Samadhi Bouddha Statue - Anuradhapura - Sri Lanka IV-Ve Siècle
The prospects of Ceylon Buddhism in the sixties of the 19th century were dark indeed. Successive waves of Portuguese, Dutch and British invasion had swept away much of the traditional culture of the country. Missionaries had descended upon the copper-coloured island like a cloud of locusts. Christian schools of every conceivable denomination had been opened, where Buddhist boys and girls were crammed with bible texts and taught to be ashamed of their religion, their culture, their language, their race and their colour. The attitude of the missionaries is expressed with unabashed directness in one of the verses of a famous hymn by the well-known Anglican Bishop Heber, a hymn which is still sung, though with less conviction than in the days when it first made its appearance, in churches all over England:
What through the spicy breezes
Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle,
Where every prospect pleases,
And only man is vile;
In vain with lavish kindness
The gifts of God are strown,
The heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone.
Throughout the territories under Dutch occupation Buddhists had been compelled to declare themselves as Christians, and during the period of British rule this law was enforced for seventy years, being abrogated only in 1884, when, on behalf of the Buddhists of Ceylon, Col. Olcott made representations to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, in London.
Children born of Buddhist parents had to be taken for registration to a church, where some biblical name would be bestowed on them, with the result that most Sinhalese bore either an English Christian name and a Portuguese surname, if they were Catholic ‘converts,’ or an English Christian name and a Sinhalese surname, if they were Anglicans. The majority of them were ashamed or afraid to declare themselves Buddhists, and only in the villages of the interior did the Dhamma of the Blessed One retain some vestige of its former power and popularity, though even here it was not free from the attacks of the thousands of catechists who, for twenty rupees a month, were prepared to go about slandering and insulting the religion of their fathers.
Members of the Sangha, with a few noble exceptions, were intellectually and spiritually moribund; monastic discipline was lax, the practice of meditation had been neglected and then forgotten; and even to those who truly loved the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, it must sometimes have seemed that, after reigning for more than twenty glorious centuries over the hearts and minds of the Sinhala race, they were doomed to be “cast as rubbish to the void,” and swept into the blue waters of the Arabian Sea by the triumphant legions of militant Christianity. But this was not to be. Low though the fortunes of the Dhamma had sunk, the great beam of the national karma was beginning to right itself, and gigantic forces were being set in motion which in the future would lift them to a position even higher than their present one waslow. [Top]