Anagarika Dharmapala’s contribution to restoration of Buddha Sasana in India
By Rohana R. Wasala
It seems I was born to restore the Sasana in India. When I started Buddhist work in India, a lot of lay Buddhists as well as Bhikkhus in Ceylon started working against me. They did not accept my advice……… I left Ceylon and went to India to do the work for the Sasana because there was no one to do that work….. In February 1906, my father passed away. Mrs Mary Foster came to my rescue. Mrs Foster is the modern Vishaka. She is helping the Sasana through me……..The well-to-do Sinhalese have no patriotic love for the land. They run after the British. Our leaders are disunited in faith and nationality. I am leaving a country with a slave mentality due to the Missionary education which is unpatriotic, which is not eager to find modern technologies. Uncultured manners are regarded highly in the society………….. To improve the life of the foolish Sinhalese is a difficult task. Economically they cannot be uplifted. They are lazy. They do not have a vision for progress. They do not have an urge to safeguard the Buddha Sasana….. Even now, Buddhists who did not contribute a cent towards my work in India, questioned me about the details of the accounts. They know only to criticize me and question me about accounts.
Anagarika Dharmapala (‘My Life Story’, ed. Lakshman Jayawardane, Sarasavi Publishers, Nugegoda, Sri Lanka, 2013)
(My opinion is that it is important to interpret the Anagarika, his language and ideas, as reflected in the above extract, in relation to the historical context in which he lived and worked. We today realise how accurate he was in his observations about the moral and economic degeneration of a great nation that suffered under foreign rule for centuries and its lost genius that needed to be restored through its own efforts under a good leadership. Aren’t we still struggling to live down that national humiliation amidst predatory interferences from the descendents of those former colonisers? Contrary to the negative view that most modern Sri Lankans seem to have been brainwashed to entertain about him due to decades of anti-national propaganda, shouldn’t we appreciate how far ahead of his time Anagarika Dharmapala actually was? He is criticised for having been ‘hostile’ towards the ‘minorities’. But were the ‘minorities’ then comparable to the minorities that the majority Sinhala Buddhists coexist peacefully with today? Which minority then thought about the historical homeland of the Sinhalese with the same degree of self-denying love and devotion as they did?)
The 157th Anagarika Dharmapala birth anniversary falls today. To mark this occasion, I thought it appropriate to write about the contribution he made to the revival of Buddhism in the land of its birth.
Anagarika Dharmapala contrived to closely interact with Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the Indian independence movement such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Rajendra Prasad, Muslim leader Shaukat Ali, Madan Mohan Malaviya and poet, philosopher and writer Rabindranath Tagore in the early decades of the last (20th) century, and achieved what he could for his own cause in India. Dharmapala was active as a Buddhist missionary who was determined to revive Buddhism in the country where it originated, initiating his campaign by trying to reclaim Buddha Gaya to world Buddhists, among whom he considered the Sinhalese to be foremost as the Custodians of Theravada Buddhism, generally regarded as the pristine form of the Dharma preached by Gautama Buddha. He wanted to take the word of the Buddha to the Western world as well as to strengthen ties with the Buddhist countries of the East. Apart from being in the same boat in terms of their respective life missions, chronologically too they were close to each other: Dharmapala was the senior having been born on September 17, 1864. Gandhi was junior to him by five years, for he was born on October 2, 1869. Close contemporaneity and shared cultural affinity made interaction between the two easier and more natural. This was significant because, by then, Mahatma Gandhi was already a man on a pedestal for many in India.
Having said that, it is essential to make an important distinction between Dharmapala and Gandhi as visionary men committed to great missions. Gandhi was more a political pragmatist than a spiritual visionary. Dharmapala kept to his chosen Buddhist missionary role and adopted an unwaveringly apolitical approach to his mission. But this was ignored by the British colonial government, which, during the 1915 Riot, for fear that Dharmapala’s potential presence in Sri Lanka in the years following would be problematic, quite arbitrarily subjected him to a five year long term of house arrest (1915-1920) in Calcutta, where he was then engaged in his normal missionary activities. It was virtually, a punishing term of internment for a constantly active, mobile individual like Dharmapala. Gandhi, on the other hand, in his failure to work with Muslim leaders without compromising legitimate Hindu interests, earned the murderous wrath of a group of Hindu nationalists.
Passage of time and emerging new research studies about them enable us to put them into perspective, and make fresh assessments of their personalities, individual perceptions and achievements. To name just two examples among many books concerning Gandhi, we have “The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi” by Arun Gandhi (2018) that provides evidence of a less admirable aspect of his personality which, if not suppressed by himself, would have been a stain on his nonviolent image (but Gandhi himself viewed anger as an empowering emotion that should not be abused), and “Gandhi in South Africa: A Racist or Liberator?” by Dr Siby K. Joseph (2019) which reveals that he was not initially free from a streak of racist prejudice against black Africans though, as a lawyer, he stood up for their independence and human rights. Regarding Anagarika Dharmapala, there is Dr Sarath Amunugama’s “Lion’s Roar” (2016), which, taking the facts of his life and times into consideration, seems to follow a more cautious, if unconvincing, middle course between passionate admirers of the iconic figure and his traditionally biased detractors, though the book repeats the unfounded eurocentric ‘protestant Buddhism’ thesis to describe the indigenous Buddhist revival movement which Dharmapala saw the beginning of, and which he enriched with his own epochal contribution.
Such deconstructive literature about Dharmapala and Gandhi has by now exposed their feet of clay as well as their focal strengths, and made them credibly and acceptably more human in the public perception. Both were great men and played truly heroic roles in the national and international causes that they championed; Gandhi was the leading anti-colonial Indian nationalist of his time, and the model political ethicist; the non-violent resistance movement that he led ultimately won India its independence from Britain, but failed to prevent the partition of India on August 15, 1947 into two independent states that resulted in two million deaths and 14 million displaced, and in his own assassination a few months later, on January 30, 1948. Dharmapala had to be satisfied with only partial success in his endeavour to acquire Buddha Gaya for Buddhists. But their monumental legacies have left indelible marks on the history of their nations and on that of the world at large, though these are hardly recognized, particularly in respect of Anagarika Dharmapala.
In the 1940s, Gandhi opposed the partition and worked with some Muslim leaders such as the famous Ali brothers, the Maulanas Shaukat and Mohamed Ali, and his friend Badhshah Khan, who shared his vision of an independent India based on religious multiculturalism. The Ali brothers were the leaders of the anti-British Khilafat Movement of Indian Muslims who demanded justice for the Sunni Islamic Turkey (Ottoman Empire). Gandhi’s actively supportive association with that organization made him temporarily popular among the Muslims. But with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire after WWI and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923, the Khilafat Movement also ended in 1924. Gandhi and Badhshah Khan had wanted Hindus and Muslims each to open their places of worship to the other for prayer. The Hindus offered their temples to Muslims for prayer, but the Muslims were not ready to reciprocate the conciliatory gesture. The Hindus’ tolerant and accommodating attitude, and the Muslims’ less liberal response are not surprising to anyone who has a basic comparative knowledge of Hinduism and Islam in this respect. It was obvious that Gandhi did not know enough about the second to avoid such embarrassment among his own people, although he had claimed he had a good knowledge of Islam’s holy book.
Dharmapala met and made friends with Shaukat Ali and tried to enlist Muslim support on his struggle to legally take possession of the Buddha Gaya holy place for Buddhists. When Ali visited Colombo in 1921, he spoke in support of Gandhi’s work in India for promoting Hindu-Muslim unity. Dharmapala wrote articles in Sinhala expressing solidarity with Indian Muslims engaged in the Khilafat agitation, but he was shrewd enough not to expect the impossible from Muslims unlike Gandhi. His love of peaceful Hindu-Muslim co-existence was utilitarian: he wanted the assistance of both Hindu and Muslim leaders on his struggle at the Buddha’s birthplace. Though Dharmapala was able to gain only partial control of the place for Buddhists, he had better luck at Sarnath. He had founded his Mahabodhi Society with the idea of reclaiming Buddhist sites in India. He bought a plot of land at Sarnath and built the impressive Mulagandhakuti Vihara, which he was able to complete in 1930. It became the main centre of Buddhist worship in India, which it remains even today, as Amunugama says. It drew the admiration not only of Buddhists, but of the colonial government and that of Indian national leaders Nehru, Tagore, and Malaviya. Dharmapala’s remarkable success in causing India’s lost Buddhist cultural heritage to be brought to the forefront of Indian national consciousness was not confined to this.
Buddhism, he learnt from Sir Edwin Arnold’s “Light of Asia”, he expressed his displeasure, implying that an Indian leader of Gandhi’s stature was remiss in acquiring the best part of India’s spiritual knowledge. Dharmapala himself said that it was through the medium of English that he himself learnt the Dhamma, for at that time no decent education was available in the vernacular. People with ability to do so sent their children to English medium schools as Dharmapala’s did. But Dharmapala did learn Sinhala and Pali as well from erudite Buddhist monks.
According to the 2011 census, there were 8.4 million Buddhists in India, mostly concentrated in Maharashtra. But they belong to different sects, not only to the Theravada tradition that Dharmapala represented. The Mahayana sect is the most prevalent form of Buddhism in India today, as it is in the rest of the world. But the inspiration that Dharmapala left in India as a Buddhist revivalist is not small. He was largely responsible for getting the small village of Buddha Gaya in Bihar, where the Buddha attained Buddhahood, with its historic Mahabodhi Temple complex recognized as the most important Buddhist pilgrimage site in the Buddhist world.
Celebrating what went well or denouncing what went wrong?
By Chani Imbulgoda
“We suffer today, because leaders in the past have failed to govern this country properly”. Oh, the predecessor has not done things well, they all have let the place go haywire”. Familiar excuses… When one takes over the leadership be it the country, be it an organisation, or be it a new position. We, naturally, incline to blame the past, criticize the leadership and highlight what went wrong. We start new reforms, new policies, new practices… condemning the past. We have a tendency to look back through the rearview mirror… only to criticise what went wrong, and start everything all over. Why don’t we give some credit to the past and celebrate what went well, as well?
It is said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. While Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, I wondered how much similarity we can evidence today. Tolstoy describes how the war was waged in early 1800, and how Russia suffered. After two centuries, we witness how Russia repeats it over Ukraine. No lessons learnt from the past. We just passed a civil riot; strikes, protests continue; and controlling and curbing protests are not rare. As a country, have we forgotten our gloomy days in recent past? Bombs, killing, destructions from northern point Pedro to southern Dondra, youth insurrection, misdirection and all the blood we witnessed… It seems that we, rather than learning the lessons unlearned it.
Bringing the beauty of learning from the past, American author, Judith Glaser suggests looking at the past, finding new meaning from significant events, following them and creating successful behaviour patterns. Have we forgotten our glorious past where this country was recognised as the jade of the Indian Ocean? This was known as a prosperous country during the reigns of ancient kingdoms. Once the granary of the East, and even before that, crowned as the Kingdom of mighty by king Ravana, who deemed to be the first to fly an aircraft. I recall my friend in university days who used to say that “there is no future without past”. As Santayana, Glazer and my friend say “we need to look back and learn from our past in moving forward. In the early 19th century, we submitted our sovereignty to colonial masters by conspiring against our own breed. We made Sinhala only policy in 1956 and we opened the economy in 1977, letting our strengths blown out by foreign winds. Lots of lessons are on the stake, if we really want to take. An upcoming book “What Went Wrong” by a bureaucrat, Mr. Chandrasena Maliyadde, a former Secretary to Government Ministries discusses how Sri Lanka failed in many aspects, including public service and University education. There are books on historic accounts, newspapers and media that bring present contexts, and futuristic projections…it is left for us to make our soup adding right mix of past, present and future to taste the soup.
Past is a repository of knowledge!
Reflect on the qualities and competencies possessed by today’s youth with yesteryear’s generation. Do we miss something in the new generation? A state university officer once lamented that those young officers joining the university did not look at the overall picture when making decisions … fair enough, I have noticed a many young staff, and even some old hands think only about the fraction of work they deemed responsible … ignoring the whole process involved. We often pin the blame on the education system. During the good old days, school curricula consisted of lessons on morals and ethics, lessons on history. More importantly, formal education kept space for youngsters to think, there were no tuition classes, and no online assignments to complete. There was time for friends … time to play; time to enjoy nature, and time to talk with parents. Those days youngsters were a part of the real world, nature and ancestors who educate the wholeness of life. Aren’t we missing something in our education system? It is time to look back and look ahead, and look across. Finland, known to be one of the best countries for education in the world, avail time for students to engage with nature; no tough competitive exams, they learn being humane, they learn to be balanced humans. There was a propaganda “Nearest School is the Best School”. In the present context where everything has become expensive, exercise books to transport fees. Safety and security of both male, female children are at stake. Much concerns over drugs, and sex, it is time to revisit and refresh this propaganda tagline. There is a shortage of papers, there was a shortage of fuel and electricity, we never know what is in stock for us in the coming months. We cannot afford to have marker pens and whiteboards in schools now. Time to think about the rock slate which we could use several times and learn well and hard way. I believe more the hard work put in tiring both the hand and head, higher the productivity. Considering the wellbeing of individuals, rising cost and scarcity of essentials and medical drugs, and sustainability of our environment, time has come to think of our past styles of commuting, cycling. Cycling reduces air pollution; cycling makes you fitter. In effect, we will not be compelled to depend on many vehicles imported and perhaps medicine too. We have reached the point where we have to bridge the past with the future. We need to learn from the past and blend it with the future, appropriately without forgetting the present and its context.
Learn from the past, but don’t
stick to it.
When we see a roadblock, a cavity on the road or a commotion or congestion, we naturally turn to the rearview mirror. But we do not turn the car and go back to where we started. No doubt we learn lessons from the past, but we can never create the past again. If you drive constantly looking back from the rearview mirror, you would not proceed much far! Buddha has said that “you can’t have a better tomorrow if you think about yesterday all the time”. One of the key accusations during recent public agitations, and the rebel was that youth do not get opportunities. The anxiety developed over rejection or blocking paths for youth, to be hatred towards old. We often miss fresh blood in decision making bodies, especially when it comes to public sector institutions, owing to too much credit being given to the past. Long number of years in service overshadows competence. When recruiting people for positions, we look at the conduct and experience of the applicant in the past, and make our decision; sometimes a decision to show the door would completely sabotage the future of the applicant. We come across people who wag their past records when they make important decisions for the future. People like to boast about their glorious past and want to create yesterday in tomorrow. I recall an incident that took place at a staff meeting where I work. When the senior officers celebrating past glory, a few newcomers openly challenged and declared they get demotivated in effect. If we cling too much to the past, we will end up spoiling both our present and future.
Change is inescapable. Everything gets changed, context, requirements, and mindsets. History cannot be restored as it was, only lessons and practices can be brought and tried after careful analysis. We normally cling to one of the two paradoxes; one school of thought is glued to the history, experience, and the way things happened. They hardly see goodness in novelty. On the other extreme, the school of thought is forward-looking they ignore the past, condemn the history and embrace novelty. In a car, we have a larger windscreen, two side glasses and a tiny rearview mirror. Why? When we are moving, we need to look at the future with a much broader view, assess the present, and from time to time look back and ensure we are alright.
Past is always a scapegoat for those who don’t want to strive to achieve success. We as a nation today suffer a lot and I believe in owing up to the blame game we play with the past and egoistic attitude and our unwillingness to learn from the past. I always advocate seeing what went well in the past, success stories teach us lessons, where failures are more appealing to worry and enjoy at the same time.
(The writer is a holder of a senior position in a state
University with international experience and exposure and an MBA from Postgraduate Institute of Management (PIM), Sri Lanka and currently reading for her PhD related to reasons of reform failures at PIM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Rogues have no right to eat while masses starve!
Ali (Raheem) Baba and 225 rogues have no right to eat while the people they are supposed to protect, nourish and maintain go hungry.
A poor widow with a school going child called me from Elpitiya and told me that they had not eaten anything yet. The time was 11 AM. The child had refused to go to school with an empty stomach. But the mother had coaxed him to go to school promising him to keep lunch ready when he returns. She had not found anything to cook by 11 AM and desperately called me. This was just one of such calls I get regularly.
I lost my shirt; I scolded her and told her that she had elected Ali (Sabri Raheem) Baba and 225 scoundrels and that she should go to them and ask for food. I instructed her to do this. Collect as many widows like her as possible and go to the house of their MP (GK) and remind her that they had fed her all these years and now they were hungry and she must feed them. Sit down in the house and do not leave till your problem is solved. While you go hungry that woman has no right to eat. In fact, the scoundrels of Diyawannawa have no right to gobble down subsidised food in the canteen of the den of thieves called the parliament of Sri Lanka.
Another widow called me and told me that she and her children lived in the dark. They have electricity but they could not afford to use it. The family lives in total darkness, every night. The government which could not maintain an uninterrupted power supply at least during the A/L examinations is not a failed administration but a heartless criminal regime. The rogue government which deprived the people of power has no right to use power in their den for light, sound and air conditioning.
And the rogue government has no right to govern at all. It has deprived the people of their right to vote and choose representatives they desire. It has cancelled the provincial council elections and the local government elections. By depriving the people of their right to vote it has abrogated its right to govern. Getting rid of this government is legal, and, in fact, it is the right and the civic duty of the people of this country.
It is this government that robbed the country to bankruptcy, ruined the agriculture and the economy and destroyed law and order in the country. Now, it blames Aragalaya for that. They pretend to be the victims! The effect has become the cause; they turn everything upside down!
Everything they are doing now is some desperate measure or other to keep marking time as long as possible to rob and rob and empty the national coffers before getting out of government and the country.
The scoundrels in the Parliament are accused and even found guilty by courts, of every crime under the Sun. They cheat, swindle and rob openly and unceasingly. This is a curse on the country and its people. We are paying for our stupidity and gullibility. We are a people immersed in superstition and irrational beliefs. There are no better ways to learn life’s lessons than hunger and deprivation. Aragalaya was a great eye-opener and a teacher of the difference between myth and truth, between objective reality and the narrow chauvinism of race and religion; the last refuge of the scoundrel. I hope the 6.9 million have at least by now learnt the lesson.
My dear co-citizens of Sri Lanka, it is time to act. It is pathetic and depressing to see our small children becoming stunted, weak and malnourished. They cannot wait to grow up till things get better constitutionally and decently. The powers that are do not behave constitutionally or decently. They are not gentlemen. They are certainly not ‘Honorable’ Members of Parliament. They have become fascists and tyrants, dictators and underworld god-fathers. Regardless of the cost, we must free ourselves from their murderous grip on us and on the country. It is time to act. For the sake of generations of our children, it is time to act.
Fr J.C. Pieris,
Why do we vote?
In his article in Sunday Island, Maj Gen A M U Seneviratne (Rtd) said “We vote and elect our representatives to represent us in parliament and other governing bodies and we expect them to respect us and work for the uplift of the country and its citizens”.
I totally disagree – We, the majority, elect them just for their sake, not to uplift the country or its citizens. Otherwise, how could every riff-raff who had not done anything worthwhile for the people and are notable for corruption and frauds be voted, election after election? Haven’t we seen how their supporters gather around them (and cheer) when they come out after Court hearings in which they were accused of various crimes?
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