Had he lived in Colombo in 2012 amongst i-pads and i-phones, Nokia and Reebok, Anagarika Dharmapala would have mocked the Colombians as a fawning cringing crawling mob that worshipped at the altar of the UNP and with fortunes changing offer pooja before the shrine of Mahinda Rajapaksa, solely for personal advancement in search of mercenary merchandise. He would have treated any form of patronage with disdain - he did not care two hoots for position or personality, colloquially spoken.
He lived in more complicated times under the yoke of Smiths’ and Joneses’ and yet feared not to throw stones at bloated sitting ducks of the White Man’s Burden carrying a colonial neurosis and a jaundiced liver.
The sage ridiculed the British as uncouth barbarians who lived in an era where Sri Lanka possessed a great civilization around the tank and the temple; he pronounced - clothes and cars did not turn a man brute to a gentleman refined. He beckoned Sinhalese to stand erect and not to bend or bow but to act with pluck and spunk –virtues that still need inculcation. He spoke in praise of Sinhala-Buddhist civilization that teaches tolerance in true Theravada tradition to bore and bear. He instilled a fighting spirit, when pinned to the back of the wall, after exercising tolerance to the maximum, to resolutely come fighting out of the corner and triumph over the axil of evil. This was the formula under which terrorism was overcome.
The wisdom Anagarika in his fiery oratory enunciated was lost on his sheepishly sleepy generation but was plucked by the now generation to finally unleash fire and fury on terrorism and defeat it comprehensively - achieved by a loss of blood and broken bones, mostly of Sinhala Buddhists. Had he lived to witness the spectacle, it sure would have made him proud, in this being the finest hour, when they practiced what he preached. What his peers failed to achieve his great grandchildren succeeded following unconsciously what he had driven home hard. Anagarika [means ‘homeless’] stands vindicated for what he stood and shrieked for, those being the remaining virtues in a society, where graft and grease, lies and deception, scandal and sleaze, destruction and plunder takes precedent.
Born high to an aristocratic family Anagarika [named at birth Don David Hewavitharane] fabricated and wore simple clothing befitting his title – sartorially less a fakir more a sadhu- than the Mahatma. A scion of a family renowned for philanthropy being the son of Hewavitharane Don Carolis; his father founded the respected firm of H. Don Carolis & Sons, famous for furniture, and his grandfather established a leading Buddhist educational institution for monks, Vidyodaya Pirivena at Maligakanda. He received Christian and Catholic tutelage and as represented in the Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon (edited by Arnold Wright) “…..at every theological centre he attended, his teachers did their utmost to bring home to him the value of the principles and practices of the Christian faith. But these efforts were in vain. What repelled him in Christianity was the deliberate destruction of innocent animal life…..”
While attending St. Thomas College, Mount Lavinia he came in contact with Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott carrying on an ethical - religious movement known as the Theosophical Society. He soon found it difficult to relate to their occult tenets and extended universalism. His passions were ingrained deeply in religious inquiry and to relentlessly pursue his abiding interest he resigned from public service (Department of Public Instruction) and withdrew from family revenue sources associated with estates and carpentry.
He knew the order of priority – the degenerated Sinhalese had to be regenerated. To strengthen roots required fertilizer: to eliminate weeds need weedicides. Intimate insight into village life acquired by many visits, he knew where to pitch, to access simple minds from which the momentum was gathered. He concentrated on the five-stroke engine that was a forerunner to a ’56 reconditioned and unleashed rocket exocet, carrying as its flagship - the Pancha Maha Balawegaya [Force Mighty Five] parceled into a winning combination of sanga-veda-guru-govi-kamkaru. Evolution of ’56 finds the imprints and footprints of Anagarika around it. He showed the way, they took to the road. People gathered at temples, schools, markets, ayuruvedic clinics, paddy fields, and primitive village workshops to listen in the night after work.
The tom-tom beaters went announcing in the morning of a sermon and in the night a long train of carriers with ‘pandam’ stick and ‘chulu’ torches were seen wending their way to listen to a worldly ‘bana’ preaching, where Anagarika stood upright and in an imperious tone denounced imperialism. It was the reverberation of the sound emanating from this Renaissance Man that awakened a subjugated nation to rise against the expanding uncontrollable jungle tide of western conditioning.
He was a missionary that carried the Buddha’s message to the land of Buddha’s birth. Times were easier then than now, as both the countries in affinity were rising against a sweeping western tide.
He created the Mahabodhi Society of India (1891) and revived Buddhists virtually extinct in the homeland of Buddhism. He instituted a successful law-suit to regain the present Buddha Gaya Temple compound against the Hindu High Priest of Buddha Gaya. This was a hole-in-one for the Buddhists of India as they had a formidable home to operate from as the majority of faith were from the purported depressed castes and lacked clout. It was from Anagarika’s course of action that Dr. Ambedkar picked the cue to find solace for the downtrodden of India: Buddhism offered them a right to equal treatment on moral grounds outside the constitutional provisions. Dr. Amedkhar, the father of the Indian Constitution, brought millions from the depressed castes to Buddhism and it was the monks from Mahabodhi that administered ‘panch sila’ in their native languages to the new converts.
It was said Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India during his long term found time to spend at the various centers of the Mahabodhi in India, learning Buddhism and kept a statue of the Samadhi Buddha as depicted in the Anuradhapura period, in front of his seat at his home desk to find peace and solace in troubled periods. The Chief Priest of the Mahabodhi in Calcutta the late Venerable Jinananda told me that Nehru accepted any invitation that originated from a Buddhist source however insignificant the event was, as he found tranquility and serenity around a Bo tree, which he did not find in his own faith as a Kashmiri Brahmin.
Anagarika was selected in 1893 to represent the Theravada Chapter at the Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, USA. Anagarika travelled widely establishing temples from New York to Yokohoma. His prime centers were situated in Saranath, Buddhagaya and Calcutta from where he operated living his last days as a bikkhu under the name of Reverend Devamitta Dharmapala at Saranath. The sole goal he was unable to achieve was to make Saranath, a campus of an International Buddhist University of excellence.
He was a revivalist and reformist of the Sinhala Buddhists. He did not give a wakeup call with the sound of an alarm bell but with a generous pouring of hot water on the face as shock treatment. He awakened a nation under foreign rule to create resurgence of patriotic fervor. He was a fortunate not to live under threat of a Political Package, Constitutional Bill of 2000 or the Post Tsunami Structures or under a live Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement with the IPKF or the CFA under Norwegian Facilitators and Scandinavian monitors. Anagarika would have launched a homemade hand-bomb with his own hands, if he were around.
He was an added burden to the White Man’s Burden. Probably he disliked Brown Sahibs’ (‘Kalu Suddhas’) more.