(33) Dharmapala and Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism: What is the major current of modern Buddhism in Sri Lanka?

Dharmapala Buddhist Columns & Dharma Talks

Travels to Buddhist sites in India and Sri Lanka (33)
Dharmapala and Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism - What is the major stream of modern Buddhism in Sri Lanka?

Previous Article(32) A Brief History of Sri Lanka's Colonial Period: The Historical Background to the Emergence of the Dharmapala."I gave a very brief history of Sri Lanka in Section 2, and now I will finally talk about Dharmapala, a very important figure in Sri Lanka, in this article.

Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933)Wikipedia.

This Dharmapala is the one who advocated "Sinhala Buddhist nationalism" that led to the Sri Lankan Civil War.

Now for a commentary on that "Sinhala Buddhist Nationalism" and the Dharmapala.Fifty-eight chapters in Getting to Know Sri Lanka."Let's look at it from the

Sinhala nationalism is also called Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. At its core is the assertion that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese and that true Sinhalese are Buddhists. It is also believed that Sri Lanka is an island of Dhammaditya (Buddhism) and that the Sinhalese are the chosen people to protect Buddhism. The greatest evidence for this is found in old historical texts, which state that the Buddha himself entrusted the protection of Buddhism to the legendary prince Uijaya, who is said to have conquered Sri Lanka. It is also said that a sense of racial superiority on the grounds of being an "Aryan" added to this idea of election. Sinhalese who speak Sinhala, an Indo-European language, are considered to be "pure and superior Aryans.

While not all Sinhalese are Sinhala nationalists, the influence of this ideology is still very strong today. For example, government officials openly state that Sri Lanka "belongs to the Sinhalese people," a statement that goes largely uncriticized. It is said that the political assertion that Sri Lanka is a Sinhalese country has an emotional appeal to the masses. However, it was not until the late 19th century that this ideology was clearly articulated and became a major mobilizing force, and it is clearly a very modern idea. The formation and expansion of this ideology was deeply influenced by British colonial rule.

Akashi Shoten, Yoshio Sugimoto, Fumiko Takakuwa, and Shinsuke Suzuki (eds.), 58 Chapters to Know Sri Lanka, P57-58

How about it, I am sure you are surprised by the discourse that "Sinhalese are Aryans and are the superior race". This book is only an introduction. This specialized book on the Dharmapala and Sinhala Buddhist nationalism, written by Yoshio Sugimoto, is an introduction to the Dharmapala and Sinhala Buddhist nationalism.The Legacy of Buddhist Modernism."Now we come to an even more startling revelation. It was Sinhala Buddhist nationalism that was the source of an incredibly radical discourse.

Let's continue to look at the explanations.

In the colonial underground, Sinhala nationalism first spread among the populace in the form of the Buddhist revival movement. In the early years of the British colonial period, many Christian missions began their activities. 19th century Sri Lanka experienced rapid modernization in terms of market economy and government organization. Along with this, the demand for education expanded greatly, and mission schools were a major part of this expansion. The colonial government found it far more efficient to support missionary schools than to establish schools themselves. Thus, most children studied in mitzvah schools.

Since the purpose of the missionaries' activities was, of course, to propagate Christianity, Christian religious education was provided even to Buddhists in schools. Thus, many people became concerned that their students would be influenced by Christianity from an early age. In addition, missionaries actively criticized Buddhism. Under these circumstances, many people began to believe that Buddhism was in danger.

Akashi Shoten, Yoshio Sugimoto, Fumiko Takakuwa, and Shinsuke Suzuki (eds.), 58 Chapters to Know Sri Lanka, P58

I mentioned in my previous article about the rapid increase of the emerging elite in Colombo after the British took over. These new elites and their children were all educated in English. This English and Christian education had an extremely significant impact on the modernization (westernization) of Buddhism. I will talk about this in a later article. In any case, the English and Christian education created an anti-Christian and anti-British feeling among the Sri Lankan people, which stimulated their Sinhala Buddhist identity.

The Buddhist revival movement began to gain momentum around the mid-19th century. People challenged Christian missionaries and tried to prove the superiority of Buddhism. They also established local chapters, held meetings, and read Buddhist scriptures. In the 1880s, the Theosophical Society, a group founded in the United States, visited Sri Lanka to support the Buddhist revival movement. The leader of this organization, Colonel Olcott (who had earned this title for his work in the Civil War), was particularly instrumental in unifying the divided Buddhist monastic communities and establishing schools.

Akashi Shoten, Yoshio Sugimoto, Fumiko Takakuwa, and Shinsuke Suzuki (eds.), 58 Chapters to Know Sri Lanka, P58
Mrs. Blavatsky (left), founder of the Theosophical Society, and Colonel Olcott (right)Wikipedia.

This theosophical association is a major point in considering the Dharmapala.

From here by Koji KawashimaSri Lanka and Ethnicity."to cite.

The Theosophical Society was founded in New York in 1875 by Helena P. Blavatsky and Henry Steele Alcott. The organization took a decidedly anti-Christian stance, especially in its early years. At its founding convention, for example, Olcott dismissed Christianity as a false religion and called on his audience to fight against it. Theosophy, as the name implies, means divine wisdom. It became especially common in the 17th century, when it was used in attempts to explore the occult or mystical, and was also called "esoteric knowledge," "spiritual science," and so on. (omitted)

The Theosophical Society of Orcutt and others gained supporters around the world. (omitted).

Many branches were also established in India, and by 188 the number of branches in India was 127. One of the reasons why so many people in Europe and elsewhere paid attention to the work of the Theosophical Society was that Theosophy, while dealing with religion, was not a religion at all, but an endeavor to discover the roots of various religions. It is believed that the basic principles of theosophy attracted people who, in the midst of modernization and the development of scientism, felt a "distrust of conventional religion" but could not accept "crude materialism.

Akashi Shoten, Koji Kawashima, Sri Lanka and Ethnic Groups: The Formation of Sinhala Nationalism and Minority Groups, p. 33

It is important to note that the Theosophical Society "rejects Christianity" and advocates "true knowledge (experience) that can withstand scientific and rational modern thinking. Some of you may be thinking, "Oh?" at the use of the word "scientific" to criticize existing religions. Some of you may be thinking, "Oh? Yes, this is reminiscent of Marxism. A representative work of Engels, who contributed immensely to the propagation of Marxist thoughtFrom Fancy to Science.is precisely the work that impressed the world with the word "scientific.

From the middle of the 19th century to the 20th century, traditional religions were branded as superstition in Europe, where technological innovation was progressing due to the Industrial Revolution, and there was a time when scientific rationality was demanded. Of course, whether the theosophical and Marxian thought was truly scientific or not is another matter.

The Theosophical Society, which opposed this Christianity, became strongly interested in Hinduism and Buddhism, and shifted the focus of its activities to India and Sri Lanka. Olcott actively supported Buddhism in Sri Lanka, playing a major role in establishing Buddhist schools and the Buddhist flag.

In fact, the Theosophical Society has had a great influence on Japanese Buddhism and has a connection with D.T. Suzuki. Zen," which is now a major worldwide movement, cannot ignore the connection with the Theosophical Society.

It was Dharmapala who gained power through contact with such a theosophical society. Let us continue with the explanation.

The Buddhist revival movement in Sri Lanka may be said to have reached a turning point with Anagarika Dharmapala. He differed significantly from those who worked before him in that he greatly emphasized not only Buddhist revival and anti-Christianity, but also Sinhalese identity.

Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933) was born as the eldest son in a Goigama family, the highest caste in Sri Lanka. The family business was a wealthy furniture dealer. This company named H. Don Carolis was founded in 1860 and is still one of the major furniture companies in Sri Lanka. The founder of this company, Dharmapala's father, along with many other Sinhalese Buddhist businessmen, supported the financial foundation of the Buddhist revival movement. Since most educational institutions were Christian at the time, Dharmapala was also educated in Catholic and Church of England schools. However, in his opposition to these mission schools, he gradually began to pay greater attention to the activities of Buddhist monks such as Gunananda and Sumangala and the Theosophical Society, as mentioned above.

Dharmapala joined the Buddhist Theosophical Society in 1884 and carried out the activities of the Society while working as secretary in the Education Department of the Ceylon Government Office. In 1886, he resigned from his position in the Government Office and thereafter devoted himself to the activities of the Society. He then gradually began to work on his own, while maintaining a certain relationship with Olcott and the Theosophical Society. In 1891, he founded the Maha Bodhi Society, the main purpose of which was to establish a Buddhist monastery and university in Bodh Gaya, India, to accommodate Buddhists from all over the world, and to publish Buddhist literature in English and other Indian languages. A branch was also established in Sri Lanka, which contributed greatly to the transmission of Dharmapala thought.

Akashi Shoten, Koji Kawashima, Sri Lanka and Ethnic Groups: The Formation of Sinhala Nationalism and Minority Groups, p. 42-44

As mentioned in the latter part of this quote, Dharmapala would be heavily involved in the movement to retake Bouddh Gaya. As I will discuss in a later article on Buddhist sites in India, it is fair to say that Buddhagaya was a Hindu city and that Buddhagaya as a Buddhist holy site did not exist at that time. The Dharmapala aimed to reclaim such a Bodh Gaya from the hands of the Hindus.

Just by Noriko MaejimaFrom Ruins to Sacred Sites: Buddhist Sacred Sites in a Globalized World.But it is a rather unreasonable claim to "take back" a city that has been inhabited by Hindus in the first place, as is also discussed in the following section. It is like asking the Hindus who lived there to leave. I will discuss these issues later.

The next section then gives the core commentary on the Dharmapala.

Dharmapala is best known for his efforts to revive Buddhism, but he was also a strong advocate of Sinhala identity. He frequently used the term Sinhalese.

According to him, for example, "the Sinhalese are Aryans," belonging to a "superior race," and "Sinhalese art is ...... in no way tainted by foreign influences such as Greek or Persian. Or that Sri Lanka, "a shining and beautiful island," was created by Sinhalese hands. And it was everything that was foreign or "foreign" (para) that was detrimental to this superior Sinhalese culture and society.

In fact, the hostility of the Dharmapala appears to have been directed against all non-Sinhalese. It was, for example, "Christian and Islem missionaries," or "South Indian outcasts brought by the British," the Moors (marakkala), Malayalis (kocci), Tamils (demala), and Burghers ( lansi).

He also directed his hostility against the liquor brought by the British or against the British themselves, who were "vile and lowly whites" (para suddho). Dharmapala appealed to the Sinhalese to wake up, unite, and be patriotic. He asked them to think of the great men of the past, the "more than one million" who died fighting the invaders, "making rivers of blood" and "keeping this country for the Sinhala people.

Clearly, at the base of Dharmapala's thought was what he believed to be the superiority and purity of Sinhalese history, tradition, culture, or racial origin, with Buddhism at its core.

And so was the dislike, contempt, and hostility toward anything "foreign" that decimated such a superior people.

This means that for Dharmapala, the Buddhist revival movement in Sri Lanka was not merely about religious boundaries, but also about ethnic boundaries. In his thought, the ethnic conflict of "Sinhalese versus non-Sinhalese" occupied as large a place as the religious conflict of "Buddhism versus Christianity.

This may mean, as John Rogers says, that religion became a secondary identity, and race or ethnicity became largely accepted during this period as an underlying social division. In any case, the attack on the "non-Buddhist" and "non-Sinhalese" took various forms and directed at various communities toward the end of the nineteenth century. In this context, several conflicts and riots broke out.

Akashi Shoten, Koji Kawashima, Sri Lanka and Ethnic Groups: The Formation of Sinhala Nationalism and Minority Groups, p. 44-45

It is not so easy to explain why the Dharmapala hated non-Sinhalese so much and saw them as enemies. As I have said in previous articles, each person has his or her own context. Dharmapala is no exception, and various factors in Sri Lanka's history have driven him. It would take a whole book to tell Dharmapala's context here. If you are interested in this Dharmapala, please read Yoshio Sugimoto'sThe Legacy of Buddhist Modernism."I would like you to read the following book. This very book is a detailed biographical commentary on the Dharmapala, its ideas, and its impact on society.

In any case, Buddhism became integrated with nationalism in Sri Lanka and became a source of ethnic conflict. In the years that followed, ethnic conflicts intensified in Sri Lanka, and terrorism and skirmishes became frequent. Buddhism was no longer a teaching of peace, but was propagated as a jihadist ideology of the Sinhalese people.

Of course, Dharmapala himself was not all about extremism, and not all Sri Lankan Buddhists were fervent adherents of such extremism. Most of them would have been separate from such radical thought. However, it is extremely difficult to stop the flow once it starts moving as a group. It is not herd mentality, but the fear of the group is something the Japanese are painfully aware of. It is undeniable that there was a flow of events that was irresistible, no matter what each individual thought.

In addition, something that we Japanese may not be able to realize is that India and Sri Lanka have a long history of colonial rule. This history of suffering is naturally strongly related to independence and political movements. Dharmapala's Sinhala Buddhist nationalism was also born out of this context. Dharmapala Buddhism is not simply a Buddhist issue.

Wars and conflicts do not occur solely because of religion. Religion may be one of the causes, but there are many overlapping factors. Religion can easily serve as a cover or scapegoat. Moreover, religion can be used as a tool to incite war and conflict.

As a priest and a religious person, it is truly painful, but this is a sad fact. I believe that religion has the power to save people. But that power can also be used as a tool for conflict. We must accept this reality. The question is how we live with it.

That is why I came all the way to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka.

Civil war ruins in the city of Jaffna

I had to come here.

Jaffna, a Tamil city that had to fight against the Sinhalese, was one of the most fiercely fought cities during the civil war.

I really wanted to think about Buddhism and civil war here.

In the next article I will discuss the development of Buddhist sacred sites in conjunction with the Sri Lankan Civil War and Sinhala Buddhist nationalism. How the Anuradhapura site we have seen so far came to be what it is today will be revealed here. I am sure you will all be surprised.

Next Article.

Click here to read the previous article.

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