By ROHANA R. WASALA
It was recently reported in the media (e. g. The Island/Monday, July 19, 2021) that Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera had said that all young persons above the age of 18 years should be given military training to inculcate disciplinary values in them. He was speaking at the opening of a new police station at Hirana in Panadura, last week. The Minister, while referring to the prevalent opinion about the young generation (i.e., children and young adults in education generally, I presume) that they have no respect for discipline, obedience to rules, and good behavioural values, observed that the problem could be tackled with proper training. He immediately qualified what he said with: “This does not mean we must turn them into military personnel, but if we are to train the youth above 18 properly, the most suitable places for that training are military camps. We must design a course aimed at personality development.”
Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera is very honest and trustworthy. I haven’t an iota of doubt about his sincerity and his commitment to the job he has been assigned with. But, anent this idea of his, I’d say in all humility: “Not so arbitrarily! Not so hastily!” However, as education is not his responsibility, the Public Security Minister may be making an implicit suggestion to his Cabinet colleague who is in charge of that subject. Isn’t it more urgent for the well-meaning Minister to look after the discipline of the minority of police officers who sometimes act in ways unbecoming of their profession, by getting the police hierarchy to enforce discipline on those few of their subordinates? He should not forget that there could still be blacklegs in the force, linked with yahapalanaya.
By the way, the Minister, quite sincerely and justly, showered the police with praise for rendering “yeoman service during the past few months in overcoming the threats posed by the underworld, and fighting the pandemic”, when, as The Island/July 26 reported, he called upon the Venerable Maha NayakeTheras of Asgiriya and Malwatta Chapters, and the Getambe Hamuduruwo, who, unlike the Maha Nayake monks, is known and respected for his blunt speech. The news item is illustrated with four telling pictures of the Minister meeting with the prelates and paying obeisance to them. To me it looks like The Island photographer has caught the Minister’s meetings with the monks in a satiric light.
The Buddhist Sangha has a key role to play (though it is always unobtrusive, based on the Dhamma) in fostering discipline among the people, including rulers and civil functionaries. Isn’t the motto of the Sri Lankan Police “Dhammo have rakkhati dhammacari” (The Dhamma protects the followers of the Dhamma)? But what is the heartbreaking reality the people encounter in this area today? Writer S.M. Sumanadasa’s opinion piece “Whither the Sangha and the Buddha Sasana?” (The Island/July 26) has well elaborated this deficit on the part of the Sangha. My own opinion is, as I have repeatedly pointed out, that only a united Maha Sangha can save the Buddha Sasana and the Buddhists; acting only as moral guides, without dabbling in politics, except when the survival of the Sasana and the people is in danger.
The Mahanayakes should be able to recall all the agitating young monks from the streets, ostracise those who don’t listen, put a stop to misrepresentations of Buddhism by misguided maverick monks, and counter the conspiracies of anti-Buddhist proselytisers, etc., and put politicians in their place, who so unashamedly exploit the yellow robe to cheat in their immoral political games. This is a tall order, no doubt, but the Maha Sangha must do the task or let the Buddha Sasana perish. There’s nothing to worry about the Buddha Dhamma/Buddhist teaching. It is better understood, practiced, and protected among the enlightened civilised people of the world everywhere. Theravada Buddhism has been absorbed (without a label, characteristically) into the basically humane religious philosophies and forms of democratic rule in the whole world. But the continuing absence of such an undivided Sangha leadership in Sri Lanka is spelling disaster for the Buddha Sasana and the Sinhala Buddhists.
It is true that the country’s successful tackling of the Covid-19 pandemic, through vaccination amidst untold difficulties and artificial snags, owes much to the hard work and the discipline of the health and security personnel, including the police. I measure success in this connection in the following terms: by now, over seven million Sri Lankans have got at least one dose of an anti-Covid vaccine, and over one million of them have got both. Vaccination is the only remedy available against the deadly disease. All 225 MPs and hundreds of local representatives must be equally responsible for saving the people, who elected them to office, from the Coronavirus. Their personal discipline must be exemplary, because they are also accountable if young people behave without discipline as alleged. I personally do not believe that the vast majority of our young people lack discipline.
But if it is perceived that there is such a problem, responsible politicians and educational authorities ought to do something about it, in an apolitical, non-controversial, scientific manner (i.e.,through ideological debate and discussion among experts, not leaving out agreeable youth interaction and involvement). They must take collective steps to democratically protect the young from falling into the hands of the negligibly few, ignorant and immature political power seekers among them, who have ruined the lives of generations of youth over the past roughly 55 years. The people have convincingly rejected them, and the same people will wholeheartedly support any positive measures that responsible people’s representatives and civil authorities introduce in good faith, by way of a remedy against their misleading quixotic adventures to ensnare the young into their schemes.
But if they admit their past errors, and conceptualise a new approach to national politics, as a bulwark against minority communalism as well as the big parties that succumb to the trickeries of the few racists among minority politicians, Sri Lanka will be theirs to rule. My frank view is that, Uvindu Wijeweera, the well-educated young son of the late Rohana Wijeweera, the founder ideologue and leader of the JVP, destroyed by the reactionary forces that his successors later befriended, has great potential in leading such a movement. Monks, please don’t wreck his chances. (This is an anticipatory digression, but not entirely out of context.)
Back to my present subject. My gut feeling, as a senior retired educator and educationist, is that the alleged problem and the solution suggested by the Public Security Minister (alleged youth indiscipline and military training, respectively), must be better conceptualised, more carefully thought out with the assistance of relevant non-self-seeking specialists, whose expertise is not in question, and whose love of the young and of the country is even more assured. (I don’t personally think that a problem of general youth indiscipline exists; if it does, adults must be held responsible, and their (adults’) problems, if any solved). I have worked with adolescents and young adults of both sexes in secondary and tertiary education in Sri Lanka and abroad for over 35 years (the better part of that time in an alien culture abroad). The wisdom that I have gained in connection with the subject at hand, is that normally young people everywhere are unspoilt and moral idealists. They are ready to act with self-discipline and responsibility or are ready to subject themselves to formal discipline, when they are convinced that discipline, contrary to what the word basically implies – restraint, control -, makes them strangely free and strong enough to channel the physical and mental energies that they naturally possess to create happiness for themselves and for those around them.
this more clearly when I taught abroad than when I was working in my own country Sri Lanka (where I worked for a shorter period in my less mature years). But, how disciplined our educated young people are in a conducive environment was demonstrated when they enthusiastically joined in a mass voluntary wall painting movement for town beautification across the country with the election of a new president in November 2019, that electrified them with new expectations and prospects of better times to come.
Incidentally, the Minister’s proposal reminds us of the leadership development programme that was introduced during the post-2009 government, and implemented with the help of for the benefit of fresh university entrants before the commencement of their academic studies. The Army was co-opted to the programme, because it had all the human and physical resources required for such an undertaking. It was probably partly intended as a dampener on the chronic problem of initiation ragging, which was historically and inevitably associated with the rejected and depleted political minority mentioned above. The programme was no doubt a wholesome confidence building and personality development measure, being a more rational and more acceptable form of initiation (than the sadistic ragging administered by psychopathic criminals) into independent university life from secondary school.
The programme was well received both by the students and their parents, and by the general public. However, the well-designed and well conducted initiative met with an adverse response, mostly for the wrong reasons, from foreign agenda promoting NGOs and blindly politicised oppositional groups. The proponents of the useful course of leadership training and personality development probably felt that, in the then prevailing context, this kind of reception was likely to later create public misunderstandings that could translate into electoral losses for the governing party. So it had to be abandoned almost as soon as it was started. A farcical personality development programme of the fake ‘Reconciliation’ brand was enacted under the yahapalanaya, when it was in its last legs.
The negative experience (being forced to abandon the first leadership programme for university entrants introduced during 2009-15) should have alerted the Minister to the possible, nay probable, repetition of criticism from the same quarters. Those attacks on the previous leadership development programme were for the most part unfounded, but not totally so. Their politicised nature betrayed a severe deficit of sincerity on the part of the critics. Employees of foreign NGOs, including even the (probably forcibly roped in) venerables of Friday Forum who disapproved of that military-like training, cannot free themselves from suspected susceptibility to the attraction of the filthy lucre. Their opposition can be safely disregarded if the recipient students, their parents and the general public have no problem with the rudimentary military training that the Public Security Minister proposes for all the young people of the country. But, in my opinion, the immediately existing political and social environment in Sri Lanka is not conducive for the success of such a personality development programme.
The Public Security Minister’s bona fides are beyond doubt. He pledged to stand by the police officers who carried out their duties in good faith. But he should know better than most if he has succeeded in emerging out of the lingering shadow of the yahapalana incubus. Candour without caution is likely to prove mere self-defeating naivety at the present juncture.
Ivermectin and Covid: no time to lose and lives to save
By Prof. Saroj Jayasinghe,
MBBS, MD (Colombo), FRCP (London), MD (Bristol) PhD (Colombo), FCCP, FNASSL
Consultant to the Faculty of Medicine
Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka.
Former Professor of Medicine, University of Colombo
It is with a degree of reluctance that I am stepping into the controversy relating to Ivermectin use in COVID. Unknown to many, the pros and cons of Ivermectin in COVID have been discussed in private forums of physicians, academia and doctors from 2020. It has been in the international media ever since laboratory studies in Australia showed that the drug inhibits the growth of the virus. However, the public in Sri Lanka became more aware of the controversy recently, when a confidential letter sent to an official of the Ministry of Health appeared in the social media. I had written this in June 2021 as an individual professional after several months of raging controversy among professionals. It was about treatment of COVID, and I firmly believe vaccination is the best option to prevent the illness. One reason for the very cautious approach of not approving the use of Ivermectin in the West could be because anti-vaccine groups are promoting it as an alternative. Sri Lanka has no such problems, and our population is willingly getting vaccinated.
Proposals to use Sri Lanka as a large study area as a clinical trial or as an observational study were made as far back as early 2021. I understand a clinical trial has begun in patients admitted with COVID, after considerable delays due to procedures related to clinical trials. Such studies are scrutinised by independent ethics committees, the drug must be approved by the National Medicinal Drugs Authority, and the study must be registered in an entity that makes is publicly available for anyone to read about it. This study will at least take another few weeks to months to yield results.
Most discussions in Sri Lanka Centre around the question whether the evidence to prescribe Ivermectin in COVID-19 is strong or inconclusive. One group says there is inconclusive evidence to use Ivermectin while another group says there IS sufficient evidence. As with many issues, this is not black or white but shades of grey, i.e. there are grades on the ‘strength of evidence’ from the field of Evidence Based Medicine (EBM). A parallel in the legal field is when we say that the evidence is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ or there is ‘proof of the crime’, vs. circumstantial evidence.
Let us assume that using the principles of EBM we find that the evidence to use Ivermectin in COVID is ‘inconclusive’. Such a dilemma is very relevant to a situation where a decision is needed immediately, but the stakes are high. In other words, how would doctors decide to treat in a situation when the evidence for efficacy of a drug is inconclusive, but the stakes are high? Let me share an example.
Imagine a doctor who sees a very ill-looking patient with features of a serious infection (e.g. high fever, vomiting and body aches). She or he requests tests to identify the cause of the illness and the bacteria that may be causing the illness. In such an instance, should the doctor wait till the reports of the tests (e.g. culture reports) are available before treating? If a decision is made to treat immediately, the doctor does not have the ‘strength of evidence’ on the cause of the illness. However, if treatment is delayed until the reports arrive in two days the patient may be dead. This hypothetical example highlights a common dilemma: How do doctors balance between reliance on strength of evidence vs. taking an immediate decision when the evidence is inconclusive. This is best addressed by theories of decision-making and is a question very familiar to practicing doctors.
Now I will demonstrate the parallel with Ivermectin. In the case of ivermectin let us assume that the current evidence for its efficacy in COVID is inconclusive. However, the stakes are very high because COVID is currently raging, hundreds are dying, and there are no alternative drugs to treat early disease. Furthermore, Sri Lanka needs to bridge only a short vulnerable period of 4-6 weeks during which time our vaccination programme would become effective.
Let us assume that doctors begin to prescribe Ivermectin for treatment and prevention of COVID, for the next 4 to 6 weeks, despite the inconclusive evidence. There are two possible key outcomes:
Outcome 1: Future research confirms that it is effective, and it would contribute to saving many lives.
Outcome 2: Future research shows that it is ineffective, and we would have wasted money on the drug. Therefore, Ivermectin could either save lives or waste money. Even the money wasted is miniscule because the cost of a course of Ivermectin is less than Rs 200.00 (i.e. less than one US dollar)! Is it safe to use over the next 4 to 6 weeks? We know it is a very safe drug that has been used for almost 40 years. It is used in mass scale by the WHO to eliminate ‘River Blindness’ and is in their Essential Drug List.
A combination of other factors add support to the decision to prescribe Ivermectin.
1. Evidence is evolving, and studies are in progress. Therefore, conclusive evidence may emerge to confirm its efficacy.
2. There is laboratory (in vitro) evidence that Ivermectin is active against the COVID-19 virus.
3. It’s easy to give (tablets and not injections).
4. Currently there are no effective drugs in Sri Lanka to treat early COVID or prevent it.
5. Certain regions in India and South American countries are using Ivermectin to treat and prevent COVID-19
Therefore, my humble question is, should doctors in Sri Lanka consider whether to use Ivermectin to treat or prevent COVID-19? We need this only for 4-6 weeks. During this period, rates of COVID are likely to increase due to the very rapid transmission of Delta variant. We have no time to lose, nothing to lose, and lives to save. There is no time for clinical trials. Those who wish to embark on trials to wet their thirst for more evidence are welcome to do so. By the time the results of a new trial are available the horse would have bolted, and hundreds would have died.
My suggestion is for patients to ask your doctors about Ivermectin. You have a right to do so. Doctors are divided on the issue because of their sincerity to the views they have about science, scientific evidence, and decision-making. Please do not assume that there is a conspiracy against the drug in Sri Lanka! I can vouch for the honesty of all the doctors who are having different views on the topic. This is a disagreement between professionals who have diverse views, and we seem to have dug into our lines of defence!
The Ministry of Health has allowed the use of Ivermectin under the direction of a doctor. A range of doses for treatment and prevention is available at BIRD-group.org a group working in the UK. The opinions I have stated here are my own independent views and not in any way linked to the institutions I am affiliated to.
From the pseudo–sublime to the utterly ridiculous!
With abject apologies to Tom Paine, who in the Age of Reason (1794), coined the phrase from the sublime to the ridiculous, the situation in the Pearl and indeed the world today, warrants the additional descriptive words that I have used when paraphrasing!Sublime could be construed to mean serious or worth considering therefore the pseudo sublime situation that came to the USA and the world with the voting in of a geriatric president should be looked at. Covid is still rampant but less talked about in that country and the complete disaster that has been the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is utterly ridiculous, isn’t it? This disaster is even worse than the last debacle that the Americans concocted in Vietnam. On the other hand, this can spark off an ideal situation for selling even more American weapons which have always been the driving force of the American economy.The brutality and the sheer lack of mercy (undoubtedly exaggerated by the western media) displayed by the Taliban can be attributed in part to frustration stemming from the rape of their country that was carried out by the USA and other western forces, but can it be justified? The geriatric president may have made a huge mess of things but saying that it was not a situation instigated by him is no excuse. He was elected to rectify this and other situations. Has there been any solution that can be accepted at any level?Recognising the rule of ANY power that relies on religious extremism is wrong. Therefore, until some form of rational thinking can be displayed with a degree of credibility by the Taliban, acknowledging their regime will only serve to promote extremism within the countries that acknowledge that regime. I saw somewhere that the British PM has said that Britain intends to work with the Taliban. Surely not the Taliban in its present form? The Taliban that so many British soldiers have died fighting against, isn’t this another level of ridiculousness?
There are many insightful articles on just how badly the Americans got it wrong in Afghanistan. How the people expected deliverance but got nothing of the kind. Apparently, all they saw was a huge surge of corruption and total decimation of their values and standards. This is what has kept the Taliban going and has now resulted in them gaining back control of the whole country. America has wasted billions of dollars on what was essentially a project to gain revenge for the destruction wrought by 911. They also seem to have armed and equipped a dangerous and uncontrollable foe with equipment and arms left behind during this hasty withdrawal. Now, it looks like it is the Taliban’s turn for revenge. Hundreds of people remain trapped in Afghanistan. Surely, the Taliban should spare their own countrymen? If they want to get out and the West is willing to take them let them go. Let the West find ways to feed them, medicate them and find them employment.
Meanwhile, the West is welcoming thousands of Afghans who in turn expect a land with pavements of gold and the realisation of all their dreams. Wonder what the disillusionment of not finding suitable employment and the subtle and not so subtle racism that they will encounter will bring? Maybe an outcome similar to the knife wielding “terrorist” who attacked innocents in a shopping mall in Auckland, or worse.
Many people would expect a quote from the Buddhist scriptures at this point. One about how anger only begets anger, but those quotes are almost hackneyed now, ever since JRJ used them and gained the Pearl much mileage with Japan. I prefer the old adage that goes somewhat like this when paraphrased to be fit for publication: when elephants indulge in sexual conduct it is the ants who get crushed!
The world has just finished commemorating the 911 tragedy. In the light of the latest outcome in Afghanistan one is left wondering who came off on top of that one? America has spent multi billions, lost many of her brave sons’ and daughters’ and the Taliban have got their country back!
Moving onto the Pearl. It has been informed that the President and his brother accompanied large delegations are going in different directions of the world on “official travel”. The President to America to purportedly address the United Nations in New York. The fact that the whole country knows that he has a new grandchild (progeny of his son) in a neighbouring state and this tour is mainly aimed at seeing his grandchild may actually have gained some form of acceptance had the truth been told. Meanwhile, elder brother, the Prime Minister is headed in the direction of Italy where an engine failure or some sort of emergency seems to be his only chance of landing in the Vatican City. It is a well-known fact that the senior Mrs Rajapaksa is a devotee and a chance to kiss the ring and spin a yarn to cover up the current agitation aroused by the Roman Catholic church regarding the Easter massacres may be on the cards.
It is obvious that absolutely no regard is given for the plight of the people who voted them in with such a huge majority. It is also clear that nothing will be done about it. A surge of empty rhetoric on the Internet and a few pitiful squeaks in parliament (if sittings are allowed) from a ridiculous opposition, is the most that will happen.
All those who thought they were seeing “progress” with the new rules for driving elephants seem to have not realised that this was simply an excuse to return all the elephants that has been confiscated for illegal ownership. I hope it leads to more of the “lifers” in Pinnawela been given suitable homes among the populace for they cannot be released into the wild for obvious reasons. I wouldn’t wish a life of mind numbing incarceration to such intelligent animal or even to one of today’s parliamentarians , for that matter, who have much inferior brains and intellect than those poor beasts.We pray for relief from the utter ridiculousness of “the powers that be”, for those in the Pearl and those trapped in Afghanistan. It really seems to be beyond human control and up to the Gods. In these days that are beginning to increasingly resemble Armageddon, one wonders if the Gods’ have forsaken us.
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.
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