Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala, whose clarion commands influenced and inspired to awaken the dormant nation, is hugely respected and gracefully remembered on Sunday. September 17th marks the 153rd birth anniversary of this wonderful patriot.
Anagarika hails from a distinguished Sri Lankan family. He is the eldest son of reputed business magnate Muhandiram Don Carolis Hewavitharana and Srimathi Mallika Hewavitharna, a devout Buddhist Upasika (Devotee). Initially Anagarika was named as David Hewavitharna.
At the time of his birth under the evil influence of western domination, Buddhism and Aryan culture had dropped to its lowest ebb in Sri Lanka. Ravaged, rampaged and battered by three foreign invaders, the island nation had almost lost its national identity. Western rulers vandalized our Pirivena (Temple) education and national occupations. Our ancient tanks were neglected and agriculture was ruined. By the introduction of a cluster of liquor taverns islandwide, our esthetic morals were denounced and the thrifty society was degraded in to criminal wasters and lazy drones. Educational institutes for Buddhist children were almost non existent. As such David too, had no option but to study at two missionary schools, where he was able to byheart the Holy Bible.
As the trio visited the remote corners of the island, Dharmapala’s oratorical talents had the countrymen spellbound.
However, the reluctance to forsake Buddhist practices brought him in to conflict with the missionary authorities. “I was reading a pamphlet on ‘Four Nobel Points’, when the school’s boarding master threw out the pamphlet. I left that school in 1878,” David, who later changed his name to Dharmapala, had once said.
Thereafter, David studied for three years at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia.
Since he passed, everyday, the temple where Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Thera resided, he started frequenting the place. He received the opportunity to advance in his oriental studies under the guidance and patronage of Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera.
Following the untimely demise of his beloved younger sister and observing the condition of his grief stricken mother, he realized the emptiness and sufferings of worldly life. Thus, in his teens he aspired to apply the doctrine of the Buddha, to alleviate suffering of all human beings. He then resolved to become a homeless celibate (seeker of Truth) and changed his name to Anagarika Dharmapala.
“In contrast to my wine drinking, meat eating and pleasure loving missionary teachers, the Bhikkus were meek and abstemious. I loved their company and would sit quietly in a corner and listen to their wise discourse,” Dharmapala reminisced.
He was impressed by the publication of a report by a visiting American spiritualist, Dr. J.M. Peebles, on the “Great Panadura debate”. The philosophical arguments of Col. Olcott and Lady H.P. Blavatsky, which were in the publication caught his attention.
He was impressed by the publication of a report by a visiting American spiritualist, Dr. J.M. Peebles, on the “Great Panadura debate”. The philosophical arguments of Col. Olcott and Lady H.P. Blavatsky, which were in the publication caught his attention. The due, who were engaged in theosophical work in USA, visited Sri Lanka in 1880. The two heavenly visitors on their arrival at the Galle Port, were met by Ven. Sumangala Nayake Thera. They observed “Panchaseela” (The five precepts prescribed for a layman) and vowed to dedicate themselves to salvage Sri Lanka. Being the founder of BTS (Buddhist Theosophical Society) Col. Olcott initiated the Buddhist National Educational Scheme. Dharmapala wholeheartedly appreciated the sudden national renaissance coming into effect with their arrival. It was at this temple that Dharmapala first made acquaintance with these foreign guests.
When the Theosophists revisited Sri Lanka in 1884, Dharmapala expressed his desire to study Theosophy and Occultism from Himalayan spiritualists. Lady Blavatsky persuaded Dharmapala’s parents to let him visit India. She also advised him to forget Occultism and study Pali, the language of the Buddha.
Accordingly he first visited India, in 1884. On his return from Adyar, Dharmapala joined the Department of Education in 1886. Subsequently he obtained a pass with distinctions at the Clerical Service Examination conducted by the British Government.
Forming Buddhist schools
In 1886, when Col Olcott and C.W. Leadbeater (Founder Principal of Ananda College), revisited Ceylon, to collect funds to establish a Buddhist National Educational scheme, Dharmapala, who was employed in the Government service, readily applied for three months leave and joined hands with Col Olcott and Leadbeater in their island wide campaign. Ananda College Colombo, Dharmaraja College Kandy and Mahinda College Galle were the first three educational institutes they established under the cluster of Buddhist Theosophical Society’ schools (BTS).
As the trio visited the remote corners of the island, Dharmapala’s oratorical talents had the countrymen spellbound. During this entourage, Dharmapala received the official results of the Government Clerical Service Examination conducted by the British Government. The results indicated that he had obtained an extraordinary Distinction Pass. Dharmapala, who was deeply conscious and concerned about the Buddhist revival movement and the upliftment of down trodden fellow beings, lost no time in sending his letter of resignation from Government service to devote full time for the on going rehabilitation programs.
As they traveled more in to interior villages, Dharmapala began to realize the grim realities of rural life where people were without roads, houses, schools or hospitals. These poor folk who were the backbone of the nation were subdued and discriminated by the colonial rulers.
Although he became a staunch Buddhist in the orthodox sense of the term, yet he was neither a bigot nor a fanatic. The philosophy of Buddhism in its practical bearing on life and its sundry problems became incentives to his complete identification with ideas of individual and social welfare.
Travels to India
Dharmapala went on a pilgrimage to the sacred Jaya Siri Maha Bodhi in 1891. It became the turning point of his life. During Dharmapala’s visit to Buddhagaya, and the sacred Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi premises, the place where Prince Sidhartha became enlightened, a sudden impulse passed through him.
He was shocked and stunned to observe the unduly neglected state of affairs and the gross religious discrimination brought upon the global Buddhist population by mahants. Anagarika sternly determined not to retreat from there, until and unless justice was meted to all Buddhists. He took immediate action to launch an agitation campaign. He founded the Maha Bodhi Society (MBS) in 1891 and the MB Journal in order to address the world. He received a generous financial support for this endeavour from his father. Dharmapala spearheaded his Buddhagaya rescue campaigns thereafter.
In the meantime, having seen a copy of the MB journal and being impressed by its contents, the organizers of World Parliament of Religions (about to be held in San Francisco) extended an invitation for an MBS representative to attend the parley.
In the absence of a competent candidate to represent the MB Society, Dharmapala, who was only 26 years old then, himself undertook the challenge and attended the conference in San Francisco in September 1893.
Buddhists the world over responded to his clarion command. Intellectuals, philanthropists and members of royal dynasties extended him the fullest cooperation to espouse his great cause.
In India Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi, M.C. Mookarjee and ‘Indian Mirror’ Editor Narendranath, were his close friends.
In England Sir Edwin Arnold, the author of “Light of Asia”, remained his lifelong friend. Russian Lady Madam Blavatsky, American National Col Henry Steel Olcott and Lady Annie Beasant were his close associates.
Mary Foster Robinson supported him (since 1893) with a mass of wealth. It was with her generous contributions that Dharmapala established a permanent Buddhist Viharaya in Ealing London in 1926. He purchased two properties for the Mahabodhi Centre and Viharaya in Calcutta, in 1906 and 1915. He also established schools in Hiniduma and Rajagiriya to educate poor children in 1916 and a free hospital in Ceylon in memory Lady Mary Foster Robinson (1914).
Following on the golden footsteps of great Emperor Dharmasoka, Dharmapala reinitiated and intensified the World Buddhist missionary programs. According to his letter addressed to the Colonial Secretary in June 1905, at his own expense he had traversed three times round the World, preaching Buddhism and establishing Buddhist monasteries in London and elsewhere.
Dharmapala made his maiden speech in Calcutta, in 1891. The speech was organized under the patronage of renowned N.C. Mookarjee. Following his remarkable Chicago address at the religious parley in 1893, he visited USA thrice. Pandit Dipak Kumar Barua (M.A., Dip. Lib), a special Bharat researcher states.
“During the eighteenth century in the realm of religion, India had entered the zone of uncreative habit, and of decadent tradition.” With the beginning of the nineteenth century she began to experience some striking changes in religion and on the eve of such a religious reformation in modern India, a Ceylonese Buddhist named David Hewavitarne, later popularly known as Anagarika Dharmapala (b. 1864, Sept. 17th-d. 1933, April 29th) who appeared as “the herald of a new age,” had an opportunity to save Buddhism and Buddhist culture from the deadening influence of spiritual blindness and superstitions. With profound learning and high philosophical acumen, Dharmapala was really “the harbinger of the idea of Universal Humanism, the humanist” as he preached the noble doctrines of Buddhism about love, compassion and fraternity. His whole being was saturated with humanism. Although he became a staunch Buddhist in the orthodox sense of the term, yet he was neither a bigot nor a fanatic. The philosophy of Buddhism in its practical bearing on life and its sundry problems became incentives to his complete identification with ideas of individual and social welfare. Like Asoka, the Mauryan emperor, he promulgated the Buddhist culture in the form of humanized culture in the Parliament of Religions in 1893 in Chicago. He was, during that era, probably the first Buddhist whose personality won demonstrative recognition in the western countries.
It was indeed a worthy scene to observe the first session of the Parliament in the Hall of Columbus. In his vibrant voice Dharmapala requested all to respond to the good wishes of four hundred and seventy-five millions Buddhists, the blessings and peace of the founder of the religion-which has prevailed for so many centuries in Asia-that have made Asia mild.’
His own paper titled “The World’s Debt to Buddha”- which was read there on the 18th Sept. 1893- was bereft of either theology or anthropomorphism. In the simplest possible manner he explained the Buddhist principles, supported by numerous quotations from the Canon. Yet his speech was so effective that many Americans instantaneously expressed their wish to adopt the noble religion of Lord Buddha. He, moreover, urged them to “learn, to think without prejudice, love all beings for love’s sake, express convictions fearlessly and lead a life of purity.”Prof. Benoy Sarkar addressed him as “a maker of modern Bengal” since Dharmapala was able to bring a change in the outlook of the Bengalese with regard to religion and society.
“Give up your dreamy philosophies and sensualising ceremonies. Millions are daily suffering the pangs of hunger; drinking the water that animals in the forest would not drink and sleeping and living in houses inhaling poison day after day. There is wealth in India enough to feed all. But the abominations of caste, creed and sect are making millions suffer,” were Dharmapala’s words.
Having learned of Dharmapala’s famous speeches at Calcutta, Swami Vivekananda wrote a letter (1894) from America to him in a very frank manner. Hope, your noble work will succeed. You are a worthy servant of Buddha who came for “Bahujana Hitaya Bahujana Sukhaya”, (for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many) and finished the letter with an affectionate compliment. “Yours ever in brotherly love, Vivekananda.” “The fragrance of his fame has traveled afar: He lived in wonderful perception of the Truth.” Chaing Hsia-Pias added.
Mahatma Gandhi, in his address at Maha Bodhi Society of India, Calcutta in May 1925 said “Friends, it is now my pleasant duty to perform this service. I shall not say anything of these proceedings. Dr. Dharmapala has added a pathetic touch to this service and he has laid on my shoulders a burden which I consider I am ill fitted to carry”.
A thorough student of Christianity, with an unusually high degree of familiarity with Christian scriptures, Dharmapala was a sincere admirer of the ethical doctrines of Christ. He, of course, rejected the idea of creation and he had repeatedly given his arguments in support of his standpoint.
Dharmapala’s letter addressed to Fransis J. Payne, underscores his deep commitments to his religious mission.
“It seems that your vigorous activities in the arena of the Dhamma propaganda have come to a standstill. How did the collapse come? What have you done with regard to the publication of your Buddhist Bible? When activities cease people understand that life has left the body.While we are alive we have to do good
Kamma? What are we here for? The answer is given in the Maha Mangala Sutta. There is nothing so evil as association with the muddle headed, and that is what 99 per cent. of
“Forty years of ceaseless activity has made me physically weak. For 34 years I have spent my life in India in voluntary exile. The name of the Lord Buddha was hardly known 37 years ago by the people of India. Today all of India acknowledges him as their God. There was no Vihara in India, no Buddhist publication, no preaching until started by the Maha Bodhi Society. There is a great harvest to be reaped if there are Buddhist workers. The number of Untouchables waiting to be rescued from the Brahmanical despotism is 65 million. The Brahmans don’t want them. If the Untouchable are converted the number of Moslems will increase to 135 millions. Padres will be glad to have the number of Native Christians increased from 3 million to 68 million.
Besides his magnificent personality he always exhibited a militant stubbornness whenever and where ever he confronted injustice.
He once said, “under Colonial Imperialists, continuous political oppression on me has aged me much and I am now almost an invalid and my death will be hastened by the official tortures to which I am subjected to”.
As they did to Mahathma Gandhi, ‘the Father of Non Violence’, fearing the emergence of his great leadership the ruthless colonial rulers, adhering to their obnoxious laws discriminated and imprisoned Dharmapala. Yet they couldn’t arrest his will power. During 1915 communal riots broke out when the Britishers arrested the rest of the national leaders. Dharmapala in a strong worded letter hit back at the Colonial Secretary, citing the British attitude towards Germans at the war. He challenged them to consider the local reactions in the same context. Dharmapala’s historic correspondences were fully published in Dr. Guruge’s ‘Anagarika Centenary Volume’, and is too heavy to repeat here (page 537).
Gradually the British Governors too, began to respect and extended their cooperation to Dharmapala. In 1922, Sir Harcourt Bultle the Governor of the United Provinces India, laid the foundation stone to build a Vihara at Saranath while the Government of India expressed its readiness to present a Relic of the Lord Buddha to be enshrined at the proposed Saranath Viharaya. Thus, the Mulgandhakuti Viharaya, one of Dharmapala’s cherished dreams, was realized in 1930.
Dharmapala, who lived a restless life for the cause of humanity, made his last visit to Sri Lanka in 1931. During that visit he established the “Dharmapala Trust” and gifted Mallika Santagar’s home in memory of his loved mother.
In 1931 Dharmapala entered the order of Maha Sangha becoming the Bhikkhu Sri Devamitta Dharmapala and received his higher ordination, Upasampada, two years later.
In conformity with the teachings of the Buddha, that all conditioned things are subject to transient (anicca), sorrow (dukkha) and soulless (anatta), Dharmapala- the energetic and enterprising Bodhisatva- mindfully breathed his last breath facing the Mulagandhakuti Viharaya on April 29, 1933.
The last words he uttered were “Let me be reborn…… I wish to be born 25 times to spread Lord Buddha’s Dhamma”
Even today, in Sri Lanka, you will suddenly notice an image of Dharmapala facing you. A nation in its inability to express and exhibit its vast gratitude towards this benevolent leader has thus carved his name with pride and solidified his presence by erecting scores of gilded statues throughout our motherland.
May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana!