By Sharmini Serasinghe –
It appears that the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) and its acolytes have taken a page from the book of the Anagarika Dharmapala (Homeless Protector of the Dhamma) in espousing the same flavour of bigotry as he did in pre independent Ceylon. Intolerance of the religion of the other was the ‘Dhamma’ protected, practiced and propagated by this ‘National Hero’ the Anagarika Dharmapala!
Given the sociological climate of pre independent Ceylon one could appreciate the fact that the Anagarika was rebelling against the British colonial invader who were subjugating the masses in the most deplorable way. But when one takes a closer look at the obvious, he was not fighting the colonial invaders on behalf of all Lankans as a whole but only on behalf of the Sinhalese Buddhists in the country. In such a context can he be regarded as a National Hero?
What is also obvious is that the Anagarika’s reasons for rejecting British imperialism were not so much about the overall political and economic betterment of the country but more about establishing a Sinhala nation as the perceived historical custodian of Buddhism.
Though he died fifteen years prior to British occupied Ceylon gained independence he had aspired for Lanka to eventually emerge as a nation where Buddhism and the ‘pristine glory’ of his Sinhalese people could flourish again. Followers of other religious faith were therefore not included in his equation of a nation. This posture clearly divided the Sinhalese Buddhists of Lanka and the other ethno-religious citizenry of the country.
Therefore the Anagarika cannot be regarded as a pristine model of Buddhism which he aptly demonstrated through his chauvinistic rhetorical fire aimed not only at the colonial invaders but at his own countrymen as well. For him Lanka was only for Sinhala Buddhists and none other!
The Anagarika appears to have suffered from an acute persecution complex with regard to the survival of Buddhism, perhaps born out of a malaise of what he suffered under the British invader. He seems to have entertained a morbid fear of Buddhism becoming extinct.
Therefore he donned the mantle of a ‘Bodhisattva’ and projected himself as the saviour of Buddhism despite the Buddha not having entrusted him with the task of doing so. Nevertheless he did a bad job of it. Instead of spreading the message of the Dhamma and living by example as the Buddha had preached it, the Anagarika added his own flavour to the faith in the form of intolerance of other religions and ethnic groups- the exact opposite of the Dhamma.
The Anagarika’s intolerance of the other was clearly evinced through his customary vitriolic rhetorical fire-
He said “This bright, beautiful island was made into a Paradise by the Aryan Sinhalese before its destruction was brought about by the barbaric vandals. Its people did not know irreligion … Christianity and polytheism [i.e. Hinduism] are responsible for the vulgar practices of killing animals, stealing, prostitution, licentiousness, lying and drunkenness … The ancient, historic, refined people, under the diabolism of vicious paganism, introduced by the British administrators, are now declining slowly away.”
He also said “The Muhammedans, an alien people … by shylockian methods become prosperous like Jews. The Sinhala sons of the soil, whose ancestors for 2358 years had shed rivers of blood to keep the country free of alien invaders … are in the eyes of the British only vagabonds. The Alien South Indian Muhammedan come to Ceylon, sees the neglected villager, without any experience in trade … and the result is that the Muhammedan thrives and the sons of the sol go to the wall.”
This posture of the Anagarika contributed to religious tension between Buddhists and Muslims of pre independent Ceylon culminating in what history records as the ‘1915 Riots.’ It is said that the numbers of Lankans killed in these riots were in the thousands. For this the Anagarika too has blood on his hands while giving a foothold for ‘ethnocratic’ politics in post independent Lanka to take root as espoused by SWRD Bandaranaike.
In the end what the Anagarika propagated amongst the masses was a chauvinistic ideology under the banner of Buddhism devoid of the philosophy, intellectuality and a path to self discovery of the truth as the Buddha meant it to be. The Anagarika ‘Buddhism’ also comprised of unearthing Buddhist relics of the past and setting up symbols encouraging his followers to worship and revere Buddhism- the exact opposite of what the Buddha preached. Therefore the Anagarika’s ‘Buddhism’ was from the ‘outside’ and not the ‘inside’.
By doing so he contributed more to Buddhist archeology than to the Dhamma. By doing so he diverted the philosophy to a religion of worship catering to the gullible. By doing so he turned the philosophy into hypocrisy. By doing so he sapped the essence of the Dhamma!
In today’s context it appears the BBS, JHU and the rest of its ilk have chosen the path of ‘Buddhism’ as propagated by the Anagarika Dharmapala. It is precisely what he strived to establish in Lanka all those years ago- a Sinhalabuddhist nation with a subservient other. Therefore what is being observed today by the extremists under the banner of Buddhism is in effect the Anagarika’s ‘Sinhalabuddhism’ and not Buddhism.
Hence, would it not be better for those statues of the Buddha to be replaced by statues of the Anagarika Dharmapala?
Let those of us who wish to observe and follow the teachings of the Buddha as per the Dhamma be permitted to do so since Buddhists do not require statues to worship anyway and let the rest- the Sinhalabuddhist extremists follow their own path to self-destruction. After all this is a democracy!
Given all the above could the Anagarika be regarded as a National Hero or a Sinhalabuddhist Hero? I believe the latter would be more appropriate.