Brexit into Buddhism | Daily News

Brexit into Buddhism

 As far back as 1958, one of the popular magazines known to the readers as ‘World Digest’ carried an investigative essay titled as ‘Why Britons are Becoming Buddhists?’, written by an English writer named Vernon Brown. I was informed of this innovative trendsetting piece of writing by none other than the learned scholar Professor Gunapala Malalasekara.

I remember his words which went as ‘Please read the contents, for this is the type of essay one needs to be translated into other languages.” I remember how I went in search of the World Digest and read the contents as a schoolboy at the time. Brown triggers off with the following words:

Fresh flower

Flank the image of the Buddha

On the dais: in front of the image

A glass of water,

In a corner of the room, a gong to

Signal the end of meditation.

Brown takes the reader further deep into the subject in a meditative tone.

“The image and mystery of the east in a four-storey house in Ovington Gardens, Kensington, were you step back 2500 years by taking off your shoes and passing iron gates into the shrine.”

The setting is created for further information of what happens in the holy abode.

‘To this incense laden room come Buddhists of all races.”

Who are they? Sinhalese, Burmese, Russians, Chinese, French and British, to pay homage to ‘the Blessed One’, ‘The Venerable One’, ‘The All Enlightened One’ and ‘The Buddha’. Then the writer says that the holy place is known as ‘The Buddhist temple in London’ or Buddhist Vihara as it is known to many. In the place, according to the writer, one seeks happiness even for a moment by self knowledge, self mastery and virtue which is the message of the Buddha.

Then he goes on to state who the Buddha is. The Buddha was a son of a tribal king who found after a six-year search for Enlightenment while meditating under the Bo tree at Gaya in India. Shifting the attention of the reader from their historical past, the writer comes once again to his surroundings. He hears English voices from the reading room.

Blissful state

Two men who might be bank clerks or teacher are seen discussing what had been taught by the Buddha. They are seen discussing the concepts of the four Noble Truths and proceed on to Eight Noble paths that help them to elevate their day to day life into a blissful state of Nibbana, which is the ultimate aim. Sometimes they discuss these with their friends who have come to study from Sri Lanka (Ceylon at the time).

Time passes fruitfully getting to know more which lead them to read books written by such scholars as Rhys Davids and Christmas Humphreys. Both of them happened to be frequent visitors to this place. They too had links with the University of London, where the unit known as School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was introduced as an affiliated faculty.

According to the writer, more people are taking up Buddhism in Britain than ever before. At the time of writing the said article, there had been about 2000 British Buddhists. And the new converts are coming in at the rate of about 50 to 60 a month. It is also recorded that more than 100000 copies of a recent low-priced book on Buddhism had been sold. Perhaps this is a reference to the book titled ‘Buddhism’ as written by Christmas Humphreys.

The reader comes to know the rate of interest paid to the subject which resulted in the formation of Buddhist societies both in Oxford and Cambridge, where most of the members to the Buddhist society are British students. Brown quotes one of his informants in reference to the Buddhist societies of these two centres.

Shifted interest

“We get inquiries from all over the country. At first, people became fascinated because Buddhism was something ‘different’. The interest has now shifted to the more intelligent people, particularly teachers, scientists, doctors and people belonging to various church denominations.”

The moments of illumination in this article rests on the various spiritual segments underlined. Every year, the British Society takes up at a retreat of meeting monks and laymen for meditation. The basic methods of meditation are taught by the monks to the layment and from then the teachings lead to Dhamma discourses. Then he states that the term ‘discipline’ is taken seriously where ‘silence’ matters above all.

They sit in silence pondering on the messages of the Buddha, where the theory and practice blend into one entity. The abode is the Holy Temple, formed as recorded in 1954, under the trusteeship of a few philanthropists, Sinhalese, in response to the growing interest they have observed. Then the writer cites a name or two who are responsible for the promotion of the vision. One name is cited as Venerable Dr Hammalawa Saddhatissa Thera, the Sinhala Bhikkhu in charge who lives in a barely furnished room at the temple. The conversation that ensues between Venerable Saddhatissa Thera and the writer goes as follows.

The Venerable says: “I gave some talks at Oxford recently, and was gratified to see the extent of the interest among many of the students. They had an amazing thirst for Buddhist knowledge.”

Saffron discipline

The writer cites another name of a young monk who is known as Venerable K Sri Dhammananda. The description goes as a monk of 14 years who wears the saffron robe and his head shaven. Facing him is a time of hardship and self discipline. For the next few years, he will study Pali, the contemporary language with Sanskrit, and the teachings of the Buddha. The fascinating and resourceful piece of investigation comes to a close with the following lines that touch the spiritual plane.

Upstairs a thin

Musical voice was

Intoning Buddhist precepts…

I undertake the rule of training to refrain from injury to living things…

I undertake the rule of training to refrain from taking that which is not given…

I undertake the rule of training to refrain from sensuality… falsehood, liquor … what engenders slothfulness.

Down below the door bell rang, and a nervous young man entered. Another seeker after serenity.

Source: World Digest Volume 41. No 241. April 1958.

Reproduced from News Chronicle, London.­


 

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