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September 13, 2017
Celebration of 153rd Birth Anniversary of Great Anagarika Dharmapala
On 16th and 17th September at the London Buddhist Vihara we shall be celebrating the 153rd birth anniversary of our founder, Anagarika Dharmapala.

Anagarika Dharmapala was born in Ceylon, as it was then called, in 1864 to the Mudliar Don Karolis Hewavitharana and his beloved wife Mallika Hewavitharana. He was the eldest child in this wealthy family. This was at the height of British rule where Christianity and English education received pride of place. The boy was given a Christian name, David. Having schooled at St. Benedict's Catholic school and at St. Thomas' Protestant school, David acquired a fluent command of the English language. Although the Christian faith and its values were taught to young David, the fact that the family maintained a close association with the revered and venerated monk Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thero enabled David to remain resolutely loyal to his Buddhist values and principles.

In 1880 he had a fortuitous meeting with Col. Olcot and Madam Blavatski, the founders of the Theosophical Society. They were looking for an individual who was fluent in Sinhala and English to accompany them on their visits to parts of Ceylon. David fitted the bill perfectly and thus began this great association between these people. He changed his name to Angarika Dharmapala. He accompanied Col. Olcot and Madam Blavatski on a visit to Buddhagaya in India, the place of the Buddha's Enlightenment. He was shocked and horrified to see such a place of veneration had gone to rack and ruin and that it was being governed by non-Buddhists. This incensed the Angarika who prostrated in front of the Buddha's statue and vouched that he would restore this holy site to its rightful glory and at the same time bring this place under the jurisdiction of the Buddhists. To help in fighting the many battles that lay ahead, he established the Maha Bodhi Society in 1891. Despite his tireless efforts, it was not until after his death that control of Buddhagaya was finally given to the Buddhists.

The world's parliament of religions, held in Chicago in 1893, could not have come at a better time for Dharmapala who represented Ceylon and Theravada Buddhism at this momentous occasion. The theme of his talk was, "The world’s debt to Buddha." Following his remarkable speech which had the audience spellbound and in awe, the Anagarika came to be recognised as a leading Buddhist figure in the whole world.

Mention must be made of a truly remarkable meeting the Anagarika had on his return trip from USA via Japan. He met Mary Foster in Hawaii. She was so impressed with the Anagarika's untiring efforts and visionary concepts for the future of Buddhism, that she gave millions of rupees for the propagation of Buddhist schools, temples, hospitals, etc. to be established in Ceylon, India and the UK.

In 1926 his dream became realised with the founding of the London Buddhist Vihara. As a mark of gratitude to this great benefactress, the Anagarika named this building at 86 Madeley Road in Ealing as Foster House. By his life and mission Anagarika Dharmapala showed himself to be a true kalyana mitta. This term is used to describe a special kind of friend. It means a noble friend who is concerned for the welfare and happiness of his fellow men.

The Buddha said he was a kalyana mitta to all mankind. Following in this tradition, Anagarika Dharmapala dedicated his entire life to the advancement of Buddhism throughout the world. He achieved a great deal during this life. First, he was a powerful force behind the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, which had wilted under the pressure of colonial governments.

Secondly, by founding the Maha Bodhi Society and pressing for the return of Buddhagaya to Buddhist control, he helped to revive Buddhism in India. Buddhagaya has now become a central focus for Buddhist pilgrims visiting India. Thirdly, due to his vision and foresight he planted a seed in the UK which has grown into a mighty tree which is now flourishing in many Western countries. Whether they are aware of it or not, many Western Buddhists owe a huge debt of gratitude to Anagarika Dharmapala for his having brought the dhamma to the West.

Ven. Bogoda Seelawimala
Head of The London Buddhist Vihara
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