Thursday, April 29, 2010

Anagarika Dharmapala

April 29, 2010, marks the 77th anniversary of the passing of Anagarika Dharmapala, the great reviver of Buddhism in India. Dharmapala (Don David Hevavitarana, 1864-1933) met HPB on her visit to Sri Lanka in 1880 and was captivated. He joined the TS in 1884 at the age of 19 and traveled to Adyar with her. “In those days the theosophic atmosphere was saturated with the aroma of the devotion of Himalayan Masters to the Lord Buddha,” he later recalled. He wanted to go the Himalayas to be with them, but HPB encouraged him to study Pali instead. He returned to Sri Lanka and worked for the Theosophical Society, serving as Col. Olcott’s interpreter on the latter’s tours of the island, and later traveled with Olcott to Japan in 1889.

Visiting India again in 1891 he traveled to Bodhgaya where the Buddha had attained enlightenment. The ruinous condition of the place motivated him to work for its restoration as a Buddhist pilgrimage center, and he started the Maha Bodhi Society in Calcutta in 1891 to that end. In 1893 he represented the priests of Sri Lanka at the Chicago World’s Parliament of Religion. Returning to India, he agitated for the cause of Bodhgaya. He was interred in Calcutta from 1916 to 1919 by the British Government to keep him from returning to Sri Lanka where he was an advocate for nationalism. Before his death in 1933 he was ordained a bhikku, having previously defined himself as a religious non-attached lay person—the Anagarika Dharmapala.

Towards the end of his life he wrote, “I owe everything to my parents, to the late Madame Blavatsky, and to the late Mrs. Foster [his patron].” Little of substance is available on Blavatsky’s influence on Dharmapala. K. Paul Johnson adds to the confusion when he asserts that Dharmapala’s 1884 visit to India came about because Blavatsky “proclaimed that the Master KH had directed her to bring David back to Adyar with her,” Initiates of Theosophical Masters, p. 115. Dharmapala, our main source of information about this event, who has written a detailed account, makes no such claim. More reliable is Michael Gomes’ (is there anything related to Blavatsky that he hasn’t written on ?) “Anagarika Dharmapala and the Theosophical Society” in the Centenary Souvenir of the Maha Bodhi Society, Madras, 1991, and “Anagarika Dharmapala at the World’s Parliament of Religions” in Keeping the Link Unbroken: Theosophical Studies Presented to Ted G. Davy on his Seventy-fifth Birthday, 2004.

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