Asoka Weeraratna’s contribution to the spread of Buddhism in Germany
Posted on June 30th, 2012

by Senaka Weeraratna

(A Foreword to a Booklet published in year 2000 entitled ‘ The Necessity for Promoting Buddhism in Europe’ by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi being the Keynote Address delivered at a Public Seminar held on July 2, 2000 at the Mahaweli Centre Auditorium in Colombo to commemorate the first death anniversary of Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thero ( formerly known as Asoka Weeraratna))

Asoka Weeraratna on his visits to Europe nearly half a century ago discovered a void and deep disillusionment among Western people with their traditional religious beliefs, and a longing for an alternate and more meaningful spiritual path. He saw an immense potential for Buddhism in Europe, particularly in Germany, and was convinced that the prevailing conditions in that country in the aftermath of a terrible massacre in World War Two, were ideally suited to receiving the gentle doctrine of the Buddha via a Buddhist Mission from Sri Lanka. Asoka Weeraratna’s overall aim was to establish the Buddha Sasana in Germany as Arahant Mahinda had done it in Sri Lanka over 2,300 years ago.  Asoka’s energetic work upon his return to Sri Lanka, led to the founding of the German Dharmaduta Society, the establishment of the Berlin Buddhist Vihara and thereafter the regular dispatch of Dhammadutas, to reside in the Vihara and spread the Dhamma in Europe.

Today, a part of Asoka’s vision has been realized. Buddhism is now very much a part of the Western scene. A sizeable number of people in several parts of Europe have understood the Buddha’s Message and embraced it. A Western monastic Sangha born out of European soil now exists. Yet a lot remains to be done in terms of promoting Buddhism as a spiritual path to weather life’s troubles, in the unreached areas of Europe.

(Founder, German Dharmaduta Society  – 1952 Berlin Buddhist Vihara –  1957 Mitirigala Nissaranavanaya Hermitage  –  1967 ) 

Ever since the revered German monk Ven. Nyanatiloka Maha Thero began residing at the Island Hermitage in Dodanduwa in 1911, Sri Lanka has had the good fortune of attracting a dedicated band of Western Buddhists to our shores. The names of Nyanatiloka, Nyanaponika, Nyanasatta, Nyanamoli, Anagarika Sugatananda ( Francis Story ), Vappo among others, illumine the Buddhist landscape with their excellent exposition of the Dhamma and great literary contributions. They brought fresh perspectives and produced a wealth of translations of Buddhist texts from Pali into several other languages. These scholarly endeavours have played a substantial role in stimulating Western interest in Buddhism. 

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi belongs to this line of illustrious Western monks. As the President and Editor of the Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Bhikkhu Bodhi carries the mantle once borne by his erstwhile guru the late Ven. Nyanaponika Maha Thero, with steadfastness and dedication. The Internet provides a glimpse into the wide range of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s literary output. He was singularly honoured recently for his outstanding services to the dissemination of Buddhism, by being invited to be the Principal speaker at the United Nations, New York this year on the occasion of the declaration of Vesak as a day of International Religious Significance.    

Bhikkhu Bodhi’s keynote address on the topic “ƒ”¹…” The Necessity for Promoting Buddhism in Europe ‘ delivered at a Public Seminar held on July 2, 2000 at the Mahaweli Centre Auditorium in Colombo, to commemorate the first death anniversary of Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thero  ( formerly Asoka Weeraratna ), was exhaustive and meticulous. It has re-kindled interest in a subject that had first captured the spirit and imagination of the Buddhist public in Sri Lanka about 45 years ago. His in-depth research and analysis of the subject matter provides a sound framework in planning Dhammaduta missions in the future. There have been numerous requests for copies of his written paper.

We are pleased to publish Bhikkhu Bodhi’s paper for the benefit of the larger public.  We trust that the contents of this paper would generate an informed public discussion and lead to a better understanding of the work, infra structure and the challenges faced by Dhammadutas in Europe. 

The noted British historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote that of all the historical changes in the West, the most important “”…” and the one whose effects have been least understood “”…” is the meeting of Buddhism in the Occident. In a similar vein the British philosopher Bertrand Russel reflected at the end of World War Two that ” If we are to feel at home in the world, we will have to admit Asia to equality in our thoughts, not only politically but culturally. What changes this will bring, I do not know. But I am convinced that they will be profound and of the greatest importance “.

The German Dharmaduta Society takes immense satisfaction in being a vehicle for transmitting Asia’s best gift i.e. the Dhamma, to the West, while not being unmindful of the wider implications of this exercise in the creation of a balanced, peaceful and harmonious world.

 Senaka Weeraratna

Hony. Secretary

German Dharmaduta Society

August 19, 2000             

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