When the World boycotted the Germans, Sri Lanka opened its doors to the Germans
Posted on February 21st, 2021

by Senaka Weeraratna

Sri Lanka was a haven for Germans in the pre – war period as well as the immediate post – war period. 

It was treated as the Mecca of Buddhism. 

The intellectual space for exploration of Buddhism in Germany had already been created by the writings of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Hermann Oldenberg, Karl Eugen Neumann, among others.

But that alone was insufficient to learn Buddhism.

Germans had to touch base with Buddhism in a setting of actual practice and learn more from teachers well – versed in the Dhamma. The ideal place was Sri Lanka. 

Europeans, especially Germans, using informal networks visited British Ceylon in the early period to sap the Wisdom of the East.  

They were welcomed in Buddhist Temples and the ordained German monks were supported by the Sinhala Buddhist laity.

German Buddhist pioneers like Dr. Paul Dahlke, Ven. Nyanatiloka, Ven. Nyanaponika, Ven. Gnanawimala etc were revered by the Buddhist Sinhalese. Nyanatiloka and Nyanaponika were given Citizenship status of Sri Lanka.

When World War Two occured, the German nationals remaining in Ceylon were arrested and first interned at the Diyatalawa Military camp and later relocated to DehraDun in India.

  The ostracization of Germans 

The ostracization of Germans in British colonies commenced then and continued thereafter. 

Almost the entirety of Europe that was occupied by Germany during the WW2 was virtually a closed area for the Germans after the war. Memories of the war lingered among people in former occupied Europe.

Battered and Bruised the Germans went through immense hardship. It was at this time that a young Sinhala businessman, Asoka Weeraratna on his first visit to Germany in 1951 saw the pain and suffering of the Germans. He was determined to do something positive and long lasting for the Germans. He chose to give the gift of Buddhism to a people in distress disillusioned with the failure of their own religions to prevent repeated wars taking place in Europe.   

Seeing the necessity to propagate Buddhism, especially in Germany, Asoka Weeraratna succeeded with his heroic efforts, sacrificial labours, devotion and energy in establishing the German Dharmaduta Society in 1952. 

 Dr.  Georg Ahrens was the first German Ambassador to Sri Lanka. He arrived in 1953. He too became a victim of boycotts and ‘persona non grata’ treatment by the Western Diplomats and officialdom. But the Buddhists warmly welcomed him and provided a public platform for him to speak.  

A well attended public meeting was held at the Colombo Town Hall on September 06, 1954 sponsored by the German Dharmaduta Society to raise funds ( One Million Rupees – Dasa Laksha Aramudala ) to sponsor a Buddhist Mission to Germany, to coincide with the Buddha Jayanthi Celebrations in 1956.. Mr. Dudley Senanayake, then former Prime Minister, presided at this meeting. 

Top Picture – Mr. Dudley Senanayake is seen addressing the gathering. The monk in the picture ( left of Mr. Henry Amarasuriya) is Samanera Friedrich Muller ( German ) who later became well known as Ven. Polgasduwe Nyanawimala Thera ( a disciple of Ven. Nyanatiloka Maha Thera). 

Middle Picture –  The German Ambassador Dr. Georg Ahrens is seen speaking. The monk in the picture ( left of Mr. Henry Amarasuriya) is Samanera Friedrich Muller (German).

Bottom Picture – Left to Right Dr. G.P. Malalasekera, Hon. J.R. Jayewardene, Hon. C.W.W. Kannangara, Hon. R.G. Senanayake, Dr. Georg Ahrens ( German Ambassador ) and Hon. U Ba Lwin ( Burmese Ambassador).

Dr. Georg Ahrens, the German Ambassador said he had been a student of Buddhism and had been greatly impressed by its tolerance. He had visited a German Bhikkhu in a hospital in Kandy and was much impressed by his lofty ideals. This Bhikkhu wished all success to the mission. The world was passing through great tribulation and people wanted peace. This was not wishful thinking but a genuine desire for enduring peace. He wished the mission success in its noble work to bring the teaching of the Buddha to the German people.

For a Full Report of this Meeting in the Ceylon Daily News of September 07, 1954, please visit the following web link

Ceylon could give the world a gift : Peace through Buddhism

by a ‘ Daily News’ Reporter


The Polgasduwa Island Hermitage built by the highly Venerated German monk, Ven. Nyanatiloka Maha Thera in 1911 stands as a monument to the deep cultural bonds between two countries. So does Das Buddhistische Haus ( Berlin Buddhist Vihara) in Berlin – Frohnau, Germany.

Ven. Nyanatiloka’s message

In a memorable message to the publication ‘Buddhism in Germany’ (1953) Ven. Nyanatiloka says as follows:

“It was just 50 years ago in 1903, that I came first to this island which, since then, I have considered my spiritual home, and I am therefore happy to be now a citizen of Sri Lanka.

Yet, it will be understood that it was the great wish of my heart to give the country of my origin the best I possessed, i.e. the Dhamma. And to that end I have devoted the greatest part of my 50 years in the Sangha. I did so in the firm conviction that the Dhamma will take root in my home country, Germany, and may have a great future there.

Now it has been a very great pleasure to me to hear that Mr. Weeraratna returned from Germany with the very same conviction, and was able to report on lively Buddhist activities there. I believe that the chances for Buddhist mission work in Germany are now greater than ever before. I am therefore very happy that the Lanka Dharmadutha Society has undertaken that great task of sending a well-prepared mission to Germany and to support Buddhist work there, in general.

I greatly appreciate the initial work done by the Society up to now, and particularly the sacrificing labour, devotion and energy shown by the Founder and Secretary of the Lanka Dharmadutha Society, Asoka Weeraratna.

I should, indeed, regard it as a happy culmination of my life if Vesak 1956, i.e. the year 2500, will see a well-established mission in Germany, which will not fail to have a far-reaching influence on the other Western countries, too.

I wish the Society full success in their great and noble enterprise. Selfless effort to give the Dhamma to those who are most in need of it will be of great blessing to those who give and receive”. – Nyanatiloka (May 25, 1953)

Ill treatment of Germans by the Allies

The Western Allies after the Second World War treated the Germans and the Japanese in the most brutal fashion.

Thousands of German POWs died in concentration camps run by the Americans and the British. Mostly through forced starvation of the prisoners. 

In Sri Lanka, we did not adopt the hatred of the Allies towards their enemies, Germans and Japanese, despite being a former British colony.   

The Sinhalese in particular never ostracized the Germans. Never looked at Germans or the Japanese through the lens of their adversaries. 

The German visitors to Sri Lanka were always given a warm welcome in our homes, especially at a time when the rest of the world, influenced by the victorious Allies shunned them. The German people were demonized by the Allies and were made to feel guilty collectively for the crimes of Hitler and the Nazis. 

In Sri Lanka,  German Buddhist monks were treated with utmost respect and extended a high level of hospitality that they would never receive in their home country.

The bridge of friendship that has been built between the people of Sri Lanka and the people of Germany over the last one hundred and fifty years must be strengthened and continued. 

see also


Senaka Weeraratna  

3 Responses to “When the World boycotted the Germans, Sri Lanka opened its doors to the Germans”

  1. Nimal Says:

    Nazis in Germany did us bad, millions were killed and thousands died defending our freedom, they too tried to get us involved by encouraging Chandra Bose to start the Nazi party in SE Asia.If Japan and Germany won then we all will be toast.

  2. samurai Says:

    What Nimal has written is a Yanne Koheda Malle Pol response.

    Senaka not praising Hitler or the Nazis but the history of Sri Lankan German ties and the solace Buddhism brought to the ordinary German people in the post-World War II years

  3. samurai Says:

    Buddhists from Sri Lanka saved the flame of the Buddha Dhamma in Germany

    Dr. Hans Wolfgang Schumann is a German Buddhist. He is a well known Buddhist scholar and chronicler of the history of Buddhism in Germany.

    Born on January 31, 1928, Dr. Hans Wolfgang Schumann died on June 26th, 2019 in Bonn.

    In a seminal article on the state of Buddhism in Germany, ‘ Buddhism and Buddhist Studies in Germany’, Maha Bodhi Journal, Vol. 79, (February – March 1971) page 99, Dr. Schumann raises a significant question as follows:

    “Shouldn’t Germans be grateful to Sri Lankan Buddhist Societies for giving organizational help at several critical periods of Buddhism in Germany and thereby helping in saving the flame of the Buddha Dhamma in Germany” ?

    Dr. Hans Wolfgang Schumann, answers as follows:
    “ another important Buddhist Centre is the “ Buddhist House’ founded by Paul Dahlke in Berlin – Frohnau in 1924. It survived World War II in a dilapidated condition and probably would have been auctioned and dismantled if the Ceylonese ‘German Dhammaduta Society’ (founded in 1952) which inherited a large sum of money from a German Buddhist had not come to its rescue. The GDS purchased the house in 1958, renovated it, furnished it with additional rooms, a well stocked library and Ceylonese Bhikkhus (monks) sent from the GDS took charge of regular lectures and meditation courses.

    Dr.Schumann further states “…..Asian Buddhist mission was successful. The organizational help which Asian Buddhist Societies, in particular Ceylon, in several critical periods had extended saved the flame of the Dhamma in Germany. Isn’t this for the Germans reason enough to be grateful? ”

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