SINHALA BUDDHIST REVIVAL-ADVISE FROM A GREAT TAMIL
Posted on January 1st, 2011

Dr J Goonetilleke

 60 years after Independence the Sinhalese Buddhists are in the same predicament as they were in the early 20th century. I am submitting this article  a  Prize Day Speech by Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam in the hope that it would revive the Noble Aspirations of the Sinhala Buddhists
Dr J Goonetilleke

Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s Prize Day Speech (July 30th 1914) This speech is reproduced from the latest issue of the Mahinda College Magazine 2002, which has been dedicated to commemorating the 110th Anniversary of the founding of the College.

“Reverend Bhikshus, Mr. Woodward, Ladies and Gentleman :- it gives me much pleasure to be here today and to take part in this function. I thank you, Mr. Woodward, for giving me the opportunity of doing so and of showing my continued interest in an institution of which the people of the Southern Province may well be proud. I thank you also for your kind congratulations and good wishes on the honour which His Majesty the Kind has been pleased to confer on me. In Mahinda College you have the best of all memorials of my friend Colonel Olcott, and a living testimony to the beneficent activity and influence of the Theosophical Society, which he founded, and to the public spirit and piety of the Buddhists of the Province. I can well remember the inauguration of the Society in 1880 by that remarkable woman Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott. I was then Police Magistrate of Kalutara, and they visited me there. Buddhism in Ceylon was at that period at a very low ebb indeed. It had been abandoned by men of light and leading, especially among the English-educated classes. Those who remained Buddhists were too often ashamed to acknowledge it. In the Courts I was sometimes saddened to see in the witness box Buddhists pretending to be Christians, and taking their oaths on the Bible. I am not a Buddhist or a Theosophist; but I was much pleased to give Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott such help as I could in their mission to restore the influence and prestige of Buddhism in the Island. What a change they have wrought in Ceylon, and how far and wide over the earth, they have spread the influence of Buddha’s teaching!


Mahinda College Today

Great as the obligation of Ceylon is to them, we must not forget the debt due to the masses of the Sinhalese people. who clung to the national religion, however little they understood its beauty and greatness, or were able to justify their faith, -clung to it through generations in spite of the disabilities and, in former times, even persecution to which they were subjected, and which proved too much for the constancy of their chiefs and leaders. Among the very few who did not succumb to these powerful influences was your fellow-citizen, E.R. Gooneratne, Maha Mudaliyar, who I congratulate heartily on his selection for that high and honourable office by H.E. the Governor . The appointment, though an officiating one, must be very gratifying to all Buddhists throughout the Island, not least to this school. He has always taken a warm interest in its welfare and has set the rather rare example of the life of a staunch Buddhist in high position, and of a scholar of no mean order in Pali and Buddhist learning. These qualifications, I venture to think, enhanced his merits in the eyes of H.E. Sir Robert Chalmers, himself a Pali Scholar and deeply interested in Buddhism and solicitous of the welfare of the Buddhist populations. It is a strange anomaly that the Buddhists though they constitute about two-thirds of the islands populations and are not lacking in men of ability and culture, have for years past been without a single representative in the Legislative Council, and the protection of their interest has been left a good deal to chance. I trust it will not be long before this legitimate grievance is redressed and it is definitely laid down and followed that there shall be at least two Buddhist representatives on the Council, one for the Low-Country and one for the Kandyan Country.

The Southern Province has an honourable distinction among the provinces of the Island. It has the largest populations of Buddhists in its population-as much as 94% – and from the earliest times, when it gave refuge to the Kings of Ceylon, driven from the North by invading hosts, has been foremost in maintaining the national ideals and traditions. It will, I trust, continue to do so always, at the same time, under the auspices of such institutions as Mahinda College, utilising all that is good in Western science and learning. The report that we have heard read by the Principal is a record of good work done, of steady progress made and is alike creditable to the teachers and the pupils and gratifying to its supporters. On their behalf and on behalf of the public I wish specially to congratulate and thank you, Mr. Woodward. Where would the School be but for your self-sacrificing zeal and devotion?

For eleven years you have toiled unweariedly and single heartedly, amid infinite hardships and privations. You have spared yourself neither in bodily and mental toil, nor in your purse. The school, which you took over with 60 boys in very unsuitable quarters in the town, now contains close on 400 and is housed in these spacious premises and grounds, crowned by this beautiful hall, named after Colonel Olcott and probably the biggest in the Island. It must be great comfort and consolation to you to have been permitted to see these splendid results. As a Cambridge man, like yourself, I am proud of the work you have done. But there is more to be done, as you have said to meet the requirements of the Education Code, to make the School an efficient secondary school, to enable it to take its proper place in the educational system, to which a great impetus will be given next year by the establishment of the University College, thanks to the warm interest taken by H.E. the Governor in higher education. A laboratory is an urgent necessity, and additional class rooms and science teachers, and what is a school without a good play ground? Not only must these be provided, but endowments are needed to make its future secure. I earnestly support the Principal’s appeal for help. I trust that the excellent examples set by Messrs. Amarasuriya, father and son, to whose public spirit and munificence the school owes so much, will be followed by other wealthy Sinhalese.

If you all work together strenuously you may raise this institution to a positions in which perhaps will be revived the glories of that great seat of learning, which in the fifteenth century adorned this Province and was the pride of Ceylon. I refer to the Wijayabahu Piriwena established by Parakramabahu VI, at Totagamuwa Vihara, about 14 miles from here on the road to Colombo. It was a University, catholic in its aims, and provided instruction for Buddhists and Hindus, clerical and lay in all the knowledge of the time. There were classes and lectures on the Buddhist Canon in all its branches (for Buddhist monks), in Sinhalese, Pali, Sanskrit and Tamil; in the four Vedas and connected literature (for Brahmin students); in astronomy with special study of the Surya Siddhanta; in Medicine, Prosody, Dramaturgy and Poetry. The Chancellor of the University was Sri Rahula Sthawira, a scholar whose reputation extended over the greater part of Asia. He was master of Sanskrit, Magadhi, Sauraseni, Apabhransa and Paisachi languages and therefore had the title of Sadbhasha Paramisvara, Lord of the Six Languages. He, himself took part in the lectures. A vivid picture of the University and its throngs of students is given in the Girasandesa, a contemporary poem composed in honour of the Chancellor. His works- the classic poems Kavyasekara, Selalihini Sandesa, Paravi Sandesa, and the commentary Panchika Pradeepa on Moggallana’s Pali Grammar have transmitted his name with undying renown to prostrity. Why should this not be your goal? What Wijebahu Pirivena was for the Eastern learning of that age, let Mahinda College be for the combined Culture of East and West. I am glad to see the important place given in your curriculum to the teaching of the religion of Buddha, a most essential thing for Buddhist children: and of Sinhalese and of Ceylon History-subjects too often neglected in school. I trust some at least of the boys will acquire sufficient taste for these subjects to prosecute that further by the study of Elu and Pali and Buddhistic philosophy, for which I do not doubt facilities will be found in the Monasteries in the vicinity.

Drawing and clay modelling too are receiving due attention and have today been awarded prizes. This is a direction in which great developments are possible. Some of you may be acquainted with that monumental work of Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy on Mediaeval Sinhalese Art in which he revealed to a rather astonished Ceylon public the achievements of your ancestors and the good work still being done in various parts of the Island and the splendid artistic capacities of your people. Sinhalese art is not be regarded as an isolated phenomenon. It is part of the great stream of India and Asiatic Art which has exercised a world-wide influence and whose value is well recognised in Europe. During the last thirty years or more, Chinese and Japanese Art, mainly the outcome of Buddhist influence, and more recently Indian Art, have come into much vogue in Europe and influenced the work of European artists; and public galleries and private collectors have vied in the acquisition of the handwork of Oriental artists, ancient and modern.

In February last at the Grand Palais in Paris I saw a fine exhibition of Oriental Art representative of art from Japan to Algiers and Morocco, and among them Indian exhibits took a high place. There were not only reproductions of the frescoes of Ajanta, akin to the frescoes of our own Sigiriya, but exhibits of the mediaeval schools of Rajputana, Punjab and Delhi, of Madura, Tanjore and Travancore, and also of the latest Bengal School which has its headquarters at the Art School of Calcutta presided over by my friend Abanindranath Tagore Cousin of the Tagore who recently won the Nobel prize for Literature. I visited the school about three years ago and found some hundreds of students working under his guidance and drawing their inspiration from a fine Indian Art Gallery something like which I should much like to see established in Ceylon.

Among the students I was interested to see a Sinhalese youth from this College. I learned to-day from Mr. Woodward that he had returned to Galle. His name is Nagahawatte and two of his works are hanging in this Hall and others are to be exhibited at Colombo at the Art Show next week. Mr. Woodward is trying to provide for him as Art Teacher in this school. I trust that he, and such as he, will pass on to Ceylon the torch of that renaissance of Indian Art which is one of the most striking and pleasing features of modern India. You boys, who have won prizes should remember that they are only valuable as an index to the possession of certain qualities which enabled you to win the prizes and without which no good work is possible. I mean concentration and perseverance. These are the qualities you must cultivate and carry into the world. If you do not, you will find that the laurels you have won here are of no value, and you will be distanced by boys of lesser intellectual calibre who have those qualities, perhaps some of the boys you beat at School. This has been confirmed by experience here and in other countries time after time, and should be an encouragement to the plodding boys who have not won prizes. Pleasant as it is to succeed in winning the material rewards of life-high position and wealth and fame it is far more important that you should be men of honour and character.

In a well-known work of your Sacred Cannon-Anguttara Nikaya there occurs a passage in which Buddha impresses on his disciples the supreme importance of the highest morality and urges them “to pursue it strenuously, with manly vigour, manly ability and manly effort, so long as skin, nerves and bones remain, even if flesh and blood dry up”. That is an injunction which we should all lay to heart and try to follow. While doing so, we should direct our activity into channels of social service. There is a good deal of poverty, misery and crime in Ceylon- and not so much perhaps as you see in Western Countries-but still far too much, and none of us can shirk our responsibility for it. We must learn from early in life to think of our less fortunate brethren and to do what we can for them. There can be no real wealth or happiness of the individual apart from the welfare of his fellow. This is one of the greatest truths, and least remembered. The Buddhist missionaries of old did not forget it. Can you have nobler models to follow? With a zeal that has never been surpassed, the heralds of the great Doctrine went in search of the remotest barbarous or civilised peoples, everywhere proclaiming the good tidings of equality, self-abnegations, justice and brotherly love. Crossing the Hindu Kush, the Pamirs and Himalayas, they undertook the moral conquest of the regions stretching from these lofty ranges to the Pacific seaboard. Their faith subdued the people of Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan, while their influence was felt under the form of Shamanism amongst the Chukches, Tunguses, Samoyedes and other tribes dwelling along the shores of the frozen Ocean. Buddhism thus brought with it the moral and legal discipline of mankind, softening their rugged character, polishing their rough edges, and introducing Arts, Sciences and Literature to the nations. Of the spirit of these great missionaries you have a living example before you in your Principal. To be brought up under this influence is the greatest of the blessings you enjoy here. I heartily congratulate you on your good fortune.

For the realisation of these ideals I advise you strongly to avail yourselves of the opportunities afforded by the Scout Corps which has been started by the zeal of your Vice Principal Mr. Pearce and the aim of which is to train boys to be useful to others. I can think of no movement so pregnant with benefits to our rising generation and to our country as this Scout Corps movement, which the world owes to General Baden Powell. Though it has been in force in Ceylon, I believe, for some years, I think this is almost the first time it is being carried out properly on the lines of the Founder. It is not an excuse for swaggering as a soldier. A Scout not only learns obedience and discipline, but is clean in thought, word and deed, is a friend and helper to all of every race, religion or caste and indeed to all living things. A scout trains himself, disciplines his mind and body, strengthens his character, learns many handy pursuits, – in order that he may be a more useful member of the human race. We cannot be really useful unless we are self-controlled and observant. Every weak, ignorant, helpless, idle member of the human race is just like so much dead weight, which the rest of humanity has to pull along the way of evolution. The true scout determines not be a weight and a burden to humanity but, on the contrary, trains himself deliberately to be a “puller,” a helper of others. All religions teach that man ought to help his fellow-creatures. Scouting is one of the best ways of learning how actually to carry out that teaching.

In the year 1911 there was discovered in this town a stone tablet with inscriptions in three languages-Chinese, Persian and Tamil. It was found built in to a culvert, and the Provincial Engineer Mr. Tomalin who found it very kindly sent it to the Colombo Museum, where it now is. The Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon has had the Chinese inscription translated by a Chinese Scholar, Mr. Backhouse of Peking. It bears a date corresponding to 1410 of the Christian era and appears to have been set up here by a mission sent by the Emperor of China with costly offerings to Buddha’s shrine in Ceylon. The inscription is mainly in the form of a prayer and thanksgiving of the Emperor to “Buddha the world-honoured one,” and one of its passages runs thus: – “Deeply do we reverence you, Merciful and Honoured One, whose bright perfection is wide embracing, and whose way of virtue passeth all understanding, whose law enters in to all human relations, and the years of whose great kalpa are like the sand of the river in number; you whose controlling influence ennobles and converts whose kindness quickens and whose strength discerns, whose mysterious efficacy is beyond compare.”

May the beneficent power invoked by the Chinese Emperor ever guide, inspire and quicken this school, and those connected with it, watch over its destinies and make it a fountain of good to the people.”

9 Responses to “SINHALA BUDDHIST REVIVAL-ADVISE FROM A GREAT TAMIL”

  1. Lorenzo Says:

    He was a good man until racist politics made him a failure after he established the first racist political party in the country, the Ceylon Tamil League. That became the starting point of many Tamil racist political parties. In 1921 he invented the concept of “Tamil Elam” which became a smash hit!

    http://sundaytimes.lk/030209/columns/cv.html
    http://www.tamilcanadian.com/page.php?cat=52&id=2555

    Nevertheless the good in him must be appreciated while condemning the bad.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    We appreciate the sympathetic words of Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam toward the Sinhala/Buddhist people. Throughout the ages, there have been a few Tamil leaders who saw the situation in Lanka through the suffering eyes of the indigenous people. Some 500 yrs of Colonial Rule has certainly left its mark of suffering in Lanka.

    However, I might ask this question : Can a people practice their religion when there is a constant fight for their very
    survival, as it was during the 500 yrs of Colonial Rule ?
    Genetically, all human beings are made to survive first, and then go about their daily lives. In Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs, Spiritual Needs come last, after survival, Food, Clothing, Shelter, social needs, etc. So EVERY human being of ANY religion has to survive first, and after material needs (needs not greed), are met, then in times of PEACE in their lives, they feel secure enough to concentrate on religion.

    In Buddhism, to practice Dhana, Seela & Bhavana, a person must first have a a Peaceful Environment, with at least his/her basic needs met.

  3. Cerberus Says:

    For 500 years the Sinhalese were persecuted and Buddhism was destroyed wherever possible. The temples were ransacked, the libraries were burnt, the stones from the temples were used to build forts. It was rule by the gun and the Bible prevailed. The Sinhalese not having guns were helpless.

    Even after 500 years we still do not have peace. We have the Dravidians just as in the past trying to take over the Island by various slimy methods, we have the Western powers who are still trying to divide and rule, we have the Christians who are still trying to destroy Buddhism and replace it with Christianity where belief is more important than actual “Knowing” of the reality which the Buddha emphasized. If Buddhism is important to the human race as pointed out by Sir Ponnambalam, then all the countries in the world should protect the Sinhala race who have protected and nurtured Buddhism for the last 2500 years. The Hindu people of the North should also beware lest they lose their religion also.

  4. nandimitra Says:

    Let the Sri Lankan Buddhists learn from what he has said and make an attempt to remedy the wrong path we have been taking in the last 60 years. A constructive analysis but not constructive destruction.

  5. M.S.MUdali Says:

    If Banda made a Sinhala Maha Saba, it is not wrong but Sir.P A who was a Hindu and tried to find common things between Hindus and Buddhists was wrong!

    Sinhala and Tamil are always used as ENEMY theory by Catholic morons.

    I support Banda and Aruna on the unity or religion.

    The Catholic morons are the only creaturs now bark in a diffenrt tune

  6. Lorenzo Says:

    Mudali,

    Sinhala Maha Sabhawa was formed in 1935. Tamil Legue was formed in 1921 and Tamil Mahajana Sabha was formed in 1918. If you know numbers, 1935 comes later than 1921 and 1918. Sinhala Maha Sabhawa may be a response to Tamil League and Tamil Mahajana Sabha. Not the other way round.

    But look what happened therafter. Tamil Mahajana Sabha became the first racist party (ACTC) of the country to run for elections. Sinhala Maha Sabha dropped the Sinhala bit and joined the multiethnic UNP.

    The problem with some Tamil Christians is that they support Tamil homeland crap. The problem with some Sinhala Christians is that they sympathise with the Tamil homeland crap. If they drop this support and sympathy to Tamil homeland nonsense, there is nothing wrong with them. Destroying all signs of Tamil homeland is the solution. Then there will be nothing to support or sympathise!

  7. M.S.MUdali Says:

    any way why should CHRISTIANS support UNP and ethnic divde?

  8. De Costa Says:

    Mudali,
    Parangiya again.
    I know your agenda. What Lorenzo was saying is Tamil Hindus started the racist war before western Christiaqn forces joined in. Racism is strong within Tamils , you accept that first.
    Buddhism and Hindusim can be so colse so far because Hindusm still closer to Christianity and Islam than to Buddhism as the basic priciple of Creator God is there. Once this meaningless God idea is dropped Buddhism and Hinduism will be very very close or you can even say Buddhism is the son of Hinduism which you like. When would that day arrive ?

  9. Lorenzo Says:

    Mudali

    Race doesn’t determine the conduct of people. Every race has good and bad people.

    However, Tamil leaders everywhere (Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, UK, US) arouse racism and other Tamils fall into it. Just look at the dominant political forces of the Tamil people in all these countries. They are highly racist by definition.

    Sri Lanka – Tamil Congress, Tamil Kachchi, Tamil Front, Tamil Alliance (Tamil is a race)
    Tamil Nadu, India – Dravida Munetra Kazagam, Anna Dravida Munetra Kazagam, All India Anna Dravida Munetra Kazagam, etc. (Dravida is a race)
    Malaysia – a Tamil party that is with the ruling UMO
    UK – Global Tamil Forum (Tamil is a race)
    US – Tamils against genocide (Tamil is a race)

    See the racism, racist isolation and racist exclusiveness?

    No wonder they don’t have a nation to rule. A nation is made up of many races. Tamil leaders inability to function within a multi racial group is the reason.

    Unfortunately the Ponnambalam brothers ended their political life by falling into Tamil racism. Had they not fallen there, they could have done even better.

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