Buddhist politics decades ago | Daily News
Who laughed at Dr AP de Zoysa: Royalist JRJ or Thomian Daha?

Buddhist politics decades ago

Agampodi Paulus de Zoysa (1890 –1968) the leader of Buddhist Republican Party (BRP) was a social reformer, Buddhist scholar and politician. Hailing from Randombe, Ambalangoda, A. P. de Zoysa lost his parents when he was eleven: his grandmother sent him to Maha Samudraramaya temple, and to the Wesleyan school in the village. Later he joined Mahinda College, Galle where he came under the influence of Pali scholar Frank Lee Woodward, its principal, and the famous Theosophist.

AP, the cricketer, artist and actor later he moved to Wesley College, Colombo. De Zoysa was not only a good student but also a keen sportsman. He taught for a few years at Ananda College Colombo and Royal College. In 1921 he went to England for his higher education, and obtained his first degree as an external student and was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn in 1929. Later he obtained his doctorate in anthropology at London University for a thesis on ‘Observances and Customs in Sinhalese Villages'. He was appointed examiner in Sinhalese to the University of London.

Eleanor Hutton, the mother of famous author and the feminist scholar Kumari Jayawardena was AP’s wife, whom he had met in London’s Buddhist mission. The couple who married in 1929 returned to Sri Lanka in 1934. After returning to Sri Lanka he commenced the struggle to earn a living at the Bar and became famous as a poor man’s lawyer. His short practice as a lawyer ended when he was elected to State Council in 1936 representing Colombo South and he continued serving the State Council as an independent member until 1947. AP de Zoysa was a city father at Colombo Municipal Council too.

Sinhalese educational books

De Zoysa published several scholarly texts using his own printing press, which he bought in 1939. His greatest project, or the magnum opus he endured with help from Pali scholars was the translation of the Tripitaka (Buddhist scripture) into simple Sinhala; running into forty-eight volumes it took him twenty years to complete. Dr de Zoysa bought a printing press in 1939, and began to print a series of Sinhalese educational books; the weekly paper, Dharmasamaya was edited by him. He compiled and published Sinhala-English and English–Sinhala dictionaries as well. Zoysa, though a linguist and Buddhist intellectual, he possessed little knowledge in economics, commerce and national development. Once he was participating in a debate on the proposal to build the Norton Bridge Hydro-power Station, and spoke vehemently opposing the idea in State Council.

(Extract from Hansard 1947….) Dr A P de Zoysa- Member, Colombo South

Now where is the Capital? You get all power to run industries but where is the capital? Are you going to use the electricity to grow tea and rubber? Are you going to use electricity to improve your agriculture, or are you going to start factories and lose on them? The earlier we stop this and say, “before we get down the necessary plant, we must have the necessary market for our goods” the better it would be for the country.

Supposing you start manufacturing motor cars, what markets will you have for your products? Are you going to make motor-cars and any other goods for the Ceylon market only? Is the world market open to you? Can you even compete in this country with like goods sent from abroad...? I see the Honourable member for Kelaniya (JR) laughing.

J R Jayewardene —

I am sorry sir; I wanted to point out that the Honourable member for Bibile (W Dahanayake) was laughing.

Dr A P de Zoysa—

That honourable member is entitled to his views. The honourable Minister thinks of industries without considering whether we have necessary money, whether we have markets.

- HANSARD July 23, 1947 –Fol. 237/238… (70 years ago!)

The sarcasm of JRJ and Daha compelled the scholar to cut short and wind up his speech. Reminds one of the famous saying, “It is a scholar's weakness, to run narrow and deep.”

Here we have come to a very interesting guesswork. A Paulus de Zoysa was teaching at Royal before leaving for London in 1921. The 15 year-old JR in his 1921 diary, as his Biographer indicates had made an entry, ‘Mr Paulus called me the rankest slacker in the form…’. Was it Paulus de Zoysa or some other Paulus?

He was elected to Colombo South in State Council 1936, and he continued as an independent member until 1947. He supported the anti-dowry legislation improvements to state education and opposed death penalty, he spoke eloquently on such topics including minority rights which he was quite familiar with. He was also a municipal councillor in Colombo for many years, took a keen interest in local issues and campaigned to improve the Colombo’s amenities.

Two great historical research work, ‘Heroes and Saints of Ancient India’, and ‘Indian Culture in the Days of the Buddha’ were among famous books authored by him.

Buddhist Republican Party

He never joined any main stream political party, but spoke in support of progressive causes and of Buddhism as a universal philosophy. Dr. G.P. Malalasekera writing on him stated, “simplicity in life and dedication to work” and described Dr De Zoysa: “A man with rare integrity, great courage, perseverance and powers of endurance.” A nationalist political party was founded by A. P. de Zoysa in 1952, who named it ‘The Buddhist Republican Party’ (BRP). Its election symbol was a flower. He fielded three candidates in the 1952 parliamentary election, but mustered only 3,987 votes, less than 0.2 % of the national vote.

Dr A. P. De Zoysa, Lawyer, Historian, Social reformer and Buddhist scholar died on May 26, 1968. He was seventy eight-years-old.

Prof Carlo Fonseka reviewing the biography of Dr AP de Zoysa written by daughter Kumari Jayawardene says, “He was a highly principled politician and legislator of social democratic persuasion; a Buddhist reformer who rubbed shoulders with Anagarika Dharmapala in the British Mahabodhi Society and sought to establish a Buddhism devoid of superstitious credulity; a prodigious lexicographer; a versatile translator proficient in English, Sinhala, Pali and Latin; a dedicated schoolteacher who was also a visiting university lecturer in oriental languages; a nationalist and internationalist rolled into one; a humanistic radical thinker and creative writer.”

‘People who use their erudition to write for a learned minority... don't seem to me favoured by fortune but rather to be pitied for their continuous self-torture.’ – Desiderius Erasmus 


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