Anagarika Dharmapala
In Theravada Buddhism, an anagarika is a person who has given up most or all of his worldly possessions and responsibilities to commit fulltime to Buddhist practice. It is a midway status between monk and layperson where one takes on the Eight Precepts for the entire anagarika period, which could...

(Sinhala:අනගාරික ධර්මපාල) (17 September 1864 - 29 April 1933) was a leading figure of Buddhism in the twentieth century. He was one of the founding contributors of Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalism and Protestant Buddhism. He was also a pioneer in the revival of Buddhism in India after it had been virtually extinct there for several centuries, and he was the first Buddhist in modern times to preach the Dharma in three continents: Asia
Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population...

, North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, and Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

. He was a major reformer and revivalist of Sri Lankan Buddhism.


He was born Don David Hewavitarane in Colombo
Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is often referred to as the capital of the country, since Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is a satellite city of Colombo...

, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

, to Don Carolis Hewavitharana
Don Carolis Hewavitharana
Don Carolis Hewavitharana Wijeyaguneratne was a Ceylonese businessman, industrialist, philanthropist and a pioneer of the Buddhist revival movement. He was the father of Anagarika Dharmapala, and created a political family of considerable influence.-Early life:He was born in Yatiyana, Hittetiya,...

 and Mallika Dharmagunawardhana (the daughter of Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana
Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana
Muhandiram Lansage Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana was a Sri Lankan businessman, a philanthropist and a pioneer of the Buddhist revival movement...

), who were among the richest merchants of Ceylon. His younger brothers were Dr Charles Alwis Hewavitharana
Charles Alwis Hewavitharana
Charles Alwis Hewavitharana, FRCS, LRCP was a Ceylonese physician who played a significant role in Sir Lanka's Sri Lankan independence movement...

 and Edmund Hewavitarne
Edmund Hewavitarne
Edmund Hewavitarne was a Ceylonese businessman and reservist. Member of Ceylon Defence Force he was court marshaled for treason and died in prison, he was pardoned posthumous pardon...


Sri Lanka was then a British
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 colony known as Ceylon, so Hewavitarne's state education
Education in its broadest, general sense is the means through which the aims and habits of a group of people lives on from one generation to the next. Generally, it occurs through any experience that has a formative effect on the way one thinks, feels, or acts...

 was an English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 one: he attended C.M.S. Boys School (Christian College), Kotte, St Benedict's College, Kotahene, S. Thomas's College, Mt Lavinia and the Colombo Academy.

This was a time of Buddhist revival. In 1875 in New York
New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

, Madame Blavatsky
Madame Blavatsky
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky , was a theosophist, writer and traveler. Between 1848 and 1875 Blavatsky had gone around the world three times. In 1875, Blavatsky together with Colonel H. S. Olcott established the Theosophical Society...

 and Colonel Olcott
Henry Steel Olcott
Colonel Henry Steel Olcott was an American military officer, journalist, lawyer and the co-founder and first President of the Theosophical Society....

 had founded the Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society
The Theosophical Society is an organization formed in 1875 to advance the spiritual principles and search for Truth known as Theosophy. The original organization, after splits and realignments has several successors...

. They were both very sympathetic to what they understood of Buddhism, and in 1880 they arrived in Ceylon, declared themselves to be Buddhists, and publicly took the Refuges
Three Jewels
The Three Jewels, also called the Three Treasures, the Siemese Triples, Three Refuges, or the Triple Gem , are the three things that Buddhists take refuge in, and look toward for guidance, in the process known as taking refuge.The Three Jewels are:* BuddhaTaking refuge in the Three Jewels is...

 and Precepts from a prominent Sinhalese
Sinhalese people
The Sinhalese are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group,forming the majority of Sri Lanka,constituting 74% of the Sri Lankan population.They number approximately 15 million worldwide.The Sinhalese identity is based on language, heritage and religion. The Sinhalese speak Sinhala, an Indo-Aryan language and the...

A Bhikkhu or Bhikṣu is an ordained male Buddhist monastic. A female monastic is called a Bhikkhuni Nepali: ). The life of Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis is governed by a set of rules called the patimokkha within the vinaya's framework of monastic discipline...

. Colonel Olcott kept coming back to Ceylon and devoted himself there to the cause of Buddhist education, eventually setting up more than 300 Buddhist schools, some of which are still in existence. It was in this period that Hewavitarne changed his name to Anagarika Dharmapala.

'Dharmapala' means 'protector of the dharma'. 'Anagarika' means "homeless one". It is a midway status between monk and layperson. As such, he took the eight precepts (against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, harmful speech, intoxication, eating after noon, entertainments and fashionable attire, and luxurious beds) for life. These eight precepts were commonly taken by Sri Lankan laypeople on observance days. But for a person to take them for life was highly unusual. Dharmapala was the first anagarika - that is, a celibate, full-time worker for Buddhism - in modern times. It seems that he took a vow of celibacy at the age of eight and remained faithful to it all his life. Although he wore a yellow robe, it was not of the traditional bhikkhu pattern, and he did not shave his head. He felt that the observance of all the vinaya rules would get in the way of his work, especially as he flew around the world. Neither the title nor the office became popular, but in this role, he "was the model for lay activism in modernist Buddhism.". In fact, he is widely considered a bodhisattva in Sri Lanka.

His trip to Bodh-Gaya was inspired by an 1885 visit there by Sir Edwin Arnold
Edwin Arnold
Sir Edwin Arnold CSI CIE was an English poet and journalist, who is most known for his work, The Light of Asia.-Biography:...

, author of The Light of Asia, who soon started advocating for the renovation of the site and its return to Buddhist care.

At the invitation of Paul Carus, he returned to the U.S. in 1896, and again in 1902-04, where he traveled and taught widely.

Dharmapala eventually broke with Olcott and the Theosophists because of Olcott's stance on universal religion. "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." Dharmapala stated that Theosophy was "only consolidating Krishna worship." "To say that all religions have a common foundation only shows the ignorance of the speaker...Dharma alone is supreme to the Buddhist"

At Sarnath in 1933 he was ordained a bhikkhu, and he died at Sarnath in December of the same year, aged 68.

Religious contribution

The young Dharmapala helped Colonel Olcott in his work, particularly by acting as his translator. Dharmapala also became quite close to Madame Blavatsky
Madame Blavatsky
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky , was a theosophist, writer and traveler. Between 1848 and 1875 Blavatsky had gone around the world three times. In 1875, Blavatsky together with Colonel H. S. Olcott established the Theosophical Society...

, who advised him to study Pāli
- External links :* *...

 and to work for the good of humanity - which is what he did. It was at this time that he changed his name to Dharmapala (meaning "Guardian of the Dharma
Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...


In 1891 Anagarika Dharmapala was on a pilgrimage
A pilgrimage is a journey or search of great moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person's beliefs and faith...

 to the recently restored Mahabodhi Temple
Mahabodhi Temple
The Mahabodhi Temple is a Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya is located about from Patna, Bihar state, India. Next to the temple, to its western side, is the holy Bodhi tree...

, where Siddhartha Gautama
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

 - the Buddha - attained enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, India. Here he experienced a shock to find the temple in the hands of a Saivite priest, the Buddha image transformed into a Hindu
Hinduism is the predominant and indigenous religious tradition of the Indian Subcontinent. Hinduism is known to its followers as , amongst many other expressions...

 icon and Buddhists barred from worship. As a result, he began an agitation movement.

The Mahabodhi society at Colombo
Colombo is the largest city of Sri Lanka. It is located on the west coast of the island and adjacent to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte, the capital of Sri Lanka. Colombo is often referred to as the capital of the country, since Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte is a satellite city of Colombo...

 was founded in 1891 but its offices were soon moved to Calcutta the following year in 1892. One of its primary aims was the restoration to Buddhist control of the Mahabodhi Temple
Mahabodhi Temple
The Mahabodhi Temple is a Buddhist temple in Bodh Gaya, the location where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, attained enlightenment. Bodh Gaya is located about from Patna, Bihar state, India. Next to the temple, to its western side, is the holy Bodhi tree...

 at Bodh Gaya, the chief of the four ancient Buddhist holy sites. To accomplish this, Dharmapala initiated a lawsuit against the Brahmin
Brahmin Brahman, Brahma and Brahmin.Brahman, Brahmin and Brahma have different meanings. Brahman refers to the Supreme Self...

 priests who had held control of the site for centuries. After a protracted struggle, this was successful only after Indian independence (1947) and sixteen years after Dharmapala's own death (1933), with the partial restoration of the site to the management of the Maha Bodhi Society in 1949. It was then the temple management of Bodh Gaya was entrusted to a committee comprised in equal numbers of Hindus and Buddhists.

Mahabodhi Society centers were set up in many Indian cities, and this had the effect of raising Indian consciousness about Buddhism. Converts were made mostly among the educated, but also among some low caste Indians in the south.

Due to the efforts of Dharmapala, the site of the Buddha's
Gautama Buddha
Siddhārtha Gautama was a spiritual teacher from the Indian subcontinent, on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. In most Buddhist traditions, he is regarded as the Supreme Buddha Siddhārtha Gautama (Sanskrit: सिद्धार्थ गौतम; Pali: Siddhattha Gotama) was a spiritual teacher from the Indian...

 parinibbana (physical death) at Kushinagar
Kushinagar , Kusinagar or Kusinara is a town and a nagar panchayat in Kushinagar district in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site, where Gautama Buddha is believed to have attained Parinirvana after his death.-Demographics: India census, Kushinagar had a...

 has once again become a major attraction for Buddhists, as it was for many centuries previously. Mahabodhi Movement in 1890s held the Muslim Rule in India responsible for the decay of Buddhism in India. Anagarika Dharmapala did not hesitate to lay the chief blame for the decline of Buddhism in India at the door of Muslim fanaticism.

In 1893 Dharmapala was invited to attend the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

 as a representative of "Southern Buddhism" - which was the term applied at that time to the Theravada
Theravada ; literally, "the Teaching of the Elders" or "the Ancient Teaching", is the oldest surviving Buddhist school. It was founded in India...

. There he met Swami Vivekananda and got on very well with him. Like Swami Vivekananda, he was a great success at the Parliament and received a fair bit of media attention. By his early thirties he was already a global figure, continuing to travel and give lectures and establish vihara
Vihara is the Sanskrit and Pali term for a Buddhist monastery. It originally meant "a secluded place in which to walk", and referred to "dwellings" or "refuges" used by wandering monks during the rainy season....

s around the world during the next forty years. At the same time he concentrated on establishing schools and hospitals in Ceylon and building temples and viharas in India. Among the most important of the temples he built was one at Sarnath
Sarnath or Sārnātha is the deer park where Gautama Buddha first taught the Dharma, and where the Buddhist Sangha came into existence through the enlightenment of Kondanna. Sarnath is located 13 kilometres north-east of Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, India...

, where the Buddha first taught. On returning to India via Hawaii, he met Mary E. Foster, a descendant of King Kamehameha
Kamehameha I
Kamehameha I , also known as Kamehameha the Great, conquered the Hawaiian Islands and formally established the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810. By developing alliances with the major Pacific colonial powers, Kamehameha preserved Hawaii's independence under his rule...

 who had emotional problems. Dharmapala consoled her using Buddhist techniques; in return, she granted him an enormous donation of over one million rupees (over $2.7 million in 2010 dollars, but worth much more due to low labor costs in India).

Dharmapala's voluminous diaries have been published, and he also wrote some memoirs.

The above was adapted from Sangharakshita
Sangharakshita is a Buddhist teacher and writer, and founder of the Triratna Buddhist Community, which was known until 2010 as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, or FWBO....

Great Buddhists of the Twentieth Century, Windhorse Publications 1996, with permission.

Dharmapala, Science, and Protestant Buddhism

The term 'Protestant Buddhism,' coined by scholar Gananath Obeyesekere, is often applied to Dharmapala's form of Buddhism. It is Protestant in two ways. First, it is influenced by Protestant ideals such as freedom from religious institutions, freedom of conscience, and focus on individual interior experience. Second, it is in itself a protest against claims of Christian superiority, colonialism, and Christian missionary work aimed at weakening Buddhism. "Its salient characteristic is the importance it assigns to the laity." It arose among the new, literate, middle class centered in Colombo.

The term 'Buddhist modernism' is used to describe forms of Buddhism that suited the modern world, usually influenced by European enlightenment thinking, and often adapted by Asian Buddhists as a counter to claims of European or Christian superiority. Buddhist modernists emphasize certain aspects of traditional Buddhism, while de-emphasizing others. Some of the characteristics of Buddhist modernism are: importance of the laity as against the sangha; rationality and de-emphasis of supernatural and mythological aspects; consistency with (and anticipation of) modern science; emphasis on spontaneity, creativity, and intuition; democratic, anti-institutional character; emphasis on meditation over devotional and ceremonial actions.

Dharmapala is an excellent example of an Asian Buddhist modernist, and perhaps the paradigmatic example of Protestant Buddhism. He was particularly concerned with presenting Buddhism as consistent with science, especially the theory of evolution.

Survey of Writings

Most of Dharmapala's works are collected in Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays, and Letters of the Anagarika Dharmapala. (Edited by Ananda Guruge. Colombo: Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, 1965).

The World's Debt to Buddha (1893)

This paper was read to a crowded session of the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, September 18, 1893. At this early stage of his career, Dharmapala was concerned with making Buddhism palatable to his Western audience. This talk is full of references to science, the European Enlightenment, and Christianity. While presenting Buddhism in these familiar terms, he also hints that it is superior to any philosophy of the West. In addition, he spends considerable time discussing the ideal Buddhist polity under Asoka and the Buddha's ethics for laypeople.

"The essence of the vast teachings of the Buddha is: The entire obliteration of all that is evil. The perfect consummation of all that is good and pure. The complete purification of mind."

"The strongest emphasis has been put by Buddha on the supreme importance of having an unprejudiced mind before we start on the road of investigating the truth. Prejudice, passion, fear of expression of one's convictions and ignorance are the four biases that have to be sacrificed at the threshold."

"Speaking of deity in the sense of a Supreme Creator, Buddha says that there is no such being. Accepting the doctrine of evolution as the only true one, with its corollary, the law of cause and effect, he condemns the idea of creator and strictly forbids inquiry into it as being useless."

"Never was the religion propagated by force, not a drop of blood has ever been spilt in the name of Buddha."

"Buddhism is a scientific religion, in as much as it earnestly enjoins that nothing whatever be accepted on faith. Buddha has said that nothing should be believed merely because it is said. Buddhism is tantamount to a knowledge of other sciences."

Message of the Buddha (1925)

In the later stages of his career, Dharmapala's vociferous anti-Christian tone is more evident. Dharmapala must be understood in the context of British colonization of Sri Lanka and the presence of Christian missionaries there. This work is a good example of "Protestant Buddhism," as described above.

"With the exception of Buddhism all other religions have been destructive."

"Christian governments are making use of the services of missionaries as political scouts [sic]. the Christian capitalists and traders employ them as advance agents of commerce, and the history of missionary operations in asia has yet to be written. for a hundred years Christian missionaries have exploited Buddhist lands, and the children of poor parents have been converted to christianity by offering bribes, and now the attempt is made to convert the poor people by offering them medical aid. It is scandalous and utterly contemptible to sell religion for worldly gain."

"The Message of the Buddha that I have to bring you is free from theology, priestcraft, rituals, ceremonies, dogmas, heavens, hells and other theological shibboleths. The Buddha taught to the civilized Aryans of India 25 centuries ago a scientific religion containing the highest individualistic altruistic ethics,a philosophy of life built on psychological mysticism and a cosmogony which is in harmony with geology, astronomy, radioactivity and relativity."

"The mystic psychology in Buddhism is not know in the West."

Desire in Buddhism (1917)

This is primarily a criticism of the morals of Christian Europe, European colonialism, and Christian missionaries.

"Desire is of two kinds, the noble and the ignoble. Noble desires prompt man to do works of charity, they make men sober, enlightened and good; ignoble desires make men to adopt the policy of Machiavelli, to distribute opium, intoxicating liquor, and introduce syphillis [sic] and create bastards, and murder helpless people for the sake of rubber, gold and land....Buddhism condemns ignoble desires and emphasises on the necessity of cultivating noble desires."

The Constructive Optimism of Buddhism (1915)

Buddhism was often portrayed in the West, especially by Christian missionaries, as pessimistic, nihilistic, and passive. One of Dharmapala's main concerns was to counter such claims, and this concern is especially evident in this essay.

"The destructive religions are either polytheistic, monotheistic or materialistic. Monotheistic religions are Judaism, Christianity, Islam....Christianity is materialistic inasmuch as it posits a known beginning, and ultimate annihilation, at least for those who had no belief in the divinity of Jesus."

"The civilization of ancient India was of a spiritual character."

Evolution from the Standpoint of Buddhism (1926)

Darwin's theory of evolution was the cutting edge of science during Dharmapala's life. As part of his attempt to show that Buddhism is consistent with modern science, he was especially concerned with evolution. Nowhere in any of his writings is evidence that he understood Darwin's theory; his use of the word 'evolution' seems to have a broader, more general, meaning. For example, karma and rebirth have no place in Darwin's theories. He draws on the Agganna Sutta's cosmology and theory of human origin.

"The earliest human beings before the sex differentiation took place had spiritual bodies, and by their own glory the illumined the earth. when they had shown desire to eat the food that was produced from the earth and had eaten it their spiritual nature disappeared and became materialized, Darwinian evolution is more acceptable to Buddhists than the genesis theory of the mud man created by a deity who had agricultural tendencies."

"...the Buddha taught the biological view of life 2,500 years ago showing how the consciousness associates itself with the germ cell in the mother's womb, and how evolution takes place week after week of the dying man ceases only to be reborn by the force of karma in another life..."

Contributions to Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalism

Dharmapala was one of the primary contributors to the Buddhist revival of the 19th century that led to the creation of Buddhist institutions to match those of the missionaries (schools, the YMBA, etc), and to the independence movement of the 20th century. DeVotta characterizes his rhetoric as having four main points: "(i) Praise – for Buddhism and the Sinhalese culture; (ii) Blame – on the British imperialists, those who worked for them including Christians; (iii) Fear – that Buddhism in Sri Lanka was threatened with extinction; and (iv) Hope – for a rejuvenated Sinhalese Buddhist ascendancy" (78). He illustrated the first three points in a public speech:
"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." (Anagarike Dharmapala, quoted in A. Guruge, Return to Righteousness: A Collection of Speeches, Essays and Letters of the Anagarike Dharmapala. Colombo: Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs, 1965. 482)

He once praised the normal Tamil vadai seller for his courage and blamed the Sinhalese people who were lazy and called upon them to rise. He strongly protested against the killing of cattle and eating of beef.
In short, Dharmapala's reasons for rejecting British imperialism were not political or economic. They were religious: above all, the Sinhala nation is the historical custodian of Buddhism.

One of the manifestation of the new intolerance took place in 1915 against some Sri Lankan Muslims. Successful retail traders they became the target of their Shinhala competitors. In 1912 Darmapala wrote:
"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."

In short, Dharmapala and his associates very much encouraged and contributed to something aptly called the "ethnocratic state."

As some of the quotes above demonstrate, Dharmapala sometimes resorted to racist language. Here are a couple of other examples. At one point he refers to "the semisavage half-animal people of Africa" He claims that "...all that [Christian missionaries] can offer are the myths of Canaan and Galilee which had their origin in the backwash of Arabia."

Dharmapala's Sinhala ideology sometimes shows close relationships to Hitler's Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

. Dhaarmapala believed that Sinhalese are a pure Aryan
Aryan is an English language loanword derived from Sanskrit ārya and denoting variously*In scholarly usage:**Indo-Iranian languages *in dated usage:**the Indo-European languages more generally and their speakers...

 race with unmixed blood. He claimed that Sinhalese woman's must take care not to avoid Mischling
Mischling was the German term used during the Third Reich to denote persons deemed to have only partial Aryan ancestry. The word has essentially the same origin as mestee in English, mestizo in Spanish and métis in French...

with minority races of the country.


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