Japanese Monks who came to Galle in the late

By Dr. Janaka Goonetilleke, Lanka Daily News,

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- With the Post Olcott Buddhist revival Galle became the leading centre of Buddhist learning in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). In this revival the Late Mudliyar E R Gooneratne of Atapattu Walauwa Galle played a major role.

He was a well known philanthropist, Buddhist activist, Pali, Elu, Sanskrit and English scholar, Sec to Pali Text Society, Treasurer Mahabodhi Trust, etc. The well known Priests of Galle who were involved in Buddhist and Oriental studies were Hikkaduwe Sumangala Thero who later went to Vidyodaya University, Kottawe Pannasekera Thero of Ranwella temple in Kataluwa, Sumanaseela Thero and Bataduwe Ratanajothi Thero

Japan - Ceylon Buddhist Exchanges

During the meiji period when Japan opened out to the rest of the world students went to Europe to study Oriental languages. Following the visit of Kitabatake to India in around 1883 the Japanese felt they needed to learn more about the teachings of Buddha. The desire to learn more about Buddhism was compelling due to the Christian influence in Japan at the time.

Coincidentally at this time a senior diplomat by the name of T. Hyash sec to Imperial Prince Arisongara whilst passing through Colombo met a senior govt., official and made a comment that Japan and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) were both Buddhist countries and expressed a desire to send Japanese priests to study Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Later the senior official introduced him to his nephew E. R. Gooneratne. Hyash was told that the Japanese priests were very welcome to learn Buddhism as long as they liked in Sri Lanka. The programme was coordinated by Banjuii Nangio, Prof. of oriental studies of Tokyo university who had studied in Europe.

The first two priests who arrived in Sri Lanka in 1887 were Shaku Kozen and Soyen  Shaku. Shaku interestingly meant in Japanese, Sakya the clan name of Sakyamuni. Both these priests belonged to the monastic tradition of Shingon and Zen respectively and they both were diarists.

Rev. Shakuwho was 10 years younger than Rev. Kozen followed him to Sri Lanka in the same year and was interested in completing his Zen training ,learning Sanskrit and Pali and to survey the status of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He was encouraged to come to Sri Lanka by his teacher Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901) who wanted him to learn about the origins of Buddhism and revive the status of Buddhism in Japan.

He studied in a 800 year old temple in Kamakura( Tokkeiji) where the Famous Japanese writer Natsume Soseki studied Zen around  the time of Shaku Soen.

On his arrival he was entertained by Mudliyar Gooneratne and later introduced to Kottawe Pannaseakera. His ordination as a samanera was celebrated by thousands of Sinhalese with fireworks and Bakthi Geetha.on May 6 1887. A Sinhalese laymen according to his diaries said that a celebration of this nature had never occurred since the British colonised the country and expressed his gratitude to Buddha, Japan - Sinhala Buddhist solidarity and finally congratulated Shaku Soen in being ordained as a samanera. Following that for the rest of his stay he wore the attire of a Theravada priest.

In Sri Lanka he found the Buddhist having a great desire to establish a purer form of Buddhism and revive it from its degenerate status. During his stay in Sri Lanka he learned to read and write English from Olcott’s Book, Buddhist catechism. (Incidental the first edition of the book was sponsored by Mrs C. Illangakone nee Dias Abeyesinghe Mudliyar Gooneratne’s mother in law). Under the guidance of Pannasekera Thero he mastered the oriental languages. He was ambivalent about the practice of Theravada monastic life and was critical of the fact that there was too much attention to Vinaya and not Meditation. Whilst in Sri Lanka he wrote one of the earliest books on south Asian Buddhism in Japanese (Sienan no Bukkyo) which was published in the year 1889. He was weary of the status of Buddhists in Asia and felt they were very vulnerable to conversion to Christianity but felt within the establishment of the theosophical society that there would be growth on the religion in the west.

To nurture the spread of Buddhism he urged Northern and Southern clerics to actively propagate the religion in the west.

In his book he emphasised that the Japanese should venerate not only one image so that it would unify the Zen sect but also could relate to the rest of Buddhists in Asia. Following his return to Japan his activities were concentrated in spreading Buddhism in the west and consolidating it in Japan. He was a great intellect and became the youngest head priest in Japan at the age of 33 years. He widely travelled in Europe and America and represented Japan in the Chicago convention of Buddhists in 1894.

The world famous professor of Zen and world  renown poet Dr D. T. Suzuki was his pupil. He was sent to USA to establish and propagate Zen Buddhism.

Shaku Kozen (Kozen Gooneratne Thero)

Shaku Kozen was from Yokohama Sorineiji temple from the Shingon tradition and studied oriental languages from Nangio Banyo, Professor of oriental studies at Tokyo University. His uncle Rev. Ojesan was a vegetarian and accepted the traditional way of life of a Theravada Buddhist monk. When offered the opportunity to travel to Sri Lanka he felt he was too old and nominated his nephew Shaku Kozen to travel to Sri Lanka.

In his diaries he says in his boat ride to Sri Lanka from Yokohama, he did not speak for 20 days and on arrival outside the harbour he saw Samanala Kanda in the early hours of the morning when he went down on his knees and said Nammo Buddo and started crying. On landing he was looking for Mudliyar Gooneratne who was not there in the harbour but was taken to Galle by an official. Having started his studies under Pannasekera Thero in Galle he left to Colombo to study at Vidyodaya University under Hikkaduwe Summangala Nayake Thero. He travelled frequently to Galle to meet Soyen Shaku and visit other temples. Unlike Soyen Shaku, Shaku Kozen accepted the Theravada Buddhist monastic life and had Uppasampada on June 6 1890 under the Malwatte Chapter in Kandy.

As a mark of respect for Mudliyar Gooneratne after ordination he took the name of Kozen Gooneratne Thero. The first Japanese priest of Theravadic tradition Kozen Gooneratne Thero worked very closely with Col. Olcott and Anagarika Dharmapala and represented Japan in the Theosophical Society meeting in 1890 in Madras. In 1891 Kozen Gooneratne Thero travelled to Buddhagaya and co- founded the Mahabodi society according to his diaries with Dharmapala.

In 1893 having returned from India Kozen Gooneratne Thero left for Japan in September. Kozen Gooneratne Thero accepted the Theravada monastic tradition as an expression of true Buddhist way of life. He wished to reinvigorate Japanese Buddhism and by accepting the Thervadic tradition. In late 1893 he started a society with a view to venerating the triple gem and uniting the different sects of Buddhism. This was further enhanced by his visit to Thailand in 1907.

Later Japanese arrivals to Simbawali awasaya (Now Gooneratnaramaya)

In 1894 Mudliyar Gooneratne established the Simbawali Pirivena in Walauwatte Galle. The First principal of the Pirivena was Padindoruwe Sobitha Thero who was educated at Vidyodaya.

On his demise Pituwala Pragnasara Thero took over. This pirivena was conducted on the guidance of Bataduwe Ratanajothi Thero .and had around 17 pupils per year. Oriental Languages including Elu and Elu Culture were taught. In view of the continuing relationship with the Japanese temple Sanneji, further five priests came over for the next 12 years who successfully completed the course. They were 1) Rev. Khojima Kaiho, 2) Rev. Toyanindo, 3) Rev. Kudou Keishan, 4) Rev. Mokoyama, 5) Rev. Yoshimoto Kiyo.

Kozen Gooneratne Thero was succeeded by Rev. Toyanindo as the head priest Sanneji Temple who followed the Theravada tradition. He was succeeded by Rev. Mokoyama . Kozen Gooneratne Thero’s attempts to establish the Theravada tradition was a failure. His attempts to unite the different temples have been partially successful. The present head priest Rev. Ando tells me that he is the head of 36 temples that meet regularly. The temple in Yokohama still has the statues and artefacts they took away from Sri Lanka and the portrait of Hikkaduwe Sumangala Nayake Thero is still hung in the temple.

After the demise of Mudliyar E. R. Gooneratne the Pirivena was closed for financial reasons and now exists as a temple. Its contribution for Buddhist  studies is very minimal.

I have had the privilege of visiting the temple in Yokohama and Kamakura as trustee of the Gooneratne Trust and Gooneratnaramaya . It was a pleasure to realise that after almost 120 years they still hold Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan Buddhists with such great affection.

Ven.  Soyen Shaku

Born in 1859 Ven. Soyen Shaku was the first Zen Buddhist master to teach in the United States. He was a Roshi of the Rinzai  school and was abbot of both Kencho-ji and Engaku-ji temples in Kamakura, Japan. Shaku was a disciple of Imakita Kosen.

Soyen Shaku was an exceptional Zen monk. In his youth, his master, Kosen, and others had recognized him to be naturally advantaged. Three years after he had received “Dharma transmission” from Kosen at age 25, Soyen took the unique step of travelling to Ceylon to study Pali and Theravada Buddhism and live the alien life of the bhikkhu for three years.

In 1893 Shaku was one of four priests and two laymen composing the Japanese delegation that participated in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago organized by John Henry Barrows and Paul Carus. He addressed the conference that September with a series of talks, notably about karma, nonviolence, an end to war, and tolerance of other religions.

At this conference he met Dr. Paul Carus, a publisher from Open Court Press in La Salle, Illinois. Before Shaku returned to Japan, Carus asked him to send an English-speaker knowledgeable about Zen Buddhism to the United States. Shaku, upon returning to Japan asked his student and Tokyo University scholar D. T. Suzuki to go to the United States, where he would eventually become the leading academic on Zen Buddhism in the West, and translator for Carus's publishing company.

Despite his anti-war statements, Soyen served as a chaplain to the Japanese army during the Russo-Japanese War, which he believed to be a just cause. In 1904, the Russian author and pacifist Leo Tolstoy wrote Shaku in the hope that he would join him in denouncing the war. Shaku refused, concluding that "... as a means of bringing into harmony those things which are incompatible, killing and war are necessary." (quoted in Victoria, 1997) After the war, Shaku would attribute Japan's victory to its samurai culture, which he traced back to the nation's amalgamation of Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto.

In 1905, Soyen Shaku returned to America to help establish Zen in the West, staying for roughly one year in San Francisco and Seattle. Shortly after arriving, he was joined by his student Nyogen Senzaki. Ultimately, Senzaki would  became a permanent resident and Zen teacher in Los Angeles.

Soyen Shaku died on October 29 1919 in Kamakura.