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Research on Ven. Ananda Metteyya’s legacy

Continued from 05-02-2010

E. J. Harris states “Ananda Metteyya Thera came to England intending to stay on permanently and that failure sent him back to Burma. Most probably, his visit was intended to begin a process that would eventually produce an indigenous Monastic Sangha in the West”. A few days after the interview of the Daily Telegraph reporter, he left England not because his mission failed, but on the advice of his doctors. Not only on the few occasions he came to England, and several times he went to Sri Lanka, but also delivered sermons under various themes. It is said he preferred the climate in Colombo.

At a later date the indigenous Theravada monasteries namely Chithurst and Amarawathi were started and Ananda Metteyya Thera’s dream was fulfilled.

In later years between 1912 and 1913 Bhikkhu Ananda Meeteyya became critically ill. “With gallstone trouble superimposed on his chronic asthma”. ‘He was operated on twice’ Cassius Pereira wrote, and on the urgent advice of his doctors, he reluctantly decided to leave the Order. He left robes in May 1914. As a layman he came to London on his way to California, where his only sister was living.

On the 12, September of the same year, Bennett’s brother-in-law and sister came to take him to America. “A passage from Liverpool was booked but the ship’s doctor refused Bennett permission to board because he feared the American authorities would deny him a landing permit on health grounds”. His sister and her eight year daughter were forced to enter the deck as the ship was casting off without him. Bennett, now a lay person, “was left to the mercy of British well-wishers”. Bennett lived in Liverpool till the end of 1916.

His short life span had been dedicated for the propagation of Buddhism. He frequently wrote for The Buddhist Review, and took every effort to help the Buddhist movement, though he was severely sick. An Outline of Buddhism or Religion of Burma 1910 was published during his life time. The Wisdom of Aryas was his last book which was launched in 1923. Tirelessly and ignoring his own physical problems, he gave lectures and wrote about the teachings of the Buddha whenever needed.

In 1916 The World War interrupted. Bennett faced terrible difficulties including a shortage of medicine and food. But he bore difficulties courageously. As the reports say, his health gradually deteriorated up to the critical level. Being in such pain and difficulties he had given lectures on Buddhism.

His friends took him to a new house in Clapham Junction area. With the help of H.P. Fernando & Co., of Colombo, he published ‘The Buddhist Review’ journal in January 1917. It shows his dedication and determination. Bennett edited the 1918-1920 volumes too. But he apologised about his physical inability in the 1921 issue.

On 09 March 1923 Bennett died. Among the friends those who were present when he died, was Lt. Col. Francis John Payne. He organised the Buddhist funeral service. The body lay at 90, Eccles Road, Clapham Junction. According to the cemetery records Francis John Payne had purchased three grave plots numbering 1588, 1589 and 1590. The body was buried in block number 1588 on 14 March 1923. The block numbers 1589 and 1590 were acquired by Francis John Payne on the 24 March 1924. The deeds were received by him on the 07 June 1937.

Addressing the gathering of the tenth death anniversary meeting J.F. Payne disclosed his motivation thus, “I was able to buy the grave together with two other plots, so I am the freeholder of the Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya’s grave.

When there comes forward a genuine authority, I will hand over the title to it. It forms a plot of fifteen square feet, and on these three plots you could erect a little stupa or monument, to him who brought Buddhism into this country.”

Many Englishmen became Buddhist monks due to the example set by Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya. There are many Buddhist temples in the UK now. Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya’s effort to propagate Buddhism to the Western world was difficult at that time. But the challenge was accepted. Listening to his sermons many of the educated westerners were convinced to enter the Order of Sangha.

Dr. W. Arthur de Silva and Mrs. Silva, H. Don Carolis, John Ellesen Richard Pereira, gave every possible help to him. Sir D.B. Jayatillake, Dr. C.A. Hewavitarane, Anagarika Dharmapala, Dr. Cassius Pereira, Roy de Mel, A.P. de Zoyza, Dayananda Hewavitarana and Dr. S.A. Wickremasinghe were some of the Sri Lankans who had known Ven. Ananda Metteyya. Francis John Payne on the occasion of the tenth death anniversary generously declared that “The Hewavitarana family has done great things for the resuscitation of Buddhism”.

The personal qualities of Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya have been mentioned by reporters and other associates. For instance, Clifford Bax reveals that Ananda Metteyya as a Buddhist, was an alert and powerful personality; and as ‘a poor man, dwelling unknown in London, he was a sick creature prematurely old”. As he was putting on his overcoat, I heard Meena Gunn saying, ‘Why it is riddled with months’, and Bennett responding, ‘They are such pretty little things’ and Meena continuing, ‘Some day we must get you a new one: this coat is too full of holes’, and Bennett answered, shyly with a pun, ‘But, you see, I am supposed to be a holy man’.

Miss Louise Balls, (the sister of the founding Hon. Secretary of the original Buddhist Society, Dr. Ernest R. Rost) has written a touching account on his last few days of life. “Though suffering terrible pain, he was still compassionately aware of a singing beggar in the road, and sent his landlady out with money within a few hours of his death”.

Even at the death bed Ananda Metteyya had done everything to encourage others in the activities of the Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland. The President Christmas Humphreys and Dr. Cassias Pereira have revealed that Bhikkhu Ananda Metteyya has done a tremendous service to the propagation of Buddhism in the West.

We cannot undermine the great service rendered for the propagation of Buddhism by Anagarika Dharmapala. He came to London, in 1925, on his way to the USA. In 1926 he came again to London and bought a property at 86 Medley Road, Ealing at Middlesex for a temple. But it did not succeed.

In 1928, he bought another property at 41, Gloucester Road, Regent’s Park. Ven. Hegoda Nandasara, Ven. Dehigaspe Pannasara and Paravahera Vagiranana came there as resident monks with Brahmacari Devapriya Walisinghe. Later in 1930 Ven. Nandasara and Ven. Pannasara returned to Sri Lanka.

In 1932 two Indian monks namely Ven. Rahula Sanskrityayana and Ven. Ananda Kausalyayana arrived and stayed there. Ven. Rambukwelle Siddhartha was the incumbent during 1933 to 1937. Ven. Dehigaspe Pannasara became the last Viharadhipathi during 1938 to 1940, before the temple officially closed. The property, which Anagarika Dharmapala had purchased, was sold and the money deposited in the Mahabodhi Society’s account.

Christmas Humphreys describes this period in this way. “As mentioned elsewhere, the Vihara closed in 1940 and did not open until 1954. During those years the most hopeful and interesting project was the idea of a Buddhist Vihara Society, whose main target was the creation of a Vihara and ostensibly a Theravadin Sangha. This idea was furthered by five Sinhalese philanthropists headed by Sir Cyril de Zoysa. After the formation of a trust to re-establish the Vihara, the above mentioned managed to buy a lease on the property at 10, Ovington Gardens, S.W. 3, which forthwith was opened on Vesak Day, 1954”.

In 1954, Ven. Narada Maha Thera became the first incumbent of the newly formed London Buddhist Vihara. Between 1955 and 1956 Ven. Mirisse Gunasiri Maha Thera became the successor. In 1957 Ven. Prof. Hammalawa Saddhatissa Maha Thera was brought to the incumbency. The London Buddhist Vihara was permanently established. It was shifted to No. 5 Heathfield Gardens in 1964. The property purchased at Barrow Gate during the tenure of Ven. Prof. Hammalawa Saddhatissa was sold and the new place at Dharmapala Building, The Avenue, Chiswick, W4 1UD, was acquired during the tenure of Ven. Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana. (21 May 1994) After his demise Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala succeeded him, in 2007.

To conclude this article I would recollect the words of E.J. Harris, Christmas Humphreys and J.F. McKechnie (former Bhikkhu Silacara).

“Unmarked grave... Was an injustice to a person who, in his writing, communicated the message of Buddha with poetic sensitivity and a scientific directness which still speaks to us today?” “Flowers and incense were placed on the grave by members of the large gathering assembled, and so there passed from human sight a man whom history may some time honour for bringing to England as a living faith the message of the All-Enlightened One”.

“We do well to pay homage to the memory of such a great man...... Such a man is well worthy of the homage of Buddhists everywhere, here and now, and always.” It is up to us now to erect a fitting tomb-stone in the memory of Ven. Ananda Metteyya, who established permanently the Order of Buddhist Sangha in this country.

The impact of Ananda Metteyya to the propagation of Buddhism can be described as follows.

His example and lecturers led Westerners to come to the Buddhist Order of Sangha. Prominent among them was Ven. Nyanathiloke. He made several German translations of Visuddhimagga and Abhidhamma Pitaka. His Buddhist Dictionary and the ‘Path to Deliverance’ became popular among western readers. Ven. Nyanathiloke contributed articles and reviews regularly to the journals of the Buddhist Society in Leipzig (Germany) which was started by Dr, Seidenstuecker in 1903.

Ven. Ananda Metteyya bore difficulties in the British soil as the pioneer monk in saffron robes. So he has paved the way for other Buddhist monks to continue the propagation work.


නවම් අමාවක පෝය

නවම් අමාවක පෝය පෙබරවාරි 13 වන දා පූර්ව භාග 05.41 ට ලබයි.
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මී ළඟ පෝය පෙබරවාරි 22 වන දා සඳුදා ය..

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