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BUDDHISTIC EXEGESIS

[The Theosophist, Vol. I, No. 2, November, 1879, p. 34]

We feel honored in being able to lay before Western thinkers, preliminary contributions from two of the most eminent priests of the religion of Buddha, now living. They are H. Sumangala, High Priest of Adam’s Peak, Ceylon, the most venerated of Buddhistic monasteries; and Mohottiwatte Gunananda, superior of the Vihâra Dipadattama, at Colombo, Ceylon. The former is recognized by European philologists as the most learned of all the representatives of his faith; in fact, Dr. Muir of Edinburgh recently called him a polyglot, so extensive and accurate is his knowledge of languages and philosophies. His eminence as an instructor is also shown in his occupancy of the position of President of the Elu, Pali, and Sanskrit, College Vidyodaya. As a preacher and expositor of doctrine he is no less distinguished, while his personal character is so pure and winsome that even the bigoted enemies of his religion vie with each other in praising him. In the year 1867 a synod of the Buddhist clergy, called to fix the text of the Sûtras and Pitakas, was presided over by him. When it was decided to reorganize the Theosophical Society upon the basis of a Universal Brotherhood of humanity, uniting men of all creeds in an effort to spread throughout the world the basic principles of a true religion, he cheerfully gave his adhesion to the movement, and accepted a place in the General Council; thus dignifying the Society and securing it the good-will of Buddhists, the world over. Far from asking that it should be given a sectarian character and made a propaganda of Buddhism, he sent his “respectful and fraternal salutation to our brethren in Bombay” in his letter


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of acceptance, and has shown from first to last the disposition to assist unreservedly and cordially our labours.

Who our other contributor is, the Christian world, or at any rate that portion of it with which the Missionaries in Ceylon have relations, very well knows. For years he has been the bravest, subtlest, wisest, and most renowned champion of Buddha’s Doctrine, in Ceylon. Six or more times he has met the chosen debaters of the Missionaries before vast assemblages of natives, to discuss the respective merits of the two religions, and was never yet worsted. In fact, it is only too evident in the admissions of Christian papers that he silenced his adversaries by his searching analysis of Bible history and doctrines, and his exposition of the Law of Buddha. A pamphlet edition of the report of one of these great debates was published at London and Boston, two years ago, under the title Buddhism and Christianity Face to Face, which should be read by all for whom the subject has an interest. We are promised a translation of another similar debate from the careful report made at the time in the Sinhalese language. In all, Priest Mohottiwatte—or, as he is popularly termed in Ceylon, Megittuwatte—has preached over 5,000 discourses upon the Buddhistic religion, and devoted the whole strength of his noble heart to his sacred mission. His interest in our Society is as sincere as Sumangala’s, and his ardor in promoting its influence characteristic of all he does. He has no reluctance whatever to co-operate with our Aryan, Brahmanic, Parsi, Jain, and Hebrew members in carrying on our work. “We feel happier than can be described,” he writes, “to learn about the cordial receptions given you by the brothers in London and by the natives of India. I am sorry that, without putting my congregation and myself to great inconvenience, I cannot be present in person at the meeting with Swami Dayânanda. But I enclose a letter signed by the Rev. Sumangala, the High Priest, and myself, recording our unqualified approbation of your kind suggestion to place us as representatives of our faith in your Oriental Council.” In another letter to Colonel Olcott, he says, “We are rejoiced to know that such a learned, good and influential gentleman as


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Dayânanda Saraswati Swami, is every way favourably disposed towards you.” Such men as these two worthily exemplify the divine doctrines of Sâkya Muni.
In the whole experience of the officers of the Theosophical Society, no incident has been more cheering and delightful, than the friendliness with which their advances have been met by the Buddhists. If we had been brothers long separated, our greeting could not have been warmer. Says the venerable Chief Priest, Sumana Tissa, of the Paramananda Vihâra, near Point de Galle—now in his sixty-sixth year—“To use an Oriental simile, I and my many disciples anxiously wait your arrival, as a swarm of peacocks joyously long for the downpour of a shower.” We trust that our duties will permit us before long to meet all our Sinhalese brothers in person, and exchange congratulations over the encouraging prospects of our peaceful humanitarian mission.

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