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Friday 19 September 2014

Anagarika Dharmapala

On Wednesday there were few meetings to commemorate the hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala. However, many people, I am afraid, were not aware of the event, and were more interested in the reduction of the electricity bill announced by the President, the previous day. The opposition led by Ranil Wickremesinghe had not at all herd of the hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala, and was busy claiming that the electricity bill had been reduced by Harin Fernando, who is not even the leader of the UNP group in Badulla District. The opposition without slogans, policy, vision, mission or anything else has gone down to schoolboy level making such nonsensical statements. It is very unlikely that they have any regard or respect for or memory of Anagarika Dharmapala. Does Harin Fernando know much about Anagarika Dharmapala?

It is not only the UNP that ignored Anagarika Dharmapala, but the JVP and other opposition political parties as well. As far as the JVP is concerned Anagarika Dharmapala was probably a colonialist who helped the British (English) empire. (If Scotland decides to leave the so called United Kingdom it would spell disaster not only to England but to USA as well.) Leave alone the JVP, what did the splinter groups JHU and JNP do to commemorate the hundred and fiftieth birth anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala? These two parties are supposed to be nationalistic but it may be that they do not consider Anagarika Dharmapala as nationalistic. Even the Desha Hithaishee Jathika Vyaparaya headed by Gunadasa Amarasekera who was instrumental in introducing Anagarika Dharmapala as a nationalist who fought against the colonialists, ignored the event, as far as I am aware of.

The President took part in a meeting to commemorate the birth anniversary and said that Anagarika Dharmapala was a pioneer of vocational training in the country. The President reminded the audience that Anagarika Dharmapala wanted the youth to train themselves in industrial work and that he was interested in establishing a workshop for match-box industry in the country. The President has also declared the year that commenced on the 17th of September 2014 as the Anagarika Dharmapala year. However, unless a detailed programme is planned out in advance the Anagarika Dharmapala year would have the same fate that Sambuddhathava Jayanthi year had a few years ago.

It may be that the people are not interested in these anniversaries anymore. In 1956 the Buddha Jayanthi was dawned with much fanfare that aroused nationalistic feelings among the people. It led to the victory of fifty six then but one could argue that recently the political victories have already been attained in 2005, 2010 not to mention the Nandikadal Victory in 2009 in the military front. Thus one could say that we did not want any more symbolical victories as such.

However, one should have any idea of what we have achieved during the last hundred and fifty years but more importantly what we could not or have not achieved. Anagarika Dharmapala was very harsh in the words he used and he referred to Kochchiyas Hambayas and others who deprived the Sinhalas of jobs as founded by the English. It is wrong to say that unlike some present day Bhikkus Anagarika Dharmapala criticized only the Sinhalas but not the others. On the other hand there are NGO pundits and others who would lose no time in referring to so called weaknesses of Anagarika Dharmapala sometimes calling him a homosexual and a person who misused the money donated by others.

We should not be bothered by the accusations of NGO pundits as they would echo only the views of the colonialists but we should critically examine what Anagarika Dharmapala did not or could not achieve. An Anagarika Dharmapala was born in the nineteenth century as the Sinhala Buddhists were the downtrodden of all the communities in spite of them being the community that was responsible for the history and culture of the country. It is the Sinhala Buddhist history and culture that prevailed in the country, but the English made sure that the Sinhala Buddhists were discriminated against.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the situation was so bad that it called for the pancha maha vada including the Panadura Vadaya that awakened not only young David Hewawitharane, but the American Henry Steel Olcott as well. Very few people are aware that the two did not see eye to eye but criticized each other through the newspapers Sinhala Bauddhaya and Sarasavi Sandaresa. Essentially Anagarika Dharmapala was a Sinhala Buddhist while Olcott was an international Buddhist without any nationality as such.

It was Anagarika Dharmapala who reinforced Sinhalaness and Bauddhathva after 1815, but Olcott wanted to separate Sinhalaness from Bauddhtahva thus giving leadership to an hitherto non existing species that could be called Olcott Buddhists. It is these Olcott Buddhists who are still around who criticize the so called excesses of some of the present day Bhikkus. What the Olcott Buddhists would not realize is that if not for these Bhikkus who were involved in “excesses” from the time of King Gemunu to Ven. Migettuwatte Gunanada Thera there would not have been a Sinhala nation in the country. Once Sinhala is separated from Bauddhathva it is easy to weaken the national movement, a fact which Anagarika Dharmapala probably understood by intuition.

As far as Anagarika Dharmapala was concerned there was no Buddhism even internationally without the Sinhalas, a fact that can be said to be correct as far as Theravada Buddhism is concerned. Thus Anagarika Dharmapala wanted Sinhala people to be awakened and save Buddhagaya, which appeared to be a contradiction. In any event Anagarika Dharmapala was able to see  Sinhala Buddhism as a culture in its totality, though he did not spell it out in so many words.

However, it is this Sinhala Buddhism as a culture that some Olcott Buddhists cannot see and they think that Bududhama would be protected without the so called excesses of some Bhikkus. It is the Olcott Buddhists who finally join hands with NGO pundits in attacking the Sinhala Buddhism as a culture and we have to see that these Olcott Buddhists who prolong their political lives due to media circuses and other facilities through the internet and cyberspace are defeated in their own den.

On the other hand Sinhala Buddhists should take steps immediately to safeguard their interests in the present Eastern Province that are being eroded under anti Sinhala Buddhist attacks. Even the Sinhala Ministers in this province do not take action against these activities for the fear of losing non Sinhala Buddhist votes. Such are the perils of English democracy that we have been accustomed to.

Anagarika Dharmapala fought against some colonial activities but was unable to understand that some of the matters he supported were anti Sinhala Buddhist due to the absence of a proper analysis of the events. However, what is more regrettable is the use of the name of the Anagarika Dharmapala and also the “property” that the “dayakes” had donated to the Anagarika Dharmapala by a few who call themselves Sinhala Buddhists for their survival.

Nalin De Silva