Anagarika Dharmapala Book

This beautiful Coffee Table Book on the life of Anagarika Dharmapala has been produced by the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

A few copies are available at £25 each at the London Buddhist Vihara. If you wish to have a copy of this book, please contact the Vihara Tel:020 8995 9493





the Founder of the London Buddhist Vihara

Anagarika Dharmapala (17 September 1864 - 29 April 1933) was a leading figure in Buddhism in the twentieth century. He was a pioneer in the revival of Buddhism in India after it had been virtually extinct there for several centuries, and he was the first Buddhist in modern times to preach the Dharma in three continents: Asia, North America, and Europe.

In 1891, he founded The Maha Bodhi Society. One of its primary aims was the restoration to Buddhist control of the Maha Bodhi Temple at Buddhagaya in India. This was successful, with the partial restoration of the site to the management of the Maha Bodhi Society in 1949. Maha Bodhi Society centres were set up in many Indian cities, and this had the effect of raising Indian consciousness about Buddhism.

Due to the efforts of Dharmapala, the sites of the Buddha's life have once again become a major attraction for Buddhists, as it had been many centuries previously.

In 1893 Dharmapala attended the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago as a representative of Buddhism. He continued to travel, give lectures and establish viharas around the world including the London Buddhist Vihara. At the same time he established schools and hospitals in Ceylon and built viharas in India. Among the most important of the temples he built was one at Sarnath, where the Buddha first taught. Anagarika Dharmapala's service is of much historical significance to India, Sri Lanka and the western world. Even today we are guided by some of his mature views. He died at Sarnath in 1933 and his last words were Let me reborn. I would like to be born again twenty-five times to spread Lord Buddha's Dhamma. His was a life of rich dedication which every human being should strive to emulate.

Anagarika Dharmapala's Achievement

Much has been written about the Anagarika Dharmapala, and the main events of his career have often been reviewed in these columns. Now that twenty-eight years have passed since his death perhaps it is time for us to take a broader view and try to ascertain the place of his achievement in Buddhist history. In this connection five considerations are of outstanding importance.

Firstly, his life and work represent, so far as the Buddhist world is concerned, the first reactions of the age-old spiritual traditions of the East against the industrial civilization of the modern West. This civilization, if it can truly be called such, was mainly imposed by force, the trader, the Christian missionary and the political adventurer each playing a part. In some places, such as Ceylon, where Dharmapala was born, the indigenous religion and culture had been crushed for centuries and when Portuguese ferocity, Dutch brutality and British indifference had done their worst precious few traces of them were left. Against conditions such as these Dharmapala protested with the whole force of his being and at every level of existence. Even in the schoolroom he rebelled against Christianity. He was vehemently patriotic. Year in and year out he urged his fellow-countrymen to give up vicious foreign habits such as that of drink. But his reaction was positive, not merely negative. He also stood above all for the revival of Buddhism.

Secondly, he stood not merely for the revival of Buddhism in Ceylon, where it had been weakened for centuries, but for its renaissance in India, where it had been dead for a millennium. This was indeed an astounding idea, and one which could have occurred only to a man of exceptional spiritual vision and outstanding courage. To revive in the land of its birth a religion that had been dead there for a thousand years! 'The impracticable dream of a young idealist!' scoffed his contemporaries. But undeterred Dharmapala set to work, fought vigorously to rescue Buddhgaya, reclaimed the sacred places, established centres, and kept up a continuous stream of propaganda with the result that before his death he was able to plant, and see beginning to sprout, the seed that is now fast growing into a noble tree.

Thirdly, Dharmapala sought to focus on the renaissance of Buddhism in India, and particularly on the legally complicated but morally simple question of the Maha Bodhi Temple at Buddhgaya, the attention of the entire Buddhist world. In other words, he tried to foster a sense of common purpose, - and as a corollary thereof to formulate a plan of united action, - among all followers of the Buddha. Thus he was the father of the various movements which, since his passing away, have insisted on the oneness of the Buddhist world and sought to promote mutual understanding, harmony and cooperation between its various parts.

Fourthly, Dharmapala's interests and activities were not limited to the Buddhist countries of Asia and to India but overspread the whole earth. As far as we know, he was the first who, in his own words, girdled the globe with the Message of the Master. His historic appearance at the World's Parliament of Religions, Chicago, in 1893 is described elsewhere in this issue. He traversed the greater part of Europe and the U.S.A preaching the Dharma. The Journal he started found, and continues to find its way, to every continent. He was the first Buddhist missionary ever to take the whole world for his parish.

Fifthly, the missionary was for the longest and most active part of his care not a monk but a layman - technically an Anagarika, one who, without receiving monastic ordination, devoted himself to the life of a celibate full-time worker for Buddhism. This marks another innovation. Since the inception of the Sasana the chief custodians of the Dharma, the missionaries and the teachers, had with hardly any exception been monks. Dharmapala's advent and example mark the beginning of a new tendency, not indeed to minimise in any way the role of the Sangha, but rather to encourage an increased participation in active Buddhist work by the laity.

These five considerations by no means do justice to an exceptionally many-sided career of one of the most remarkable Buddhist personalities of recent times. But as we remember him on his birth anniversary this month they may help us to appreciate the magnitude of his achievement and also to understand its place in Buddhist history.

( The Maha Bodhi, September 1961, Editorial)