Buddhism - Letting the world know (World’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago 1893)

The Sunday Times, May 1, 2011

The 100th death anniversary of the erudite scholar, Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayake Thera, founder of the Vidyodaya Pirivena fell on April 29. It is a little known fact that when Anagarika Dharmapala attended the World’s Parliament of Religions held in Chicago, USA in 1893, in addition to the paper he read there, a second paper was also read from Sri Lanka. It was one written by Sri Sumangala Nayake Thera. Here is the text of the paper extracted from the proceedings of the World’s Parliament of Religions.

The Sinhalese followers of Arya Dharma, miscalled 'Buddhism' by Western scholars, through their chosen delegate, Mr. Dharmapala, greet the delegates representing all the World’s Religions in open Parliament assembled at Chicago, in the year 2436 of Buddha’s Nirvana—A.D. 1893. To the Advisory Council of the Exposition, and to all and several the delegates, the salutations of peace, tolerance, and human and divine brotherhood.

<< Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayake Thera

Be it known to you, brethren, that ours is the oldest of missionary religions, the principle of propaganda having been adopted by its promulgator at the very beginning and enforced by him in the despatch of his immediate followers, 'The Brethren of the Yellow Robe', shortly after his attainment of the state of perfect spiritual illumination, 2481 years ago, under the Bodhi tree at Buddha Gaya in Middle India. Traces of these ancient missions have been discovered of late years, and the influence of their teachings recognized by Western scholars in various directions.

The spread of these ideas has invariably been effected by their intrinsic excellence, and never, as we rejoice to know, by the aid of force, or appeal to the superstitious weakness of the uneducated masses. No blood stains our temples, no profitable harvest have we reaped from human oppression. The Tathagata Buddha has enjoined his followers to promote education, foster scientific inquiry, respect the religious views of others, frequent the company of the wise, and avoid unproductive controversy. He has taught them to believe nothing upon mere authority, however seemingly influential, and to discuss religious opinions in a spirit of love and forbearance, without fear and without prejudice, confident that truth protects the righteous seeker after truth.

It is evident then, brethren, that the scheme of your Parliament of Religions recommends itself to the followers of Sakya Muni, and that we, one and all, are bound to wish it the most complete success. We should have been glad to accede to the wishes of your council in sending one or more of our ordained monks; but being ignorant of Western languages, their presence as active members of the Parliament would be useless. For centuries circumstances have put a stop to our organized foreign propaganda, and the life of our monks has been one of quiet study, meditation and good works in and near their monasteries.

It was, therefore, a joy to us that, through the liberality of your council, our young lay-missionary, H. Dharmapala, has been enabled to undertake the honorable duty of presenting this address of greeting and taking part in your parliamentary deliberations. We commend him to you as worthy of confidence, and hope that good may result from his mission.

Education in Ceylon on Western principles has been backward because until quite recently our children could not procure it save at the risk of the destruction of their religious belief under the interested tuition of anti-Buddhist instruction.

This is now being remedied by the opening of secular schools by our people under the lead of the Theosophical Society.

To Colonel Olcott we owe the very catechism out of which our children are being taught the first principles of religion, and our present brotherly relations with our co-religionists of Japan and other Buddhistic countries. The religious future of Ceylon, brethren, is full of promise, and with the growth of our enlightenment, we shall be more fit to carry abroad the teachings of the Great Master, whose mission was to emancipate the human mind from the bonds of selfishness, superstition and materialism.

The labours of Orientalists, especially of Pali scholars, have of late resulted in spreading very widely throughout the world, some knowledge of the Buddha’s teachings, while Sir Edwin Arnold’s epic, 'The Light of Asia,' has created a popular love for the stainless and compassionate character of Gautama Buddha. Justice being done to him, his personality is seen to shine with exceptional brilliance among the figures of human history. We think that our Arya Dhama reflects the spiritual sunlight of his own pure nobility and the luminousness of his own wisdom. We invite you all to examine and test it for yourselves. Our founder taught that the cause of all miseries is ignorance; its antithesis, happiness, is the product of knowledge.

He taught religious tolerance, the kinship of human families with each other and with the universe, the existence of a common law of being and of evolution for us all, the necessity for the conquest of the passions, the avoidance of cruelty, lying, lustfulness, and all sensual indulgences, of the clinging to superstitious beliefs, whether traditional or modern, and of belief in alleged infallibility of men or books. He inculcated the practice of all virtues, a high altruism in word and deed, the following of blameless modes of living and the keeping of an open mind for the discovery of truth.

He taught the existence of a natural causation called Karma, which operates throughout the universe, and which, in the sphere of ethics, becomes the principle of equilibrium between the opposing forces of ignorance and wisdom, the agent of both retribution and recompense. He taught that existence in physical life is attended by fleeting pleasures and lasting pains, wherefore the enlightened mind should recognize the fact and conquer the lust for life in the plane of physical being.

Every effect being related to an anterior, formative cause, the joys and sorrows of life are the fruits of our individual actions; hence man is the creator of his own destiny, and is his only possible liberator. Liberation is enfranchisement from the trammels of ignorance, which not only begets the sorrows that scourge us, but also, by keeping active the thirst for bodily life, compels us to be incarnated again and again indefinitely until wisdom dries up the salt spring at which we try to quench our maddening thirst for life and life’s illusive activities, and we break out of the whirling wheel of rebirth, and escape into the calm and full wisdom of Nirvana. The literature of Southern Buddhism is copious, yet its fundamental ideas may be easily synthesized.

Our scriptures are grouped into three divisions, called Pitakas ; of which the first (Sutta) comprises sermons or lectures on morality; the second (Vinaya) specifies the constitution, rules and discipline of the Order and of our Laity, and the third (Abhi Dhamma) propounds the psychology of our system.

Of course, it would be useless to lay before a transient body like yours a collection of these religious books, written in an unfamiliar language ; we must trust our delegate to the inspiration of your presence to give you a summary of what Southern Buddhists believe it necessary for the world to know, in the interest of human progress and human happiness.

(World's Parliament of Religions 1893 - S. 894 - 897)

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