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Our Hero, Anagarika Dharmapala

| by Ven. Walpola Piyananda
Chief Sangha Nayaka of America

(September 13, Washington DC, Sri Lanka Guardian) hundred forty-seven years ago Anagarika Dharmapala was born into a wealthy and influential family in Sri Lanka. At the age of twenty he chose not to enter the family business renouncing the life of a householder and dedicating his life to the revival and dissemination of the Buddha’s Teaching.

Two thousand six hundred years ago while sitting beneath the Bodhi Tree, after six years of strenuous practice to discover the path that leads to the end of suffering caused by greed, anger/hatred, and ignorance, Prince Siddhartha became the Buddha, attaining Full Enlightenment. In 1891 Dharmapala visited the Buddha Gaya Temple and the Sri Maha Bodhi tree and seeing the neglected condition of the temple made a vow to rescue the holy place, to preserve it for the posterity. He spent the rest of his life to preserve the historical sites in India where the Buddha taught and lived; to protect the Buddhasasana in Sri Lanka that was under siege by Christian missionaries; and to disseminate the Dhamma throughout the world.

Beginning in 1886 Dharmapala worked with Colonel Olcott, traveling throughout Sri Lanka to raise funds for Buddhist Education to counteract the destructive effects that Christian Missionary schools had on the noble aspects of the national character. They established many schools, such as Ananda College and Nalanda College in Colombo, Mahinda College in Galle, Dhammaraja College in Kandy and Rahula College in Matara to name a few.

 It is now for us, the Buddhists of the world to follow the example set by Anagarika Dharmapala: To study the Sublime Dhamma within the context of the modern world in order to fully appreciate its clarity and efficacy in eliminating suffering for oneself and others in the world through the wisdom and compassion taught by the Buddha.....


Working with Buddhists of China, Japan, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Chittagong, India, Nepal, Tibet and Arakan he founded Buddha Gaya Maha Bodhi Society in May, 1891 with the Most Ven. Hikkaduwe Siri Sumangala Maha Nayake Thero as its first President. The noble objective was to draw attention the Buddhist world to the state of affairs at Buddha Gaya Temple. The Maha Bodhi Journal was established in 1892 to publish Buddhist Literature in English and Indian languages.

In 1893 Dharmapala attended the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago representing the Maha Bodhi Society and the Buddhist world giving a speech, The World’s Debt to Buddha thoroughly impressing the participants. His well received lectures opened the eyes of Western intelligentsia to the greatness of Buddha Dhamma. During his return trip, he met Mrs. Mary T. Foster, wife of a wealthy American banker who suffered from uncontrollable anger. She asked if Buddhism could help her. He taught her the psychological advice given by the Buddha of the cultivation of loving kindness. Practicing she succeeded and thenceforth became his “Foster mother” and with her generous donations schools, hospitals, temples, monasteries and numerous other institutions were established in India and Sri Lanka.

Dharmapala spent 1902-1904 touring Japan, America and Europe, continuing to share the Dharma while familiarizing himself with the technological advances of the West. Along with the lectures he gave, he visited laboratories and technical institutions. During a visit to Harvard University he attended a class conducted by the celebrated American psychologist William James, who remarked that the Buddhist psychology that Dharmapala spoke on would be what everybody would learn in another twenty-five years. Wherever Dharmapala traveled he investigated technology to be able to help the development of the people in India and Sri Lanka. Under his initiative the first weaving school was started at Hiniduma in Galle and another at Rajagiriya near Colombo. In a letter to the 13th Dalai Lama he urged Tibet to begin the educational, economic, and technological development of its people to strengthen it from outside forces.

Upon Dharmapala’s return to Calcutta, he initiated Pali classes at the Calcutta University, a major step towards propagating Buddhism with the help of the Vice Chancellor. Scholarships were provided for students of the Pali department.

From 1925 to 1927, Dhamapala toured England, America, and Sri Lanka several times. July 1926 saw the establishment of a permanent headquarter of the London Buddhist Mission and at the end of 1927 another house was purchased for a Vihara staffed by three Singhalese Buddhist monks to keep burning in England the lamp of the Sublime Law.

It is now for us, the Buddhists of the world to follow the example set by Anagarika Dharmapala: To study the Sublime Dhamma within the context of the modern world in order to fully appreciate its clarity and efficacy in eliminating suffering for oneself and others in the world through the wisdom and compassion taught by the Buddha. Then will we be able to share this most wondrous gift of the Dhamma with others successfully for we have “sacca kiriya,” (an appeal to truth): “If the work that I am doing is good, then let help come to me, and if the work is good, help will surely come.”

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