The Anagarika Dharmapala (September 17, 1864 - April 29, 1933) was one of the most revered Buddhists in the 20th century. With the help of Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky he became a major reformer and revivalist of Sri Lankan Buddhism and a very crucial figure in its Western transmission. He spoke at the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions, founded the Maha Bodhi Society of India, and restored sacred Buddhist shrines.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Theosophical involvement
- 3 Maha Bodhi Society
- 4 Lecturing
- 5 Final years
- 6 Writings
- 7 Additional resources
- 8 Notes
The Anagarika Dharmapala was born as Don David Hewavitharane on September 17, 1864, in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). His parents were Don Carolis Hewavitharana, one of the wealthiest merchants in Ceylon, and Mallika Dharmagunawardhana (the daughter of Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana). His younger brothers were Dr. Charles Alwis Hewavitharana and Edmund Hewavitarne. The family was devoutly Buddhist, reading sacred texts daily and fasting on Full Moon Day. The boy was frequently in Buddhist temples under the guidance of the bhikkhus, including the High Priest of Ceylon, the Venerable H. Sri Sumangala.
The child attended a succession of Christian schools near his home in Colombo. Buddhist education had been suppressed by colonial administrations of the Portuguese, Dutch, and English. He was educated at the Church Mission Society's Christian College, Kotte; St Benedict's College in Kotahene, run by Roman Catholics; St. Thomas' College in Mt. Lavinia, a boarding school operated by Anglicans; and Colombo Academy (now Royal College). Bible studies and English language dominated the curriculum. Don David learned the tenets of Christianity thoroughly, but was repelled by the violence in the Old Testament and by meat consumption by his teachers. He held close to his early Buddhist training. At the age of eighteen, he left school:
I stayed at home for a while and devoured the books in the Pettah Library opposite my father's place of business. I read everything – ethics, philosophy, psychology, art and especially biography and history. I read many English poets, but always I would go back to Shelley, whom I had for years adored."
His father encouraged him to take a clerical position in a government office, but when he was twenty years-old, against protests from his family, he left for Adyar and joined the Theosophical Society.
The "Great Debate" and Founders' reaction
In 1874, when Dharmapala was only ten years old, he attended a great debate in Ceylon between Christians missionaries and the Buddhist monks H. Sri Sumangala and M. Gunananda (both of whom would later become members of the Theosophical Society). When Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky, the Founders of the Theosophical Society, heard about this some time later, they wrote to the Buddhists that, in the interest of universal brotherhood, they would come to Ceylon to help the Buddhist cause. Dharmapala wrote:
The letters from Colonel Olcott and Madame Blavatsky were translated into Sinhalese and widely distributed. My heart warmed toward these two strangers, so far away and yet so sympathetic, and I made up my mind that, when they came to Ceylon, I would join them.
They did come to Colombo a few years later, when I was sixteen. The Buddhists entertained them royally. I remember going up to greet them. The moment I touched their hands, I felt overjoyed. The desire for universal brotherhood, for all the things they wanted for humanity, struck a responsive chord in me. I began to read their magazine. . . . I pondered on the conversations I had had with the two Theosophists. I made up my mind not to entangle myself in the net of worldly desires. I would endeavor from then on to devote my life to the welfare of others. Exactly how I was to carry out my resolve, I was not certain, but I felt that somehow the way would be found in the writings of Madame Blavatsky.
Work with the Founders
Dharmapala started reading The Theosophist and other Theosophical books and as a result of this he grew progressively attracted to Madame. Blavatsky. Colonel Olcott, during a visit to Ceylon , signed up the young man as a member of the Theosophical Society on February 3, 1884. In December 1884 the young man asked to go to Madras to assist the work of Mme. Blavatsky and Col. Olcott. When his father balked, Dharmapala recounted:
Madame Blavatsky faced the priests and my united family. She was a wonderful woman, with energy and will-power that pushed aside all obstacles. She said: "That boy will die if you do not let him go. I will take him with me anyway".
Once in Adyar, he was willing to devote his life to the Theosophical cause. However, Mme. Blavatsky advised him not to take up the study of occultism but to learn Pāli instead and work for the welfare of humanity.
In 1886 he accompanied Col. Olcott and C. W. Leadbeater on a tour throughout Ceylon where he "worked hard for the welfare of the Theosophical Society and Buddhism." Dharmapala, his parents and uncle all worked alongside Col. Olcott for the Buddhist revival, including the introduction of the Buddhist flag as a unifying symbol, and supporting Buddhist schools. In 1889, he traveled with Olcott to Japan in an effort to create an ecumenical "International Buddhist League". Their journey through Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, and Shanghai was hard on Dharmapala's health, and when they encountered the winter cold of Japan, the young man had to be hospitalized due to severe rheumatism. After returning to South Asia, Dharmapala and Olcott worked to establish the Maha Bodhi Society in 1891.
An indication of his commitment to a spiritual life is shown by his applying to H.P.B.'s school of discipleship, the Esoteric Section of the T.S., on January 4, 1891. He recorded in his diary, "A new life has begun." His certificate of admission arrived on March 3, with a letter from Bertram Keightley, Blavatsky's representative of the esoteric school in India, advising him that "your progress and development will be determined by the quantity and quality of the work you do for the T.S. and the Masters and that your future status in the school will solely depend thereon." On May 8, 1891, Mme. Blavatsky died in London. Her passing was marked in his diary with the words, "My beloved teacher is no more."
World's Parliament of Religions
In 1893 Col. Olcott sponsored Dharmapala to be invited by the managers of the first World's Parliament of Religions in Chicago as a speaker representing Southern Buddhism. The young monk was scheduled to give lectures both at the Parliament and during the Theosophical Congress held at the same time. As the first Theravāda Buddhist missionary in the United States, his presence generated high expectations. W. Q. Judge wrote:
Our own beloved brother and Fellow-Theosophist, H. Dhammapala, Secretary of the Maha Bodhi Society, has been commissioned to represent the Southern Buddhist Church. It is expected by the Auxiliary managers that he will be one of the greatest attractions in the Parliament of Religions, and every courtesy will be extended to him by them during his stay in Chicago. The Local Committee on the Theosophical Congress hope to secure his services also during our sessions.
He sailed to England in July and was warmly greeted by Sir Edwin Arnold, Bertram Keightley, C. W. Leadbeater, and young C. Jinarājadāsa. He stayed in the home of Sir Edwin, and then in London with Annie Besant. Mrs. Besant was indignant to find that his steamer ticket to New York was third class, and she upgraded it to first class. She and Dharmapala arrived in the United States on September 2, greeted by Mr. Judge, and he continued to Chicago by train.
At the Parliament, his talks "The World's Debt to Buddha" and "Buddhism and Christianity" captivated people's attention. Dharmapala tried to make Buddhism appealing to his Western audience. His first talk was filled with references to science, the European Enlightenment, and Christianity. He explained to the Parliament that the Buddha had denied the existence of a Creator, and pointed out that the developing evolutionary science was preparing the Western minds for the Buddhist teachings. He remarked:
Accepting the doctrine of evolution as the only true one, with its corollary, the law of cause and effect, he condemns the idea of a creator and strictly forbids inquiry into it as being useless.
He added that Buddhism was "a comprehensive system of ethics and a transcendental metaphysics embracing embracing a sublime psychology".
Dharmapala also acted as a representative of the Ceylon Section of the Theosophical Society in the two-day congress organized by the TS within the context of the wider Parliament. He spoke twice here, the last one being for a general presentation of Theosophy, with 4,000 present. His opening words were the following:
Brothers and Sisters — A philosophical exposition of this grand subject of Theosophy is not within my province. Abler minds are here to give a Theosophic exposition of that beautiful subject. I am here as a Buddhist. I come to attend the religious Congress as such; but I am here to-day to express my deepest sympathy, my deepest, I should say, allegiance to the Theosophic cause, simply because it made me to respect my own religion. And now look: there are Brahmans here on this platform, and here are my sweet sister, Mrs. Muller, and my brother Chakravarti, one a Brahman and the other a Christian, and by the study of Theosophy she loves it just now more than she used to do.
Through these talks he brought the teachings of the Buddha to the Western world in a massive way for the first time. His work in the USA brought him international recognition. He made a deep impression on his Chicago hosts:
No one who saw him then could ever forget the noble and Christ like beauty of the noted Sinhalese Buddhist and friend of H. P. B., Dharmapala. Tall and almost luminously ascetic, robed classically in spotless white, he was a lodestone to the throngs who swarmed into those meetings. Merely to look at him was a revelation of character and spiritual attainment.
In a well-attended public ceremony under the auspices of the TS in Chicago, he conducted the first conversion to Buddhism of an American on American soil. The individual in question was Mr. C. T. Strauss, a Jewish haberdasher and member of the Theosophical Society delegation, who would later become an author and leading expositor of Buddhism in the West. After leaving Chicago he visited Brooklyn, N.Y.. There, he met more members of the Society, attended some meetings, and gave a talk at the Aryan Theosophical Society. On his way back home, he also stopped in San Francisco where once more he met members of the TS and lectured publicly for them, leading to much favorable comment in the newspapers of the West coast. He made a good impression among people who met him, described as one of "gentleness, sincerity, and devotion." Hawaiian Theosophists greeted him warmly when his steamer stopped in Honolulu, and there he met Mary E. Foster, who became a major donor to his causes.
While at the Parliament, Dharmapala encountered people who became important in his life: D. T. Suzuki, the brilliant Japanese scholar who was married to Theosophist Beatrice Lane Suzuki; and Dr. Paul Carus of Open Court Publishing Company. He became very friendly with Swami Vivekananda, and had great praise for the Hindu monk's impact on the Parliament.
1896-1897 visit to America
During his 1896-1897 trip to the US and subsequent visits, he lectured to Buddhists and Theosophists. Chicago Branch members wrote in December 1896:
The last few months we have had the advantage of having with us three "wise men from the East," the well-known Buddhist bhikshu, Anagariku H. Dharmapala, Virchand Ghandi, B. A., and Saalan, who are instructing us in Hindu philosophy, etc., and have been lecturing for us different Sunday Evenings on lines practically identical with Theosophical teachings.
During his stay in that city, The Chicago Vegetarian featured Dharmapala's portrait as the frontispiece, and printed his article "The Best Food for Man."
Differences with Col. Olcott
By this time, however, tensions had begun in his relationship with Theosophy, mainly due to his progressive identification with the Buddhist cause. Scholar David McMahan pointed out:
One of the important factors in his rejection of theosophy centered on this issue of universalism; the price of Buddhism being assimilated into a non-Buddhist model of truth was ultimately too high for him.
At the same time, differences arose between Col. Olcott and Dharmapala. The root of the problem seems to have been one of priorities. While Col. Olcott thought the first priority should be given to the spreading of the Buddhist teachings, Dharmapala gave prime importance to the struggle to regain control of the Temple at Bodh Gaya, a place where Gautama Buddha is said to have obtained Enlightenment and that was under the control of the Hindus. The differences grew and in 1905 Col. Olcott resigned from the Maha Bodi Society and Dharmapala from the Theosophical organization. However, Dharmapala always retained a connection with the teachings of Mme. Blavatsky. In July 1925 he wrote to Christmas Humphreys saying that HPB was "the messenger of the Masters of Trans-Himalayan Lodge" and that he was a member of the Blavatsky Association in London. He said he wished "to see through it the spread of such teachings as were given by HPB as she received them from the Masters" and added he thought there were "quite a number of Theosophists who are inclined towards the Buddha Dhamma".
Maha Bodhi Society
In 1885, Sir Edwin Arnold, author of The Light of Asia, published articles in The Telegraph drawing attention to the Buddha Gaya (Bodh Gaya) Temple, site of Guatama Buddha's enlightenment. The temple had been abandoned and was in deplorable condition. On January 22, 1891, Dharmapala, accompanied by Japanese priest Kozen Gunaratna, visited the site, and felt a tremendous urge to take action. He wrote in his diary,
As soon as I touched with my forehead on the Vajrasana a sudden impulse came to my mind. It prompted me to stop here and take care of this sacred spot so sacred that nothing in this world is equal to this place where Prince Sakyasinha gained Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree.
On May 31, 1891, the Budh-Gaya Mahabodhi Society was formed. The High Priest of Ceylon H. Sumangala was President, Col. Olcott was Director and Chief Advisor, and Dharmapala was General Secretary. The new Society solicited contributions to maintain a staff at the Buddha Gaya site. The Society convened an International Buddhist conference at Buddha Gaya in October, 1891. Headquarters were established in Calcutta (now Kolkata). A journal, The Maha Bodhi began publication in 1892, with Dharmapala serving as editor for many years.
While staying in England in 1893, he contacted William Rhys Davids, founder of the Pāli Text Society, for advice about the temple. Over the course of a number of years, the Maha Bodhi Society succeeded in restoring the ancient Buddhist shrines at Bodh Gaya, Sarnath, and Kushinara. Substantial donations by Hawaiian Theosophist Mary E. Foster facilitated this work.
The Society was effective in raising the consciousness of Buddhists about their heritage in India and Ceylon, and in increasing knowledge of Buddhism in the Western world. During his years with the Society, Dharmapala established Upasana Centres, libraries, schools, colleges, orphanages and hospitals in India and Sri Lanka to serve the general public. He was a strong advocate of independence both in India and Sri Lanka.
The Maha Bodhi Society of India continues actively in Kolkata, and related organizations are in Bangalore, Chennai, Colombo, and elsewhere.
Dr. Paul Carus of the Open Court Publishing Company in Chicago invited Dharmapala to return to the United States in 1896, and again in 1902-04. The Anagarika was much in demand as a speaker, particularly after his notable performance in Chicago at the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893. On October 30, 1896, he wrote this response to a request by Dr. J. D. Buck to schedule a lecture:
I have received your kind note. I am sorry I have engagements accepted all through November. Early December I may or may not remain in Chicago.
You ask me "What would your price or terms be." A follower of Buddha charges no price; he gives freely and abundantly. He lives for the world and works without expecting reward of any kind. Wherever I am asked to go I go.
This letter was printed on the stationery of the Open Court Publishing Company in Chicago, which published works of many Theosophists and was highly engaged with the concept of interfaith parliaments.
During a visit to Boston in December, 1903, he went to William James's class at Harvard University.
I tried unobtrusively to reach the back of the lecture-hall to hear the great teacher of psychology, but it is difficult for a man in a yellow robe to be inconspicuous in America. Professor James saw me and motioned for me to come to the front of the hall. He said: "Take my chair, and I shall sit with my students. You are better equipped to lecture on psychology than I am." After I had outlined to his advanced class some elements of Buddhist doctrine, he turned to this students and said, "This is the psychology everybody will be studying twenty-five years from now."
The last visit of Dharmapala to Ceylon was in 1931, when he founded the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust. On returning to India, he entered the holy order of Bhikkus, taking the name Sri Devamitta Dharmapala. In January 1933, he received the higher ordination, "Upasampada."
Anagarika Dharmapala died on April 29, 1933 at "Mulagandhakuti Vihara," the Buddhist temple which he built at Isipatana, Sarnath, near Benares. This was the location where he had entered the order of Bhikkus, and where Buddha had preached his first sermon after his enlightenment.
Dharmapala's last words were: "Let me die soon. Let me be reborn. I can no longer prolong my agony, I would like to be born again twenty-five times to spread the Buddha Dhamma."
Dharmapala was the founder and editor of The Maha Bodhi, journal of the Maha-Bodhi Society for many years. He regularly submitted articles to the popular newspapers, The Buddhist and Sinhala Bauddhaya, counseling people on how to lead pious, meritorious lives.
He also wrote for early Theosophical journals. The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists several articles by or about Dharmapala. He also wrote books and pamphlets. Many works are available in Sinhalese. Here are English-language publications in chronological sequence:
- The World's Debt to Buddha. 1893. Lecture at the World's Parliament of Religions.
- The Kinship between Hinduism and Buddhism. With Henry S. Olcott. Calcutta: The Maha-Bodhi Society, 1893.
- History of an Ancient Civilization: Ceylon under British Rule. Los Angeles, 1902. 6 pages.
- The Life and Teachings of Buddha. Madras : G.A. Natesan & Co., 1912.
- The Constructive Optimism of Buddhism. 1915.
- The Arya Dharma of Sakya Muni, Gautama, Buddha or, The Ethics of Self Discipline. Calcutta : Maha Bodhi Society, 1917. 232 pages. Available at Hathitrust.
- Buddhism in Its Relationship with Hinduism. Calcutta : Anagarika Brahmachari Dharmapala, Maha Bodhi Society, 1918.
- The Psychology of Progress, or, The Thirty Seven Principles of Bodhi. Calcutta: Maha Bodhi Society, 1921. 31 pages.
- Message of the Buddha. 1925.
- Evolution from the Standpoint of Buddhism. 1926.
Collections of his writings and lectures:
- Basic Buddhism. [Kandy or Colombo?]: All-Ceylon Buddhist Students' Union, 1945. 31 pages.
- Great sayings of Anagarika Dharmapala. Compiled by Bhikshu Sangharakshita and Buddhadasa P. Kirthisinghe. Kandy, Ceylon: Buddhist Publication Society, 1964. "This booklet is published as a tribute to the Birth Centenary of the late Venerable Anagarika Dharmapala ... The sayings reproduced here have been collected by Bhikshu Sangharakshita from the Vols. XVI, XIX, XXI, XXIII, XXV, and XXVII of the Maha Bodhi journal ... They were first published separately in 1957 by the Maha Bodhi Society of India, Calcutta ..."
- Return to Righteousness, a Collection of Speeches, Essays, and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala. Edited by Ananda W. P. Guruge. Colombo: Anagarika Dharmapala Birth Centenary Committee, Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, Ceylon, 1965. 875 pages. This is a collection of most of Dharmapala's writings.
Biographies are available in many languages, including Sinhalese, Marathi, Burmese, and Japanese. These are some English-language resources:
- "Anagarika Dharmapala" at Theosopedia.
- The Budh-Gaya Temple Case H. Dharmapala versus Jaipal Gir and Others. (Prosecution under sections 295, 296, 297, 143 & 506 of the Indian penal code). AD was the plaintiff in this case against Jaipal Gir in 1895. Available at Hathitrust and Internet Archive.
- Chatterji, Suniti Kumar. Maha Bodhi Society of India Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1891-1951. Calcutta: The Maha Bodhi Society, 1951.
- International Buddhist University. In Memory of the Ven'ble Anagarika Dharmapala. Calcutta: Dharmapala Memorial Committee, 1933.
- Kahawatte Siri Sumedha, Thero. Anagarika Dharmapala: A Glorious Life Dedicated to the Cause of Buddhism. 36 pages. A short biography.
- Kahawatte Siri Sumedha. Anagarika Dharmapala: the Lion of Lanka, Second Asoka in India: Saga of a Great National Hero, Social Reformer, and Buddhist Revivalist in the Modern Era. Varanasi: Kahawatte Siri Sumedha Thero, 2006. 511 pages.
- Prasoon, Shrikant. Anagarika Dharmapala in Spiritual Quadruplets. Varanasi: Pilgrims Pub., 2007. Poetry dedicated to Dharmapala.
- Kamburugoda, Soratha. Anagarika: Dharmapala's Buddhist Modernism in Sri Lanka. Thesis (M.A.)--Ohio University, June, 2003.
- Lancaster, Clay. Dharmapala's Key to Religion. Salvisa, KY: Warwick Publications, 1993. 23 pages.
- Sangharakshita, Bhikshu. Anagarika Dharmapala: a Biographical Sketch and Other Maha Bodhi writings. Ledbury, Herefordshire: Ibis Publications, 2013. 181 pages. Available at Wisdom Library and Buddhist Publication Society. First published in 1951 in Maha Bodhi Diamond Jubilee Souvenir. An excellent summary of Dharmapala's life, but lacking footnotes.
- Sangharakshita, Bhikshu. Flame in Darkness: the Life and Sayings of Anagarika Dharmapala. Pune : Triratna Grantha Mala for Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayaka Gana, 1980.
- Sangharakshita, Bhikshu. Great Buddhists of the 20th Century. Manchester, U.K.: Clear Vision, 1995. Videocassette.
- Seneviratne, Lakshman. The Anagarika Dharmapala: a Synopsis of His Eventful Life. Calcutta: Maha Bodhi Society, 1933. 9 pages.
- Trevithick, Alan. The Revival of Buddhist Pilgrimage at Bodh Gaya (1811-1949): Anagarika Dharmapala and the Mahabodhi Temple. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2006.
- Anagarika Dharmapala, "On the Eightfold Path: Memories of an Interpreter of Buddhism to the Present-Day World," Asia (September, 1927), 723.
- Daniel Caldwell, The Esoteric World of Mme. Blavatsky, (Wheaton, IL: Quest Books, 2000), 138-139.
- Anagarika Dharmapala, "On the Eightfold Path: Memories of an Interpreter of Buddhism to the Present-Day World," Asia (September, 1927), 723-724.
- C. V. Agarwal, The Buddhist and Theosophical Movements (Sarnath, Varanasi: Maha Bodhi Society of India, 2001), 35-36.
- Michael Gomes, "Anagarika Dharmapala" Keeping the Link Unbroken (Theosophical Research Monographs, 2004), 85.
- Maha Bodhi Society, Centenary Souvenir.
- Gomes, 85-86. His quotations from from "Diary Leaves of the Late Ven. Anagarika Sri Dharmapala" Maha Bodhi Journal 51 (Mar-Apr 1943):63, 127, 168, 218.
- Theosophical Society, The Theosophical Congress Held by the Theosophical Society at the Parliament of Religions (Chicago: American Section Headquaters TS, 1893), 6.
- Richard Hughes Seager, The World's Parliament of Religions (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 81.
- Richard Hughes Seager, The World's Parliament of Religions (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 111.
- Anonymous, "Faces of Friends," The Path VIII:9 (December, 1893), 273.
- Theosophical Society, The Theosophical Congress Held by the Theosophical Society at the Parliament of Religions (Chicago: American Section Headquarters TS, 1893), 28.
- Thomas A. Tweed (ed), Asian Religions in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 134.
- Michael Gomes, "Anagarika Dharmapala and the Theosophical Society," Centenary Souvenir Maha Bodhi Society, 1991. He is quoting Leoline Leonard Wright, "Vignettes from the World's Congress of Religions", Theosophical Forum (December 1938), 404.
- Richard Hughes Seager, The World's Parliament of Religions (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), 156.
- Anon., "Faces of Friends," The Path VIII:9 (December, 1893), 273.
- Rajagopal Chattopadhyaya, Swami Vivekananda in India: A Corrective Biography (Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1999), 165-168.
- Isabel M. Stevens, "T. S. Echoes: Chicago, December 7th," Mercury 3-5 (January, 1897), 19.
- Anonymous, "Book Reviews," Mercury 4.6 (February, 1897), 217.
- David L. McMahan, The Making of Buddhist Modernism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 111.
- C. V. Agarwal, The Buddhist and Theosophical Movements (Sarnath, Varanasi: Maha Bodhi Society of India, 2001), 68.
- C. V. Agarwal, The Buddhist and Theosophical Movements (Sarnath, Varanasi: Maha Bodhi Society of India, 2001), 57.
- "Maha Bodhi Society of India, Its History in Brief," Maha Bodhi Society of India website.
- Maha Bodhi Society, Centenary Souvenir .
- Michael C. Howard. Transnationalism and Society: An Introduction. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Co., 2011). 199.
- A. Dharmapala letter to J. D. Buck. Dated October 30, 1896. Cincinnati Theosophical Society Papers. Records Series 20.02.01. Theosophical Society in America Archives.
- Anagarika Dharmapala, "On the Eightfold Path: Memories of an Interpreter of Buddhism to the Present-Day World," Asia (September, 1927), 720.
- Chanaka Bandarage, "Anagarika Dharmapala - Greatest Sri Lankan of the 19/20 Centuries," Lankaweb (August 26, 2014). Available on Lankaweb