Dr. Paul Dahlke championed the cause of Buddhism in Europe
Posted on February 1st, 2013

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“If Buddhism did not exist, it would have to be invented because Buddhism alone provided the teaching which was capable of offering complete consumation to the mental life of human kind,” said Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi quoting Dr. Paul Dahlke in the introduction to his book “ƒ”¹…”Buddhism and its place in the mental life of mankind’.

 The reason why Buddhism fulfils such an essential role is because in Dahlke’s own words “ƒ”¹…”Buddhism is the key to understanding the nature of actuality or reality’ added Bhikkhu Bodhi in a talk delivered at a function dealing with the release, by the German Dharmaduta Society, of a re-print of Dr. Dahlke’s popular book “ƒ”¹…”Was ist Buddhismus und was will er?’ (What is Buddhism and What is its objective?), held at the Mahaveli Centre Auditorium, Colombo on April 28, 2001.

This re-print was financed entirely by the Sandadi Hennadi Badde Liyanage Trust, founded by Anagarika Dharmapriya Mahinda (formerly known as Mr. Nelson H. Soysa), a founder Trustee and Vice President of the German Dharmaduta Society. The re-print was undertaken by the GDS to meet a popular demand in Germany for this valuable book, which was no longer available in bookshops. Copies of the re-print were presented to the Chief Guest, Mr. Leel Gunesekera, (who deputised for Mr. Monty Gopallawa, Minister of Cultural Affairs), Mr. Michael Fuchs (a representative of the German Ambassador), Ven. Bellana Gnanawimala Mahanayake Thero, and Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi. Dr. Granville Dharmawardena, President of the German Dharamaduta Society presided.

The proceedings commenced with the administering of Pansil by Ven. Bellana Gnanawimala Mahanayake Thero. The Ambassador from Myanmar, U. Khin Maung Lay and Mr. Raja Collure, Member of Parliament, were among the distinguished gathering.

Bhikkhu Bodhi continuing said that Dr. Dahlke upon embracing Buddhism in Ceylon in 1900, had decided to devote his efforts and energy to the spread of Buddhism in Europe. He saw that within the framework of modern thought the Buddha Dhamma was the sole solution to the problems facing human kind. He intended to make the Buddhist teachings known through using all of his faculties to the spread of the Dhamma. Between 1900-1914, Dr. Dahlke had made eight trips to Ceylon and studied Pali under well-known Buddhist scholars such as Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Maha Nayake Thera, Ven. Suriyagoda Sri Sumangala Thera and Pandit Wagiswara.

Dr. Dahlke was a prolific writer. He together with Georg Grimm (a Judge in Bavaria and the author of the widely read book “ƒ”¹…”The Doctrine of the Buddha “”…” the Religion of Reason’) dominated the German Buddhist scene at the beginning of the 20th century.

Dahlke’s first book was “ƒ”¹…”Buddhist Essays’ (1903). It covers a great range of topics though not united by a single theme. Dahlke also authored “ƒ”¹…”Buddhism and Science’. However it was Dr. Dahlke’s last book “ƒ”¹…”Buddhism and its place in the mental life of mankind’ (published in 1924 ), that he considered as the consumation of his exposition of Buddhism. It was the culmination of his 30 years of reflection, study and meditation on the Dhamma.

In this book Dahlke had set himself the ambitious goal of defining the place of Buddhism in relation to the mental life of human kind. Dahlke saw his task as somewhat parallel to the work of the Buddha, who in the Brahmajala Sutta, surveyed all the contemporary modes of Indian thought in order to define in an expressway the manner in which his own teaching differed from and could be distinguished from all the other contemporary schools of thought, observed Bhikkhu Bodhi.

Dahlke had realised that studying and writing on Buddhism alone were not enough. More steps had to be taken in order to practise Buddhism and to promote Buddhist teaching. Therefore Dahlke decided to found a Buddhist Community right in the heart of Germany. Dahlke acquired a plot of land in the Berlin suburb of Frohnau in 1919 and proceeded to construct “ƒ”¹…”Das Buddhistische Haus’ which he completed in 1924. Life in these premises was meant to be a half way house between leading a lay life and life in a monastery. “ƒ”¹…”Das Buddhistische Haus’ served as the centre of German Buddhism from 1924-1928. It attracted numerous people including a ten-day visit by Anagarika Dharmapala (in 1925). Dahlke died in 1928.

The German Dharmaduta Society, founded by Asoka Weeraratna in 1952, purchased these premises from the heirs of Dr. Dahlke in 1957, and converted the premises into a Buddhist Vihara, with resident monks drawn from Sri Lanka and other countries. The Berlin Vihara now ensures a Theravada Buddhist presence in the centre of continental Europe and serves as a focal point for the spread of the Buddha’s teachings in the West.

Dr. Granville Dharmawardena in his welcoming address referred to the keen and growing interest being shown by German philosophers and scientists in the study of Buddhism, and quoted Albert Einstein who said “ƒ”¹…”No religion will survive the knowledge generated by modern science, except Buddhism’. Dr. Dharmawardena also lauded the vision of Asoka Weeraratna who saw the potential for Buddhism in Europe, particularly in Germany as early as 1952, the year in which the GDS was founded. Dr. Dharmawardena added that the early fifties witnessed the emergence of Quantum Mechanics, which had a shattering effect on the traditional belief systems in the West. These developments that led western people to question the tenets of their faith co-incided remarkably with the initiatives taken by Asoka Weeraratna and the German Dharmaduta Society to spread the Dhamma in the West and provide an alternative spiritual path to disillusioned Europeans, observed Dr. Dharmawardena.

Mr. H. Vincent Soysa, Vice President of the GDS and elder brother of Anagarika Dharmapriya Mahinda, speaking next outlined in detail the life and the contributions made towards the spread of Buddhism by his brother, Anagarika Dharmapriya Mahinda (formerly known as Mr. H. Nelson Soysa). Upon becoming an Anagarika he had become a strict vegetarian and teatotaller. He gave his whole-hearted support to Asoka Weeraratna and the GDS to send a Buddhist Mission to Germany. He became a Trustee and Vice President of the GDS.

He made a substantial contribution to the One Million Rupee Trust Fund of the GDS that was inaugurated in September 1954. Upon completing his Buddhist Dharmaduta work in Germany, Anagarika Mahinda took on new challenges. He decided to spread the teachings of the Buddha in Africa. He chose Tanzania as his first stop. Unfortunately Tanzania treated him like a spy and put him in jail. The intervention of two senior Sri Lankan Government Officials led to his release from prison. On his return to Sri Lanka he confined his Buddhist activities to meditation as the period of his incarceration in Tanzania had affected his health. Dharmapriya established a Trust by the name of Sandadi Hennadi Badde Liyanage Family Trust out of his personal assets for the propagation of the Buddha Dhamma. He passed away on 5th June, 1986.

Next, Professor Jayadeva Tilakasiri, Vice President and a founder member of the GDS, traced the history of the GDS and his close association with Asoka Weeraratna since his childhood days at Mahinda College, Galle. Even as a student, Asoka Weeraratna had adopted a contemplative life, and cultivated a great ability to concentrate and dedicate himself to the task ahead.

His total commitment to Buddhism, initially as a Dharmaduta worker engaged in spreading the Dhamma abroad, and later as a promoter of putting into effective practice the teachings of the Buddha, led to the collapse of his family business, P. J. Weeraratna & Sons, Maradana. Nevertheless his work in founding the German Dharmaduta Society (1952), the Berlin Buddhist Vihara (1957), and the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage (1968) remains as excellent memorials to his vision, energy and service to the cause of Buddhism.

Professor Tilakasiri further said that the GDS has a very great task ahead of them. It was not good enough to send monks having knowledge only of Buddhism to Germany. Germans are very discerning. They question a lot, argue and ask why they should embrace Buddhism. To answer their queries, the monks must be competent not only in teaching the Dhamma, but also must be proficient in other fields of study, such as anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, comparative religion and other modern systems of thought. Further the trained monks, apart from being models of “ƒ”¹…”Buddhism in practice’ must be capable of adjusting themselves to the different conditions in Europe, observed Professor Tilakasiri.

Mr. Senaka Weeraratna, Hony. Secretary, GDS in his Vote of Thanks said that the GDS was pursuing a great tradition that was inaugurated at the time of the Buddha 2500 years ago i.e., to spread the Dhamma. The gift of the Dhamma excels all other gifts, and the great Buddhist Emperor Asoka has repeated this saying several times in his rock inscriptions.

Mr. Weeraratna said that the GDS was privileged to administer Dr. Paul Dahlke’s “ƒ”¹…”Das Buddhistische Haus’ as a Buddhist Vihara. Mr. Weeraratna added that Dr. Dahlke was also a pioneer in establishing Buddhist cultural ties between Germany and Sri Lanka, and it was necessary for the present generation to continue to strengthen these links between the two countries.

One Response to “Dr. Paul Dahlke championed the cause of Buddhism in Europe”

  1. Nanda Says:

    Thank you Dham for such an informative article reminding us of real Buddhists who understood the doctorine properly.
    Surely, loss of Dahlke in 1928 is huge.
    Now the stupid Islamist like Swami Swammer, Mareena Thaha, HussainFahmy, Abdul Kareem etc etc are trying to teach Buddhism to Sinhela people and they would like to teach us how to be compassionate towards the raging sward of Islam ( the killing religion of the middle east).
    There is no writer in Lanka Web to answer thes goons and the Murderer Allah Hulallah.
    ‘Buddhism is the key to understanding the nature of actuality or reality’.
    ‘Islam is a blind faith of believing a mythical creator and destroyer, a killing machine and his paedophile prophet pbhu.

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