His contribution towards the expansion of the teachings of the
HERO: "Ceylon, with her twenty-five centuries of recorded history,"
said Dr. Ananda Guruge, "is endowed with a generous quota of national
heroes who are gratefully remembered by the people for the wars they
fought, for national independence, the movements they sponsored, for the
welfare of the masses, the books they wrote, the monuments they erected
and the contributions they made to the individuality and richness of the
Out of the many heroes who are remembered in numerous ways and who
still live in the hearts and minds of a grateful nation, Anagarika
Dharmapala shines as the brightest star among many other distinguished
stars of the galaxy of heroes.
National heroes of any country, as stated earlier, belong to
different categories not only due to the work they have carried out, but
also due to the methods they have adopted for such purpose.
Considering the contribution of Anagarika Dharmapala there are
certain key factors of his character, which could be seen from the
service he has rendered, that makes him outstanding among the other
This special quality could be clearly identified, when one observes
the work he had been carrying out for several decades in several
countries. Although several chapters could be written commenting on the
work of Anagarika Dharmapala, a brief attempt due to the limited time
frame, is made here to describe his work in order to highlight not only
his untiring efforts, but also his desire to spread the teachings of the
Buddha in many countries and the skills he had exhibited in achieving
Anagarika Dharmapala was born on 17th September 1864 in Colombo to a
prominent and influential Buddhist family, who was named as David
Hewavitharana. Ceylon (as it then was) was a British Colony at that time
and the strong influence of the Christian missionaries of all
denominations, which were attempting to add the country to Christian
faith could be clearly seen in the capital city of the island.
Irrespective of such strong influence of Christian Missionaries, his
parents, Mudliar Don Carolis Hewavitharana and Srimathi Mallika
Hewavitharana, who had donated the major portion of their wealth to the
cause of Buddhism and Buddhist education, had brought up young David
Hewavitharana in a traditional Sinhala Buddhist atmosphere.
His formative years of education were spent at Pettah Catholic School
known as St. Mary's College, Colombo, St. Benedict's Institute, Kotahena,
Christian Missionary School at Kotte and St. Thomas' College.
It was during this period that young David Hewavitharana had the good
fortune and opportunity of meeting Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Nayaka
Maha Thera and Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera which resulted
in developing a great attachment to Buddhism and the teachings of Lord
Reminiscening of his early life, Anagarika Dharmapala referred to the
beginning of his interest in the work carried out by the Buddhist
Theosophical Society and Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky.
In his words, Daily when attending St. Thomas School I had to pass
the Temple known as Migettuwatte Hamuduruvo's temple. It was there that
I came to hear of the Theosophical Society and Colonel Olcott and Madame
The monk had received as a gift the two volumes of the Isis Unveiled,
from Madame Blavatsky with a covering letter from Colonel Olcott that
they are Buddhists and expect to visit Ceylon on their way to India,
that they had heard of the Panadura Controversy, and they conveyed their
sentiments of pleasure in the expectation of starting shoulder to
shoulder to fight against Christianity in Ceylon.
The Buddhist monk soon began to give public lectures on Buddhism and
Christianity and translated extracts into Sinhala from Isis Unveiled and
also from the Adepts of Tibet.
My delight in hearing the news of Olcott and Blavatsky was great and
from that time onwards I began to take interest in the Theosophical
Society although I was then only 14 years old.
Such was the beginnings of the remarkable and yeoman service rendered
by a Great Leader of our proud soil who served the nation tirelessly for
over 5 decades.
Anagarika Dharmapala's service, which spanned over several areas was
mainly based on the happiness and contentment of the rural folk, who
represented the majority of this island nation, which was governed by
the British administration as a British Colony.
Irrespective of the tremendous difficulties and obstacles faced by
him at that time, he campaigned tirelessly to resuscitate Buddhism in
the country and strongly contributed to the nationalist movement.
Anagarika Dharmapala firmly believed that for the Ceylonese to be
proud nation, it is essential that the island should be politically
independent. Referring to the vision and mission of Anagarika
Dharmapala, Dr. Guruge had clearly pointed out that his conviction was
that it is necessary for the country to be an independent nation.
Anagarika Dharmapala had clearly expressed his thoughts on this
aspect and had stated that, "When a nation is politically dependent on
another nation, the weaker nation loses its individuality. A subject
race could not produce heroes... As slaves no social or economic
progress is possible... If a nation that is able to supply their own
wants finds themselves handicapped by the obstacles that are set forth
by a superior race, no progress is possible.
Having political independence in mind, he inaugurated a campaign for
independence against the imperialism of England. Whilst campaigning for
an independent motherland, Anagarika Dharmapala appreciated the fact
that out of the foreign rulers, which had governed the country since
1505, the British administration was the best compared with the
Portuguese and the Dutch.
Anagarika Dharmapala whilst campaigning for a free and independent
island, was also mindful that the benefits of what were introduced under
the British administration should be retained. Accordingly he not only
supported, but also rendered yeoman service to the upliftment of the
education in the country.
He firmly believed in the traditional Buddhist education and took
steps to revive the ancient systems, which prevailed in this country
prior to the invasion by Portuguese, the Dutch and the British.
Anagarika Dharmapala thus paved the way for the establishment of
several schools in the island, which have become prominent educational
institutions in the country. He also believed in the concept of
life-long education, which connotes education as a continuing life-long
The concept of life-long education included Adult Education, Workers'
Education, Continuing Education, Community Education and Social
Education and Anagarika Dharmapala took pains to carry out a campaign of
For such a campaign he was assisted by the Maha Bodhi Society, which
he had established on May 31, 1891 under the Presidency of Ven.
Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Thero at the Vidyodaya College premises at
Maligakanda, Colombo. The Maha Bodhi Society was the first Buddhist
Organization during that era, which began the dissemination of the
teachings of Lord Buddha.
For this purpose he started his weekly publication 'Sinhala
Bauddhaya' in May 1906. This publication, which is still in circulation
due to the magnanimous efforts taken by Rev. Banagala Upatissa Thero and
Rev. Thiniyawala Palitha Thero, the present President and the Secretary
of the Maha Bodhi Society respectively, rendered a silent, but zealous
service to the nations, religious and national campaign.
Reference also should make to the efforts Anagarika Dharmapala had
taken to establish Journals in order to expand the teachings of the
Buddha, not only in his motherland and India, but also in other European
countries. Having this purpose in mind he had established the Maha Bodhi
Journal in May 1892.
The Journal was warmly accepted by many, who had read the Journal and
led to the opportunity for Anagarika Dharmapala to attend the World's
Parliament of Religions. Later in August 1926 he started a monthly
journal known as 'The British Buddhist' of which the first Volume was
written entirely by himself.
It was the vision and mission of Anagarika Dharmapala that the
teachings of the Buddha should be introduced to the European countries.
Through the Journal of the Maha Bodhi Society, the world became aware of
the existence of the Maha Bodhi Society and Anagarika Dharmapala was
invited by some of his American Buddhist brothers Philangi Dasa, Editor
of the Buddhist Ray of California and Chas of New York to preach
That was the time he was also invited to attend the World's
Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. Anagarika Dharmapala, had
succinctly stated is purpose and desire to visit America. in his own
words: "The one motive I had all along to visit America was to
disseminate the law of the gentle Buddha abroad and of bringing into
prominence the great idea originated by the Maha Bodhi society."
Such visits of Anagarika Dharmapala had been extremely successful,
where he was able to create a fascinating impression not only of the
teachings of Buddha, but also of the speaker and his preaching.
Describing him at the World's Parliament of Religions, a contemporary
American Journal had published the following: "With black curly locks
thrown from his broad brow, his keen clear eyes fixed upon the audience,
his long brown fingers emphasizing the utterances of his vibrant voice,
he looked the very image of a propagandist, and one trembled to know
that such a figure stood at the head of the movement to consolidate all
the disciples of Buddha and to spread the light of Asia throughout the
Several American newspapers published extracts of the speech made by
Anagarika Dharmapala at the World's Parliament of Religions. Almost all
the articles among several points illustrated agreed on one point, which
was common to all.
That was of his 'eloquence, enthusiasm and genuine Buddhism' that
contained in his speeches.
His speech had been so spectacular and breathtaking that the Journal
Indianapolis had described it so vividly in the following terms:
"Watches and chains disappeared from the pockets of vests and dresses
and a pair of diamond earrings were actually extracted from the ears of
the fair wearer as she sat spellbound under the influence of the
perorations of a Buddhist.
The papers had thought that his speech was so important and therefore
had taken the trouble to publish his speech. This instance alone would
be sufficient to indicate the highest regard Anagarika Dharmapala had
received in the United States of America at a time even a simple visit
to United States of America was only a dream for the larger majority.
Moreover applaud received by him is a fine example for his ability
and effectiveness in strengthening the awareness of Buddha's teachings
not only in Asia, but also in the Western world.
His mission was not limited to preaching the teachings of Buddha to
the Western world. Whilst continuing his preaching he had made several
important and life-long friends, who were not only his admirers, but
also were people, who took pains to assist him in numerous ways to
fulfill his struggle to restore Indian Buddhist sites to Buddhists.
At the time he was invited to the World's Parliament of Religions he
visited England en route to America and met Sir Edwin Arnold, the author
of the much celebrated 'Light of Asia'. Sir Edwin Arnold had addressed
Anagarika Dharmapala in his book titled 'East and West' as 'my excellent
friend' and used to address him in his correspondence with the warm
salutation 'Very dear and honoured friend'.
The experience of such influence from the British had encouraged
Anagarika Dharmapala to set up a Vihara with Ceylonese resident Buddhist
priests, who could disseminate the teachings of the Buddha not only for
the countrymen, who were resident in England, but also for the citizens
of that country.
Until such time there were no Buddhist temples or resident Buddhist
priests outside Asia. Anagarika Dharmapala had obtained assistance from
Mrs. Mary Foster whom he had met whilst travelling to Honolulu for the
establishment of the first resident Vihara in England.
Mrs. Foster had readily agreed to finance the setting up of 'Foster
House' in Ealing and the London Buddhist Vihara was inaugurated in 1926.
Later the Vihara was moved to premises at Gloucester Road and during the
Second World War the Buddhist priests, who were residing at the London
Buddhist Vihara had to return to Ceylon as the house was requisitioned.
It was re-opened in 1955 and the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust had
purchased a new building for the Vihara at Heathfield Gardens in
Chiswick in 1964. Later in 1994 the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust had
purchased a spacious property and moved the Vihara to its present
location at The Avenue in Chiswick.
The service rendered by Anagarika Dharmapala in the revival of
Buddhism had no bounds and several features could be related to
demonstrate the courage and vigour he exhibited in this regard. However,
with the limited scope of this paper, reference would be made briefly
only to an outstanding feature of his initiation in the revival of the
Buddhism in the 20th century.
Whilst he was on a pilgrimage to Bodhi Gaya, India in 1891, he had
been distorted by the states of the Maha Bodhi Temple, which had been
restored in the hands of a saivite priest, where the Buddhists were
banned from worship.
With the generous assistance from few close friends, Anagarika
Dharmapala established the Maha Bodhi Society and one of its foremost
aims was to restore the Buddhist Centre of the Maha Bodhi Temple at Bodh
Gaya. For this purpose he had to litigate and after a successful
struggle managed to partially restore the management of the Maha Bodhi
Society, which was the first Buddhist organization in the modern era,
which started a programme for the dissemination of Buddhism in a
As referred to earlier there are several world famous heroes and
heroic action spoken of by many in different disciplines. They vary in
number and of the type of action, but what is common in all of them is
that they are held in high esteem.
Such heroes are common and it is difficult to find uniqueness in
their approach. Anagarika Dharmapala, in that sense, belongs to a
different group as he cannot be compared with any of those heroes for
His only ambition was to disseminate the teachings of the Buddha
among the non-Buddhists, and his aim was to establish an 'evil free'
society. He lamented ceaselessly of his own Sinhalese brothers had
sisters whom he regarded as lackadaisical in their approach, and called
upon them to rise.
He took up a strong protest against the killing of cattle and
partaking of beef. He realised that driving these values into the minds
of the people would take time and yet he wanted to accomplish his
mission. His untiring and selfless efforts had even found a solution for
the struggle to be continued beyond his life.
Such were the heroic attributions of this great human being and at a
time we are celebrating Anagarika Dharmapala's 143rd birth anniversary,
let me conclude this brief reflection referring to his last wish, with
an aspiration that Anagarika Dharmapala's last wish would be granted,
solely for the purpose of spreading the teachings of Buddha throughout
'Let me die soon
Let me be born again
I can no longer prolong my agony
I would like to be reborn twenty five times
to spread Lord Buddha's Dhamma'.
The writer is LLB (Hons) Sri Lanka, M.Phil (Colombo) Ph.D (London),
Attorney-at-Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka, Judge of the Supreme
Court, formerly Associate Professor of Law and the Dean of the Faculty
of Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.