Rediscovering Buddhist insights
anthology of learned articles titled as ‘Dharma to the UK’ edited by
Mahinda Degalle and published by World Buddhist Foundation (2008)
reached me when I was researching into people and events linked to the
spread of Buddhism in other countries. Undoubtedly this collection of
essays printed by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress proves that much more
could be discovered.
The crosscurrents, turbulences and the conflicts are shown in various
forms such as Vesak illuminations, pandals, and dansals providing food
to passersby. The Vesak reading too had become part and parcel of our
culture. Since my childhood I had the habit of having access to various
kinds of Vesak annuals.
The intention of these publications, I suppose, is not at all a
profit-making venture. Instead a merit gathering process where good
Dhamma or teaching material pertaining to Buddhist philosophy and living
is distributed. This time though I had access to various kinds of Vesak
literature, inclusive of Daily News Vesak annual Buddha Pradeepa, I
devoted more time reading the two collections of essays.
The first ‘Dharma to the UK – Centennial Celebration of Buddhist
Legacy’ published by World Buddhist Foundation, and the second ‘Buddhism
for the New Millennium’ published by Sri Saddhatissa International
Buddhist Centre (10th anniversary celebratory Volume). The chief editors
are the board of editors and the contributors should be commended for
the careful selection of learned essays that has gone into the making of
two lasting contributions and for tributes to the students, teachers and
researchers in the field of religious studies. Taking a synoptic view of
‘Dharma to the UK’, the reader may come across 12 essays relevant to the
Out of these 12, my attention was drawn especially to two significant
contributions. ‘Venerable Ananda Metteyya’s Buddhist mission to the UK’
by John Crow and ‘Ananda Metteyya: Contester of Misinterpretations of
Buddhism’ by Elizabeth J. Harris. These two essays are significant,
though I do not undermine the rest of the contributions.
That being the rediscovery of the life, learnings, teachings, and the
contributions of a long forgotten person, who was known as a laymen in
England as Charles Henry Alan Bennett (1872-1923). The events that one
comes across in this person’s life which paves the way for him to become
a Buddhist monk named Ananda Metteyya look more moving like a sensitive
human interest narrative.
Alan Bennett, who had been quite physically sick, possessed an
integrity with a powerful mind to overcome all sufferings which
culminates in his effort to spread Buddhist doctrine to the West. His
mission had been a great success, taking into account some of the
historical facts such as the formation of the Pali Text Society (PTS) in
cooperation with Dr and Mrs Rhys Davids, and the organization of the
first Buddhist society titled as the Buddhist Association of Great
Britain and Ireland.
While he obtained the higher ordination (upsampada) during his stay
in Burma he brought out the first pioneering magazine on Buddhism came
to be known as ‘Buddhism: an Illustrated Review’. His lectures and the
compilation of Buddhist pamphlets at times created a stir.
He was also identified as a person similar to Colonel Henry Steele
Olcott in our country. It is strange coincidence that Bennett had come
to know Olcott, Besant and Blavatsky, a fact which had been middle in
the annals of Buddhist history of both countries, Burma (now known as
Myanmar) and Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka).
Life and thoughts
Apart from the contribution of Elizabeth Harris to the compilation
‘Dharma to the UK’, there is yet another article contributed by her to
the other collection of essays titled as ‘The Power of Compassion: A
Study of the Life and Thought of Venerable Ananda Metteyya’. The two
essays written by the same writer contain various insights to the life
and contributions of the Thera who led a noble life despite the
I had the chance of reading both in English and Sinhala or these
articles written to Budusarana. The original English works were later
translated by the eminent translator Narawila Patrick. I feel that this
was the opportunity the local reader had a glimpse into the life and
works of Venerable Ananda Metteyya. This I felt as a remarkable starting
All in all it is commendable that the reader is given the chance to
search more about a particular subject area or a personality
transcending the barriers of shallowness that paved the way to more and
more ignorance. ‘Dharma to the UK’ too contains several articles:
‘Anagarika Dharmpala’s contribution to British Buddhism’ by Ananda
Guruge (53-76pp), ‘Myanmar’s Contribution to Buddhism in the West’ by U
Kolay and ‘Amaravathi in the Spread of the Forest Monastic Tradition’ by
Robert Bluck. There are also several notes on aspects such as Buddhist
architecture, Buddhist art and culture. Most references are attributed
to the West with special reference to the UK.
Venerable Galayaye Piyadassi states in the preface: ‘Research in
Buddhist studies serves a core purpose adding new knowledge to the
academic studies of Buddhism and enhancing the quality of human life in
the social world. It is conceded that a higher form of creative thinking
depends on the fountains of spiritualism devoid of mere apeing or
imitation of threshold trends popularly acclaimed as ‘modernism’.