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Sir. Anagarika Dharmapala

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He was born Don David Hewavitarne in Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Don Carolis Hewavitharana and Mallika Dharmagunawardhana (the daughter of Andiris Perera Dharmagunawardhana), who were among the richest merchents of Ceylon. His younger brother was Dr Charles Alwis Hewavitharana.

Sri Lanka was then a British colony known as Ceylon, so Hewavitarne's state education was a English one: he attended Christian College, Kotte and the Colombo Academy.

This was a time of Buddhist revival. In 1875 in New York, Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott had founded the Theosophical Society. They were both very sympathetic to what they understood of Buddhism, and in 1880 they arrived in Ceylon, declared themselves to be Buddhists, and publicly took the Refuges and Precepts from a prominent Sinhalese bhikkhu. Colonel Olcott kept coming back to Ceylon and devoted himself there to the cause of Buddhist education, eventually setting up more than 300 Buddhist schools, some of which are still in existence. It was in this period that Hewavitarne changed his name to Anagarika Dharmapala.

'Dharmapala' means 'protector of the dharma'. 'Anagarika', a term coined by Dharmapala, means "homeless one." It is a midway status between monk and layperson. As such, he took the eight precepts (against killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, harmful speech, intoxication, eating after noon, entertainments and fashionable attire, and luxurious beds) for life. These eight precepts were commonly taken by Sri Lankan laypeople on observance days.[1] But for a person to take them for life was highly unusual. Dharmapala was the first anagarika - that is, a celibate, full-time worker for Buddhism - in modern times. It seems that he took a vow of celibacy at the age of eight and remained faithful to it all his life. Although he wore a yellow robe, it was not of the traditional bhikkhu pattern, and he did not shave his head. He felt that the observance of all the vinaya rules would get in the way of his work, especially as he flew around the world. Neither the title nor the office became popular, but in this role, he "was the model for lay activism in modernist Buddhism."[2]. In fact, he is widely considered a bodhisattva in Sri Lanka.[3]

His trip to Bodh-Gaya was inspired by an 1885 visit there by Sir Edwin Arnold, author of The Light of Asia, who soon started advocating for the renovation of the site and its return to Buddhist care.[4]

At the invitation of Paul Carus, he returned to the U.S. in 1896, and again in 1902-04, where he traveled and taught widely.[5]

Dharmapala eventually broke with Olcott and the Theosophists because of Olcott's stance on universal religion. "One of the important factors in his rejection of theosophy centered on this issue of universalism; the price of Buddhism being assimilated into a non-Buddhist model of truth was ultimately too high for him."[6] Dharmapala stated that Theosophy was "only consolidating Krishna worship."[7] "To say that all religions have a common foundation only shows the ignorance of the speaker...Dharma alone is supreme to the Buddhist"[8]

At Sarnath in 1933 he was ordained a bhikkhu, and he died at Sarnath in December of the same year, aged sixty-nine.