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With a Life Sketch by
Buddhist Publication Society
Kandy • Sri Lanka
BPS Online Edition © (2011)
Digital Transcription Source: BPS Transcription Project
For free distribution. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted and redistributed in any medium. However, any such republication and redistribution is to be made available to the public on a free and unrestricted basis, and translations and other derivative works are to be clearly marked as such.
This booklet is published as a tribute to the birth centenary of the late Venerable Anagárika Dharmapála (17th September 1964). The sayings reproduced here have been collected by Bhikshu Sangharakshita from the Vols. XVI, XIX, XXI, XXIII, XXV and XXVII of The Mahá Bodhi journal which the Anagárika had edited for 40 years. They were first published separately in 1957 by The Mahá Bodhi Society of India, Calcutta, to which we are obliged for permission to reprint them.
It is hoped that these precious sayings of the great Buddhist leader will be an inspiration to many readers.
A life sketch of the Anagarika, written by Buddhadhasa P. Kirthisinghe, of New York, has been added to this publication.
Buddhist Publication Society
VENERABLE Anagárika Dharmapála shines in the history of Ceylon—new Lanka—for his nobleness, serenity and selfless devotion to the service given to his beloved country, to India, and the rest of humanity. Like Emperor Asoka, his life was guided by a spirit of humanitarianism. While Asoka spread the word of the Buddha throughout India, Ceylon and by his missionaries throughout the world known to him in the third century B.C. In our age, Anagárika Dharmapála did an equally notable service to humanity by reviving Buddhism and Buddhist culture in India, Ceylon and other lands of decadent Buddhist Asia and carrying the Message of Buddhism to the West.
The rise and fall of great civilizations are, perhaps, a pattern in history. The Indo-Ceylon Buddhist period, from third century, B.C., to 12th century after Christ, is recorded as the golden period in their history. After that these great civilizations began to decay, and when the Portuguese, Dutch and British arrived in Asia from the 16th century onwards, these civilizations were decadent.
These foreign rulers destroyed the traditional culture of the land and Christian missionaries increased like mushrooms in these lands of Asia. Christian schools were opened by every Christian denomination. The Buddhist children were forced to go to these schools and Buddhists were compelled to go to Christian churches, even for the registration of marriages. In addition, economic pressure was used for the conversion of Buddhists to Christianity. It was a sad period when people were afraid to declare themselves Buddhists and when Buddhist culture had degenerated to the lowest ebb.
It was in the midst of this national calamity in Ceylon that a son was born to a wealthy Sinhalese family in Colombo. This boy was destined to lead his people to regain their national pride in their religion and culture. He was born on 17th September, 1864, and died on 29th April, 1933. He was named David Hewavitharne, but later in life bore the name of Anagarika Dharmapala.
David Hewavitharne was brought up in the traditional Sinhalese culture, which is based on a Buddhist way of life. His piously religious parents instilled in him the traditional piety which had been the heritage of his people for over 2000 years. Together with his parents, he took refuge daily in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and adopted the traditional five precepts of good daily conduct taken by the laymen. He was destined by karmic merits to become a saintly man and a selfless servant of the Buddha. In spite of the temptations of modern life he lived a pure and simple life, shunning all evil.
As a custom among the Buddhists, the first lesson in Sinhalese is usually given by a Buddhist monk. It is not surprising, therefore, that that first lesson given to Dharmapala was by the renowned scholar, Venerable Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera, of the famous Vidyodaya Pirivena, now the Vidyodaya University of Ceylon. After studying in a few, minor Christian schools, Dharmapala attended the missionary Anglican (C.M.S.) School, Kotte, about six miles from Colombo. There he was forced to go to church at 7:30 a.m., and to receive Bible instruction daily. Later, Dharmapala attended St. Thomas’ College, near Colombo, where the elite received their schooling. St. Thomas’s had a high standard of English education and discipline. If anything kept him within the Buddhist fold, it was the Buddhist virtues of tolerance and respect for other religions, together with the deep influence of his parents. Today, largely due to the influence of the work of Colonel Olcott and Venerable Dharmapala, all Buddhist children receive instruction in Sinhalese and Buddhism whichever school they attend.
An important event in the Buddhist revival movement was the arrival of Colonel Olcott and—Madame Blavatsky in Colombo, in May, 1880.
They were the founders of the Theosophical movement in New York City. They had previously corresponded with the Venerable Migettuwatte Gunananda, the famous monk-orator who triumphed over his Christian adversaries in public debates held in Panadura, in 1873. The sublime teachings of the Buddha triumphed over Christian dogmatism. It was the study of these debates that influenced the two co-founders of Theosophy in their decision to go to Ceylon.
When the great American Colonel and Madame Blavatsky arrived in Galle, South Ceylon, on 21st May, 1880, they publicly took the three refuges and the five Buddhist precepts in the familiar Pali from a Buddhist monk, profoundly influencing the young Dharmapala, who was present with his parents on this occasion. It was an historic event—the first time in the history of Ceylon Buddhism that two Western people had come to Ceylon and had openly adopted Buddhism. The conversion of Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott to Buddhism marked the beginning of a new epoch in the history of Ceylon Buddhism.
In 1883 a Catholic mob attacked a Buddhist procession opposite a Catholic church at Kotahena, north of Colombo. This infuriated Hewavitharne’s father, and he refused to allow his son to attend any Christian school again.
Young Dharmapala had to leave St. Thomas’ College, and during the first few months he regularly visited the Colombo Public Library, studying European classics. In 1884, young Dharmapala, at the age of eighteen, joined the Theosophical Society in Ceylon, together with two other Bhikkhus. They were initiated personally by Madame Blavatsky and the noble Colonel, and became lifelong members.
The young Dharmapala spent some time studying with Madame Blavatsky at the headquarters of the Theosophical Movement in India. Although he was interested in the study of occult phenomena, Madame Blavatsky encouraged him to study Pali and master the Tripitaka. On his return to Ceylon, Dharmapala, who was then twenty years of age, believed with the rest of Buddhist intellectuals that the interests of Buddhism and the Theosophical Society were identical. Now Dharmapala asked his father’s permission to take Brahmachariya (celibate) vows and dedicate his life to the service of the Dharma. This request was hesitatingly granted by his father. Thereafter, Dharmapala lived and worked at the Theosophical Headquarters in Ceylon.
In 1886 Colonel Olcott and the Rev. C. M. Leadbeater came back to Colombo from Adyar, to collect funds for the Ceylon Buddhist educational movement. They intended to tour the whole Island, but they needed an interpreter since they could not speak Sinhalese. Dharmapala, who was then a clerk in the Ceylon Education Department, readily gave up his post and promptly offered his services to them. His father was dismayed, but his mother readily blessed him.
The three toured Ceylon’s villages by bullock cart for several months, and by 1887 had become familiar figures in the national revival movement of Ceylon. The young Dharmapala spoke as vigorously as the noble Colonel Olcott on social, economic and religious problems of the day.
From 1885 to 1889 Dharmapala devoted his whole time to the Buddhist revival movement, thereby obtaining for himself the training needed to become the greatest Buddhist missionary of our time. During this period Dharmapala and Colonel Olcott established the “Sandarasa” a weekly magazine in Sinhalese, and in December, 1888, they issued the first edition of “The Buddha” in English, under the editorship of the Rev. Leadbeater. The latter magazine has become the organ of the Colombo Young Men’s Buddhist Association and has a long history of 75 years service to Buddhism.
Colonel Olcott and Venerable Dharmapala left for Japan in 1889. They had with them a letter of good wishes in Sanskrit from the Buddhists of Ceylon to the people of Buddhist Japan. Japan was one of the few free nations of enslaved Asia, and their visit played a vital role in the Buddhist revival of all Asia.
In January 1891 Venerable Dharmapala, together with a Japanese Buddhist monk, Kozen Gunaratna, decided to visit Buddhist holy places in India. At Buddha Gaya, Dharmapala found the place shamefully neglected and the Buddha Gaya temple in the hands of a hostile and mercenary Mahant. His life-long effort to free this holy place failed, though later it was handed over by the Government of India, to a committee of Hindus and Buddhists for its management, as an act of goodwill to Buddhist Asia. This change was entirely due to the heroic efforts of Venerable Dharmapala, aided by the cry of millions of Buddhists throughout the world.
The Maha Bodhi Society, which Venerable Dharmapala had established at Colombo in 1891, was shifted to Calcutta in 1892. There it remains today as a magnificent monument, not only to his memory but also to the great benefactress of the society, Mrs. Foster, of Hawaii. At Calcutta he started the Maha Bodhi Journal. This has been published continuously for the last 71 years, and today it is one of the leading journals of Buddhism. From the beginning to this day its motto is the Buddha’s great exhortation to his first sixty disciples:
“Go ye, O Bhikkhus, and wander forth for the gain of the many, the welfare of the many, in compassion for the world, for the good, for the gain, for the welfare of Devas and men Proclaim O Bhikkhus, the doctrine glorious, preach ye a life of holiness, perfect and pure.”
During the World Columbian Exposition of 1893, the World Parliament of Religions was held in the Columbus Hall of the city of Chicago. It was one of the most important events of the late nineteenth century. On this common platform, together with other leaders of great religions, Venerable Dharmapala addressed a capacity audience three times, with saintly diligence, on the sublime teachings of the Buddha. He did not possess the magnetic oratory of Vivekananda—the exponent of Hinduism—who also addressed these gatherings. Nevertheless, what was said by the saintly Dharmapala was forceful and lucid, and it caught the ear and the interest of the vast throng of the American public. His paper, “The World’s Debt to the Buddha,” had a deep influence on his audience at this Parliament of Religions. In this connection, Bhikkhu Sangharakshita states: “So striking was the impression made by the young preacher from Ceylon that when his colleague, Vivekananda, was compared to noble but passionate Othello, Dharmapala was compared with no less a person than Jesus Christ.”
Dharmapala visited England several times. On his first visit in 1893 he met Sir Edwin Arnold, with whom he called on the Secretary of State for India, Lord Kimberley, regarding the Buddha Gaya temple: On this visit he tried to establish a branch of the Maha Bodhi Society in—London, but failed. Today, however, there stands the London Buddhist Vihara at Chiswick, a monument to his earlier effects. It is under the management of the Maha Bodhi Society.
For the first time in the history of modern India, Vesak was celebrated at Calcutta, on May 26, 1896, by Venerable Dharmapala. This celebration was presided over by the Hon. Narendra Nath Sen. It was believed to be the first organised celebration of Vesak, since the decay of Buddhasasana in India round the twelfth century A.D. He also had the satisfaction of holding the first Vesak celebration in New York City, in 1897, on his second visit to the United States of America, at the invitation of Dr. Paul Carus.
His father, who had given enormous financial help to spread the word of the Buddha, died in 1904. On hearing the news, Mrs. Foster of Hawaii,—a great philanthropist and generous benefactor of the Buddhist revival movement wrote to him to ask him to regard her as his foster-mother. She gave him vast sums of money, without which he could not have carried on his missionary work so intensively, either in India or Ceylon.
In 1913 Venerable Dharmapala left Ceylon for Honolulu, to thank Mrs. Foster personally for the magnificent and generous help given to the Maha Bodhi Society. It was with her financial support that the headquarter building now occupied by the Society at Calcutta was purchased. Before Dharmapala left Hawaii Mrs. Foster gave him Rs. 60,000. With this money he founded than Ayurvedic Hospital in Colombo and named it the Foster Robinson Hospital, in memory of the great benefactress. With still further help from Mrs. Foster, the Sri Dharmarajika Chaitiya Vihara was built in Calcutta. In 1920 Lord Ronaldshay, the British Governor-General of India, presented a sacred body relic of the Buddha, which was found in the Madras district, for enshrinement in the Vihara.
Dharmapala’s crowning achievement was the erection of the Mulagandhakuti Vihara at Saranath—where the Buddha preached his first sermon—and the enshrinement in it of the Buddha’s relics which he had received from the British Governor of Bengal.
From 1917 Devapriya Valisinha had become Venerable Dharmapala’s chief disciple, who received his personal training from his master (guru). He is a devoted hard-working Sinhalese university graduate, and today he carries heavy responsibility of running the manifold activities of the Maha Bodhi Society’s headquarters at Calcutta, assisted by Venerable Bhikkhu Jinaratana, and many notable Bengali Buddhists. Mention must also be made of Venerable Bhikkhu Sangharatana, an active worker of the society and a disciple of Venerable Dharmapala, who, has been in charge of the Saranath Vihara since 1930.
In January, 1933, Venerable Dharmapala took the higher ordination of upasampada, in spite of recurring ill-health, and received the full name of Bhikkhu Sri Devamitta Dhammapala. He could, however, not live the life of a Bhikkhu for long. His health deteriorated rapidly and in April of the same year he passed away. His was a life selflessly lived in the service of humanity.