Dharmapala was of course aware of those sorts of criticisms (articulated by both scholars in Europe and scholars in South Asia who were employed by the British East India company) about 'the Orientals' which drew a connection between language and race. These ideas had made their way back into Sri Lanka by the late nineteenth century. F. Max Muller, editor of The Sacred Books of the East Series and who translated a still widely esteemed version of the Dhammapada, observed that Sanskrit...
'has ceased to live, and though it exists still like a mummy dressed in its ceremonial robes [we can assume that he is referring to the 'degenerate' religious traditions like Hinduism and traditional Buddhism], its vital powers are gone. Sanskrit now lives in its offspring; the numerous spoken dialects of India, Hindustani, Maharti, Bengali, Guzerati, Singhalese, &c.,all preserving, in the system of their grammar, the living traces of their comment parent.'
The above passage was cited in a paper presented to the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society on October 1863. It asserted that the Sinhala belonged to the northern and Aryan class of languages, rather than the Southern and Dravidian. The paper also reinforce the connection between language and race:
The colour as well as the features of the inhabitants of the Dekkan are certainly distinguishable from those of the Sinhalese even by a casual observer. An utter stranger to the various races cannot be three weeks in this Island before he perceives the striking difference between the manners and habits ofthe Sinhalese on the one hand, and those of the different other races on the other. European Teachers have frequently observed the facility with which the Sinhalese pronounce European tongues, presenting in this respect a quality distinguishable from every race of South Indian people (quoted in Buddhism and Science, p. 94).
Thus, by the last half of the nineteenth century the inhabitants of the colony of Ceylon, long divided into the Sinhalese and the Tamils, had been identified as Aryans and Dravidians (Buddhism and Science, p. 95).
Dharmapala, we could assume, was incensed by the kind of disparaging remarks made by John Davy above. But he was also aware of how the Aryan language (and hence nobility) was linked to the Sinhales. So he was able to adopt Victorian race science to Sinhalese myth to counter those Orientalist attitudes towards South Asians. So he traced SInhalese origin to the myth of Vijaya (also spelled Wijaya), an Aryan king of North India. Dharmapala wrote in 1902:
Two thousand four hundred and forty—six years ago a colony of Aryans from the city of Sinhapura, in Bengal, leaving their Indian home, sailed in a vessel in search of fresh pastures, and they discovered the island which they named Tambapanni, on account of its copper coloured soil.
The leader of the band was an Aryan prince by the name of Wijaya, and he fought with the aboriginal tribes and got possession of the land. The descendants of the Aryan colonists were called Sinhala, after their city, Sinhapura, which was founded by Sinhabahu, the lion-armed king. Ethnologically the Sinhalese are a unique race, inasmuch as they can boast that they have no slave blood in them, and never were conquered by either pagan Tamils or European vandals who for three centuries devastated the land, destroyed ancient temples, burnt valuable libraries, and nearly annihilated the historic race (quoted in Buddhism and Science, pp. 95-96).
Lopez thus suggests that:
For Dharmapala, then, Sri Lanka was triply Aryan, ennobled by its language, its race, and its religion. It was as if the Indian Subcontinent were a funnel, with the Aryan language, the Aryan blood, and the Buddhist dharma of the north trickling south to be concentrated and preserved in their purest form in the island at the funnel’s tip. The subsequent inhabitants of the island, the Tamil Hindus and the Muslims (“Moors” as he called them), were not true Sinhalese because they were (not Aryan in language, in race, in religion. He wrote in 1915, “What the German is to the Britisher that the Muhammedan is to the Sinhalese. He is an alien to the Sinhalese by religion, race and language. He traces his origin to Arabia, whilst the Sinhalese traces his origin to India and to Aryan sources.”" Elsewhere, he informs the “young men of Ceylon” that “by religion, by race, by traditions, by our literature we are allied to the Aryan races of the Gangetic Valley (Buddhism and Science, pp. 97).
By doing so, Dharmapala appropriated Orientalist negative attitudes about South Asians and used it against them--against not only the European colonizers but also Christianity which he sees as the force that had imbued in Europe the 'persecuting spirit'. Lopez (Buddhism and Science, p 98) further writes:
Dharmapala championed the general superiority of Indian civilization over that of Europe. Indian civilization is older, and more refined than that of Europe, which, without a civilization of its own, was susceptible to the primitive beliefs of desert tribesmen.
- Remember India is a continent, not like Palestine or Arabia, peopled by wild, roving Semitic Bedouins, children of the desert, and that it is a vast country peopled by highly spiritualized races, with a civilization going back to thousands and thousands of years, and the cradle land of religions and philosophies. In a country where religious inquiry is man’s birthright, dogmatism has no place. India never knew in its long record of history to persecute people for their religious opinions dlhe persecuting spirit of religious tyranny began with the Semitic Jehovahism, and later ruthlessly followed by the founder of Islam. The Semitic spirit was implanted in the Latin and Teutorr heart after the introduction of the Semitic doctrine of Palestine into Europe. Never having had a religion with a history and theology among the European races, it was a quite easy for the promulgators of the Semitic faith to impress on the European mind the terribleness of the Jealous Jah of Mt. Horeb. Europe succumbed, and its future was made a blank by means of terrifying dogmatism ending with hell fire and brimstone to eternity.
If Buddhism has an analog in the West for Dharmapala, it is the ancient, pre—Christian civilizations of Greece and Rome, before the foreign slaves of the imperial Rome converted to Christianity: “The slaves accepted the teachings of Jesus since they suited the slave temperament." Prior to this, however, '"The ancient Greeks thought like the ancient Aryans of India, the gods they worshipped were not of the semitic type .... The draped figures of the Greek poets and philosophers were exact representations of the statues of the ancient Aryan Bhikkhus.” “Roman and Grecian civilization originally was Oriental. The religions they professed were not Semitic.” In his criticism of colonialism, Dharmapala traced the violence and rapaciousness of the European powers back to their religion. He wrote in 1926, “With the exception of Buddhism all religions have been destructive. In India Brahmanism partially destroyed Buddhism, and the remnant of Buddhists that existed was destroyed by the Muslims seven centuries ago .... Today England, the United States, Italy Belgium, France, Germany and other Christian countries are sending shiploads of missionaries to China, Ceylon, India, Japan, Burma to convert both Buddhists and Hindus, backed by the capitalists and gunboats.” In discussing the case of his own country of Sri Lanka in 1923, he found the religion preached by these missionaries, and indeed all “Western” religions, to be illegitimate. [Dharmapala writes]:
- The Ceylon Buddhists that have succeeded in maintaining Buddhism for a period of 2200 years in the Island are now confronted with the sensualistic creeds of Mecca and Palestine. Judaism is a downright plagiarism. It has robbed from Babylonian religions, Assyrian religions, Egyptian religions, Zoroastrianism, the doctrines that were current in the Euphrates valley and in Persia. Its bastard offshoot has borrowed a large stock of ethics from Buddhism. The ceremonialism of the Byzantine Christian Church was copied from the Buddhism of Turkestan and Turfan.
We see in the above how Dharmapala is aware of the Orientalist attempts to claim an Aryan past as their own. Yet, he is unwilling to share this brotherhood with the European colonizers. He does this by making distinctions between the supposed superficial Aryanism that the Europeans have and the supposedly more authentic Aryanism of the Sinhalese--unlike the Sinhalese who are true Aryan because of their Buddhist lineage, the British (despite trying to claim a Aryan lineage) are really only 'barbarians'. He wrote in 1924:
- The British people today take pride in calling themselves Aryans. There is a spiritualized Aryrmism and an anthropological Aryanism. The Brahmans by enunciating a system of Griha Sutras called those people only Aryans who lived in the territory known as Bharatvarsha. Those who did not conform to the sacred laws were treated as Mlechhas. Buddhism is a spiritualized Aryanism. The ethics of the Bible are opposed to the sublime principles of the Aryan Doctrine promulgated by the Aryan Teacher. We condemn Christianity as a system utterly unsuited to the gentle spirit of the Aryan race.
[Lopez comments]: Dharmapala here alludes to the two apparent meanings of Aryan. The British are not Aryan from the Hindu perspective because, regardless of their colonial occupation of India, they are not native to the soil of the Bharatavarsa, the ancient Sanskrit name for India. Furthermore, the British do not follow the ancient law codes of lndia. They are thus mlecha, barbarians. They are also not Aryan in the Buddhist sense because their religion is contrary to the ethical and thus ennobling teachings of the Buddha.
Now, let me clarify that I am not trying to demonize Dharmapala here. He, along with people like Rhys Davids, were pivotal in reconfiguring the kind of 'modern Buddhism' that we inherit today, both in Asian countries and in the West. My aim is here merely to point out the complex factors--or to use Buddhist lingo, the aggregates--that shaped the environment they were in and which were the early forces that gave rise to the contemporary Buddhism we have today.
Just as we investigate the influence of the five aggregates on our identities and actions, I believe that we could also beneficially learn about the influence of these historical, political, social, and cultural 'aggregates' on 'modern Buddhism'--and through doing so, become more mindful about the wider 'aggregates' that are shaping our practice today
Being mindful of these 'aggregates' could allow us to reconsider and also become more circumspect about how we argue about Buddhism. It could give us the space to take pause and reflect on our cetana or intentions for wanting to speak for or 'defend' Buddhism. Consequently, it could also allow us to minimize any unskilful vipaka or consequences that might stem from our speech/actions.
What I am doing then, if anything, is attempting to reflect on kamma--although I have admittedly taken it beyond the traditional frameworks of explanation. My apologies if this offends anyone.
A closing passage from Lopez might be helpful here:
As South Asia came increasingly under British rule in the nineteenth century Aryan became a precious artifact of a classical past, long lost in a process of invasion, miscegenation, and decline, better preserved in Europe than in India. Dharrnapala was one ofthe consumers of this commodity in the British colony of Ceylon, just off the coast of India, where he made it his own, turning it into a weapon against the European oppressors and their religion. In order to do so, however, he resorted to a rhetoric that strikes our ears as distinctly non—Buddhist, even un—Buddhist.
OK good night/day to you, friends.