What Westerners found attractive in Buddhism : an oration at the Servants of the Buddha
Posted on February 5th, 2024

BY Prof Manouri Senanayake, President Servants of the Buddha Courtesy The Island

The Servants of the Buddha look forward to welcoming Dr. Elizabeth J Harris who will deliver her first ever public oration. The orator is an academic attached to the Dept of Theology and Religion in University of Birmingham UK and a Senior Research Fellow in the Edward Cadbury Centre for Public Understanding of Religion. She is the President of the UK Association for Buddhist Studies and Former President of the European Network on Buddhist-Christian studies; and has for many years been committed to Inter-religious understanding. Holding a PhD from University of Kelaniya on Buddhist Studies, she is no stranger to Sri Lanka.

An academic, a researcher and an author, to name but a few of her books I will begin with those most popular, which are Buddhism for a Violent World and Religion, Space and Conflict in Sri Lanka where she points out that eradicating roots of violence by Buddhist Teachings is possible today as it was in the time of the Buddha. Another is a collection of essays titled Journey from Christianity to Buddhismwhich was featured on BBC Radio broadcasts. Dr.Harris’s voice is not infrequently heard over BBC Radio 3, reciting poems, quotations and excerpts on Buddhist thinking.

Particular mention is necessary of the book Ananda Metteyya the First British Emissary of Buddhism; a publication of the Buddhist Publication Society Kandy. (1998); which describes the life and work of Allan Bennet one of the first Englishmen to have been ordained as a Bhikkhu. This writing is relevant to the upcoming Oration. It was Ven. Ananda Metteyya who inspired a group of English-speaking Ceylonese Buddhists to initiate the Dissemination of the Buddha’s Teachings in English, while he emphasized the need to teach monks to communicate in English.

In keeping with the times, the new Hall they erected for this task resembled a church. Its opening ceremony in1903 saw Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya (a.k.a. Ananda Maitriya) deliver a stirring inaugural speech. Subsequently the Hall was named after him. The venue of this oration is this historic Maitriya Hall.

The Oration is organised by Servants of the Buddha, a lay Buddhist Organisation which is in its 103rd year. The Society’s objectives are the study, practice and dissemination of the authentic Teachings of the Buddha. As such they engage in Discussing the Dhamma on a weekly basis, in English, every Saturday. The long, unbroken record of weekly Dhamma Talks in English continued uninterrupted during the ‘Covid Lockdown’ by changing on to the virtual platform. This brought wholesome results of attracting an enthusiastic International audience and broadening the scope of the Society. The Dhamma talks by erudite Bhikkhus and learned Lay-persons are accessible on the society’s YouTube channel.

Past Presidents over ‘a-century-long’ history include Dr Cassius Pereira (later Ven. Kassapa of Vajiraramaya). the country’s first Sri Lankan Chief Justice Hema Basnayake, Alec Robertson, Rajah Kuruppu and Anoja Wijeyesekera among others. Past Patrons are Venerables Kassapa, Narada and Piyadassi of Vajiraramaya. Links with Vajiraramaya in Bambalapitiya continue to date, The current Patron and Co-Patron are Ven Vajiraramaye Nanasiha Thero and Ven Olande Ananda Maha Thero. .

The Oration will be held on Saturday 10th February 2024 from 4.30 pm- 6.00 pm, in the Maitriya Hall Mettarama, Lauries Road Colombo 4.

Topic is : What did early western converts find attractive in Buddhism?

A Case Study on Allan Bennet / Ven. Ananda Metteyya

Servants of the Buddha are delighted Dr Elizabeth Harris accepted their invitation. Arriving at her own cost she will share her insights on the period of history when the Society was founded; and the stupendous amount of work done by the far-seeing Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya.

Attendance at this event is by invitation. If interested please email Maitriyahall01@gmail.com

The doors of Maitriya Hall are open to the public. Life Membership is granted to locals and the diaspora who are Buddhists, on recommendation by an existing member.

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