Today is the 144th Birth Anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala :
A man with untiring spiritual effort
Dharmapala spent in India about 40 years of his life of 69. He worked day and night for Buddhism revival in India. He enlisted the co-operation of
influential men in India and Asian
countries those days for this effort and succeeded in establishing a strong Buddhist presence in India.
Born on September 17, 1864 as Don David Hewavitharne, the Anagarika Dharmapala, who was instrumental in reviving Buddhism in India, also played a central role in changing the minds of Sri Lankan people and made them demand freedom. He was an evangelist, religion-revivalist, social reformer, freedom-fighter and journalist all in one.
Dharmapala was drawn towards the Theosophists at a very early age. That was when he was 14 and joined the S. Thomas’ College in Colombo in 1878. He came to learn about the Theosophical Society and its founders, Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky. Dharmapala frequented to the Theosophical Society, questioning and learning about religions, their philosophy and theosophy, etc.
A delegation of Theosophists came to Sri Lanka in May, 1880. Meeting them in Colombo was an event of permanent delight to Dharmapala. He listened to the speech of Col. Olcott and lost no time in expressing his desire to join the Theosophical Society. Col. Olcott was prepared to admit him even though he was under-aged, for in Dharmapala he saw a mature and sharp mind that can understand non-material/out-of-world things. Sure he was cut out for a different role in the world. The young Dharmapala began to feel that his dreams of a higher life were beginning to come true. With the permission of his parents, Dharmapala left them to do full time work in Theosophical headquarters. He worked hard for the cause of Theosophists in Sri Lanka and enriched himself.
Dharmapala went back to Colombo and was always wailing about the condition of holy places of the Buddha in India. As a first step he founded Maha Bodhi Society on May 31, 1891. The Society stands today, for the preservation of the illustrious heritage that Buddhism has donated to the world. Having started originally with branches in India and several countries of Asia, now the Maha Bodhi Societies have expanded to Europe, United Kingdom and United States of America. The society now reaches to 117 centres of service in the world.
The most momentous landmark in the journey of Buddhism to the Western World was the participation of Anagarika Dharmapala in the World’s Parliament of Religion at Chicago in 1893. The fascinating, magnetic personality of Dharmapala created a tremendous impact., and his speech on Buddha stirred the religious leaders assembled there.
After the first 25 years which he spent in Sri Lanka, Dharmapala was to live another 44 years. He spent some 90% of that period living abroad. He travelled around the world five times, visited Japan on four occasions.
In 1925 and 1926, he toured Europe and the United States before spending a considerable time in London where he established the first Buddhist temple of Europe in 1926. He never settled anywhere (except India) very long, and in a sense he did not live “abroad” at all.
His journal the Maha Bodhi, published his travel schedules and his visits so that his followers in Sri Lanka, India, Burma, Japan and the West could reach him.
Dharmapala spent in India about 40 years of his life of 69. He worked day and night for Buddhism revival in India. He enlisted the co-operation of influential men in India and Asian countries those days for this effort and succeeded in establishing a strong Buddhist presence in India.
Anagarika Dharmapala was a great patriot, who loved his country and t he Sinhala nation. For a brief period he was arrested by the British rulers and detained for five years in prison in Calcutta. He loved his religion and his people more. Both were so endangered to the point of extinction in the island that he had to concentrate all his efforts and energy on saving them. No other community or religion faced such a dire threat.
Yet his outlook was international. He was truly a world figure.
Anagarika Dharmapala died on April 29, 1933 at Saranath, Benares, India as Venerable Sri Devamitta Dhammapala. His last words are “Let me die soon, let me be reborn... I would like to be reborn twenty five times over or more times in India so as to spread the Buddha’s Dharma.” Dharmapala and his mission are of the greatest relevance to the modern world.
Dharmapala was a man with a vision, was born to carry out a greater mission, an inspiring person who carried out social reforms and religious activities simultaneously in two different countries - Sri Lanka and India.