Nila Maha Yodaya praised
Posted on September 7th, 2017

By Rohana R. Wasala

Excellent! Thank you, you anonymous scholar  writing under the pen name Nila Maha Yodaya  (Lankaweb/September 6, 2017)

සිල්වාගේ ප්රශ්නයකතෝලික බැතිමතුන්ට ආගමේ අය යයි කියන්නේ ඇයි?

පිලිතුරවචනයේ පරිසමාර්ත අර්ථයෙන්ම  කතෝලික ආගම ආගමකි. කතෝලික අය බෞද්ධගම් කාරයින්ට කියන්නේ අන්‍යාආගම් කාරයින් කියායි

Yes, I for one, agree with your answer to the question: ‘Why are Catholics called ‘people of religion?’

The Catholic religion is a religion in the categorical sense of the word.” Your answer correctly implies that Buddhism is not a religion in the same sense. When we were children in the 1950s and 60s, we always heard Catholics and Christians being referred to (by our parents and others in our Buddhist neighbourhood) as ‘aagam karayo’ or religionists. The implication was that Buddhism itself was not regarded as a religion. Buddhists were quite comfortable with that reality. Article 5 of the Sinhala version of the 1815 Kandyan Convention requires the incoming British imperial administration to protect and maintain the ‘Buddhasasanaya and the Devagama’ as a commitment that is never to be broken/infringed; its meaning was very clear to the Kandyan chiefs and the people of the Kandyan provinces. But the English translation erroneously substitutes the phrase ‘the religion of Boodhoo’ for the Sinhala ‘Buddhasasanaya and Devagama’. In any case, the crafty English cared little about honouring that pledge. When Europeans arrived at the beginning of the 16th century, the Sinhalese Buddhists were almost innocent of religion. Some learned monks of the era even produced literary works attacking belief in, and supplicating to, Hindu gods for  help in worldly matters. Unfortunately, most of our fellow Sinhalese Buddhists today are easy prey to god men and god women who thrive on their gullibility.

We usually like to read only good things written about Anagarika Dharmapala. The fact that he had  to face many critics even among Sinhala Buddhists whose cause he championed is often attributed to their alleged ingrained ingratitude. An apparently frustrated and disillusioned Anagarika wrote in his diary (August 2, 1929): …..Sinhala Buddhist is devoid of good qualities. He is full of the vicious qualities set forth in the Vasala and Parabhava Suttas” (a point of view many of us would feel tempted to wholeheartedly embrace considering the plight of many patriots including war heroes who made such personal sacrifices to rid the country of terrorism recently).

However, the rift between the Anagarika and Olcott was not only on grounds of differing conceptions of Buddhism. His own personality seems to have played a role. In Chapter 9 of ‘The Lion’s Roar – Anagarika Dharmapala & the Making of Modern Buddhism’ by Dr Sarath Amunugama (Vijitha Yapa, 2016, there is a section under the sub-heading ‘Anagarika Arbudaya’  Anagarika  Crisis (pp. 659-65)dealing with this subject. Anagarika Dharmapala’s diary entry quoted in the above paragraph is from p. 661 of that book. The theosophists charged him of attempting treacherously to uproot the tree that was BTS and plant in its place the M.B.S. and establish his hegemony”. Dr Amunugama says that the authorship of this  document has been attributed to D.B. Jayatilake on account of its logical style, superb deployment of the Sinhala language, its knowledge of Buddhist teachings, detached tone…..” all characteristics that demonstrate the outstanding intellect of Jayatilake”. According to Dr Amunugama the publication is a well argued and comprehensive reply to all Anagarika Dharmapala’s unprovoked criticisms of the BTS. (BTS and M.B.S. respectively stand for the Buddhist Theosophical Society and the Maha Bodhi Society.) The author of ‘Anagarika Arbudaya’ gives a hint of his insight into the personality of Anagarika Dharmapala: When we analyse Mr Hewavitarne’s speeches and actions we find that he is skilled in self promotion by undertaking large projects without adequate preparation. He is good at self-praise. But we find that he is an incompetent person who cannot bring even small efforts to a successful conclusion” (Ibid., p. 665).

It is possible that otherwise excellent people tend to assume totalitarian attitudes in their ideologies as well as in their practice in any sphere of activity because of their egoism. It is a paradox that people who claim to be followers of Buddhism are in such blatant contravention of one of its basic teachings in their actual conduct. However, all of us patujjanas, worldlings, can’t help but succumb to this common human failing in varying degrees. What we may hope to do is to acquire the wisdom to be aware of it and keep it under control as best we can, while radiating thoughts of loving-kindness to all our fellow beings.

6 Responses to “Nila Maha Yodaya praised”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Theosophical Society was not a Buddhist group. Its symbol has religious symbols of Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Christianity, etc. It follows Helena Blavatsky’s “theosophism”. It was initially formed to study occultism as well. Many branches were set up around the world. The Sri Lankan branch was misleadingly called the Buddhist Theosophical Society.

    The Sinhala name for Theosophical Society (“Parama Vignartha”) is highly misleading.

    Study of Buddhism was just one phase of Theosophical Society’s global study initiated by Alcott, Blavatsky and Judge. They, along with other senior members, moved on from Buddhism. Locals are taught that their search for “truth” ended with Buddhism which is not the case. Beasent and Leadbitter (giants of the Theosophical Society) went in search of the “New World Teacher”. They groomed a young Indian but he formed his own group later.

    Dharmapala and others did well to get financial assistance from the US based Theosophical Society to build and sustain Buddhist schools when its focus was on Buddhism. This needs appreciation. If not for Dharmapala’s exceptionally clever and timely move, Buddhists would have been enormously backward in comparison to Christians, (seasonal Tamil Christians who reverted back to Hinduism after studying), Malays and Burghers.

    In 1906 the local Buddhist Theosophical Society borrowed money from the Indian branch by mortgaging Ananda College. They had to pay interest at 4% for 24 years. After money for local Buddhist schools dried up (as Theosophical Society moved from Buddhism to other studies and disintegrated into smaller units), public donations were used until 1961 when most schools were taken over by the government.

    The clash between Dharmapala and others of the Theosophical Society happened because of ideological differences. Theosophists were not confined to Buddhism and they moved on. They were also less interested in saving Bodh Gaya and local Buddhist interests.

  2. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Dilrook & Rohana

    Even though the word Theosophy is of Greek origin meaning Wisdom of the Gods (theo – of Gods, sophia– wisdom). Wisdom is a Truth which must be discovered and experienced by each one for themselves. In other words Theosophy is the wisdom underlying all religions when they are stripped of all superstitions.

    So there cannot be conflicting interests between the Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) and the Theosophical Society in general.

    My mother was a senior school teacher at a school run by the Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) and as a child I used to visit the head office of BTS very frequently with my mother for various official work. It was a hundred percent Buddhist organisation and my mother, being a person hailed from a strong Buddhist family who had a long standing tradition of offering one sibling from each generation to the Buddhist Sasana, would have never worked for a non-Buddhist organisation.

    According to the well prepared chronology of Anagarika Dharmapala’s life published in the Maha Bodhi Journal (January 1927) Vol XXXV it was very clear how he abandoned Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) and started developing Maha Bodhi Society which was established in May 31, 1891 to rescue the holy Buddhist places and revive the Buddha Dhamma, in the land of its origin India. As you can see from the chronology of Anagarika Dharmapala’s life, his contribution to the propagation and spread of Buddhism through Maha Bodhi Society is enormous, but contribution to education of Buddhist Children is minimal.

    1n 1986
    Anagarika Dharmapala left Government Service to work in the interest and welfare of the Buddhist Theosophical Society wherein he was engaged as general secretary of the Buddhist Section, Manager of the Sandaresa paper published by the Buddhist Press. Manager of Buddhist School and Assistant Secretary of the Buddhist Defence Committee from March 1886 to December 1890.

    December 1894
    The first organised pilgrimage by Ceylon Buddhists to Buddhagaya and other places. The ladies of the party wore the traditional sari for the first time. At madras they went ashore and visited Col. Olcott at Adyar.

    In October 1904
    Anagarika Dharmapala left Benares for Colombo. On the way went to Adyar to see Col. Olcott, with whom he had an altercation because Col.Olcott insulted the feelings of the Buddhists by showing disrespect to the Tooth Relic, a copy of which he had placed under a shelf. Col Olcott showed bad temper and broke off friendship with him after a period of twenty years. The Anagarika was initiated by him in January 1884 into the Theosophical Society.

    March 1906
    Anagarika Dharmapala began a campaign against the Theosophical Society. As the local Theosophical Society was under the control of Buddhists, it was suggested that there should be harmony with Theosophy and Buddhism and wanted the name Theosophy to be eliminated. Certain members wished to retain the name and the campaign was therefore started.

    May 1906
    Established the Sinhala Bauddhaya and Maha Bodi Press

    1906
    Erection of school building at Rajagiriya on the land purchased with the donation received from Mrs. Mary Foster of Honolulu.

    May 1907
    Burmese rest house case instituted by the Hindu Mahant at Buddhagaya for the removal of the Japanese image from the Burmese rest house.

    July 1908
    House in Baniapoker Lane, Calcutta, purchased with donation received from Mrs.Mary Foster of Honolulu.

    1912
    Started National Revival and Toured all over Ceylon.

    1913
    Left for Japan and Honolulu. Met Mrs Foster at Honolulu in June1913 and from her received a splendid donation to Establish a free hospital.

    1914
    Dedicated the house and ground at Darley Lane which was given to him by his father for the use of the Buddhists under the name of Mallika Santhagara.

    1914
    Opening of the Foster Robinson Free Hospital

    1915
    Removed the Maha bodhi college to the Mallika Santhagara

    1915
    Ceylon Riots. Many Buddhists shot and he was interned in Calcutta from June 1915 to 1920.

    Meanwhile in 1916 received communication from the Government of India that they were prepared to present a Relic of the Lord Buddha to the Maha Bodhi Society if the latter would build a vihara in Calcutta. In July 1918 work started in Calcutta at College Square, No 4 to erect a Vihara.

    November 1920
    The Vihara completed and was ceremonially opened by the Governor of Bengal, Lord Ronald shay.
    November 1922
    Laying the foundation stone to build a Vihara Saranath, Banares.
    December 1926
    Arrival in Ceylon to raise a fund for the building of Mulagandhakuti Vihara, Saranath.
    1931
    Visited Ceylon for the last time and created the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust

    13th July 1931
    Ordained as a Buddhist Bhikkhu in India

    16th January 1933
    Received higher ordination

    29th April 1933

    Died at Saranath, Banares. His last words were “Let me be reborn ………I would like to be born again twenty-five times to spread Lord Buddha’s Dhamma.

  3. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:

    IT SHOULD BE **NEELA MAHA YODAYA** AND NOT NILA MAHA YODAYA.

  4. Dilrook Says:

    @NeelaMahaYoda

    My comment was based on the stated objectives, symbol and history of the US based Theosophical Society. They are poles apart to Buddhism. The only similarity may be “seeking truth” which is also claimed by practitioners of religions. Theosophical Society was not confined to Buddhism in its search for truth. It started with occultism, moved to various beliefs, religions and philosophies, Buddhism and to other beliefs, religions and philosophies. Dharmapala was involved in it when Buddhism was its focus. His firm Buddhist practices prevented him from going in the journey of the Theosophical Society. On their part, the Theosophical Society was uninterested in preserving Buddhist shrines, etc.

    This can be clearly seen in your text where Dharmapala wanted the name Theosophy to be eliminated.

    I think the confusion is all to do with the misleading Sinhala name for the Theosophical Society and locals’ belief that the truth seeking journey of the Theosophical Society will certainly end when it found Buddhism which was not the case.

    As it moved from Buddhism to other studies, financial support for local Buddhist centres of learning dried up. This was one reason for financial difficulties faced by Dharmapala, Buddhist schools, etc. during this time. Other donors including Foster helped to some extent.

  5. NeelaMahaYoda Says:

    Dilrook

    We are not talking about original Theosophical Society, we are taking about the Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) that operated most of the schools including Ananda Nalanada Dharmaraja Dharmapala until 1960, BTS is still there, but very inactive form because there is nothing for them to do. Please google and see the status of original Theosophical Society. (Where do you get your information from) Theosophical Society of England is also still alive and kicking.

    If Anagarika Dharmapala had any objection to use the word Theosophy he should have raised this while they formed the Buddhist Theosophical Society in 1880. Why he was engaged in the Buddhist Theosophical Society as general secretary of the Buddhist Section in 1886 and also also as the Manager of the Sandaresa paper published by the Buddhist Press if he was realy against it. Not only that he kept his friendship with Olcott and regularly visited Col. Olcott at Adyar until he had an altercation with Olcot in October 1904 when Col Olcott showed bad temper and broke off friendship with him. Then only in March 1906 Anagarika Dharmapala began a campaign against the Theosophical Society.
    As Rohan Wasala explained Sinhala Buddhists were not happy with his decision.

    I should point out that, the Colombo branch of the Theosophical Society (called the Buddhist Theosophical Society) was founded on 17th June 1880 with about forty sinhala buddhist members. Andrew Perera, B.T,S.’s first president; Muhandiram Dharma Gunawardena; John R. de Silva, secretary of the Buddhist Defence Committee; William de Abrew, Harry Dias, J. Munasinghe, C. Don Bastian and last, but not the least, C. P. Gunawardene, most lovable and self-effacing of men. Its object was “the promotion of Buddhism by guarding it from the attacks of those who propagate other religions, by strengthening Buddhists in their faith and in the practice of Buddhist morals, and by the spreading and teaching of Buddhist doctrines.
    ” Sarasavi Sandaresa, started in December 1889; it brought a new spirit into Sinhalese writing, a fine style, elegant and yet popular, which created a new era in Sinhala literature. The Buddhist was later started as an English supplement to the Sandaresa and published by the B.T.S. till it was handed over to the Y.M.B.A. (Young Men’s Buddhist Association) in 1918. The first editor of The Buddhist was C.W. Leadbeater. He was followed in succession by Mudaliyar L.C. Wijesinghe, the famous translator of the Mahaavamsa, A.E. Bultjens, D.B. Jayatilaka and W.A. de Silva, all of whom made their mark in the Buddhist renaissance movement in more ways than one, and worked wholeheartedly for its success.

    Olcott’s connection with the movement was, as he himself recognized, neither as originator (credit Mohottivatte Gunananda) nor as culminator (credit Anagarika Dharmapala) but as organizer and articulator. It was Olcott who agitated for Buddhist civil rights, and who gave the revival its organizational shape by founding voluntary associations, publishing and distributing tracts, and, perhaps most important, establishing schools

  6. Dilrook Says:

    @NeelaMahaYoda

    That is correct about the Colombo Buddhist Theosophical Society which has pursued its own way.

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