Sri Lanka’s pioneering efforts :
Spread of Buddhism in Germany
The 25th General Council meeting and 60th
anniversary commemoration of the founding of the World Fellowship of
Buddhists’ (WFB) is being held from November 14 to 16, 2010 in Colombo
On February 20, 1953, Asoka Weeraratna (Founder and Secretary, Lanka
Dhammaduta Society) left Sri Lanka for West Germany. He was requested by
this newly formed Society (later re-named in 1957 as the German
Dharmaduta Society) to survey and report on the state of Buddhism in
Germany and the ways and means that should be adopted to establish the
Sambuddha Sasana in Germany. He was also urged to convey the goodwill of
the Society to the Buddhists of Germany.
Berlin Vihara. Pic. Courtesy: Google
Among those who arrived at the Ratmalana Airport to bid Asoka
‘farewell’ on the trip were a number of Buddhist monks including Ven
Pandit Akuretiye Amarawansa Thera and Ven Nyanaponika Thera. The latter
handed over a Buddha Statue and Ola-Leaf Manuscript to Asoka to be given
as tokens of goodwill and appreciation from the Lanka Dhammaduta Society
to German Buddhist Societies.
On this trip Asoka travelled widely all over Germany, meeting leaders
of Buddhist organizations in various German cities and enlisting their
support for the cause of establishing the Buddha Sasana in Germany. He
was also asked to inspect a suitable site for a Buddhist Centre and
Vihara and a settlement for lay Buddhists and Upasakas.
Lanka Dhammaduta Society
Asoka visited a series of German cities and towns i.e. Hamburg,
Munich, Berlin, Stuttgart, Bremen, Frankfurt, Bonn, Cologne among
others. In Hamburg, he met Dr Helmut Palmie, President of the Hamburg
Buddhist Society. Dr Palmie was a Pali Scholar and an ardent Buddhist.
Dr Palmie convened a special meeting of the Hamburg Buddhist Society on
March 10 1953, on the occasion of Asoka’s visit. About 200 German
Buddhists attended the meeting. Asoka presented an Ola-leaf book on the
Buddha Dhamma to Dr Palmie as a token of good will from the Lanka
In Munich, Asoka met Dr Von Meng, the President of the Munich
Buddhist Society and attended a meeting of this Society. Asoka presented
a small Buddha statue to Dr Von Meng. This Society published a monthly
journal devoted to the propagation of Buddhism called Indische Welt (or
In Berlin, there were two Buddhist Societies in 1953. One was called
‘Gessellschaft Fur Freunde Des Buddhismus’ or ‘Society of the Friends of
Buddhism’. Herr F Knobloch led this Society. The other Society was
called ‘Buddhistische Gemeinde’. Herr Lionel Stutzer was the head of
this Society. Asoka attended a meeting of this Society held at Stutzer’s
house. In Berlin, Asoka also met Dr K Schmidt, a Pali Scholar and
lecturer on Buddhism.
In Stuttgart, Asoka called on Georg Krauskopf, the leader of the
Buddhist Group and brother of the late Ven Nyanasiri Thera of Polgasduwa
Island Hermitage, Dodanduwa. Krauskopf was the author of a popular work
on Buddhism called Die Heilslehre Des Buddha. Mr and Mrs Ankenbrand were
two other prominent Buddhists that Asoka met in Stuttgart. They were
extremely devout and well read. They had one of the largest Buddhist
libraries that Asoka had seen in Germany.
In Bremen, Asoka Weeraratna met Severloh Mohr at the latter’s house
in Hemelingen Bahnhofstr. 10. Severloh Mohr had led the life of a
Bhikkhu for sometime in Siam (now called ‘Thailand’). In Germany, though
Mohr was mostly dressed in a layman’s attire, he was living the life of
a monk. Mohr’s house had a fine Buddhist shrine that appeared like the
inside of a Buddhist Temple. The King of Siam had gifted one image of
the Buddha in Mohr’s house to him. Mohr conducted classes on Buddhism in
On his return to Sri Lanka in early May 1953, Asoka Weeraratna
prepared a report under the heading Buddhism in Germany giving his
impressions of his visit to Germany and the details of his meetings with
German Buddhists. This report was subsequently published by the Society
in both English and Sinhala and thousands of copies were distributed to
the public all over the country.
German Outlook on Buddhism
In this report, Asoka Weeraratna says:
“The general outlook of Germans has greatly changed after the war.
The bitter experiences of two great wars have taught them but one
lesson, that “All conditioned things are impermanent”. If you stop to
ask about the past war, a German would have nothing else to add but the
words ‘Alles kaput ‘, which mean ‘All destroyed’. Buddhism with its
elucidation of the Four Noble Truths and the Three Signs of
‘Impermanence, Suffering and Soul-lessness’ as the characteristic
feature of all things, has appeared to them as the most perfect teaching
ever made known to mankind’.
Public Meeting at Ananda College, Colombo on May 30, 1953
The main purpose of this meeting was to make public the findings of
the survey carried out by Asoka Weeraratna on the current state of
Buddhist activities in Germany and the prospects for a Buddhist Mission
to Germany before the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations in 1956 and to embark
on a membership drive.
Dr C W W Kannangara, Local Government Minister presided at the
meeting, which was largely attended and comprised a very representative
gathering of leading Buddhists.
Ven Baddegama Piyaratana Maha Nayake Thera, Principal of Vidyodaya
Pirivena administered Pansil.
Asoka Weeraratna in welcoming those present explained the object of
the meeting and presented a detailed account of his survey of the
present state of Buddhism in Germany made during his recent visit. He
pointed out the importance of Germany and the unique contribution it has
made towards the enrichment of European thought, culture and science. He
stated that Germany was the pulse of the European continent and that the
largest number of Theravada Buddhists of Europe was at present found in
At the end of Asoka’s detailed presentation, C W W Kannangara
moved the following Motion:
“This House is of the opinion that the public of Ceylon should fully
support the efforts of the Lanka Dhammaduta Society for the
establishment of the Sambuddhasasana in Germany and propagate Buddhism
Ven Pandit D Revata Thera seconded the Motion, which was unanimously
adopted by the House.
Next, C D A Gunawardena moved the following Motion:
“This House is of the opinion that the Lanka Dhammaduta Society
should take immediate steps to send a Buddhist Mission to Germany before
1956 in order to commemorate the 2500th year of the birth of the Buddha
and further that the Society should take immediate steps to establish a
permanent Buddhist Centre in Germany comprising a Vihara, Preaching
Hall, Library and Settlement for Upasakas”.
Ven Pandit Akuretiye Amarawansa Thera seconded the Motion, which was
unanimously adopted by the House.
Ven Baddegama Piyaratana Maha Nayake Thera, Vidyodaya Pirivena
principal, Ven Kirivattuduwa Pannasara Nayaka Thera, Vidyalankara
Pirivena principal, Ven Nyanatiloka Maha Thera (the German monk) and
Mudaliyar P D Ratnatunga and H L Caldera all spoke in support of the
work of the Society and the great importance of sending a Buddhist
Mission to Germany before the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations in BE 2,500
Ven Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Maha Thera added that one of the
greatest services that one can do to the Sasana is to help the Society
to establish the Buddhist Dispensation in Europe with Germany as its
C W W Kannangara, Local Government Minister speaking from the Chair
said that he had known the Secretary of the Society, Asoka Weeraratna
from his boyhood and that he could vouch for his integrity. The Minister
added that the Society was going to serve one of the greatest causes of
Buddhism launched after the Great Emperor Asoka of India.
Ven Nyanatiloka’s message;
He therefore urged that all Buddhists should back the Society in
every way in order to help it to establish the Buddhasasana firmly in
Germany before the Buddha Jayanthi of 1956.’
An inspiring message from Ven Nayantiloka Maha Thera was tabled at
the Meeting. It reads as follows:
“It was just 50 years ago in 1903, that I came first to this island
which, since then, I have considered my spiritual home and I am
therefore happy to be now a citizen of Sri Lanka. Yet, it will be
understood that it was the great wish of my heart to give the country of
my origin the best I possessed, i.e. the Dhamma. And to that end I have
devoted the greatest part of my 50 years in the Sangha. I did so in the
firm conviction that the Dhamma will take root in my home country,
Germany and may have a great future there.
Now it has been a very great pleasure to me to hear that Weeraratna
returned from Germany with the very same conviction, and was able to
report on lively Buddhist activities there. I believe that the chances
for Buddhist mission work in Germany are now greater than ever before. I
am therefore very happy that the Lanka Dharmadutha Society has
undertaken that great task of sending a well-prepared mission to Germany
and to support Buddhist work there, in general.
I greatly appreciate the initial work done by the Society up to now,
and particularly the sacrificing labour, devotion and energy shown by
the Founder and Secretary of the Lanka Dharmadutha Society, Asoka
Weeraratna. I should, indeed, regard it as a happy culmination of my
life if Vesak 1956, i.e. the year 2500, will see a well - established
mission in Germany, which will not fail to have a far-reaching influence
on the other Western countries, too. I wish the Society full success in
their great and noble enterprise. Selfless effort to give the Dhamma to
those who are most in need of it will be of great blessing to those who
give and receive”.
Nyanatiloka (May 25, 1953)
The writer is the German Dharmaduta Society Secretary