars, especially the Crusades, and by the tortures of the Inquisition, the rack thumbscrew and the flames.

Agnosticism was unorganised and until recently did not carry out in its name a philanthropic programme. It is only within recent years that agnostics have become propagandists, and taken active steps for the sake of humanity.

Buddhism has on the whole been free from leading and encouraging a wholesome persecution, and in the light of past centuries we know its only weapon has been appeal to reason and argument. Moreover Christianity is fetishism and unphilosophic. Agnosticism is destructive of Christianity without being mainly constructive. But Buddhism is analytic and philosophical while being humanitarian and practical. Christianity merely teaches a form of morality, without touching the domain of mental science.

But Buddhism besides being a moral, is in its higher aspect essentially a mental and spiritual philosophy. I felt that Agnosticism -as a mere negation - was unsatisfactory not only on who moral plane as guide in life, but also on the mental plane in the explanation of the problems whence we come, whither are we going?

The reasons stated above explain why I became a Buddhist. It was because I was conscientiously convinces of the truth of Buddhism. I asked myself reverently in the silence on the heart whether I was to declare myself a Buddhist or not.

At the time, in 1888, Buddhists were looked down upon, even more than they are now, by the more enlightened, or rather more civilised, society people who were Christians. The Buddhists were numbered among the more ignorant and lower classes. I know that social ostracism would follow, as it did.

So one day in 1888, I went with the above named Buddhist gentleman and others to the temple on the full mood day, and publicly declared myself a Buddhist by reciting the Tisarana and the Panca Sila.

As long as I was a Freethinker, I had been tolerated in Christian Society which merely regarded me as an eccentric, but When in 1888 I became an avowed Buddhist, I was looked upon as worse than a lunatic. And this was not strange, for Christianity was respectability and Buddhism was the religion of the ''ignorant natives''.

Christian parents and Christian College had educated me to defend the Church, to learn its respective arguments against other sectarian schismatics. Hence my lapsing to Buddhism was a ''wretched fall''

God made man, it is said and gave him brains to think, and when he thinks and reasons and becomes a Buddhist, then God damns him for thinking with the brains he gave him. But it was when, at the end of 1889, I was offered and accepted the headmastership of the Colombo Buddhist School, that the vials of wrath were poured on my head by Christians, and particularly by Christian ministers of the Church of England.

I had braved the Church, and so every Christian door was shut, every slander was open for social ostracism. I was, in their eyes, a viper and a scorpion. The first arrow of malice was shot at me by the Rev. E. F. Miller, Warden of St. Thomas' College, my old and respected tutor. The two letters from him that follow show his attitude towards me before and after I became publicly a Buddhist.

Letter A

St. Thomas' College


6th February 1888.


My dear Buultjens,

I am sorry I missed you this morning, We shall be glad to see you tomorrow afternoon at 4.30, if you care to come up to the gathering of Old Boys.

Yours affectionately,

Sgd. E. F. Miller


Letter B was in reply to a polite request enquiring for the reason who the Warden had removed my name from the panels of the Library of the College - as it was special distinction in secular school subjects that had justified the college ID putting up my name first in more than one panel.

Letter B

St Thomas' College


February 19, 1890.

My dear Buultjens,

It is, alas easy to answer your question. Your name has been removed from the panels of the Library, because you have apologised from the faith of Christ. The College was founded to maintain and spread the faith and you, having been baptised into that faith have now deserted to its enemies. Would you have me retain the name of a traitor among those whom the College delights to honour?

Yours sorrowfully,

Sgd. E. F. Miller

The characteristic Missionary- Christian act of the Warden in removing my name from the panels was approved by the Bishop of Colombo to whom I appealed. They thought to dishonour me, but they have only given public exhibition of Christian hatred and intolerance of which I hope they are proud.

In conclusion, I would like to mention a personal anecdote to illustrate how certain clegymen of the Church of England regard Buddhists. It was in connection with the Rev. Abraham Dias, the minister who baptised me in my infancy. I met him one day, after many years, at the Pettah Library, and wished him a good afternoon. He recognised me and the following dialogue ensued:

''How are you getting on?''

''Quite well Sir, thanks''.

''I hear you are at the Buddhist School''.


''Are you a Buddhist?''

''Then you will go down straight to Hell''.

''My dear Sir, are you so very cock sure of Heaven?''

Exit the reverend gentleman, tottering with old age.








Articles Index

P1.02   Master of meditation - Kiribathgoda Gnanananda

D. C. Ranatunga

Born into a non-Buddhist family with hardly any religious background, Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda as a young man, started reading Buddhist texts he found in the temple he was staying in. He was then an undergraduate at the Sri Jayawardenapura university. He soon found himself engrossed in the Dhamma. To everyone's disappointment, he decided to quit university to study the Dhamma. He was then in his final year.

Keen to don robes, he approached a monk in an aranyaya who wanted to check his horoscope before deciding whether he should be ordained. "How could I have a horoscope? I was born into a Catholic family," says Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thera recalling his childhood in one of his many publications. "Through the hospital where I was born, I managed to find the time of my birth with difficulty and got a horoscope prepared. I went back to the monk, who got it read. Whoever read it said that I would go straight to hell after my death and would never see 'Nirvana'. So the monk was rather reluctant to take me in."

He then went to another monk who also got the horoscope read. This time the reading indicated he would go a long way in his search for salvation. "Just imagine how there could be two totally contradictory forecasts," questions Ven. Gnanananda Thera. "I was confused as to how the Buddha's teaching can be given two interpretations based on the same horoscope."

He then decided the way ahead was to go to the Himalayas and seek guidance from the rishis on the path to salvation. He was determined not to return to Sri Lanka. Life was tough in the Himalayas. Meals were sparse. Some days he merely had a 'roti' and a little water. He was virtually a skeleton.

Then something strange happened. One night, someone dressed in white approached him and asked him why he was feeling so sad. The stranger advised him that he was wasting his time in the Himalayas and that he should go back to his country. He returned and started studying the Dhamma. The Rahula Sutta in the Sanyukhtha Nikaya made him think seriously.

"'I' is impermanent. Because it is impermanent, it brings sorrow. Sorrow means that it's not me. It does not belong to me. It's not my soul. Think wisely," the Buddha had preached.

"When learning the Dhamma, one must listen carefully. One must remember what is learnt and practise it. The next step is to understand what is being practised," Ven. Gnanananda Thera says.

As he began to go deeper into the Dhamma, Ven. Gnanananda Thera thought of sharing his knowledge with those who were keen to learn the Dhamma. "I realised that the benefits of the Dhamma can be seen in this life itself. It's not a dead Dhamma. The Dhamma is eternal. It's not something that is valid for a limited time. The Buddha's teaching is alive even today," he says.

After he started preaching, he found more and more young men showing an interest in learning the Dhamma. They were keen to enter the Order. This led him to establish a forest monastery on a 20-acre plot of land in Waduwawa in Polgahawela. The 'Mahamevna Asapuwa', is based on the forest monastery tradition, where monks live in simple dwellings with a few communal buildings. Thirty monks are in residence. Having renounced personal concerns and ambitions they follow the code of conduct established by the Buddha. Facilities are also available for lay people to follow Theravada Buddhist meditation programmes during weekends.

With the increasing interest in meditation, Ven. Gnanananda established a second meditation centre at Dompe, Palugama where 15 monks are in residence. Here he conducts a meditation programme for laymen on the first Sunday of each month. A third branch monastery has been opened closer to Colombo, at Pittugala, Malabe. Known as Amawatura Bhavana Asapuwa, this monastery is dependent on donations. A building programme for the construction of a Sanghavasa for resident monks and other amenities including a meditation centre for laymen is underway.

In addition to these centres, Ven. Gnanananda Thera has undertaken an exhaustive programme of weekend meditation sessions at many temples. Even though he lives on a single kidney having donated the other to a Catholic mother, he tirelessly conducts these sessions. Thousands of lay devotees follow these programmes, which they find most useful in their daily lives. He teaches an easy-to-follow practical approach to meditation.

A prolific writer, Ven. Gnanananda Thera’s sermons are also available on audio cassettes and CDs."I gain satisfaction from my life for two reasons. One is being born a Sinhalese. My ability to learn the Buddha's teaching is the other. I would never have got this opportunity if not for the fact that I was born into the Sinhala race," he says.

Ven. Gnanananda is confident that the nation can be revived and built on Buddhist traditions. He underlines the need for lay people to follow the 'Tisarana'. "The Buddha should always be in one's mind. We should be mindful of the teachings of the Buddha and we should respect the Maha Sangha," he insists. "If adults follow these basic principles, we can easily mould the younger generation."

(Based on 'Kiyannam senehasin Miya noyan his athin' by Ven. Gnanananda Thera)

A serene Vesak at Mahamevuna

A happening reminiscent of the time Arahat Mahinda introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka will be re-enacted today, when over 100,000 devotees throng the Mahamevuna Uyana in Anuradhapura to take part in a special Vesak programme. They will assemble in the green near Ruwanveliseya and take part in the full-day programme conducted by Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thera.

The programme which will start at 7 a.m.will emphasise the importance of meditation. After explaining the key elements of the Buddha's teaching, Ven. Gnanananda will guide the devotees in following 'anapanasati' and 'maitri' forms of meditation. During the afternoon session they will follow a guided programme on insight meditation. The day will end with the chanting of the Dhammacakka Pavattana Sutta, the first sermon preached by the Buddha after His Enlightenment at Varanasi.

Ven. Gnanananda Thera is confident that today's session will be a new and serene experience for the people.

04 05 2002 - Sunday Times







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P1.03   Into the West: Spreading the practice of Dhamma - Asoka Weeraratne

D. C. Ranatunga

Exactly fifty years ago on June 15, 1957 three scholar monks from Vajiraramaya set off on a Dharmaduta mission. Leading the delegation was Venerable Soma Thera. The other two monks were Venerable Kheminda Thera and Venerable Vinitha Thera. They formed the first Dharmaduta mission to Germany. While monks were visiting foreign countries to propagate Buddhism, this mission was different. They were the first to go to Europe on a permanent footing and establish the Buddha Sasana there.

It was the fulfilment of the main objective of the German Dharmaduta Society formed on the initiative of Asoka Weeraratne five years earlier. Then known as 'Lanka Dharmaduta Society', it was dedicated towards spreading the message of the Buddha in Germany and other Western countries. The highly respected Ven. Nyanatiloka Maha Thera who had come to Sri Lanka from Germany in 1903 and made this his spiritual home, confessed that his great wish was to give his mother country "the best I possessed i.e. the Dhamma". He worked hard to achieve this "in the firm conviction that the Dhamma will take root in my home country" and predicted a great future there. The Dharmaduta mission paved the way towards it.

A young businessman dealing in jewellery and Swiss wrist watches, Asoka Weeraratne was on his first business visit to Germany in 1951. The country was slowly recovering from the devastation of the Second World War. War-weary Germans were looking for an alternative moral and spiritual philosophy that placed a high emphasis on peace and non-violence. They looked to the East for solace. Buddhism fitted in to what they were looking for.

Two years later Asoka Weeraratne, as Honorary Secretary of the Society, visited Germany and did a survey of Buddhist activities, preparing the groundwork to establish and maintain a Bhikkhu tradition in Germany providing them with the necessary infrastructure to lead a religious life according to the rules laid down by the Buddha. Having established the Society's headquarters and training centre in Colombo, preparations were made to send the first Dharmaduta mission to Germany.

In 1957 the Society was able to purchase Das Buddhistische Haus, the Centre of German Buddhism built by Paul Dahlke, a well-known German Buddhist scholar around 1924. Situated on a six-acre block of land in a lovely Berlin suburb known as Frohnau, it was converted into a Buddhist Vihara providing residential facilities for the Maha Sangha who would visit Germany for the Dharmaduta work.

Over the past fifty years, the Berlin Vihara has attracted visitors from many different backgrounds and enjoyed the facilities provided to learn the Dhamma. There are regular visitors who attend lectures, discussions and sermons on Buddhism. Then there are seekers who wish to know what constitutes Buddhism as well as visitors who are purely interested in meditation. Researchers visit the Vihara to make use of the collection of Buddhist and Pali books for their studies and tourists interested in the history and architecture of the place. Schoolchildren in the age group of 10-18 years form another group who visit the Vihara.

"All these categories find the serene and peaceful atmosphere in the temple and the calm of the well laid out garden a refreshing experience," says Tissa Weeraratne, the Trustee managing the Berlin Vihara. "The more serious visitor sees the natural environment as ideal for meditation and development of spiritual insights in a city with a reputation for busy activity."

Having firmly established the Berlin Vihara, Asoka Weeraratne ventured out to establish the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage creating an ideal place for meditation and self-discipline. Both foreign and local monks interested in meditation find the forest hermitage a perfect location to practise meditation. He himself donned robes as Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thera and spent a peaceful life in a 'kuti' as a 'vana vasi' – monk living in the forest. He passed away on July 2, 1999 at the age of 80.

Since the establishment of the Berlin Vihara many temples have come up in Germany as well as other European countries. Amongst the many Tibetan and Mahayana temples, the Berlin Vihara remains a centre of Theravada Buddhism catering to the needs of those interested in the Theravada tradition.

"We continue to send monks from Sri Lanka and at any given moment we have at least two monks residing there," says Senaka Weeraratne, Secretary of the German Dharmaduta Society. Dikwelle Seelasumana Thera and Velichchiye Dhammavijaya Thera presently manage the Vihara. Vesak draws a large number of devotees to the temple when a full programme is carried out. Buddhist delegations regularly visit the temple.

Three years before the Buddha Jayanthi, Venerable Nyanatiloka wrote that he wished to see "as a happy culmination of my life if Vesak1956, i.e. the year 2500, will see a well-established mission in Germany which will not fail to have a far-reaching influence on the other Western countries too." His wish has been fulfilled.

10 06 2007 - Sunday Times







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P1.04   Solutions through Buddhist stories

D. C. Ranatunga

Meeting Ajahn Brahmavamso during his visit to Sri Lanka last year was an enriching experience. What a charming personality! His enchanting smile, his simplicity, his persuasive tone, his convincing mode of communication – I shall never forget these features.

Having received his book ‘Opening The Door Of Your Heart’, recently, I found myself reading it many times over. It's so well written. It is a collection of what he calls "Buddhist Tales of Happiness" – stories he has collected over 30 years as a monk living in the forest tradition of Theravada Buddhism. "Life is a series of interwoven stories, not a set of concepts. Ideas are generalisations, always some distance from the truth. A story, with all its array of meanings and richness of detail, is recognisably much closer to real life. That is why we relate more easily to stories than to abstract theories. We love a good yarn." This is how he introduces the writings.

The 230-page book contains a little over a hundred stories. They have been categorised into several sections – Perfection and Guilt, Love and Commitment, Fear and Pain and so on. None of the stories are very long. All of them are interesting, and each one makes you think. That's how he teaches you the Dhamma.

Here is a typical example, the story titled ‘The Idiot’. "Someone calls you an idiot. Then you start thinking. ‘How can they call me an idiot? They've got no right to call me an idiot! How rude to call me an idiot! I'll get back at them for calling me an idiot.’ And you suddenly realise that you have just let them call you an idiot another four times. Every time you remember what they said, you allow them to call you an idiot. Therein lies the problem. If someone calls you an idiot and you immediately let it go, then it doesn't bother you. There is the solution. Why allow other people to control your inner happiness?"

Talking of fear, Ven. Brahm relates how he tackled the fear of public speaking: "I was told that one of the greatest fears people have is speaking in public. I have to speak a lot in public, in temples and at conferences, at marriages and funerals, on radio and even on live television.

"I remember one occasion, when five minutes before I was to give a public talk, fear overwhelmed me. I had no idea what I was going to say. About three hundred people were sitting in the hall expecting to be inspired. I began thinking: ‘What if I can't think of anything to say? What if I say the wrong thing? What if I make a fool of myself?’

"All fear begins with the thought ‘what if’ and continues with something disastrous. I was predicting the future and with negativity. I was being stupid. I knew I was being stupid; I knew all the theory, but it wasn't working. Fear kept rolling in. I was in trouble. That evening I developed a trick, what we call in monk-speak ‘a skilful means,’ which helped me overcame my fear, and which has worked ever since. I decided that it didn't matter if my audience enjoyed the talk or not, as long as I enjoyed my talk.

"Now, whenever I give a talk, I have fun. I enjoy myself. I tell funny stories, often at my own expense, and laugh at them with the audience. I never prepare my talks. I prepare my heart and mind instead."

Ven Brahm compares himself to a dustbin, saying that part of his job is listening to others' problems. "Monks are always good value for money, because they never charge anything. Often when I hear the complex, sticky mess that some people get themselves into, my sympathy for them makes me depressed as well. To help a person out of a pit, I must sometimes enter the pit myself to reach for their hand, but I always remember to bring the ladder. My counselling work leaves no echoes, because of the way I was trained.

"Ajan Cha, my teacher in Thailand, said that monks must be dustbins. Monks have to sit in their monastery, listen to people's problems and accept all their rubbish. Marital problems, difficulties with teenage children, rows with relations, financial problems – we hear the lot. I don't know why. What does a celibate monk know of marital problems? We left the world to get away from all that rubbish. But out of compassion we sit and listen, share our peace and receive all the rubbish.

"That was an extra, essential piece of advice that Ajahn Chah would give. He told us to be like a dustbin with an ‘It's such an interesting hole in the bottom!’ attitude. We were to receive all the rubbish, but not to keep any. Therefore an effective friend or counsellor is like a dustbin with no bottom, and is never too full to listen to another problem."

Ajahn Brahm tells us a simple formula for making decisions. "Usually we try to get someone else to make difficult decisions for us. That way, if it goes wrong, we've got someone to blame. Some of my friends try to trick me into making decisions for them, but I won't. All I do is show how they can make wise decisions by themselves. When we come to the crossroad, and we are unsure what direction to take, we should pull over to the side, have a break and wait for a bus. Soon, when we are not expecting it, a bus arrives. On the front of the public bus is a sign in big bold letters indicating where the bus is going. If that destination suits you, then take that bus. If not, wait. There's always another bus behind.

"In other words, when we have to make a decision and are unsure what that decision should be, we need to pull over to the side, have a break and wait. Soon, when we are not expecting it, a solution will come. Every solution has its own destination. If that destination suits us, then we take that solution. If not, we wait. There is always another solution coming behind. That's how I make my decisions."

Ven. Brahm has the perfect mix of advice, humour, practical approach and guidance in his stories. Just as one could listen to him for hours, once you get the book into your hands, you will not put it down until you have read the last page.

07 05 2006 - Sunday Times







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P1.05   Venerable Ajahn Sumedho in Sri Lanka

By Nan

The most appealing feature of Venerable Sumedho's discussions is his constant reference to his own learning experiences, his mistakes, how he figured things out.

Reading that sentence I find it could be misunderstood, hence it needs qualification. Ven. Sumedho's reference to his learning experiences are made in the humblest, most matter-of-fact manner, merely to illustrate a point.

That appeals to me as it must to many others, since here is a meditating monk, the head of many vihares spread in Britain, Australasia and continental Europe, conveying the fact that he is still learning, and that he had a difficult time meditating and disciplining himself at the beginning. So we relate, a bond being instantly forged between the one who succeeded and those who are still struggling.

Ajahn Sumedho is on a visit to Sri Lanka to participate in the commemorative ceremonies organised by the Sambodhi Vihara in memory of the late Most Venerable Piyadassi Mahathera. The vihara arranged for meditation discussions on the Tuesday and Wednesday of this last week. Crowds gathered to hear him; to clear their doubts about their own practice and to spend two quiet hours on the two evenings. It was inspiring seeing monks, both foreign and local, gathered in the hall of the Sambodhi Vihara which had people overflowing onto the verandahs.

Training in Thailand

In 1964, after completing his university education, a young American went to Asia, maybe in search of truth, the need arising from disillusionment with the material world. Two years later he was in north east Thailand in the forest monastery of the Venerable Ajahn Chah, renowned meditation teacher. The struggles he had coping in a far-away forest monastery, with aversions, doubts and difficulties to contend with, must surely have been great. But he persisted and was ordained a monk in the Theravada tradition, taking the name Sumedho.

One instance of rebellion, among many probably, was his watching aghast as 18 young monks rushed to wash Ajahn Chah's feet whenever the venerable returned from a visit outside the monastery. Not for me this nonsense, would have been the young, recently-robed western monk's thought. Ajahn Chah looked him in the eye compassionately as he sat stubbornly when all around him were paying obeisance to the head abbot. Finally as a test of his repugnance, he decided to join the others. That day 19 monks rushed forward to wash the head monk's feet. Surprisingly Ven Sumedho found he quite liked paying respect in this manner. That evening Ven Ajahn Chah spoke with him, completely in understanding. He continued washing the head abbot's feet with greater respect and dedication. Another learning experience had been successful.

Move to England

The English Sangha Trust, established in 1950, requested Ven Ajahn Chah to set up a meditation and training centre in Britain. The monk selected his pupil, Ajahn Sumedho, to head the project. Protests of being unprepared were not accepted. Thus a small centre was established in Hempstead in 1977, under the leadership of Ajahn Sumedho. Two years later the gift of 108 acres in the forests of West Sussex was accepted and so came to existence the Chithurst Vihara. As the years went by more and more monks, nuns and meditators came to the two viharas, Amaravati Buddhist Centre in Hemel Hempstead was extended, and continues to be expanded, to accommodate the ever growing demand. Sri Lankans who have visited Amaravati - translated: Deathless Realm - say how wonderful a place of retreat it is.

Once in a while Ven Ajahn Sumedho visits Sri Lanka and we are blessed. He believes, we presume, in the renewal of religiousness by visiting places of veneration such as the Sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura.

His Ideas

Great learning, mastering the Abhidharmma, studying the suttas in depth are not Ven Sumedho's prescription. What he stresses is that one must experience by constant effort and sustained practice the very essence of the Buddha's message which is that life is unsatisfactory, living dukkha, and that there is a way out: the first two Noble Truths. Then would come, slowly but surely, the realization of anicca and anatta. This fact appeals to us, those who have no formal education in Buddhism. It is self effort that is need to experientially arrive at the truth of life through the path practised and prescribed by the Great Teacher - Siddhartha Gotama, the Buddha.

Thus Buddhist philosophy and meditation practice are brought to a manageable level, an appealing target since it seems reachable by the likes of those devoid of great learning and ignorant of the Abhidhamma.

Rites and rituals are not encouraged but the Ven monk did say they chant, and chanting preceded the two day's guided meditation and discussions.

Questions and Answers

Questions asked on Tuesday centred on meditation practice. "How does one proceed from samatha to vipassana? Has there to be a deliberate switching over? What deliberation, thoughts and determination should accompany the transfer."

"None" replied the venerable monk. "Let the meditation flow easily. From calm one will move to insight if one is practiced and ready; if one is relaxed, concentrated and happy".

Happiness seems to be very important to Ven Sumedho, as it should be to all of us. Buddhism can be interpreted as pessimistic and the feeling conveyed and acquired that one must move through life with sorrow and a long face. Not on your life! The Buddha was, we are given to believe, so happy and so friendly. So is Ven Sumedho, laughing loud and clear and advising we shed onerousness to be relaxed and happy with ourselves and the world around. Many of our monks too are thus. Now we talk and even share a joke with them, with due respect but on level as it were. No wiping smiles and ease off our faces when we address a monk. This is how it should be. Greater relaxed interpersonal relations between lay people and monks will mean better rapport, greater understanding of what they teach us, ultimately to our great benefit.

Ven Sumedho stressed on concentration on one's posture and breathing. Meditation is so important. Accepting through experience and realization the first Noble Truth is the initial step to getting on the Path leading to ultimate deliverance from the samsaric cycle of rebirth and suffering.

Sunday Island - 10 Dec 00







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P1.06   SWRD Bandaranaike: "Why I became a Buddhist" 

The requests made to me to deliver and write articles on this subject have been numerous. I have been very reluctant to accede to these requests because a man's religious convictions are surely one of those very personal matters that he shrinks from exposing and parading before the public gaze. However much a man's life may be public, there are always certain hidden reserves of his mind and heart that he likes to keep to himself, which indeed it is right that he should keep to himself. But I suppose there are rare occasions when the veil may be rent from before the holy of holies, and it is in that spirit that I proceed to a dissection and analysis of the innermost workings of my mind and heart on this theme. I hope to conduct that operation in as dispassionate a manner as possible.

My parents being Christian, I was duly baptised into the Christian faith. I cannot recollect that my wishes were consulted in the matter; indeed, it is open to doubt whether at the tender age of a few weeks I would have been able to express an intelligent opinion, if I had been consulted. I went through the usual training of the average Christian child. But even at this early age I suffered from a peculiar disability. While acquiring for Christ a sort of personal affection as towards a kind elder brother to whom one could pour out one's troubles, I never was able to attain a conception of God the Father. My prayers were all really addressed to Christ: God had no real meaning for me. This trouble, far from disappearing, increased with the growth of my mental powers, until, about the time I left school, I was in sore straits. I now realised that the foundation of Christ's teaching was the love of and complete surrender of oneself to a personal God, and through the love of Him, the love of one's fellow men. Now, I was able to love Christ as a man, but I was utterly unable to accept or surrender myself to this god. But could I believe in Christ, and not believe in his God? That was my dilemma. I even gave up going to church, as I felt that in the circumstances, it would be hypocritical to do so. However, at this time I was content merely to drift without actively meeting a solution of my difficulties: my mind was not yet sufficiently mature. Desultory reading at Oxford tended to confirm, rather than dissipate my doubts. I became convinced that the idea of God was really subjective and not objective: that man created God and not God man. Added to the usual arguments that are adduced in support of this view, I was powerfully influenced by the history of the growth of the theistic idea, as I conceived it.

The rationalist view that religion originated in a fear of the unknown is, no doubt, partially true, but it is not the whole truth. We have in my view, to go to life itself for the real reason. Now it is a scientifically provable fact that life is continually devising and adopting means of protecting and fostering itself -- the sexual instinct, the protective colouring of animals, and many more examples will readily occur to the mind.

Now amongst all living things that in many ways have so much in common, it i significant that man alone possesses the religious idea. For man alone possesses a mind that apparently makes some sort of religion necessary for comfort, happiness and progress of the human race. He sees various phenomenon about him, which he cannot understand. Being gifted with imagination and a highly developed power of reasoning, he cannot rest satisfied unless he finds some kind of explanation for these things. Moreover, these phenomena, which he can neither cause, control, nor prevent, wield a great influence over his prosperity and happiness. He brings his thinking mind on the subject, and tries to devise some method to effect that control.

Lastly, as the natural tendency of man is perhaps well expressed by the saying 'home homini lupus' -- if the great powers of the human mind are brought to bear, without any check, on one's task of mutual destruction, humanity would soon disappear. Religion in some measure provides check. To sum up, human life has evolved the religious idea for its own protection and furtherance just as animals have evolved a protective colouring.

This does not mean that religious belief need necessarily be false, but that owing to the subjective element in it there is a probability that certain beliefs, at least, are false, and that we must each, individually, submit any particular belief to one's test of such reasoning powers as we possess, before accepting it. It may, of course, be urged in favour of blind faith, even on the rationalist principle, that what is important is not so much that a thing is true but the belief that it is true. And doubtless this has enabled many religions to jog along fairly comfortably hitherto. I do not consider it necessary to pursue that argument further. Let us pause now, and see how the arguments mentioned above apply to the origin and development of the theistic idea.  

Early man, seeing certain things happen about him -- the sun shining, the rain falling, etc. -- which might, in certain circumstances, be beneficial or the reverse to him, tried to discover a method of controlling them to his own advantage.  

The method he found was magic. Later, as he grew in power and security, and began to realise his own superiority to the other living things around him, he probably argued in this way: "There are many things that I can do that animals, for instance, cannot do. I can build a substantial house to protect myself form the elements. I can fashion weapons, I can till and cultivate fields. But there are certain things that even I cannot do. I cannot make the sun to shine or the rain to fall. These things, therefore, must be done by some being superior to myself, and as man is the greatest living things I know, they must be done by beings like myself, but with superior powers."  

That, I should imagine, was the age of polytheism. Later, still, with the development of the village community and city state, the conception of an ordered State of the Gods arose. An example is Homeric theology, with the idea of a chief and chieftains of the community, the blacksmith and other artisans and so on. The final stage was the conception of a single omnipotent Being. But here too, it is significant, as Bernard Shaw points out in his Black Girl, that this being gradually develops, in the Bible itself, from a wrathful, jealous, tyrannical God to one who, in the gospels is all merciful and all loving.

The theists may, of course, urge that those various ideas are in due to a struggle on the part of man to discover the truth which gradually revealed itself till the final all-illuminating revelation. The first difficulty about this argument is this: what proof have we that our present conception is the truth, that it is any more true than its progenitor, Polytheism.  

Secondly, the fact that mankind's conception of God seems to have changed with his environment and state of culture and civilization is too remarkable to be a mere coincidence. For my part, I am overwhelmingly convinced, for the reasons mentioned, that man has created God for his own purposes.  

When I reached this point in my thinking, three courses were open to me. I might, as some Christians do, have salved my conscience by twisting Christian doctrine to suit my conscience point of view, and continued nominally to call myself one. I was too honest with myself to do that. Another alternative was to declare myself rationalist. This I was unable to do for the following reason. Although I could not believe in a personal God, I did believe in some kind of continuance, a struggle, evolution towards a final goal. Just as higher bodily powers have evolved from lower ones thorough millions of years, there surely is a similar evolution of the spirit of life-essence, or whatever one likes to call it. The history of mankind itself, the painful and laborious struggle, forwards and upwards, out of the dark abyss towards the sun-lit heights above through aeons of time, leads me to this belief. All I can say is that I personally was convinced of this continuance. Thus, while disbelieving what is the foundation of the theistic religions, the existence of God, I believed in a vital ingredient of all religions, the fact of some continuance.  

My third course was to find a religion that satisfied my needs. Buddhism alone has been able fully to do so. Its doctrine that there is no need for man to depend on the will of God, whose favour he had to seek and whose wrath he had to fear; that man must work out his salvation himself, appealed irresitibly to my own mentality. Similarly, the continuance and evolution contemplated in the Dhamma exactly coincided with my own views.

Although these are the most important, there are certain other reasons that attracted me to Buddhism. It will have been observed that although I could not love a God, I could love a man, and the Lord Buddha was just a man, like the rest of us. Indeed, he was very human; how touching is his reluctance to look upon his newborn son, once his great resolve was made, lest the infant might close his little fist about his heart-strings and pull him back.  

Again, Gotama's approach to his problem had a strong appeal for me. All the fine spirits throughout history have been conscious of the sorrow that lies forever at the heart of the world. If I may mention two names at random, Virgil was conscious of it, and so was Hans Christian Anderson who, by a strange irony, wrote stories for the delectation of children, for, as George Gissing says of him, beautifully, "Every page is touched with the tears of things, every line, melodious with sadness."  

Gotama realised the fundamental truth of the existence of this sorrow, and the ultimate goal as its removal. In expounding his doctrine for this purpose, He makes no extravagant claims on our faith, but wishes every teaching to be tested by the reasoning of each of us, before acceptance. It is only left for me to say that the Buddha Dhamma has emerged triumphant form the test of my reasoning.

I have now torn the veil from before the holy of holies of my mind. If those, who peer inside, see anything there of profit or help to themselves, I shall consider myself amply rewarded."

Sunday Leader - 6 May 2001







Articles Index

P1.07   A meditator and her dogs

By Nan

This lady I write about is perceptive, extra perceptive and very much in the Dhamma. She has now given up most connections with the world and lives in a small annexe overlooking the river Mahaveli, a couple miles from city of Kandy in Sri Lanka, built to her by a generous couple. She is most times alone since the benefactor couple visits very rarely. She is content, and that is obvious.

The lady had been a university lecturer and came with her husband to Sri Lanka. Once her husband died, she become progressively more reclusive until now she shuns the buzz of ordinary life and meditates and lives a life of contentment, with her dogs. A daily help cooks and does the minding of the annexe, while an old faithful tends the garden - a wonderful mix of flowers and leafy plants stretching right down to the river. During the sudden curfews of JVP times, this man had swum across the river - then in spate-fearing she had no food in the house. His loyalty is because she is so good to him, and caring.

Unusual Initiation

Her interest in meditation was psychic. Her husband and she had been touring India when they both felt impelled to visit a certain place, unknown to them but suddenly heard of, They went there and felt immediately comfortable, as if they'd lived in the place together. The lady sat in the shade to rest awhile and soon was in an absorbed state of concentration. Her first experience in meditation, immediately leading her to a jhanic state. Her husband and she had been interested in Buddhism, but intellectually, having read widely. Now they were convinced Buddhism had the answers to the unsatisfactoriness of the life and the tedious multitude of rebirths.

She lives alone, as I said. This however in not the truth since she is completely surrounded and even dominated by her dogs. They have been thrust upon her - strays and rejects dumped at her gate, the dumpers knowing full well she'd take them in and give them a good home. She says they are the last she will keep. "I cannot continue this attachment. I am old and I cannot take responsibility for others. These four may die before me. Even otherwise they can survive - I have provided for them."

She is prepared for death and says it matters nothing when and where, even how and of what she dies. She wants, as all of us do, a quick release from this samsaric existence to the next, which will bring her closer to ending it all.

Reborn and Reunited

One dog has a history. The lady says she is a former pet reborn and come back to her. Suzi was a lovely dog whose greatest pleasure in life was watching squirrels. She'd sit quiet and sphinx-like observing the squirrels playing around in the garden of the flat she lived in then. Suzi died and a couple of months later the lady moved to the present place above the river. Reptiles, birds, lizards and even wild boar are seen in her garden, but strangely no squirrels. One day, returning from Udawattakelle where she'd gone to meet the Ven. Nanaponika Thera, she had a black dog bounding towards her. Her mind instantly went back to Suzi and for a second she hallucinated it was Suzi that was tearing towards her. Soon enough she realized this was a pup so like Suzi.

She took it home, of course, and named it Kelle since she'd found her there. The three she already had took the newcomer very willingly to the menage.

The rebirth conjecture was confirmed one day. The lady found Kelle on the ground - silent, barely breathing, lying very low and looking up. Two squirrels were on the roof and running along the edge and there was Kelle gazing at the creatures, as Suzi was wanted to do. People too mistook Kelle for Suzi; even the vet.

We spent two days in the house attached to the lady's annexe and had frequent visitations of the four dogs. Rosie was Licker to me. She was shaggy with long hair and made a beeline to each of us. If we were seated she'd conveniently lick our faces and hands; if we were standing she'd stand on her hind legs and stretch up to do her licking. She never took no for an answer and never guessed our reclining backwards was to save us from her hyperactive tongue.

The dogs protected her, the lady said. They were always with her and slept together in her twin bed. If she was not feeling well, they'll loll around, silent and concerned with extra licks from Rosie and nuzzles from others. When recovered they'd tug at her to take them for their walk down the hill or along the road.

One day they'd heard one of the dogs howling in pain. Soon enough Kelle came along in an urgent hurry and tugged at the lady's hands. She knew the dog wanted her to follow her and was soon led to Tina caught in a trap set for wild boar. She and the gardener manage to set Tina free.

It was Rosie who tugged at the gardener next. Led by the dog he found another trap concealed in the thicket by the river bank.

The lady's theory is that the four dogs are definitely in the samsaric cycle of births and deaths and would be born to a human life to work out their deliverance. Past karma or even good karma made by them would surface to lead them at death to a human womb. These dogs seem to have the good karma to have a shorter spell of rebirths in the animal world.

I remember the venerable monk from Singapore who used to visit Sri Lanka some years ago, saying a human would not and could not born in the animal kingdom at a very low level-worms etc. He said the lowest we could go to was to a mammal birth - dog, cow, elephant, etc. Stories however abound of ancestors born as toads or cobras who proprietarily stay close to the house they dearly loved. Coincidental or reborn owners come back to protect the property they loved too much and clung to?

The samsaric cycle works according to set rules - one's karmic force determining the next birth. Often it seems inexplicable but there is an underlying order, most definitely. You reap as you sow. Otherwise how to explain an American woman's odyssey to Sri Lanka and Buddhism.

She has been sent as a very young girl to a Christian Sunday school. The teacher had given the class 24 scripture verses to learn and promised a gift for each verse learnt. The girl being extra ambitious and precocious, had learnt all 24 verses. She recited them the next Sunday and expected the promised reward; 24 gifts. She wasn't given even one! Disillusionment was instantaneous, bitter and ever lasting. Her parents tried getting her into Roman Catholicism, with another disappointment for the young girl. She found Buddhism totally rational, totally acceptable, and totally satisfying. She is in the Dhamma and has lived it for the last 15 years. 

Who knows death of beings

And birth in all aspects

No bonds - well gone -all knowing

Him will I call a Brahamin 


The Island - 27 June 99







Articles Index

P1.08   Canadian monk's way for peace of mind

Kirthi Abeyesekera

In the backyard of a Toronto home, a Canadian, Theravada Buddhist monk sits cross-legged on the grass. Before him, is his alms-bowl. With a gavel, he gently taps the bowl, chanting, 'Ohm; Ohm.' A chorus of voices responds; 'Ohm, Ohm.' Then, for 15 minutes, they close their eyes in meditation - and all is still. Punnadhammo Bhikku, as he is known, is on a visit to Toronto from his forest hermitage in Thunder Bay, some one thousand miles away. He's here to conduct a week's, live-in, intensive Meditation Retreat at the Sri Lankan, Westend Buddhist Centre. On the eve of the retreat, a group of Canadian devotees are hosting this welcome for one who has forsaken the faith of his forefathers and eschewed the mundane. The Bhikkhu's 'daval cane' has been a bowl of soup and a slice of pizza. The meditation done, he asks the small group to relax.

'The Emptiness of the World' is the theme of a brief talk to this compact circle. "It is the mind that creates the world," There is no self, he tells the group born as believers in an immortal soul. He exhorts them: "Don't be seduced by external attractions. It's easy to lose oneself in the world." Then, he has a little time for me.

The venerable Bhikkhu was born Michael Dominjmyj to Catholic parents. At 13, he lost his mother. From early days he sought answers to questions that were baffling him. He majored in history. Out of university, he didn't know what to do with his life. "There was no turning point in my life," he says. "I always had a rebellious mind." Hitchhiking one day, an American woman, Ruth stopped to talk with him. "Come with me," she told him. "I'll show you the way." And off they drove to Thunder Bay. There, another Canadian, Eric James Bell, a former Canadian Air Forces Officer, had been ordained as Bhikkhu Kema Ananda. He was living in a log cabin in solitary retreat. A small group of people, attracted to the Buddhist Teaching, had supported Kema Ananda in setting up a meditation centre. Among the early pioneers was Jennifer Rockburne. She tells me how, in the mid-70s, a few of them raised $ 5,000 to purchase 98 acres of forest land from its Swedish owner. It was bear and wildcat infested jungle. From scratch, they converted the almost non-usable log cabin into a livable 'Stewards Cabin.

"There was no running water and no electricity," says Rockburne. "There still isn't. There's no telephone even today." The closest city is 50 miles away. "Through floods and fires, and a fatal accident, we built the place." Their objective was to create the right environment for meditation. She herself lived at the centre for 12 years. They named it the 'Arrow River Community Centre,' after the river that flows by. Rockburne quotes Ven. Kema Ananda as saying that preaching the 'Dhamma' is like selling water by a stream. "It's there all the time. One must know when and how to use it."

It is to this Community Centre that the young University Graduate and his new-found American friend, Ruth, drove to. They came under the guidance of their spiritual leader, Kema Ananda, described by Ven. Punnadhammo as "not primarily intellectual, but a dynamic personality." Rockburne says he was "a brilliant teacher and a gentle disciplinarian. His teaching was demonstrative of his love of the Dhamma and the Sangha." During the years 1985 to 89, Dominjmyj visited the Centre "off end on." He spent several months in study and meditation. In 1989, he went into solitary retreat for a year. "At the end, I was no longer interested in the lay life," he told me. He went to Thailand where the "Forest Tradition of meditation is more vibrant than in Sri Lanka." In 1990, he became a 'Samanera' The following year, at age of 36, he received ordination as 'Punnadhammo Bhikkhu'.

His only sibling, Marianne, says, "No, I have not lost a brother. I have gained something new." The mother of two teenage daughters and a son, Marianne adds, "We are very proud of him." In l995, Ven. Punnadhammo returned to Canada, hearing that Ven. Kema Ananda was gravely ill. The following year, the ailing founder of the Arrow River Community Centre passed away, and Ven. Punnadhammo became its Chief Incumbent, the only full time monk in residence

"We now have limited accommodation at the Centre," says Ven. Punnadhammo. "Seven is a crowd." His robes are of a dull brown shade, in the tradition of our Vajiraramaya monks, Narada, Madihe Pannasiha and Piyadassi. Mostly alone with the jungle and the beasts for company, he has a lay aide, "since the 'Vinaya' does not allow a monk to store food."

"Westerners are interested in Buddhism because of its emphasis on meditation - purification of the mind," says Ven. Punnadhammo who spends his time at the Centre in meditation and study. His family who do not call themselves Buddhists are interested in meditation. In the summer he teaches at retreats - 'Kuti,' as they say in Thailand.

He says that over the last 20 years, he's seen a growing interest in Buddhism in the Western world, particularly in the last decade. All over the world, the big threat is materialism and consumerism.

"But the pendulum swings," says Ven. Punnadhammo. "People will soon find out how hollow the material world is.The realization will be, more in the West than in the East." He says we need more educated monks to carry the Teaching, because there is a thirst for 'intellectual religion.'

Ven. Punnadhammo, now 44, is a columnist for 'The Toronto Star' Religion Page. Recently, he wrote: "If we look around the world today, it is hard not to fall into despair about human nature. Greed, selfishness and violence seem to rule unchallenged. Whereever we look, we see crime, corruption in high places, poverty and homelessness in the midst of plenty".

The Island - 4 Oct 99







Articles Index

P1.09   Dr. Paul Dahlke championed the cause of Buddhism in Europe

German Dharmaduta Society

"If Buddhism did not exist, it would have to be invented because Buddhism alone provided the teaching which was capable of offering complete consumation to the mental life of human kind," said Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi quoting Dr. Paul Dahlke in the introduction to his book 'Buddhism and its place in the mental life of mankind'.

The reason why Buddhism fulfils such an essential role is because in Dahlke's own words 'Buddhism is the key to understanding the nature of actuality or reality' added Bhikkhu Bodhi in a talk delivered at a function dealing with the release, by the German Dharmaduta Society, of a re-print of Dr. Dahlke's popular book 'Was ist Buddhismus und was will er?' (What is Buddhism and What is its objective?), held at the Mahaveli Centre Auditorium, Colombo on April 28, 2001.

This re-print was financed entirely by the Sandadi Hennadi Badde Liyanage Trust, founded by Anagarika Dharmapriya Mahinda (formerly known as Mr. Nelson H. Soysa), a founder Trustee and Vice President of the German Dharmaduta Society. The re-print was undertaken by the GDS to meet a popular demand in Germany for this valuable book, which was no longer available in bookshops. Copies of the re-print were presented to the Chief Guest, Mr. Leel Gunesekera, (who deputised for Mr. Monty Gopallawa, Minister of Cultural Affairs), Mr. Michael Fuchs (a representative of the German Ambassador), Ven. Bellana Gnanawimala Mahanayake Thero, and Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi. Dr. Granville Dharmawardena, President of the German Dharamaduta Society presided. The proceedings commenced with the administering of Pansil by Ven. Bellana Gnanawimala Mahanayake Thero. The Ambassador from Myanmar, U. Khin Maung Lay and Mr. Raja Collure, Member of Parliament, were among the distinguished gathering.

Bhikkhu Bodhi continuing said that Dr. Dahlke upon embracing Buddhism in Ceylon in 1900, had decided to devote his efforts and energy to the spread of Buddhism in Europe. He saw that within the framework of modern thought the Buddha Dhamma was the sole solution to the problems facing human kind. He intended to make the Buddhist teachings known through using all of his faculties to the spread of the Dhamma. Between 1900-1914, Dr. Dahlke had made eight trips to Ceylon and studied Pali under well-known Buddhist scholars such as Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Maha Nayake Thera, Ven. Suriyagoda Sri Sumangala Thera and Pandit Wagiswara.

Dr. Dahlke was a prolific writer. He together with Georg Grimm (a Judge in Bavaria and the author of the widely read book 'The Doctrine of the Buddha - the Religion of Reason') dominated the German Buddhist scene at the beginning of the 20th century.

Dahlke's first book was 'Buddhist Essays' (1903). It covers a great range of topics though not united by a single theme. Dahlke also authored 'Buddhism and Science'. However it was Dr. Dahlke's last book 'Buddhism and its place in the mental life of mankind' (published in 1924 ), that he considered as the consumation of his exposition of Buddhism. It was the culmination of his 30 years of reflection, study and meditation on the Dhamma.

In this book Dahlke had set himself the ambitious goal of defining the place of Buddhism in relation to the mental life of human kind. Dahlke saw his task as somewhat parallel to the work of the Buddha, who in the Brahmajala Sutta, surveyed all the contemporary modes of Indian thought in order to define in an expressway the manner in which his own teaching differed from and could be distinguished from all the other contemporary schools of thought, observed Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Dahlke had realised that studying and writing on Buddhism alone were not enough. More steps had to be taken in order to practise Buddhism and to promote Buddhist teaching. Therefore Dahlke decided to found a Buddhist Community right in the heart of Germany. Dahlke acquired a plot of land in the Berlin suburb of Frohnau in 1919 and proceeded to construct 'Das Buddhistische Haus' which he completed in 1924. Life in these premises was meant to be a half way house between leading a lay life and life in a monastery. 'Das Buddhistische Haus' served as the centre of German Buddhism from 1924-1928. It attracted numerous people including a ten-day visit by Anagarika Dharmapala (in 1925). Dahlke died in 1928. The German Dharmaduta Society, founded by Asoka Weeraratna in 1952, purchased these premises from the heirs of Dr. Dahlke in 1957, and converted the premises into a Buddhist Vihara, with resident monks drawn from Sri Lanka and other countries. The Berlin Vihara now ensures a Theravada Buddhist presence in the centre of continental Europe and serves as a focal point for the spread of the Buddha's teachings in the West.

Dr. Granville Dharmawardena in his welcoming address referred to the keen and growing interest being shown by German philosophers and scientists in the study of Buddhism, and quoted Albert Einstein who said 'No religion will survive the knowledge generated by modern science, except Buddhism'. Dr. Dharmawardena also lauded the vision of Asoka Weeraratna who saw the potential for Buddhism in Europe, particularly in Germany as early as 1952, the year in which the GDS was founded. Dr. Dharmawardena added that the early fifties witnessed the emergence of Quantum Mechanics, which had a shattering effect on the traditional belief systems in the West. These developments that led western people to question the tenets of their faith co-incided remarkably with the initiatives taken by Asoka Weeraratna and the German Dharmaduta Society to spread the Dhamma in the West and provide an alternative spiritual path to disillusioned Europeans, observed Dr. Dharmawardena.

Mr. H. Vincent Soysa, Vice President of the GDS and elder brother of Anagarika Dharmapriya Mahinda, speaking next outlined in detail the life and the contributions made towards the spread of Buddhism by his brother, Anagarika Dharmapriya Mahinda (formerly known as Mr. H. Nelson Soysa). Upon becoming an Anagarika he had become a strict vegetarian and teetotaller. He gave his whole-hearted support to Asoka Weeraratna and the GDS to send a Buddhist Mission to Germany. He became a Trustee and Vice President of the GDS.

He made a substantial contribution to the One Million Rupee Trust Fund of the GDS that was inaugurated in September 1954. Upon completing his Buddhist Dharmaduta work in Germany, Anagarika Mahinda took on new challenges. He decided to spread the teachings of the Buddha in Africa. He chose Tanzania as his first stop. Unfortunately Tanzania treated him like a spy and put him in jail. The intervention of two senior Sri Lankan Government Officials led to his release from prison. On his return to Sri Lanka he confined his Buddhist activities to meditation as the period of his incarceration in Tanzania had affected his health. Dharmapriya established a Trust by the name of Sandadi Hennadi Badde Liyanage Family Trust out of his personal assets for the propagation of the Buddha Dhamma. He passed away on 5th June, 1986.

Next, Professor Jayadeva Tilakasiri, Vice President and a founder member of the GDS, traced the history of the GDS and his close association with Asoka Weeraratna since his childhood days at Mahinda College, Galle. Even as a student, Asoka Weeraratna had adopted a contemplative life, and cultivated a great ability to concentrate and dedicate himself to the task ahead.

His total commitment to Buddhism, initially as a Dharmaduta worker engaged in spreading the Dhamma abroad, and later as a promoter of putting into effective practice the teachings of the Buddha, led to the collapse of his family business, P. J. Weeraratna & Sons, Maradana. Nevertheless his work in founding the German Dharmaduta Society (1952), the Berlin Buddhist Vihara (1957), and the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage (1968) remains as excellent memorials to his vision, energy and service to the cause of Buddhism.

Professor Tilakasiri further said that the GDS has a very great task ahead of them. It was not good enough to send monks having knowledge only of Buddhism to Germany. Germans are very discerning. They question a lot, argue and ask why they should embrace Buddhism. To answer their queries, the monks must be competent not only in teaching the Dhamma, but also must be proficient in other fields of study, such as anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, comparative religion and other modern systems of thought. Further the trained monks, apart from being models of 'Buddhism in practice' must be capable of adjusting themselves to the different conditions in Europe, observed Professor Tilakasiri.

Mr. Senaka Weeraratna, Hony. Secretary, GDS in his Vote of Thanks said that the GDS was pursuing a great tradition that was inaugurated at the time of the Buddha 2500 years ago i.e., to spread the Dhamma. The gift of the Dhamma excels all other gifts, and the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka has repeated this saying several times in his rock inscriptions.

Mr. Weeraratna said that the GDS was privileged to administer Dr. Paul Dahlke's 'Das Buddhistische Haus' as a Buddhist Vihara. Mr. Weeraratna added that Dr. Dahlke was also a pioneer in establishing Buddhist cultural ties between Germany and Sri Lanka, and it was necessary for the present generation to continue to strengthen these links between the two countries.

The Island - 20 May 01







Articles Index

P1.10   Colonel Henry Steele Olcott

A pioneer in the field of Buddhist Education

D. P. B. Ellepola

Colonel Olcott passed away peacefully on February 17th 1917 at the headquarters of the Buddhist Theosophical Society in Adyar in India, having bid farewell to Sri Lanka for the last time on December 8th 1906. He had spent a good part of his precious life in the service of Buddhist education. His untiring effort in this field is unparalleled in our recent past.

An American by birth, he served his motherland in various ways. After the secondary education, he entered the Columbia University where he graduated in agriculture. He served in the American army for some time, to be soon promoted to the rank of Colonel. Though a born Christian, Olcott seems to have developed the ideals of free thinking. In addition to being an agriculturist he was a lawyer by profession. None of these pursuits had pleased him. Never did he let his martial rank usurp his liberal and free thought. His conviction was that "no religion is higher than truth." His philosophy was a combination of the good teachings in all religions. This led to his thoughts which ultimately centred around the teaching of the Buddha. In 1875 he together with Madame Blavatsky Society which did research into the core of all religions. This study brought them to India in 1878, and subsequently in 1880 he arrived in Sri Lanka where he embraced Buddhism. It must not be forgotten that the news of the famous Panadura debate in 1873 had greatly influenced Col. Olcott as well as other Theosophists in the Western world. This historical debate was between Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda and a group of Christian priests. 

However the arrival in Sri Lanka of Col. H.S. Olcott was again a turning point in his eventful life. He did not remain passive. He was perhaps born for a purpose. His objective was to revive and uplift the cause of Buddhism and everything that was affiliated to it. He saw how Buddhist education had been neglected over the years of colonial rule. He also saw how the education of Buddhist children was left in the hands of evangelists whose sole idea was the destruction of Buddhism. Col. Olcott realised the pathetic situation the Buddhists were placed in, and also the impediments confronted by them. Together with Venerable Theras such as Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Migettuwatte Gunananda and Dodanduwe Piyaratne he set to work. The Maha Sangha gave him courage and moral support.  

Harischandra gave him the impetus. He was thus able to achive his goal.

Col. H.S. Olcott firmly believed that the education of Buddhist children should be in the hands of the Buddhists. At the time of his arrival there were 805 Christian schools but only two Buddhist schools, and every Buddhist schools, and every Buddhist parent was forced to send their children to non-Buddhist schools. In 1880, Col. Olcott started the Buddhist Theosophical Society of Sri Lanka and commenced the opening of Sunday Dhamma schools. The first of these was begun in February, 1881 in Maliban Street, the premises of the Buddhist Theosophical Society. At the same time another Dhamma school was started at Vijayananda Pirivena in Galle. In this manner Dhamma Schools sprang up in every nook and corner of the Island. They served as an incentive to all Buddhist children, who were eager to practice the Buddhist way of life.

Colonel Olcott travelled far and wide into all parts of the country. It was young Anagarika Dharmapala who translated his speeches. He held meetings, discussions and delivered speeches encouraging the people to be of service towards the Buddhist cause. The Buddhist Theosophical Society and other Buddhist organisations. Buddhist leaders in the calibre of D. B. Jayatilaka went all out to help the establishment of Buddhist schools. Col. Olcott spent much time and energy and even his own money freely and generously for this venture. In 1881 he inaugurated "The Buddhist Educational fund" for establishment of Buddhist schools. As a result the Buddhist Theosophical Society was able to open up many Buddhist schools in the main cities. Thuzs Ananda College was started in 1886, to be followed by other Buddhist public schools such as Mahinda of Galle, Dharmaraja of Kandy and Maliyadeva of Kurunegala. Simultaneously with the help of women philanthropists such as Annie Besant, Marie Museus Higgins and Mrs. Jeramias Dias, many Buddhist girl schools were opened up which function properly to this day.

As a result of Col. Olcotts agitation, in 1885 vesak day was declared a public holiday. He was also among those who designed the Buddhist flag now accepted by the entire Buddhist world. The right of Buddhist to conduct ceremonies and processions was legalised by his efforts. He was also responsible to get the approval of separate registers for birth, marriages and deaths of Buddhists.

His services were vast and varied. Even if we set aside all other matters, his services to Buddhist Education is incomparable. He had always advocated unity among Buddhists at all times and under any circumstances. This should be an eye opener to the Sinhala Buddhist of today.

His parting words in his diary remind us of a man who truly loved mother Lanka. "Ah! Lovely Lanka, how does thy sweet image rise before me, as I write the story of my experience among thy dusky children, of my success in warming their hearts revere their incomparable religion and its Noblest Founder. Happy the Kamma that brought me to thy shores.

The Isalnd - 6 March 2001







Articles Index

P1.11   Col. Olcott - The great Buddhist revivalist

Aryadasa Ratnasinghe

"Oh! lovely Lanka, Gem of the Summer Seas. How doth thy sweet image rise before me, as I recount my experience among thy children, of my success in warming their hearts to revere their incomparable religion and its holiest Founder. Happy the karma which brought me to the shores."- Col. H. S. Olcott.

One of the most memorable events in the history of the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and its recovery from the onslaughts of Colonial rule and Christian missionary activities, since the coming of the Portuguese in 1505, was the arrival in the island of Col. Henry Steele Olcott (1832-1907), on May 18, 1880. From that time, he worked hard for the cause of Buddhism and Buddhist education, when 375 years of foreign rule had sapped its vitality.

Col. Olcott was born on August 1. 1832 and his parents were Wycliff Olcott and his wife Alice Steele. They were Roman Catholics and leaving their homeland (England) had migrated to the United States soon after marriage and settled down at Orange, New Jersey. In his career in life, Col. Olcott was first an agricultural scientist, then he got enlisted as an army officer and thereafter, he practised as a lawyer.

In 1875, Col Olcott founded the Theosophical Society in New York and spent most of his time devoted to spirituality. Theosophy is a name applied to various systems of 'divine power', but in particular to the doctrine enunciated by the Theosophical Society, based on the Hindu principles of 'karma' (actions volitional) and rebirth as is corollary and Nirvana as the goal of the aspirant Buddhist.  

Col. Olcott who had already embraced Buddhism while in New York, publicly avowed his conversion, a week after arrival in the island, by reciting 'pancaseela' (the five moral vows of abstinence in Buddhism, from killing, lying, sexual misconduct, falsehood and drinking intoxicants), before the Ven. Akmeemana Dhammarama Nayake Thera of the Vijayananda Temple in Galle, which event served as a symbolic identification of himself among the local Buddhist population. Thereafter, he looked into the sad plight of the Buddhist community, to make an astute diagnosis as to how the situation could be revived.

What made Col. Olcott to become a Buddhist convert, was the publication 'Panadura Vadaya' (the Great Panadura Controversy), which received international recognition as 'The Great Debate on Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face! The Debate was held on August 26, 1873, on a block of land called Dombagahawatta, belonging to P. Jeramis Dias, a wealthy and prominent Buddhist in Panadura and he allowed to use his land for the purpose, situated a little away from the Rankot Vihara. He also agreed to defray all expenditure incurred on the Debate.


This spot is now demarcated by a fence with the statue of the dynamic orator, Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera, who participated in the Debate on behalf of the Buddhists. Rev. David de Silva spoke on behalf of the Christians. The outcome of the Debate was the result of a speech made by the Methodist priest, at the Wesley Church in Panadura, on June 12, 1873, against Buddhism. The Debate ended peacefully with loss to the Christians, which played an important part in the history of Buddhism under the British sovereignty.

The then Editor of the Times of Ceylon, had the Debate translated into English by one Edmund Perera and having published it, gave a copy to Dr. J. M. Peebles, the American spiritualist, who happened to be in Colombo at the time. The Editor John Cooper took a great interest in the Debate and he, perhaps, thought that it should be given international publicity. Dr. Peebles, on his return to the United States showed it to Col. Olcott, whom he knew before as a Roman Catholic.

Col. Olcott, after reading the Debate, was so impressed, that he wrote to Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera and the Most Ven. Hikkaduwe Siri Sumangala Nayake Thera, who took a keen interest in the Debate, that in the interest of the universal brotherhood , he had founded the Theosophical Society, inspired by oriental philosophies, and that he would come to Sri Lanka to help the Buddhists to regain their lost heritage and to resuscitate Buddhism that was at an ebb.

The Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) was established in Sri Lanka, on June 17, 1880, which campaigned to educate Buddhist children in the English medium, a privilege exclusively enjoyed by Christian children attending missionary schools, most of which were conducted by the Christian clergy. In 1822, the Church Missionary Society was founded to spread the Christian doctrine among the 'heathen' population through education media. Col. Olcott became aware that thousands of boys had been converted to denominational Christianity, though not directly, but through the missionary propaganda, especially in schools.

The Buddhists, until 1870, had their own schools to teach Sinhala in temples throughout the island, but the Colonial government did not want that Buddhist boys should be taught English in missionary schools funded by missionary societies. In 1870, and Education Act was passed and temple schools became taboo to Christian children.


Col. Olcott, for the first time after the destruction of Buddhism in India, convened a meeting of delegates of the Buddhists of Burma (now Myanmar), Chittagong, Sri Lanka and Japan, to consider what steps should be taken for the propagation of Buddhism in those countries. With his initiative, the Maha Bodhi Society was established on May 31, 1891, in India (known as the Buddhagaya Maha Bodhi Society) and Col. Olcott was elected Chief Adviser and Director, unanimously.

As the awakener of a nation out of long slumber, as the crusader who campaigned to regain its due place to Buddhism, as the agitator who caused the Colonial government of the day, to declare the Vesak fullmoon day as a statutory holiday in Sri Lanka, as the designer of the now internationally famous Buddhist flag and as the founder of national educational institutions, such as Ananda College in Colombo in 1886, the Mahinda College in Galle in 1892 and the Dharmaraja College in Kandy in 1887, Col. Olcott's service towards Buddhism and education was manifold.

Col. Olcott was a man of many parts. he devoted his early life to the service of his country. He founded agricultural schools in the United States and is recognised as the founder of the present system of national agricultural education in the United States. Hiss goal was for the service of mankind and to awake them from the sloth of despondency. During his first sojourn in the island, there were only nine post-primary schools conducted by the Buddhists as against 642 Christian Missionary Schools.

When we speak of Col. Olcott, we cannot omit to mention the name of the Russian-born Helena Petronova Blavatsky, who was also a Theosophist who accompanied Col. Olcott to Sri Lanka. They both started the Theosophical Society in New York and worked for the spiritual progression of the converted community.

Col. Olcott's last visit to Sri Lanka was on November 24, 1906. On February 17,1907, he passed away at 7.15 a.m., at the Headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar in India. A statue of this great personality stands opposite the Fort Railway Station, remarkable for his bushy beard.

Sunday Observer - 17 Feb 02







Articles Index

P1.12   The necessity for promoting Buddhism in Europe

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi 

As Sri Lankans we are fortunate, indeed, to have as the crowning glory of our cultural heritage, a great religion and a subtle philosophy that has inestimable value and relevance to those living beyond our shores.

There are many in the West who pine for that spiritual and metaphysical wherewithal-rooted in Buddhist values-that gives completeness to lives spent in seeming ease and comfort. This is no smug declaration of moral superiority: it is the Buddhist Message that is proudly proffered, not the example of the unfortunate people who live in this ancient land. A people who, in this age of confusion and misfortune, are being sorely tested by a miscellany of dire challenges that threaten its very survival.

We must overcome our current afflictions and even in our darkest hour we must have the courage not to forget the Buddhist Dhamnaduta role that our forebears carried out with such distinction in the centuries past.

It is against this background that the paper presented on July 2, 2000 by Ven Bhikkhu Bohdi (at a Public Seminar held in Colombo to commemorate the first death anniversary of Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thero) on the constraints and parameters ' of a Buddhist Missionary Effort rooted in the strenghts and resources of our own country must be viewed.

Although written within a brief compass, the learned analysis of the issues involved- and, the problems faced- in promoting Buddhism in the West is a didactic resource that all sincere Buddhists of this land will welcome. We need a Scholar-Monk of the calibre of Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi to guide us in a venture of this kind- both on account of the vast erudition in Buddhist matters that is his distinctive privilege and his sympathetic grasp of the Western Mind Set and its strengths and foibles that must be reckoned with in establishing a fruitful dialogue on the core values of our Buddhist faith.

In this regard, there is a 'constraint' that must be foremost in our minds- that we, as purveyors' of spiritual goods and services must, perforce, deal with a 'clientele' of great sophistication-prepared to question and test our canonical faith at a level that will match the profundity of the truths that we try to put across. It cannot be denied that the cultural chasm that separates us from the West is a formidable barrier that the would-be Buddhist Dharmaduta worker will find quite daunting even if he has truly mastered the teachings of the Compassionate One.

While it is not the intent of the writer to forestall or pre-empt what the Ven. Bhikkhu has said with such commendable lucidity in his essay, it would not be out of place to in underscore certain salient and highlights in his thinking. Firstly, there is an evolutionary dynamism that has Western Society in its inexorable grip and it is clear that a certain degree of 'tailoring' of the Buddhist message to match the sociological ground-conditions of the recipient population is a well-advised strategy.

This must not be construed as a kind of 'religious machiavellianism' that detracts from the lofty spiritualism of the message: rather, it is a practical recognition of the cultural variegation of the human race. In this connection, the seemingly insatiable demand for 'quick-fix meditative therapies' for those in the West burdened with what the French call 'tracasserie' is a considerable challenge to the Theravada tradition of our country.

Can meditative techniques and procedures be divorced from the sublime fundamentals of Buddhism that, to the orthodox, seem its irrefragable basis? More generally, is it possible to abridge or truncate the richly- varied practice of Buddhism as seen in lands such as ours to meet the needs of an 'establishment free' religion of the kind many Westerners find attractive? These are troubling problems that our best minds must resolve if we are to make headway in our Dharmaduta activities abroad.

The Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, with great perspicuity has singled out a difficulty that must be urgently addressed if we are to make significant progress in the resolution of the larger issues adverted to above: the mismatch between the kind of monastic training that our Bhikhus receive in the tradition-bound centres of learning and the intellectual sophistication required to be a useful 'messenger of the Dharma' in the West.

At this point we must reiterate a truism already mentioned- there is a stratification of attitudes and attainments in Western Society that we ignore at our peril. The refined intellects of the West need a kind of Buddhism that the hoi polloi will find disturbingly difficult. But this important class must be engaged and our very best scholar monks must be up to the task.

Do we have monks who are au fait with such fields as cognitive psychology, logic and neurophysiology? The Buddhist interpretation of 'being' and 'becoming' has attracted the attention of leading scholars in the West-Francis Varela and Susan Blackmore are well known names in this field. Clearly, we have slipped a lot in this regard. No longer do we have a K. N. Jayatilleka or a G. P. Malalasekara to speak authoritatively on the Theravada perspective in these matters that goes beyond what may be called 'formula Buddhism' the mechanical matching of Pali stanzas to any semantically significant propositional query.

The meditative and esoteric have a following that is very distinct from the 'cerebral' constituency referred to above. Indeed, it is this segment of Western society that is 'spiritually destabilized' and yearns for inspirational strength from the East. The question again is whether we in Sri Lanka can convey the Buddha's message in the idiom that these Western folk can empathise with.

The Mahayana scholars and monks have a clear advantage over the Lankan Bhikkhus in this regard in that their monastic milieu is steeped in a centuries old tradition of the arcane over the logico-ethnical. These difficulties-or-challenges-are mentioned not with the intention of dissuading the courageous but in the hope that a revolutionary restructuring of our institutes of religious training will result in a regaining of the pre-eminence that our nation once enjoyed throughout the Buddhist world.

As our texts so liminously put it, the intellectual, the moral and the meditative must be harmoniously blended in those who follow the Path and compassionately seek to share their insight with others.

It is with great sorrow that we, Sri Lankan, must confess deep pessimism on all issues raised. A house tragically in disarray cannot be a wellspring of inspiration to nations and peoples more fortunately circumstanced. Its representatives will have a hard time explaining why Buddhist lands in South and East Asia are such crucibles of misery.

It is not for us to be judgemental about our Buddhist neighbours-but in our own country the aetiology of decline is plainly evident. Unlike the fast-spreading Saviour-Cults of one sort or another, Buddhism draws strength from Enlightened Leadership- the religious exemplars that, through compassion and concern move the ordinary people to heights of religious devotion.

In this connection, there is a 'tragic symbiosis' that is the power-base of Buddhism-three groups that create a spiritual synergy that made the ancient religion of our land a living presence that gave strength and hope to all.

Firstly, there is the Secular Buddhist Leadership-the Royal House in the old days and in these degenerate times, the elected political elite. Next, there is the Maha Sangha in the role of System-Guidance-not unlike the DNA of an eukaryotic cell guarding and guiding its metabolic destiny. Finally there is the Laity, that serves as a kind of nutritive pabulum for the sustenance of the first and second.   This fanciful model serves a very limited purpose-that all three parts must be healthy for the 'florescence' of Buddhism. Alas, all three parts are in a very sick state in contemporary Sri Lanka. We have a political leadership that endeavour to deny the lead-role for Buddhism-indeed disdains it as an atavism that has no relevance in the brave new age of globalisation.

The greater mass of the laity regards the Buddhist faith as a valetudinarian concern-an end game strategy and a preparation for death. As for the Maha Sangha,it would be impious to pass strictures-suffice it to say that a reformed and re-invigorated Sangha is both our greatest need and greatest hope. Not the least of reasons why the illuminating article by the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi should be read and digested by all who care for the future of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The Island - 29 Dec 01







Articles Index

P1.13   Sanghamitta Theri - a liberated woman

Dr. Lorna Dewaraja

This fullmoon day of Unduvap the Buddhists of Sri Lanka honour the memory of Sanghamitta Theri who together with her brother Mahinda Thera was responsible for the establishing of Buddhism in this country 2300 years ago in the reign of Devanampiya Tissa. A significant feature is that when Mahinda Thera preached the Dhamma in Anuradhapura the most enthusiastic listeners were women; those of royal rank as well as the commoners. This remains so to this day for in any Buddhist event the women far outnumber the men.

Having listened to Mahinda Thera's sermon, Queen Anula, wife of the sub king Mahanaga, convinced of the truth of the Buddha word, informed the king of her desire to become a bhikkhuni. When this was conveyed to Mahinda Thera he pointed out that according to the rules of the Vinaya it was not permissable for him to bestow the pabbajja on women. Further he said that this could be accomplished if the king sent a message to king Asoka Maurya who ruled from Pataliputra (modern Patna) requesting him to send his daughter Sanghamitta Theri and also to bring with her a branch of the Bodhi Tree at Gaya under which the Buddha attained enlightenment.

It should be mentioned that diplomatic relations had already been established between the Court of Anuradhapura and that of Pataliputra. Hence Devanampiya Tissa did not hesitate to send his minister Arittha to the Mauryan king with these two earnest requests.

The king was reluctant to send his daughter on an overseas mission but because of the insistence of Sanghamitta Theri he finally agreed. Several nuns accompanied the Theri who sailed to Sri Lanka carrying the Bo sapling, together with the Minister Arittha. This was a very courageous action on the part of Sanghamitta. In an age when rigid Brahmanic ideas regarding women were prevailing in society it was indeed an act of great courage for a woman of royal birth to embark on a hazardous voyage unaccompanied by any male member of her family. She was indeed a liberated woman to defy the challenges of a male-dominated society.

At Jambukolapattana (modern Point Pedro in Jaffna Peninsula), a multitude of devotees headed by the king and Mahinda Thera received the Theri and the Bodhi Tree. It was brought in procession to Anuradhapura, a journey which took 14 days on foot, and planted it in the Mahamegha park on a specially prepared terrace. In the words of Paul E Pieris who was not a Buddhist, "It is doubtful if any other single incident in the long story of their race has seized upon the history of the Sinhalese with such tenacity as this of the planting of the aged tree.

Like the pliant roots which find sustenance on the face of their bare rock and cleave their way through the stoutest fabric, the influence of what it represents has penetrated into the innermost being of the people till the tree itself has become almost human." The king and the people of Sri Lanka throughout 23 centuries have cherished this tree like a priceless treasure, the oldest historical tree in the world. Its hold on the people was so deep rooted that even the modern day terrorists thought that the best way to destroy the Sinhala psyche was to exterminate the Tree.

Historical evidence

Some scholars have expressed doubts on the Mahavamsa account of Sanghamitta and the historicity of the tree on the ground that there is no external evidence to corroborate the Sri Lanka tradition. Wilhelm Geiger, the german Orientalist who translated the Mahavansa into German firmly upholds the Mahavansa tradition.  

The narrative of the transplanting of the Bodhi Tree finds interesting confirmation from archaeological evidence. He says that another scholar Grundewel has shown in a very convincing way that the sculptures of the gate of the Sanchi Stupa are representations of that event.

Sanchi, it should be remembered is the childhood home of Sanghamitta and Mahinda and it is reasonable to assume that Sanghamitta's memory was revered in the place of her birth. Since the Sanchi sculptures belong to the 2nd Century BC the representation is only about 100-150 years after the coming of Sanghamitta. Hence we have near contemporary evidence on stone to corroborate the Mahavansa story of the coming of Sanghamitta. Further there is a village called Kantarodai in the Jaffna Peninsula originally known as Kadurugoda Vihara.

The entire area was preserved as an archaeological site when I visited Jaffna in 1971 and the surrounding villagers informed me that there is a strong tradition prevailing up to that day saying that Sanghamitta rested on that spot on her way to Anuradhapura. I am not aware what has happened to the archaeological site now but at that time it was scattered with pre Christian ruins and also a number of small stupas resembling the stupa at Sanchi.

It is clear that Kadurugoda Vihara developed into a hallowed spot and because of the Sanghamitta connection had brisk intercourse with Sanchi. Paul E Pieris writing in 1919 to the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society said that Kantarodai is a miniature Anuradhapura.

Besides all this evidence there is the far famed tree itself still firmly rooted in Sri Lankan soil while literary works like the Bodhivamsa, Maha Bodhivamsa, Sulu Bodhivamsa bear witness to its antiquity and sacrosanctity.

The Bhikkhuni Sasana

Sanghamitta Theri then accomplished her most important mission by ordaining Anuladevi and her retinue and established the Bhikkhuni Sasana in Sri Lanka. The charisma and impact of the founder was such that the Sri Lanka Bhikkunis were illustrious and erudite women who were internationally renowned and emulated their founder by travelling overseas to spread the Dhamma.

According to Chinese sources, they sailed to China and began a Chinese Order of Nuns which lasts to this day. They specialised in different sections of the Pali Canon and taught their specialties all over the island.

Liberation of Sri Lankan women

The arrival of Sanghamitta had a significant impact on Sri Lankan womanhood. Many visitors to Sri Lanka long before the impact of the West was ever felt have commented on the social freedom that Sri Lankan women enjoyed that there was no segregation of the sexes and that they participated in the social, religious and economic life of the community.

This was Sanghamitta's legacy and the example of the bold and adventurous band of nuns she nurtured.

She was the first woman ambassador mentioned in recorded history, sent from one Head of State at the express invitation of another Head of State. Belonging to the ecclesiastical tradition of Maha Prajapati Gotami, the first Buddhist nun, she displayed the same qualities as the latter - courage and determination and not taking no for an answer.

She remained in Sri Lanka for the rest of the life working for the uplift of Sri Lankan women, far away from home, kith and kin. To Sanghamitta Theri, a woman liberated in every sense of the word, the women of Sri Lanka owe a deep debt of gratitude.

The Island - 29 Dec 01







Articles Index

P1.14   Alec Robertson: quiet broadcaster of the dhamma

There are those who are of the view that Buddhism in this country is facing a crisis. On the one hand today's changing world is being swept with a materialism of the most wanton kind. Scant respect is being paid to the higher virtues of the human being. We have, as a species, abused the abundant gifts of nature, indulged in untrammelled destruction of our forests and other natural resources, thrust into extinction all manner of life forms and in the process come to a point where our own future is threatened.

Crass consumerism has engulfed our society and in striving to be better, richer and more powerful, people have resorted to untold violence. Unfortunately, it is also true that large sections of the sangha, the proverbial 'mura devathavo' of the nation, have also succumbed to these processes.

On the other hand, following the time-tested colonial strategy of using the gun and the Bible in tandem, capital's numerous and violent forays into our country are being complemented by a veritable invasion of various evangelical groups. Unethical conversions such as these have largely gone unchecked partly because the government dares not displease the powerful church-based lobbies that support such surreptitious operations disguised as charities.

There are obviously many avenues of checking these trends. A return to the fundamental tenets of the doctrine and a practise based on them, I believe, should count among the priorities in such efforts. It is in this context that the work of people like Alec Robertson stand out as shining examples that ought to be emulated.

The son of an Anglican father and a catholic mother, Alec grew up as a Buddhist after his father, who had been greatly influenced by the writings of Rev. Gnanatiloka, embraced Buddhism. His father being a station master, young Alec attended several schools. He was born in 1928 in Kandy and started his schooling at the Lady of Victories kindergarten in Moratuwa. He was at Richmond between 1938 and 1942 during the time his father was stationed at Gintota. Later, when they moved to Kalutara, his father had opted to send him to Kalutara Vidyalaya and not Holy Cross. This was during the time of the great Buddhist revival in Kalutara spearheaded by Sir Cyril de Zoysa. He also attended Sri Sumangala, Panadura and finally Prince of Wales, Moratuwa from where he sat for the SSC in 1943.

At Prince of Wales, Alec came under the influence of J. B. C. Rodrigo, aka "Jam Butter Cheese". "It was from him that I learnt Latin and English literature; even now I can quote from the English classics," he said.  

While still a student, Alec joined the "Servants of the Buddha," an organisation founded by Rev. Narada, Casius Perera and others in 1921. Located in Lauries Road, they had weekly talks on the dhamma in English. Years later, he was elected the President of this organisation which was mostly dominated by professionals. "I was the only 'commoner' to be made president," he observed. He held the post for 27 years.

He was apparently an avid reader of Buddhist literature from his early days and said that he was influenced by the books of Rev. Gnanatiloka, Rev. Gnanaponika and especially Rev. Narada's "Buddhism in a nutshell". In addition to these, Alec would meet regularly with Rev. Soma and Rev. Khema at the Vajiraramaya to discuss matters pertaining to the dhamma. These discussions would go late into the night, sometimes until about 11 pm.

Soon after the SSC, Alec had passed the General Clerical Service Exam, being placed third in the island. He was then 21. At the Viva Voce, the Acting Director of Education, a man named Arundale, had asked him about his hobbies, and Alec had said that he was keen on reading and especially Buddhism. Arundale had asked "Theosophy?" Alec, being argumentative at the time and "in search of the truth," had said Buddhism had nothing to do with theosophy, and that it was neither a religion nor a philosophy, the former being a word derived from the Latin "religre" (meaning "binding yourself to god") and the latter dealing with intellectual matters. "In Buddhism there is both theory and practise, inseparable and leading to realisation".

He was appointed to the Audit Department and made an Audit Officer. The Auditor General, Alan Smith, had apparently given the young recruits a pep talk, insisting that "we are the watchdogs of the government's exchequer". He had added that although auditing is dull and monotonous, it is nevertheless a story, a story told in numbers.

In 1956, the year of the Buddha Jayanthi, Alec had founded the Independence Square Buddhist Association, bringing together nine departments located around Independence Square. Rev. Narada and the heads of all these departments had come for the inaugural meeting. B. F. Perera had been elected the President and Alec was the first Secretary of the Association. They had organised talks and discussions, and would regularly go on pilgrimages.

His audit duties took him all over the country. Wherever he went, Alec would touch base with the Government Agent and arrange to give talks on Buddhism. He spoke in schools, hospitals, temples, pirivenas, government departments and even prisons, crafting his talk and subject to suit the particular audience.

Once he had spoken to the prisoners of Bogambara, basing his discussion on the story of Angulimala. "A young and handsome prisoner, proposed a vote of thanks. He spoke in classical Sinhala and requested that I return and speak about the seven Aryan treasures. I found out later that he was an ex-Buddhist monk, who had been found guilty of manslaughter." On another occasion, in the 1960s, after addressing the inmates of the Pallekele Open Prison Camp, during which there was pin-drop silence, he was asked if the government paid me to talk. "I said 'no,' and added that unlike the bikkhus, I was not even offered any poojas".

Alec recalled how the Rev. Mapalagama Vipulasara had taken him to the then Governor General William Gopallawa who used to observe ata sil on full moon poya days. He had presented Gopallawa with a copy of his book "Significance of the full moons in Buddhism". He had later been invited to give a talk at Queen's House. Sirimavo Bandaranaike and her three children had also attended the talk, after which the late Prime Minister had asked "You say we must live in the present, but how then can you do your work?" Alec had replied, "Of course, the past influences, but we shouldn't allow it to dominate us." Gopallawa's secretary, S. J. Walpita, had told him "We invite you frequently because you don't ask for favours unlike other people".

Hector Jayasinghe of the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation, who had been at the inaugural meeting of the Independence Square Buddhist Association had been instrumental in getting Alec involved in radio. Thevis Guruge had made him a guest producer to cover Buddhist programmes. At that time the English service was mostly Christian and Western oriented, according to Alec. It was he who launched the 15 minute programme every Sunday between 5.15 and 5.30 in the evening titled "Buddhism and You".

In 1980, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) had invited him to obtain a complete release from the Audit Department and join as the "Organiser of Buddhist Programmes" since he was one of the few people who was fluent in both English and in matters pertaining to the dhamma. Alec had gone to D. B. I. P. S. Siriwardhana for advice. Siriwardhana had told him to go on secondment since "there are people there who are capable of cutting your neck". He had nevertheless opted to go on complete release.

Alec would organise discussions with people from various fields, covering topics such as Buddhism and Science, Buddhism and Democracy, Buddhism and Sex, Buddhism in the Modern World, Buddhism and the Universe, etc. He would invite eminent scholars from abroad who were attending conferences in Sri Lanka to offer their views on such topics over his programme.

At the SLBC, this indefatigable student and teacher of Buddhism was the chairman of the Buddhist Forum. People like K. N. Jayatilleke, Suddhamangala Karunaratne, and Abraham Kovoor would attend discussions organised by the Forum. 

In 1989, President Premadasa had invited him to be on the UNP National List in Parliament. "I didn't have a telephone at that time. The President's Private Secretary took me to his office and the President phoned me there and said 'Premadasa speaking here. Would you like to be made a National List member to represent the Burgher community? We want honest people like you". He had then instructed Alec, who had in 1988 been conferred the title "Deshabandu" for "meritorious services rendered to the nation," to meet Ranjan Wijeratne. Wijeratne had told him he was a very lucky man because he did not have to go through the hard grind of an election to get into parliament.

"Coming events cast their shadows," said Alec, referring to an encounter he had with Prime Minister D. S. Senanayake when he was just a student in Moratuwa. "DS was going to the prize giving at St. Sebastian's and his driver had lost his way. We were playing cricket and the driver asked us for directions. DS asked me to jump in the car and took me to the prize giving. He didn't offer any explanations about my presence. I was also 'received' along with him. I sat in the front row, wearing shorts without shoes, and quietly left after some time".

As a parliamentarian he was asked to concentrate on the Avissawella electorate which did not have a UNP member of parliament. He was asked to use his decentralised budgetary allocations for this electorate. Alec had given a Buddhist interpretation to the Janasaviya programme, based on the Vyajapajja Sutta, the sermon given to Deegajanu, focusing on the need to work hard, save for a rainy day, associate with good friends and live within one's means. He concurred with the former Governor Henry Caldecott's observation that "our people have toddy incomes and champagne life styles" and wanted to help get things back in perspective.

He served on consultative committees on the Buddha Sasana, education, cultural affairs and information in addition to his other responsibilities, and operated without any security even during the height of the violence towards the end of the eighties. "If I had security, I would have been under greater threat, I think," he said.

After Premadasa was assassinated and the new President D. B. Wijetunge sought to heal the rift within the UNP, bringing Gamini Dissanayake and others back to the party, he had been asked to resign to make room for these dissidents in parliament. Alec had refused saying "I was appointed by President Premadasa, I would make room for his wife, not for anyone else." However, just two weeks before parliament was dissolved, he had resigned in favour of Gamini Jayawickrema Perera.

Immediately after the impeachment of the President was foiled in 1993, he had been made an "Adeekshana Manthri" assigned to cover the subject of "values". Alec based his "value education" on the Maha Mangala Sutta. He recited the verse beginning with "bahu saccan cha sippancha..." and said "It is important to be well versed in both the sciences and the humanities. Both the head and the heart have to be nourished. If we concentrate on just the sciences, we will only churn out clever crooks. If only the humanities are emphasised we will have good hearted fools".

His children were educated at Royal College, Colombo. I never used any influence to get them into Royal College. I was regularly invited for talks at Royal, both by Bogoda Premaratne and L. D. H. Peiris. Mr. Peiris considered me a teacher and this is how my sons were admitted to the school.

Alec Robertson has worked tirelessly to spread the message of the Buddha. He has been a broadcaster for 45 years, lectured in various forums both in Sri Lanka and in many other countries including Malaysia, Singapore, the Maldives and once at the Sydney University where he talked on the subject of "Buddhism and Science", and written extensively on Buddhism to newspapers. His books include "Buddha: the healer incomparable," "Is Nirvana Extinction?" (revised as "Nirvana: Happiness Supreme"), and "Buddhist Attitudes to Christianity". His wife, Jayasumana, who taught at Visakha Vidyalaya, has translated his book on meditation into Sinhala.

In an era where the sasana is full of bikkhus who lived lives of comfort and convenience, we are indeed privileged as a society, to have someone like Alec Robertson touch our lives. Name recognition and a stint in parliament seems to have left him untouched as a decent human being who strives to live according to his core values of the doctrine he follows. One has only to take a side glance at the life styles of our avowed socialists and our clergy to realise that many people find it hard to bridge the gap between rhetoric and practise. Such integrity is clearly a rarity in our society.

This simple man is, I believe, a living challenge to such people. It is easy to say "May his tribe increase". The more difficult thing, I believe, is to recognise that all of us have it in us to become part of Alec Robertson's tribe. It is time we all took a walk towards the "mul daham".

Sunday Island - 10 Jun 01







Articles Index

P1.15   The recluse of Bundala - Nanavira Thera


 More than 50 years ago, I had the once-in-a-lifetime fortune to meet Harold Musson and Osbert Moore who came to Sri Lanka on an exploratory visit to study Buddhism after they had spent about 3 months in India learning the teaching and practice of the Ramakrishna Mission, and being dissatisfied. They met in the British Secret Service during the last World War when they were assigned to interrogate prisoners of war in Italy.

Harold was born on 5th January 1920 at Aldershot graduating in 1940 with a First Class in Modern Language from Magdalene College, Cambridge and also studied Mathematics and French. Osbert, born 25th June 1905 graduated from Exter College, Oxford. Osbert was formerly an Executive Director in the BBC Italian section of Bush House, London. In Italy, Harold came across a book on Buddhism written by Evola in Italian. He published an English translation of it titled 'The Doctrine of Awakening - A Study on Buddhist Ascesis' [Luzac, London, 1951].

Coal Mines in Wales

After the war, Harold, the younger, an only child, heir to Coal Mines in Wales returned to a bohemian life in London. Osbert went back to the BBC. One evening, they met in a pub and during a long discussion they found no meaning in their pursuits and in the trivialities of post-war life. It destined them to visit the Island Hermitage, be ordained by its German High Priest Nanathiloka - Harold as Nanavira and Osbert as Nanamoli - to live, strive, achieve and die in the wilds of Sri Lanka. This is their story. I graduated as a doctor in 1958 and the following year volunteered to serve as medical officer of health in the deep south, at Hambantota, famous for its golden beaches, emerald seas and sunlight. Nanavira found the humidity of the Island Hermitage affecting his health and the company of others interfering. About two years before me, he had come to Hambantota for its dry climate and his search for solitude led him to forest of Bundala, a few miles further south. Bundala was then a remote hamlet with very poor people living in wattle and daub mud huts, subsisting on burn and slash cultivation and fishing. I am told it was an ancient village of the caste of washerwomen and men serving King Dutugemunu, around 1500 years ago.

From the main highway to Tissamaharama, a thin gravel road ran through the jungle to the village. Just past a culvert at a bend is a little clearing of scrub land and rolling sand where, after the rains, flamingos come from Europe every year to feed. And hidden in a crop of dense forest is a footpath leading to the dwelling house or kuti designed and built by Nanavira. As even now, all around is thick virgin forest with wild elephants, leopards, wild boar, monkeys, endemic and migrating birds feeding in the lagoons; and infested with poisonous snakes, the deadly Russel's viper (polonga) and the cobra. The area is now the Government Bundala Forest Reserve.

To practice Dhamma

The kuti had one room about 8 feet square entered along a 12 feet corridor built for walking meditation. It had a stone bed and as I remember, a table, chair and some books. Nanavira built a latrine and an earthen water storage structure. Nearby, if you walk through the jungle is the sea, stretching without land all the way to Antarctica. It is an idyllic place to practice the Dhamma as recommended by the Buddha. Whenever I visited him in the stillness and cool of evenings, the aroma of solitude and the soft rays of the setting sun would seep into me the meaning of the word 'tranquility'. But seasonal droughts in July can be enervating and one day I met Nanavira bathing in the culvert, in a drying pool slaked with mud. Later, he was taken to Colombo to syringe the mud from his ears! Another time, he was treated for bursitis of both knees from unrelenting practice of ana-pana-sati or in-and-out-breathing meditation. This is the way an Englishman learned and practiced the Dhamma.

My visits were for not more than an hour, mainly to know if he wanted my mother to send him anything. [My mother Clara, was the founder and Secretary of the Sasanadhara Kantha Samitiya or women's society she built with other ladies to look after the needs of the monks of the Island Hermitage]. One day, I saw him writing with a pencil stub less than one inch - and yet Nanavira wanted nothing except some medicine for his chronic bowel disorder, treated as for amoebiasis. Letters published after his death reveal a long correspondence with a doctor about ups and downs and its progress to become incurable. He has at the sametime answered profound philosophical questions on Dhamma, including on whether to disrobe and go back to England or take his own life when he could not progress further in the Path.

As time went by, pain and frequent diarrhea attacks interfered with meditation and concentration. The drugs prescribed produced poisonous effects. In a discourse to King Passanedi, the Buddha has described five conditions for striving, the second of which is ability for good digestion. In a letter to his doctor in December 1962 he said "Although I wrote to you in my last letter that I was oscillating between the extremes of disrobing and suicide; a return to lay life would be pure weakness, and in any case I should be miserable..." So, on July 5th 1965, he decided to put an end to his life. But I am now getting ahead of my memories. Nanamoli had a fine sense of self-deprecating humor and enjoyed robust health. He undertook a monumental task to translate to English from Pali the treatise, the Visuddimagga of Buddhagosha, [Path of Purification]. Pali is the language of the suttas or discourses of the Buddha, the Tripitaka, written at Aluwihara in Sri Lanka for the first time, about 400 years after his death.

Nanamoli never left the island from the day of his ordination and after completing his magnum opus, decided to go on a pilgrimage with the then High Priest of the hermitage. The rules (of the Vinaya) lay down by the Buddha does not permit, among other things, handling of money. My mother's samithiya attended to all that. So, when my father put Nanamoli in the train at the Fort railway station, he asked "Sir, when are you returning?" Nanamoli, smiled and said "Bertie, how do you know I am returning?" He died on a desolate gravel road in the Kurunegala backwoods, about 25 years after walking the lush carpets of the BBC.

The body was taken by bullock cart to a hospital and later, after the inquest, for the funeral in Colombo. My mother sent me a telegram to inform Nanavira. I went to Bundala in the afternoon around 3 O'clock. I parked the car near the culvert and walked through the jungle looking around for elephants. I met Nanavira at a small clearing in the footpath. He was dying his robes in the way prescribed by the Buddha. The first thing he said was "Kingsley, why are you coming at this time"? I was then in my late twenties and he, though a little older looked more mature than his age. We were like friends and stupidly, I beat around the bush. He interrupted, "Have you come to tell me that Nanamoli has died"? The casualness with which he said it hangs in my memory. When I explained he continued to dye the robes and wring them as if the news meant nothing. He said that Nanamoli had written to him about the pilgrimage and left instructions with him to settle his affairs in the event of death. So Nanamoli had a presentiment of death. I told Nanavira that I am unable to take him by car for the funeral in Colombo, about 150 miles away because I did not have leave. Can he travel by bus? Without the slightest hesitation, he got ready with his bowl slung over the shoulder and walked with me to the car. In the distance we saw two wild elephants and he remarked: "Kingsley, the problem for human beings is boredom. Animals are never bored. Do not read the suttas because you will then give up the lay life". He knew I had just got married. He had never made any attempt to teach me the Dhamma though he had detected a dormant reflexive nature in me. One evening, I was standing on the beach, alone. There was the horizon in the setting sun and the clear blue vault above, the sound of crashing waves and an ethereal emptiness. I felt utterly insignificant in the immensity of the universe and had an overpowering feeling that nothing in life mattered. I had told Nanavira about this strange glimpse of an insight.

Island Hermitage

I brought him to Hambantota and lodged him at a small temple near my residence. The next day after a noon day meal my wife served, I took him to the town bus stand. It was about 1 pm. The bus to Colombo starts about 45 miles further south from Tissamaharama. It was packed when it arrived. Nanavira got in. I paid for his ticket. He stood in the gangway with his bowl slung over the shoulder holding the handrail - tall, imposing and indifferent. It occurred to me that here was a man who at one time could have bought the bus on the spot! I inquired if there was anyone willing pay for a taxi in Colombo to Vajiraramaya and I shall give the money. A man, who was seated immediately got up gave it to Nanavira and assured he will attend to everything. That was the last time I saw Nanavira. I went on transfer to the North Central Province and we corresponded briefly. He had a peculiar way of folding letters, as in origami. Unfortunately, I have not preserved any.  

A few years before, Nanavira's mother flew to Sri Lanka to take her son home. His father had died and she was alone. My mother arranged for her to stay at the Mt. Lavinia Hotel [where some scenes of the film Bridge over the River Kwai were shot]. Nanavira met her at Vajiraramaya in Colombo. His pagan life as she thought and the bizarre change devastated her in her only child. She recoiled to see him eating with his fingers from the begging bowl. Nanavira tried and failed to explain. He returned to his forest refuge. The mother flew back to London - and died in two weeks.

I met Kate Burvill from the Tate Art Gallery [presently with Thames and Hudson] in a strange way in Colombo, in January 1999. She is a niece of Nanavira and had come on a holiday to Sri Lanka for the first time, combining it with a search for information about her uncle. She visited the Island Hermitage and the monks there referred her to me. She telephoned from the Galle Face Hotel and we met. The next day I took her to Bundala - to give her a feeling for the wilderness, the solitude, the ambience and peace where her uncle lived strived and cleared the Path when Kate was only 3-years-old.  

Wild elephants

At the kuti, we met an English monk, a former telecommunication engineer, who gave her the library copy of 'Clearing the Path'. He said there was a waiting list in Europe for the kuti. Later in the evening, though our driver protested about wild elephants on the road in the gathering night, I arranged for her to meet the mother of the village headman of Bundala. The old lady re-told the story of Nanavira. The headman, she said was a three-month baby in her womb when tragedy struck the village.

This is the way Nanavira died. One evening, I saw his skin inflamed with insect bites and gave him a vial of ethyl chloride spray used those days as a local anaesthetic. He used it and obtained another from my mother. By now, his sickness had worsened. He had attempted suicide twice. This time was final. He constructed a facemask with polythene and through an ingenious self-closing tube made also from polythene, inhaled ethyl chloride vapor probably after his noonday meal. A man from the village came as usual to offer the evening dana (gift) of fluids - aerated water, tea, coffee, or fruit juice - at about 4pm. He tapped the door as everyone did. There was no response. He then opened it and went into the room. Nanavira was 'sleeping' on his bed in the position adopted by the Buddha - the lion's pose - with a polythene mask over the face. One hand was fallen to the floor with the empty ethylchloride vial gently laid on the floor. Nanavira Thera was dead.

The man was in shock. He ran to the village and the news spread like a bush fire. The whole village, including women and little children ran to the kuti. The village headman's mother gave a moving graphic account of the funeral arrangements - how she and other women gave their best saris to drape the pyre 8 feet high made by the villagers. Her daughters joined to say that even now Nanavira is not forgotten. Questions are set about his life at the regional Dhamma Sunday School competitions. My father attended the inquest. There was a sealed letter addressed to the coroner and no postmortem examination. The people of Bundala cremated their beloved Nanavira Thera and interned his ashes by the kuti, beside his sanctuary by the sea.

The ashes of a later German monk who died from a bite of a polonga lie beside it now. Serpents never harmed Nanavira. They would uncoil, move some distances and watch him pass. No wild elephant ever threatened him. They would visit the kuti every night, drink the water he leaves in a bucket, sometimes kicking it, and pull his towels and robes on the clothes line to tease him. But they never touched a tile. With one kick, they could demolish the kuti in a minute. So it stands today just the same as I saw it first - and yes, the elephants still keep vigil. Because of Kate I now know more about the best friend I had. The following year I met her at the Tate Gallery, and she presented me a brand new copy of 'Clearing the Path', the book by Nanavira Thera on Dhamma that has not been written for 2000 years from which I am writing this series. He lives in the hearts of people who have no need to understand any of it. Nanavira, who attained sotapatti [Stream-eneterer] in 1957, will be born seven more times. He is the legend of Bundala. 

The Island - 20 March 2001






Personalities History

Articles Index

P1.16   The legend of Bundala : Venerable Nanavira Thera (1920-65)

 Kingsley Heendeniya


 Harold Musson was an only child, born in army barracks in Aldershot, England in 1920. His father was a rich man owning coalmines in Wales, who commanded a battalion of the British Army in Burma where Harold spent a few years as a child of 7 years.

One day, he asked, "Who is the Buddha?" and when told, 'The Buddha was a man who sat under a tree and got enlightened", the little boy had said, "That is what I want to do!" Harold graduated from Cambridge University at the age of 21 years with First Class Honours in Modern Languages and in mathematics.

In the last World War, he served as a captain assigned to interrogate prisoners of war in Italy. In 1945, he fell ill and in his hospital bed in Sorrento, he read the book 'La Dottrina del Risveglio' by Julius Evola, a born Catholic. Evola had written that his aim was to illuminate the true nature of original Buddhism, weakened to the point of obscurity in subsequent forms whereas the essential spirit of the doctrine was determined by a will for the unconditioned, confirmed by investigation that leads to mastery over life and death. Impressed by the book, and by Evola, a well-known rebel in Italy and Germany, Harold translated it to English as the ' The Doctrine of Awakening - A Study in Buddhist Ascesis'. [Luzac, London, 1951].

Osbert Moore was with Harold in Italy at the time. [See biography of Nanamoli Thera]. After the war, Harold had no need to do a job. He led a bohemian life indulging in 'wine, women and song', chain smoking 40 cigarettes a day, when, walking in Hyde Park one evening, he gave up smoking with grim determination.

The words of the Buddha on self-discipline haunted him and he saw the futility of his mode of life as a rich playboy. So when he met his army friend Osbert at a London pub one night, they both decided to explore the Teaching of the Buddha. They arrived in Ceylon in 1948 and became pupils of Venerable Nyanatiloka Maha Thera of the Island Hermitage, Dodanduwa. Harold, ordained as Nanavira, and later studied under Palane Sri Vajiranana Maha Nayake Thera of Vajiraramaya (to whom he dedicated the only book he wrote).

Nanavira from his young days, was a person who regarded other people not as 'we' but as 'they' and was inclined to solitude. He did not like curious visitors at the Hermitage, and because of a bowel disorder, he went to various aranyayas [forest monasteries]. He regarded them a charade and found the ideal place in the Bundala Forest Reserve, 13 miles away from Hambantota.

A local dayaka, [lay supporter], Mr. Hilton Perera, helped to build a zinc shed. Bundala is supposed to be the village of the washerwomen and men of Dutugemunu. It was then a remote, poor community living in wattle and daub houses. The gravel road off the highway to Tissamaharama, running in a straight line through sand and scrub and forest and lagoons where flamingos nest when it is winter in Europe, ended in a fishing wadiya [camp]. About halfway is a culvert over a shallow perennial pond of water, and hidden by thorn brush and gnarled trees, is a narrow footpath to the kuti with a corridor and one room of brick and mud, built later. Here Nanavira Thera lived, strived, achieved and died.

Nanavira started to beg for his food and meditate 14 hours a day. He was more than 6 feet tall, with a handsome figure, like a statue of the Buddha. My striking memory is the metta [loving-kindness] in his eyes and satisampajanna [mindfulness & awareness] in everything he did. There was nothing that he wanted whenever I asked him, except medicine for his illness, though I once saw him writing with a pencil stub about one inch long.

His mother came to take home her only son because she was lonely after the father died, and when he refused, she flew home and died in two weeks. He was twice brought to Colombo to syringe mud from his ears from bathing in muddy water at the culvert and for swelling of the knee joints from relentless anapanasati [in-out breathing meditation] on a hard cement floor. He later damaged his sciatic nerve permanently.

The villagers regarded him as their 'living god' and took his dana [morning and noon meals] to the kuti by sharing the days between them. The Buddha says, 'Seclusion is happiness to one who is contented, has learnt and seen the Dhamma'. Nanavira Thera attained Sotapatti [Path entry] on 27 June 1959 and wrote the following letter in classical Pali, sealed it, 'To be opened after my death'and sent to the senior monk at the Island Hermitage: -

'Homage to the Auspicious One, Worthy, Fully Awakened.

At one time the monk Nanavira was staying in a forest hut near Bundala Village. It was during this time, as he was walking up and down in the first watch of the night, that the monk Nanavira made his mind quite pure of constraining things, and kept thinking and pondering and reflexively observing the Dhamma as he had heard and learnt it. Then, while the monk Nanavira was thus engaged in thinking and pondering and reflexively observing the Dhamma as he had heard and learnt it, the clear and stainless Eye of the Dhamma arose in him: 'Whatever has the nature of arising, all that has the nature of ceasing'. Having been a teaching-follower for a month, he became one attained to right view. [27.6.59]'.

These books, he later wrote, contain the Buddha's Teaching -- they can be trusted absolutely from beginning to end: '(Vinayapitaka:) Suttavibhanga, Mahavagga, Culavagga; (Suttapitaka:) Dighanikaya, Majjimanikaya, Samyuttanikaya, Anguttaranikaya, Suttanipata, Dhammapada, Udana, Itivuttaka, Theratherigatha. No other books whatsoever can be trusted. Leaving aside Vinaya, seek the meaning of these in your own experience. Do not seek their meaning in any other books: if you do, you will be misled'. He rejected the Abhidhammapitaka, the commentaries and texts as 'leaving less to be unlearned' and also as not being the words of the Buddha.

The letter was irresponsibly opened in 1964, one year before he took his own life. He inhaled from a vial of ethyl chloride my mother had supplied after he used one I gave him to use as a local anesthetic for inflamed painful insect bites. He anesthetized himself by wearing an ingenious handmade cellophane facemask. When found by a villager who went with the afternoon beverages, Nanavira Thera was dead, sleeping in the lion's pose, one hand fallen beside the empty vial gently laid on the floor.

He died on 5th July 1965. Photographs taken one year before, and an eyewitness Ven. Nanasumana tells, "He is an old man of 60 years. He is in constant physical pain but never shows it nor does the peace in his eyes ever change. We spend many hours talking - rather he speaks and I learn". He was only 44 years! I am shocked to see the emaciated gaunt frame and realise that the bowel condition he had may be, become malignant.

The entire village mourned. They built a pyre 8 feet high. The women gave their best sarees to drape it and they interned his ashes by the kuti, beside his sanctuary by the sea. Thus ended the life of a solitary genius. No serpent ever harmed him. They would uncoil, move away and watch him pass and wild elephants yet guard his kuti. Nanavira Thera is the legend of Bundala.

Nanavira Thera used his linguistic skills and disciplined thinking to write on Dhamma when he found that he could not proceed to arahatta.

With no hope of Nibbana here and now, unable to practise intense samadhi, condemned to a life sentence of pain and distraction, poisoned by the medicine he was given, he wrote, 'The only thing I take seriously is the Dhamma. If I cannot practice it as I want, I have no further wish to live". He rejected an offer of a holiday in London and a suggestion to disrobe.

He said it is 'death in the Dhamma' and no one 'has become arahat in the act of disrobing'. Some jealous persons, who cannot get within a mile of him and of the Path, mislead that Nanavira Thera could not have understood the Dhamma - as if the many arahats who took the knife in the time of the Buddha also failed to understand it. Or, that the dialogues of Socrates have no value because he drank poison rather than escape as his friends arranged. All have failed and none has been 'accused of writing the most important book of the century'.

The truth is in the only book he wrote, 150 pages of 'Notes on Dhamma', 250 copies of which were cyclostyled by Lionel Samaratunga, High Court Judge, Balapitiya in 1964.

The brilliance of Nanavira Thera comes alive to us now when his writings are scrutinized in the expanded book 'Clearing the Path' published in 1987 by the American Samanera [novitiate monk] Bodhesako with assistance from the Department for Creative Writing, University of Colorado. He included 150 selected letters Nanavira Thera wrote to readers who asked to explain items in the 'Notes'. In Europe, it was reviewed 'the most important book of the century' - and Nanavira became a cult figure.

'Clearing the Path' is a difficult book but no less than the Suttas.

Like the Buddha, he used his background education to communicate. There are many western classical quotations, aphorisms, wit and humor written to an elite familiar with writings of Huxley, Joyce, Sartre, Kierkegaard, Kafka, Nietzche and others of that genre. He uses his mathematical and analytical skills, the Laws of Thought and logic to demolish comparisons of Dhamma with quantum mechanics and with the ideas of scientists egregiously quoted by some people to offer character certificates to the Buddha.

He laments that 'people and even monks in Ceylon do not read the Suttas and are ignorant of what the Buddha actually taught'. The European he says, has excess of panna [wisdom] over saddha [faith] and tends to reject things even when true while the Asian with excess of saddha over panna accepts things even when false!

Venerable Nanavira Thera wrote 'my aim is to clear dead matter that is choking the Suttas...and if I do not write it, no one else will'. He has severely criticized well-known scholars such as Rhys Davids, Wijesekera, and Jayatilelke who misconstrue the teaching of the Buddha. Nanavira Thera has given unique precise interpretations of selected core Dhamma such as paticcasamuppada, sankhara, cetana, atta, upadana, namarupa, vinnana, avijja, phassa, the tilakkhana and demolished hallowed traditional books such as Milindapanha & Visuddhimagga.

The unbiased intelligent reader with a compelling personal reason to study and practice Dhamma is invited to accept his point of view.

'Clearing the Path' is out of print and I have arranged to publish it in its two separate parts, Vol. I 'Notes' & Vol. II 'Letters', [from photographing the original] by the Buddhist Cultural Centre, Anderson Road, Dehiwela, Sri Lanka with a Foreword & Introduction by my friend, Dr. John Stella, a lecturer in Western Classics in the USA. .

The book is translated to Dutch and Serbian. All of 576 pages can be downloaded in digital form from the Internet. 

(See  ) (British & foreign newspapers and journals may copy.)

01 10 2003 - The Island







Articles Index

P1.17   Impressions of an International Buddhist Activist: Dr. Ambedkar

Embracing a religion to restore self-esteem

At a rally held in Mumbai recently to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr. K. Ambedkar’s embracing of Buddhism, a mass conversion of nomadic tribal community took place. Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge an international Buddhist activist who participated in the event as a special guest gives his impressions.

conversion: In my capacity as Vice-president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, President of the World Buddhist University Council, Patron of the European Buddhist Union and Dean of Academic Affairs of the University of the West, California, USA, I had the privilege of being invited to participate as a special guest in the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the conversion to Buddhism of Babasaheb Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedakar, organised under the leadership of Honourable Ramdas Athawale, Member of Parliament.

The celebration Committee comprised Ven. Rahul Bodhi Maha Thera, Working President, Ven. Ayupal Thera Secretary General, Mr.Nishikant Waghmare Vice-President and International Coordinator, Mr. Vijay Kamble Treasurer, and Messrs.

Arjun Dangle, and Avinash Kamble, Ms. Kalpana Saroj, Dr.Rajendra Gavai, Vice-presidents. With my longstanding friendly relationship with Indian Buddhist leaders and scholars, I expected the event to be a signal success. But what I saw and experienced in Mumbai on this occasion exceeded all my expectations.

It was a packed-to-capacity Shanmukhnand Hall at Matunga, with several hundred saffron-robed Buddhist Monks from various parts of the Buddhist world and a cross-section of the Buddhist population of Maharashtra that welcomed the panels of international and national scholars and activists who participated in a well organised intellectual activity in the form of a two-day International Conference on “World Peace and Humanistic Buddhism.”

In one session under the chairmanship of Venerable Galayaye Piyadassi, MBE, Founder of the International Buddhist Centre UK., it examined “The Relevance of Buddhism in 21st Century” with contributions from Dr. Ravsaheb Kasbe, Ven. Rahul Bodhi Maha Thera, Dr. Sribudent Chatchai, Ven.Walpola Piyananda and Ven. Banagala Upatissa.

In another chaired by the renowned economist Dr.Narendra Jadhav, Vice Chancellor of the University of Pune, Dr. N.G. Meshram, Dr. M.D. Nalavade, Dr.Krishna Kirwale, Dr. Phra Nicholas Thanissaro, and Prof. Ramakant Yadav discussed Buddhism and Global Issues from An Ambedkarian Perspective.

The papers presented were of exceptional quality and the exchange of views which ensued proved to be most instructive and stimulating. I had the opportunity to address the Conference during the inaugural session.

I complimented the organisers on their perspicacity to mark the auspicious occasion with an international conference to evaluate the magnificent role, which Dr. Ambedkar has played in his exemplary life of dedication to the good and the welfare of humanity.

I said, “It was an eminent Sri Lankan Buddhist leader, Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera, who, in Nepal the land of the Buddha’s birth in 1956 at the General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, declared that Babasaheb Ambedkar was a veritable Bodhisattva. A bodhisattva in the widely held Buddhist concept is one who enables others to gain salvation.

This indeed has been the role of Babasaheb Ambedakr. His influence over India is as strong today fifty years after his death as it was when he gave the new nation its Republican Constitution and showed the depressed castes to regain their human dignity by turning to the noble teachings of the Buddha.

The land of the Buddha which had barely two lakhs of Buddhists when it gained independence has an estimated Buddhist population of around fifteen million.

The credit for this great reawakening of Buddhism in India goes to this great man whose historic conversion to Buddhism is what we are celebrating today.” But all my words of deep sentiments proved inadequate to describe fully what took place the following day at the Mahalakshmi Racecourse.

It was a sea of heads as far as the eye would reach to the very periphery of the Racecourse. Clad in white, the vast crowd of several hundred thousand devotees stood in reverential silence for the moment of their spiritual rebirth.

Many tens of thousand Dalits and tribals - described constitutionally as scheduled castes or tribes - representing the most socially discriminated untouchable communities - sought a new life free of oppression by adopting the teachings of the Buddha who declared that action and not birth would make a person an aristocrat or outcaste.

In voices that reverberated for miles, they recited the Pali stanzas of taking refuge in the Buddhist Triple Gem. The ceremony was presided over by monks from Sri Lanka, Thailand, USA, UK and India. My eyes welled with tears spontaneously as I had at no other time in my life had witnessed such a moving scene of genuine piety and dedication.

The media called it next day a “show of strength.” If it was so, the strength that was demonstrated at that moment was the indomitable strength of the good against evil, of piety against irreligion and human dignity against all that undermine equality of humanity.

As a student of Indology with special attention to its sociological and philosophical content, I have been deeply conscious about the most despicable aspects of untouchability through which millions of people have been oppressed for generations from attaining their true worth as human beings.

But the pangs of suffering that they have gone through had never become more evident to me than on this solemn occasion when I heard them directly from persons like Ramdas Athawale and Lakshman Mane whose life struggle has been to overcome socially imposed obstacles of incredible proportions.

I was glad to be present with them to rejoice on this occasion and to show my solidarity in their chosen way of redeeming themselves. My faith in India redoubled as I observed the active participation of the Honourables Chief Minister Deshmukh and his Deputy Patil of the Maharashtra State and listened to their enthusiastic endorsement of the social revolution that was in motion.

Mahopasaka S. N. Goenka’s expose on Buddhist ideals and values was timely. It was all so inspiring and it could not be otherwise in this great land of Vedic seers, Upanishadic philosophers, Gautama Buddha, Jina Mahavira, Caitanya and Mahatma Gandhi.

This time I also had the opportunity to revisiting Pune, the city of scholars, where fifty-six years ago I was at the Bhandarkar Research Institute researching for my Ph.D. thesis on the Ramayana. My visit to the Dhyaneshvar World Peace Centre of the Maharashtra Institute of Technology to meet with its President Dr. Visvanath Karad was indeed most rewarding.

So was my visit to Pune University where I could meet once more that most delightful personality Dr. Narendra Jadhav, who arranged for me to meet the faculty of the Department of Buddhist Studies.

We discussed how the University of the West in California could cooperate with them to explore ways and means in which Buddhist studies could be developed to meet the rising demand.

The most significant outcome of this visit were the insights I could gain from my meeting with Dr. Jadhav. In my twenty-hour return flight to USA, I read from cover to cover his most illuminating book, Untouchables, outlining the family history over three generations.

Here Babasaheb Ambedkar is brought to life as the sole inspirer of his illustrious father and the story of hope, courage, forbearance, dedication, and perseverance of the family tells all that one should know to understand why tens of thousand stood a whole day in the summer sun of Mumbai Racecourse to embrace a religion to restore their self-esteem.

This visit of mine to India has been a life-changing experience. The redemption of the Indian “untouchables” is a mission for the entire humanity.

20 06 2007 - Daily News







Articles Index

P1.18   His mission was moulding man

The prelate the Most Venerable Madihe Pannghaseeha Maha Nayaka Thera

Patricia Mangalika Yahampath

In the province of the southern territory, district of Matara in the village of Madihe, where the coconut palms sway, and the never still ocean runs, in the year of 1913 on the day of 13th June, a fortunate baby was born to parents J.C. Pujithagunawardena and Bella Anjela Dheerasekera, both parents were of a generation of high esteem. The father of this little child was a Christian and the mother a Buddhist. He was named Wilmot - Wilmot Pujithagunawardena.

This little child grew in a home where he got the abundant love of his parents when the school going age came, he was admitted to St. Thomas’s Boys School, Matara where the Principal was Mr. Janz. While in the classroom or at home, or elsewhere, the thought that circled his mind was the thought of becoming a Buddha Putra, a bhikkhu. That was his only dream. At the tender age of thirteen, his dream came true.

The mother who was a noble lady realised the wish of the child, she did not stand in his way and so was the father. Mother took the son to the great prelate Weragampita Sri Revatha Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Kamburugamuwa Vihara with a sheaf of betel and requested the prelate to ordain him as a Samanera. So on the 24th June in the year 1926, he entered the Sasana and was named Madihe Pannghaseeha.

The great prelate, the Most Venerable Revatha Thera was also the teacher of the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera; thus this young Samanera Ven. Pannghaseeha, having studied all that a young bhikkhu could learn under the guidance of Sri Revath Thera, came to the Vajirarama Temple at Bambalapitiya for further studies.

Under the tutelage of the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera, the young Samanera mastered the Dhamma.

On the 9th day of June 1933 at Weligama in the vicinity of Pelane, Samanera Pannghaseeha received Upasampada, the Higher Ordination by his teacher, Pelane Vajiragnana Thera. During the very first days of his stay at Vajirarama, he had to undergo many hardships.

There were no rooms as such, no beds. Electricity was unheard of. It was by candlelight that he studied. In the mornings, with the other Bhikkhus he went begging for alms. The spare time was spent in cleaning the surroundings, and the temple. These are the beaming factors that lit his life and brought about his popularity.

Those who entered the University at that time were learned Bhikhus. Ven. Madihe Pannghaseeha along with them entered the University. Then he set on the noble task of performing his duty to the country and the religion, and for the upliftment of Buddhism. In the year 1951, he set forth on a peace mission to Nepal and in 1954, participated in the Dhamma Sangayanava held in Burma.

In 1955, the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera passed away. With his passing away, the seat that became vacant was filled by the Ven. Pannghaseeha Thera who was recommended for his cleverness, diligence, piety and high esteem, and was honoured with the title of Mahanayaka on the 27th of November 1955 at Vajirarama at Bambalapitiya. He was offered this title at the time of the Buddha Jayanthi.

Accompanied by a band of pilgrims, both laymen and Bhikkhus he left the country to participate in the World Buddhist Congress on its fourth session.

The great prelate, the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera who founded Vajirarama Temple at Bambalapitiya had the great thought and wish to mould and train bhikkhus dedicated to service and the Dhamma be trained here and abroad as missionaries of the Dhamma.

The noble thought that sprung on in the mind of his master was set forth to success by the Mahanayaka Thera. It was that noble thought, that gave way for the uphill task of opening of the Bhikkhu Training Centre at Maharagama.

On the 21st of April 1958 this long cherished dream came true and the Bhikkhu Training Centre was started at dwelling on a rental basis. At present the Centre is located at an eleven acre picturesque land. It contains well equipped buildings where the novice monks and the student monks are trained for missions abroad. Provisions are made for the meditating monks.

The main aim of this Bhikkhu Centre is to spread the Doctrine - the Dhamma far and wide. The devotees who observe Sil at the Centre is enormous in number. exceeding 20,000.

The bhikkhus who come to deliver Dhamma Desana are learned, pious and of high esteem and also the lay preachers are learned and disciplined. Renowned physicians in the country, surgeons, paedriaticians, psychiatrists and medical consultants come to deliver these orations, which are of great value to the public.

It is the Mahanayaka Thera - Ven. Madihe Pannghaseeha who deserves praise for all this and more than everything for moulding the Most Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera for whom all Buddhists should be ever grateful. He taught the Buddhist masses especially the youth to observe and practise Pan Sil.

Another great task performed by the Mahanayaka Thera was sending Dhamma missions abroad. Venerable Thera was instrumental in establishing Theravada Vihara in the United States of America with the untiring efforts of the Sasana Sevaka Samithiya and the then Prime Minister Hon. Dudley Senanayaka and also with the help of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington.

In the year 1965 in a Flat in Howard the Temple was founded and today it lies in the 16th Street, a fully equipped temple in a beautiful surroundings on a picturesque setting in the vicinity of the “White House” giving the golden opportunity for the devout Buddhists in America to worship and pray.

Words cannot simply say the great deeds performed by the Mahanayaka Thera. His leadership, correct advice and the correct guidance led to many virtuous programmes.

The great Sil campaigns, The Asarana Sarana Sevaya, The Dharma Charika, The Campaign against use of alcohol.

The policy that he emphasized most was the policy of mouldsing man. “Reform man and the whole world will be reformrd”. “MINISA HADA RATA HADAMU”

Simplicity was Ven. Thera’s hallmark. Never did he look for comforts. The simple life he lived, bears testimony to this.

He was soft spoken. Never did he utter a harsh word, never did he hurt any one. He could be reached by any one. He treated the haves and the have-nots alike. He did not fear, or favour.

This tribute is in kindness to the prelate’s immense generosity, and loving kindness. May his journey in Samsara be smooth with no grief until you attain Nirvana, that ultimate bliss.

20 06 2007 - Daily News





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P1.19   Nalin Swaris – As I saw him

Asanga Tilakaratne

Buddhist Studies Program, University of Colombo

Nalin Swaris passed away on 17th April 2011 while he was on a tour in China. Although Nalin’s health had not been that good lately the news of his death came as a shock mainly because for many of us, including Nalin, life is an unfinished job, and the all too abrupt halt to things disorients one. Anyhow, once it happens, death is not the problem of the one who is dead, but it is something to be coped with by those who have been left behind.

My association with Nalin goes back to the early 1990s, when he was still resident in the Netherlands and writing his doctoral dissertation on the path of the Buddha. In Sri Lanka he used to stay at the Ecumenical Institute for Study and Dialogue in Havelock Town where he found a congenial environment for intellectual debates, and used to visit the Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies to read and discuss Buddhist philosophy. Nalin was excited about what he found in the Buddhist philosophy, which he had undertaken to study latterly. Nalin already had a great deal of exposure to the Christian theology, and at one point of his life he had undergone the training to be a Roman Catholic clergyman and, in fact, had served as one for several years. He came from a very strong background in Western philosophy, theology and classics and languages such as Hebrew, Greek and Latin. In addition to these, Nalin had read and been fascinated by Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Derrida and Foucault. With his Christian, Western philosophical and post-modernist background Nalin approached Buddhism and saw things that some of us who have been born and brought up as Buddhists did not or could not see. Nalin proved that coming totally fresh to Buddhist studies (or to any field of study for that matter) had its own advantages (and perhaps disadvantages). Nalin’s approach was not to attribute Western religious and philosophical categories to Buddhism. In fact, Nalin was very critical of such an approach and always said that Buddhism had its own methodology and that it had to be studied and understood through its own principles. Nalin was obviously referring to such Buddhist concepts as dependent co-origination and no-soul-ness, which provided the basis for the Buddhist understanding of reality.

Nalin thought that the Buddhist concept of anatta (no-soul) did to Indian philosophy and religion what Derrida’s deconstruction did to contemporary philosophy. Nalin was highly impressed with the deconstructive power of anatta and was very open in acknowledging it even to the embarrassment of some of his friends with a definitive a-religious stance. Nalin himself made a clear distinction between Buddhism as a religious organization and ideology and Buddhism as the teaching of the Buddha. While he was unequivocal about his admiration for the latter, he was equally openly critical and rejected a good many things in organized religion including those in Buddhism.

While I agreed with Nalin on many of his interpretations of Buddhism, a major disagreement I continued to have was with his reconstruction of the Buddhist philosophy and practice exclusively as an enlightened social movement, and consequently, the Buddha exclusively as a social reformer. He built this interpretation in his doctoral dissertation, a revised version of which was subsequently published as The Buddha’s Way to Human Liberation: a Socio-Historical Approach (1999). When this work was published Nalin wanted me to review it, which I agreed to do. However I could not attend to this work for several months mainly for the reason that I could not find enough time and quietude to read this substantial work, substantial both in quantity and quality. In 2000, I went away on my sabbatical leave and the first thing I did was to start reading his book. I remember it took one full month for me to finish reading it cover to cover, with the help of a dictionary and with some self-teaching in post-structuralism, postmodernism, psychology, anthropology and politics. Reading Nalin was a great intellectual experience, and it made me reexamine some of my own understanding of Buddhist philosophy and practice. The socio-historical approach that Nalin had adopted was not totally new in Buddhist studies. It had been tried by others like D. Kosambi before. But the specialty of Nalin’s was to use this approach to develop a comprehensive picture of Buddhism as a whole: philosophy, practice and the organization of Buddhism as an enlightened social movement of a group of ‘liberated’ people. While I agreed with Nalin that the Buddhist path and its fruit is not a private affair of an isolated individual I could not agree with his downplaying of strong ‘soteriological’ aspect of it. I wrote a long review to his book (running into 23 printed pages in Dialogue New Series, vol.xxvii pp.111-133.), in which I highlighted the merits of his interpretation and also recorded where I parted company with him. Let me quote from that essay:

"I fully sympathise with him in his view that the tradition has made Buddhism basically a monastic tradition in which house-holders have been relegated to a marginal position. Also I do not want to undervalue the message Swaris is trying to bring up, namely, that the path of the Buddha needs to be reinterpreted not as a system of ‘private salvation seeking’ but as a path of social action. My dissatisfaction, however, is that, in the process, we might make the path of the Buddha nothing more than a form of enlightened social living. This I think is to lose sight of the deep and subtle psychological import of the teaching of the Buddha. In other words, Buddhism demythologizes and demystifies our religious beliefs, but at the same time it leads us to higher form of understanding of our own individual and social reality. In Swaris’s interpretation the first part of this comes out very beautifully; but the second part remains largely unasserted. (pp.125-6)."

We have had this debate on and off, neither being convinced by the other. In 2008 Nalin published a somewhat abridged version of this book for he felt that the earlier version was a little too long. Except for some stylistic changes, the new version was exactly the same in content. Although Nalin wanted me to write a brief newspaper introduction to this version, to my dismay now, I was unable to oblige. If I had written it readers would have known that we were never done with our old bone of contention.

Nalin published Buddhism, Human Rights and Social Renewal in 2000. Rights and justice were two areas in which Nalin was not only academically interested but also was deeply concerned and involved. This relatively short work, which was published by the Asian Human Rights Commission based in Hong Kong, is an in-depth treatment of the issues of human rights and justice and highlights how Buddhist insights could be used in constructing a social philosophy rich enough to address the burning issues of our globalized society. For some time, Nalin wrote to English newspapers almost on a weekly basis on contemporary issues including terrorism, nationalism, corruption and education.

Nalin was a passionate believer in what he said. The issues he discussed academically had great existential relevance and significance to him. Nalin was the exact opposite of the objective, detached and disinterested seeker of knowledge. For him knowledge was inseparable from praxis. As a result Nalin always got into passionate debates and arguments with his friends in the course of which he even lost a few of them. But deep inside Nalin was a warm and compassionate human being. Although social realities marked by injustices and violations of human rights said otherwise, Nalin never gave up his idealism, and consequently he was nearly always a frustrated man. This is not only Nalin’s fate; it is bound to be the fate of many of us who try to cling tenaciously to our ideals in the face of harsh and unpleasant social realities. As we know Ideal forms exist only in Platonic heaven; Nalin showed that to yearn for them is not a sin, but is not very practical either. Closely associated with this phenomenon is being alone amidst thousands of people. All those who do not go along with the majority have ultimately to grapple with their own existential loneliness, and Nalin was not an exception.

Nalin is gone. As the last sentence of this note I do not wish to reduce Nalin’s life to one single identity or something of that sort. Among the many facets of his life, Nalin was a deeply religious man, although he renounced organized religion whether it was Buddhism, Christianity or any other. In Buddha’s Way to Human Liberation Nalin has a substantial discussion on ‘nirvana’ which is the ultimate goal of the Buddhist path with which he identified himself. Although I am not quite sure whether or not Nalin’s ‘nirvana’ exactly coincides with mine, I wish him the bliss of ‘nirvana’, the ultimate freedom from suffering.

04 05 2011 - The Island





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P1.20   Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, a tribute

On his 145th death anniversary

One of the greatest laymen who served the cause of Buddhism is Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, after the great kings of ancient Sri Lanka, like Dutugemunu, Valagamba and the great Indian king of medieval India, Dharmasoka. Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala was born on Sept. 17, 1864 and even after 145 years since his demise, the service rendered by him to the cause of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and in foreign countries, is still remembered with great appreciation.

Dr. Ambedkar, who is considered a person who started a mass conversion of Indian untouchables to Buddhism in Oct. 1956, though considered as the first mass conversion to Buddhism, there was a mass conversion of untouchables 58 years earlier.

Col. Olcott along with the Anagarika, brought a large number of S. Indians to Sri Lanka to Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena and got them converted to Buddhism. This is considered a very remarkable contribution for the propagation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

It is our duty to remember with gratitude our national heroes, who, in no small measure, contributed to our independence. One such great person who is recognized as a colossus who spread Buddhism, is king Dharmasoka of India. Locally revered as the person who spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the world over, is the Anagarika.

Anagarika's parents were Don Carolis Hewawitharana and Mallika Hewawitharana from Matara. At six years of age, he entered St. Benedict's Vidyalaya, and subsequently S. Thomas' and then Royal Collage. At these schools, he studied the Bible and was first in his examinations. The writer met the then mayor of Colombo in 1988 and persuaded him to change the name of Turret road in Kollupitiya to Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha. Anagarika Dharmapala was able to persuade a number of people to discard their Portuguese, Dutch and English names. He changed his own name to Dharmapala. Others following suite were George Peiris, who became Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekara, and many others who took Aryan names.

He diverted all his attention to create a national consciousness and a national identity. He fought to dethrone alien ways and habits and enthrone the national and indigenous culture. He launched a national reawakening movement which quickly spread throughout the country.

He established the Lanka Mahabodhi Society in 1891 and set up the Mahabodhi Society of India. The following year he launched The Oahabodhi, a monthly journal which he edited, being writer, proof reader, publisher, sub editor and distributor all rolled into one.

The downfall of Sri Lanka's culture, customs and practices, together with Buddhism was the result of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule. During the Dutch period, the village school was made the center of Christianity. Baptism was administered and marriage solemnized in the village school. Fines were imposed on parents if their children did not attend school. The British destroyed our tanks in Wellassa and the Uva Province, and uprooted villagers from their traditional homelands, forcing them to work on coffee plantations. The British opened up taverns in every village and distributed liquor free to induce our people to develop a taste for it. This transformed our sober and thrifty people into criminal masters, to whom Anagarika spoke very harshly to change them.

Anagarika practised what he preached, for he was a teetotaler and refrained from eating meat. He denounced drunkenness and encouraged vegetarianism. He was not against other religions or even foreigners, for, he encouraged the study of all languages. He himself was proficient in Sinhalese, English, Pali and some foreign languages and also encouraged comparative study of other religions.

Incessantly, he ruthlessly attacked unnecessary Western habits and culture. He had no fixed abode and hence was called "Anagarika". He sent our people to foreign countries to learn skills and they came back and set up cottage industries, ceramics, and toy and match industries.

Anagarika first visited India in the latter part of 1884 to particicipate in the All India Parama Vidhya Society in Madras, accompanying Mrs. Blatvasky, and returned in 1885.

Anagarika then began his service to the cause of Buddhism. He was the first person to carry our propaganda work on Buddhism to Japan. His mentor was Sri Sumangala Thero, who Anagarika's father consulted to secure permission for his eldest son to become an Anagarika.

We in Sri Lanka and the Buddhists the world over owe him much and remember him with deep gratitude.

May Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala be born in Sri Lanka again and again to serve the cause of Buddhism.

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana.

V. K. B. Ramanayake

09 09 2009 - The Island


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Patience and persistence

When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet, at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that last blow that did it, but all that had gone before. - Jacob A. Riis

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