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VIII – The Rhys Davids of Indomitable Courage
1. “We grow by all such”
In one sentence Thomas William Rhys Davids (1843–1922) explained how he looked at his pioneering work of making the Pali literary heritage available to the Western world both in the original and in translation. The statement was further clarified by his equally illustrious wife, Caroline A. F. Rhys Davids (1857–1942):
“And when it is a quest of opening up buried treasures of past ideas, or opening up new vistas of unverified powers and resources, it is impossible for explorer and experimenter to judge before hand, that this is a waste of time and energy. Much digging and many experiments will prove to have been so. And yet who will assert that pioneer work should therefore be shirked, nay, may it not be that, as Rhys Davids once said, “We grow by all such?” Mrs. Rhys Davids: Wayfarer’s Words: Vol. II, London 1941, p. 707
References to “buried treasures” and “digging” are most apt in this case as Rhys Davids’ entry into the realm of scholarly research was through archaeology.
Rhys Davids, like Childers, was a son of an English clergyman. Entering the Ceylon Civil Service at the age of 21 in 1864 he served the first three years as the Private Secretary to the Governor, actually succeeding Childers in that position. He worked for both the acting Governor Major-General Terence O‘Brien and Governor Sir Hercules Robinson (later Lord Rosemead). Ven. Yātrāmulle Śrī Dhammārāma taught him Sinhala for his examinations and, as in the case of Childers, inspired Rhys Davids, too, to get more interested in the culture of Sri Lanka. According to records, Rhys Davids came to know of Pali when he was confronted with texts of Buddhist vinaya in the course of a trial he conducted as the District Judge of Galle. When none in the court could translate the relevant text, he decided to study Pali and, again, it was to Ven. Yātrāmulle Śrī Dhammārāma that he went for instruction. As he proceeded with his studies, he came in contact with the two [cxxiii] best known scholar-monks of the time, Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala Nāyaka Thera and Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti Nāyaka Thera.
His last few years in Sri Lanka were spent in the archaeological service; the excavation of a number of sites in Anuradhapura and the discovery of Sigiriya are among his achievements. His earliest publications both in Sri Lanka and Britain were on epigraphical and archaeological themes: e.g.,
On methods of taking Impressions of Inscriptions JCBRAS V, No. 16 (1870–71),
Dondra Inscription JCBRAS V, No. 16 (1870–71),
Inscription at Weligama Vihara JCBRAS V, No. 16 (1870–71), On an Inscription at Dondra JCBRAS V, No. 17 (1871–72), Three Inscriptions of Parākramabāhu the Great from Pulastipura (dated circa 1180 AD) JRAS Vol. VI, 1873,
Sigiri - 39th Chapter of Mahāvaṁsa JRAS Vol. VI, 1873,
Two Old Sinhala Inscriptions: The Sahasamalla Inscription dated 1200 AD and the Ruwanvaeli Dāgaba Inscription dated 1191 AD. JRAS Vol. VII, 1875.
Although Rhys Davids left the Ceylon Civil Service in 1872 and returned to England, his interest in Sri Lankan studies persisted as the last three articles in the above list show. These articles also establish the fact that he was in very close collaboration with Childers. The latter’s assistance is acknowledged in several places for comparing the text of some extracts from the Mahāvaṁsa with a Ms. in the India Office Library and getting a monk in Sri Lanka (i.e., Nāranwita Unnānse) to provide a copy of the inscriptions dealt with in the last article.
While pursuing law studies in London, which he completed in 1877 by being called to the bar, Rhys Davids continued his epigraphical and numismatic researches as well as studies in Pali and Buddhism. Thus in 1877 he published a book on “Ancient Coins and Measures of Ceylon” and in 1878 he wrote for the London Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge a treatise on the [cxxiv] life and teachings of the Buddha, published under the title “Buddhism”; this book, through its quality and popularity, The popularity of this work can be gauged from the fact that, by 1914, it had been reprinted in 23 editions. It was this book which attracted Mrs. Rhys Davids to Buddhist and Pali studies. assured for Rhys Davids a secure place among the pioneering Orientalists of the day. Next he translated into English the first volume of Jātakas edited by Fausböll in 1880 under the title “Buddhist Birth Stories” and proceeded to translate selected Suttas of the Sutta Piṭaka which formed Vol. II of the Sacred Books of the East Series (1881).
The recognition which Rhys Davids’ early works won for him is borne out by the fact that he was invited in 1881 to deliver the prestigious Hibbert Lectures and the subject assigned to him was “The Origin and Growth of Religion as illustrated by some points in the History of Indian Buddhism”. It is in the course of these lectures that he emphasized in the following terms the importance of publishing and translating the Buddhist literature and announced the intention to establish the Pali Text Society for that purpose:–
“The sacred books of the early Buddhists have preserved to us the sole record of the only religious movement in the world’s history which bears any close resemblance to Christianity; and it is not too much to say that the publication of this unique literature will be no less important for the study of history and especially religious history than the publication of the Vedas has already been.”
The next four decades saw Rhys Davids working assiduously in this self-assumed task first in collaboration with Max Müller and Oldenberg in the publication of the Sacred Books of the East and the Sacred Books of the Buddhists Series and subsequently through the Pali Text Society which he and his equally able and erudite wife directed as the rallying point of not only Pali Scholars of Europe but also a new generation of scholars from Sri Lanka and Burma.
Rhys David’s contribution to Pali and Buddhist studies in Europe had been in two capacities: he was a scholar engaged in his own [cxxv] research and he was a promoter of activities as manager, organizer, fund-raiser and publicity agent. What is significant is that he was so versatile that one aspect of work did not suffer on account of the other. The usual comparison that is made with Max Müller is valid in that Rhys Davids shared with this Sanskritist these dual abilities: so Rhys Davids was to Pali and Buddhist studies in Europe what Max Müller was to Sanskrit and Vedic studies. It was Mrs. Rhys Davids herself who dubbed her husband the “Max Müller of Buddhism”. They worked together and their collaboration had been quite effective.
Several letters of Rost (Paragraphs 135, 136, 151, 156, 157 and 170) show that he disliked both Rhys Davids and Max Müller. His main criticism was that they were selfish and used their learning and literary work only as a means of gaining their selfish ends. Rost had set for himself a very stringent code of ethics as regards how learning had to be pursued and used. He was almost ascetic in his belief that no personal gain should be derived from learning and scholarship. With such standards, Rosts’ own achievements were almost nil in the field of scholarship where all he could show was a series of unfinished undertakings, with the exception of course, of the three volumes of H. H. Wilsons’ writings which he edited and published, even though his services to the emerging generation of Orientalists of his time had been very remarkable. What Rost disapproved in Rhys Davids and Max Müller was their involvement in the propagandist and commercial activities and, possibly, the visible gains in the form of publicity and profits that accrued to them. Rhys Davids was conscious of this type of criticism levelled against him, for, in his report of the Pali Text Society for the year 1907, he made a strong case in favour of scholars receiving adequate monetary compensation for their work. He said,
“As there is no longer any serious probability of a change for the worse in the Society’s finance, it is proposed, so long as the margin shall be enough for one year’s issues in advance, to pay each collaborator in the Society’s work a small honorarium of £1 per sheet. [cxxvi]
In making this announcement, I may be allowed to express my poignant regret that the amount should be so small. It would be considered a disgrace to say to a tailor: ‘You are well known in the town for the skill and accuracy of your work. Make me, therefore, a coat (or a suit) for nothing’. It is not yet considered a disgrace to say to a scholar: ‘You are well known in the world for the skill and accuracy of your work. Write me, therefore, an article (or a book) for nothing’. Why this difference ? Is it entirely a question of economics? Ruskin, with great earnestness and no little indignation, would have answered with an emphatic NO. There are questions of ethics, of intelligence, of social pride, of organization to be considered. And if one marks the studied contempt with which successful men of the world often defend themselves against any possible imputation of belonging to the ranks of scholars (and this even happens when they are addressing learned men or writing semi-learned essays) – when one marks this careless air of self-complacency, one is inclined to think that māna, no less than moha, may also enter into the argument. In any case, the age of barbarism, the age which values wealth and birth above knowledge and insight, cannot last for ever. That, too, is aniccaṁ though it be also dukkhaṁ. Signs of a gradual, continuing change are already clear to the discerning eye. Meanwhile let every scholar help those organizations which assist the change; and throw, whenever possible, his vote into the scale in favour of payment for all scholarly work. An established precedent counts much in such matters. And let us never forget the workers, willing to help in our new studies, who are now forced, by want of the miserable pence, to turn unwillingly to the more hackneyed fields.”
The success which Rhys Davids achieved as a promoter and champion of scholars is amply demonstrated by the fact that his creation, the Pali Text Society, continues to be as active and productive as it was a hundred years ago.
No evaluation of his achievements in the capacity of a scholar is called for as they are no longer doubted or questioned. Rost’s judgement in 1883 that Rhys Davids and Max Müller were “not [cxxvii] real Pali scholars” (Paragraph 152) was certainly not shared by his other contemporaries. In 1882 Rhys Davids was appointed the Professor of Pali and Buddhist Literature of the University College, London and in 1904 he was chosen Professor of Comparative Religion of the University of Manchester. He was an active member of the Royal Asiatic Society and was sought after as a speaker at important meetings of Orientalists in Europe and North America. He left behind an impressive array of books and papers which testify to both his devotion and industriousness. To the ones already mentioned as his works prior to the establishment of the Pali ‘Text Society must be added:–
–His translations of Pātimokkha, Mahāvagga and Cullavagga in collaboration with Hermann Oldenberg (SBE Vols. XIII, XVII and XX, 1881-1885).
–His translation of Milinda-Pañha (SBE XXXV and XXXVI 1890-1894).
–Dialogues of the Buddha (Dīgha-Nikāya) (SBB Nos. 2, 3, 4, 1899, 1910, 1921).
–The History and Literature of Buddhism (six lectures delivered in America in 1894-95), 1896.
–Buddhist India, 1903
And all the following critical editions and related works published by the Pali Text Society:–
–Sumaṅgala-vilāsini I, 1886 with J. E. Carpenter.
–Yogāvacara’s Manual, 1896.
–Dīgha-Nikāya I and II with J. E. Carpenter, 1889, 1903.
–List of MSS. in the Copenhagen Royal Library (1883).
–Persecution of Buddhists in India (1896).
–The Bhabra Edict of Asoka (1896).
–Abbreviations of titles of Pali books (1896 and 1909).
–Political Division in India (1901).
–Lexicographical Notes (1919). [cxxviii]
–Cosmic Law in Ancient Thought (1919).
–What has Buddhism derived from Christianity? (1923).
–With W. Stede: Pali-English Dictionary (1921 - 1925).
No scholar of international stature in Pali and Buddhist studies has since failed to delve deep into his writings in search of explanations, opinions and information. He has been a consistently quoted authority. For example, Winternitz in his “History of Indian Literature” alludes to Rhys David’s work in 80 references, while Rādhākrishnan refers to him 23 times in his “Indian Philosophy Vol. I.”
As important as his literary output are the students he produced. Two among them are specially important as far as this Volume is concerned. One is Lord Chalmers, who figures prominently in the correspondence among different scholars and who had the distinction of being the Governor of Sri Lanka. The other is Mrs. Caroline. A. F. Rhys Davids, who recalls her early years of married life with her teacher, Rhys Davids, in the General Note written to Gunapala Malalasekera’s Dictionary of Pali Proper Names:
“One of my abiding memories of the days in the Nineties, when work under and with Rhys Davids became an essential part of my married life, was the foreground-presence of three interleaved volumes. These were Robert C. Childers’ Pali Dictionary (a copy bequeathed by him to my husband) and the Pali Text Society’s Journal for 1888, almost monopolized by an Index of Pali names by Swiss scholar Edward Müller-Hess. Daily those interleaved pages were becoming ever more filled, to say nothing of marginal additions, so keenly did Rhys Davids record as soon as it appeared the new – or shall I say the newly-risen from the Once-had-been.”
It was the assessment of Padmanābh S. Jaini that “Prof. Rhys Davids was perhaps excelled only by his wife, Mrs. A. C. F. Rhys Davids, who brought her mighty contribution to Pali studies as the crowning glory to her husband’s work.” 2500 years of Buddhism (Editor: P. V. Bapat) Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, New Delhi 1956 p. 388. [cxxix]
2. Mrs. Caroline A. F. Rhys Davids (1857–1942)
The sheer volume of her published works is simply overwhelming. Commencing from the translation of the first book of the Abhidharma-piṭaka in 1900 under the title, “A Buddhist Manual of Psychological Ethics, being a translation of the first book in the Abhidhamma Piṭaka entitled Dhammasaṅgaṇī: With Introductory Essay and Notes, she produced by herself or in co-operation with other scholars, at least thirty sizeable publications, in addition to nearly a hundred learned articles on all aspects of Indian and Buddhist philosophy. A chronologically arranged list of her books would give an idea of the variety and the width of her scholarly interests as well as the investment in time and energy she was prepared to make:
1900–Translation of Dhammasaṅgaṇī (mentioned above).
1904–Critical Edition (C.E.) of Vibhaṅga (i.e. the second book of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka).
1906–C.E. of Duka-Paṭṭhāna (i.e. second part of the seventh book of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka).
1907–08–Similes in the Nikāyas.
1909–Psalms of the Early Buddhists I – Psalms of the Sisters (Translation of Therīgāthā).
1910–C.E. of Aṅguttara-nikāya Vol. VI (with M. Hart).
–A Compendium of Philosophy (translation of Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha) with S. Z. Aung.
1911–C.E. of Yamaka Vol. I (i.e. the sixth book of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka).
1912–Buddhism (Home University Library Series)
–C.E. of Yamaka Commentary.
1913–C.E. of Yamaka Vol. II.
–Psalms of the Early Buddhists II: Psalms of the Brethren (Translation of Thera-gāthā).
1914–Buddhist Psychology (The Quest Series).
–Translation of Ledi Sadaw’s Dissertation on the Yamaka. [cxxx]
–C.E. of Puggala-paññatti (i.e. the fourth book of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka) with G. Landsberg.
1915–Points of Controversy (Translation of Kathāvatthu the fifth book of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka) with S. Z. Aung.
1917–The Book of the Kindred Sayings (Translation of Saṁyutta Nikāya) Vol. I.
1920–The Expositor (Translation of Atthasālinī: Dhammasaṅgaṇī Commentary) with P. M. Tin. Vol. I.
–C.E. of Visuddhimagga Vol. I.
1921–C.E. of Visuddhimagga Vol. II.
–The Expositor Vol. II.
–Translation of Dīgha-nikāya Vol. III (SBB No. 4) with T. W. Rhys Davids.
–C.E. of Tika-Paṭṭhāna (first part of the seventh book of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka) with Commentary: Vol. I.
1922–The Book of the Kindred Sayings Vol. II.
–C.E. of Tika-Paṭṭhāna with Commentary: Vol. II.
1923–C.E. of Tika-Paṭṭhāna with Commentary: Vol. III.
1925–C.E. of Majjhima-nikāya Vol. IV.
1927–Buddhism and the Negative.
1928–Gotama the Man.
1931–Sākya or Buddhist Origins.
–C.E. and translation of Dhammapada and Khuddakapāṭha (SBB No. 7).
1932–Manual of Buddhism.
1936–The Birth of Indian Psychology and Its Development in Buddhism (A rewritten and enlarged edition of Buddhist Psychology – 1914).
1942–(Posthumously) – Wayfarers’ Words Vols. I - III (i.e. sporadic writings and lectures). [cxxxi]
As this list shows, her pioneering work was in the field of Abhidhamma and, as Winternitz confirms, she “has devoted years of patient and scholarly labour to the investigation of the texts of the Abhidhamma.” Winternitz: A History of Indian Literature: Vol. II, Calcutta, 1933 p. 172.
As a logical sequel to her interest in Abhidhamma, she studied the development of Indian philosophical thought, both pre-and post- Buddhistic. Her interpretations brought her into many a controversy, specially with those who found some of the widely held views and beliefs assailed by her.
As a sincere researcher who had read She called herself “one who comes from long study in the older records, the Pali Suttas, compiled by monks mainly for monks.” Wayfarer’s words Vol. II p. 476 in original Pali more texts of the Tripiṭaka than most other scholars could claim, Mrs. Rhys Davids was very sure of facts and interpretations and would not hesitate in expressing her views frankly. Once criticizing Rhys Davids’ article on “Theory of Soul in the Upanishads” (JRAS 1899), she said, “Rhys Davids, who was fairly hagridden with the notion of Atman as ‘mannikin’, scarcely discerns the nature of the quest here”. The Birth of Indian Psychology and its Development in Buddhism, London, 1936 p. 35 Commenting on Sir Edwin Arnold’s “Light of Asia” she said,” ‘Light of Asia’ is not a happy title save perhaps for the publisher; it goes too far for most Christians; it doesn’t go far enough for most Buddhists; it is not for either correct if by Light of, we mean that which lights up Asia, since this is obviously uncharitable to Islam and Parseeism, and ignores the entire north of that continent.” In a lecture delivered in London in 1934; Wayfarer’s Words Vol. II p. 475
Her critical comments extends also to named and unnamed interpreters of Buddhism. For example, on Buddhaghosa, she wrote: “Where, ages before, the founder (i.e. the Buddha) had been silent, where the founder had rejected alternatives without making any sweeping denials, there Buddhaghosa has been taught to say: there is not, there is nothing, there is no one. He does not seek to convince. He dogmatically denies. And as we leave this [cxxxii] house of cloistered lives, of a closed tradition, of a past dominating present and future, we have a sense of rooms swept and garnished, clean and tidy, of sealed windows, of blinds drawn down, of no outlook towards the dawn.”
This simile, pregnant with meaning, spells out her deepest conviction and the scope of her self-imposed task. In presenting her many “sporadic writings: articles and comments buried in periodicals and ‘Commemorative Volumes’ ”, she mentioned her “mission” which she carried on in her monographs and essays: that is, to tell of two things: First, how the religion we now call Buddhism was different at first from what it now is. She stressed: “This needs showing. Others do not yet fairly and freely show it. It will need showing yet for years to come”; Second, “how man’s more-will in his wayfaring is not yet taught as it needs to be”. She explained this second task in ethical terms: “I see men holding up ideals to be followed without a word on the will, the will by which alone man can value what they hold up... He needs will as to the last mandate of earth-life, that next step which, as yet, is so wilfully put aside. The More in life, when life is viewed as a growth, a becoming, figured as a wayfaring towards a Most, very long in time, time past and time future, not for mankind only considered as a whole but for each Man, each Woman.” Preface to Wayfarer’s Words Vol. I.
A notable discovery which was made as I studied Mrs. Rhys Davids’ correspondence with Ven. Buddhadatta is the degree to which she has been misunderstood, misconstrued and reviled by those who paid little attention to the above-mentioned mission. She raised many questions. Most of them were knotty and she did not accept the traditionally proferred answers or did not like the manner in which these answers were given. She proceeded to raise more questions and each had to be preceded with a series of observations. For nearly two generations, Pali and Buddhist scholars have grappled with her observations without coming to the questions she had so very seriously and sympathetically posed. What each of the letters published in this Volume brings to light is her sense of her seriousness and sympathy, which seem to have pervaded all her work. [cxxxiii]
What we have is her correspondence with one editor over a period of thirty years. She had been in constant communication with at least thirty more editors and translators. Our letters refer to some of them and shows how she was trying to promote correspondence among them. There might have been many more whose works did not come up for publication by the Pali Text Society (e.g. Charles R. Lanman and Ven. Welivitye Sorata). If the correspondence with Ven. Buddhadatta is an index to her seriousness of purpose, one can easily visualize the volume of personal correspondence she could have undertaken to ensure the achievement of the Society’s objective. Her anxiety as age advanced that she would die before at least the Canon and its commentaries were published recurs in several letters, thus giving us an idea of the immense determination that motivated her.
An unknown or little known Mrs. Rhys Davids emerges from these letters. Several episodes need to be noted: e.g. how she urged and encouraged Ven. Buddhadatta to study English – very tactfully in the beginning lest the suggestion would hurt the young monk’s conviction that Pali was for him an adequate lingua franca; how she managed to widen his horizon by enabling him to visit Europe; how she handled difficult and delaying editors; how she confided in Ven. Buddhadatta the grief-ridden experiences following the tragic death of her only child and son during the First World War; how she took over and handled single-handed the Pali Text Society after the death of Rhys Davids; and how nothing daunted her or delayed her work – wars, deaths or bombs. She went through two World Wars – very optimistically as a patriotic British – and hoped that estranged German scholars would fulfil their promises to edit books for the Society; it is an interesting commentary on the binding unity of scholarship that her hopes generally came true. When a German bomb destroyed hundreds of publicationes of the Society, she wailed “That country bought more of our books than any other” (Paragraph 453).
Another demonstration in her genuine interest in the promotion of Buddhism is the plea that she made as far back as in 1932 for the translation of the Tripiṭaka into Sinhala. According to the advice that she received from Dr. W. A. de Silva, the Sri Lankan monks in [cxxxiv] early 1910s had been opposed to such an idea. She was glad when Ven. Buddhadatta gave a progressive opinion on the subject but did not agree that the translation be left to “isolated individual attempts”. She urged that it was very important to see that the Tripiṭaka was made available in Sinhala in every Buddhist home and cited the benefits of the availability of the Bible in Christian homes. While the translation of the Tripiṭaka into Sinhala has since been achieved both in an authoritative scholarly version in the form of the Buddha Jayanti Tripiṭaka Translation and in a popular version emanating from the painstaking assiduity of Dr. A. P. de Zoysa, the target of getting a Sinhala Tripiṭaka in a handy readable form, into every Buddhist home in Sri Lanka is yet to be achieved. While striving to achieve this target, it would be a token of gratitude to remember that one of the earliest to urge it was Mrs. Rhys Davids and that, too, in a personal letter to one of Sri Lanka’s best Buddhist and Pali scholars.
Mrs. Rhys Davids’ contribution to the development of Buddhist and Pali studies came in two main directions. As these letters show, the first was through the involvement of several Sri Lankan scholar-monks in the work of the Pali Text Society and giving them, with all due care, the scientific training that the traditional system did not provide. Ven. Sūriyagoḍa Śrī Sumaṅgala, Ven. P. Dhammārāma, and Ven. Polwatte Buddhadatta have made their own scholarly contribution which testify to the efficacy of this training. It is quite possible that several others, who fell by the way side, in the sense that their works did not come up for publication by the Pali Text Society, also benefited in some ways. With the role which Ven. Buddhadatta played in the Buddha Jayanti Tripiṭaka Translation of Sri Lanka and the major Burmese undertaking in the form of the Sixth Council (Chaṭṭha Saṅgāyanā), Mrs. Rhys David’s insights in the field of Pali textual criticism were put into greater service in the Buddhist world.
The second contribution she made – and this not only to Buddhist scholarship but more to the overall regeneration of Buddhism – was Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera, her most distinguished student in the School of Oriental Studies, University of London from 1923 to 1926. The letters addressed to Ven. [cxxxv] Buddhadatta make several references to Malalasekera and one important result had been to bring the two of them together, in spite of certain misgivings apparent in earlier correspondence of Ven. Buddhadatta.
Malalasekera had wielded the single most far-reaching impact on Buddhist and Pali studies in Sri Lanka, having held a series of key academic and administrative positions in the University and the management of the national system of higher education. The last two generations of Pali and Buddhist scholars of Sri Lanka are directly or indirectly his students. As far as the continuing Sri Lankan support to the Pali Text Society goes, all the recent contributors to its publication programme as editors or translators are students of Malalasekera: e.g. Ven. H. Saddhātissa, N. A. Jayawickrema, Ratnā Handurukande and Lily de Silva. So is Ven. Walpola Rāhula who, with Ven. H. Saddhātissa, are currently members of the Society’s Council and Committee of Management. Thus through Guru-śiṣya paramparā or “teacher-pupil succession”, the movement which the Rhys Davids inaugurated and nurtured continues to be sustained by the lofty ideals on which their effort was founded.
In recognition of the unparalleled services which Mrs. Rhys Davids had rendered to the cause of Buddhist and Pali studies, the world of scholarship owes her a courtesy and itself an obligation. As mentioned earlier, many very pertinent questions she has raised on various aspects of Buddhist thought remain to be answered and her own tentative conclusions re-examined. This task becomes a very special responsibility of Theravada Buddhists and, particularly, the scholars of Sri Lanka because it is to them she had addressed her final challenge: In the “Preface” to Wayfarers’ Words Vol. II, she said:
“If readers find me in this volume also, repeating, if in different terms and on different occasions, certain comments, of a more or less contentious nature, on dogmatic teachings that have grown up and survived in Southern Buddhism of today, let me refer them to the last half of the little Preface to the first volume. Quoted earlier in this section. See p. cxxxii. So long as [cxxxvi] that Buddhism, so long as writers on that Buddhism fail to evince any historical flair for their subject, I judge it is up to me to go on fighting” (Emphasis mine).
Forty years after her death, her challenge is yet to be taken up.
3. Pali Text Society and the Buddhist Saṅgha of Sri Lanka
To what extent does the Pali Text Society owe its line of development to the Buddhist Saṅgha of Sri Lanka? The influence which Ven. Yātrāmulle Śrī Dhammārāma, Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala and Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti had on the initial Pali and Buddhist studies of the founder and the advice and guidance offered by the learned Mahātheras of the day (namely, Ven. Doḍanduwe Śrī Piyaratana Tissa, Ven. Ratgama Śrī Saddhānanda, Ven. Gintota Paññānanda and Ven. Bulatgama Siri Sumanatissa) are quite well known. But they do not account for the first most important change of policy which the Society adopted in the very first year of its existence; nor had the continuing scholarly assistance of Ven. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti, who lent manuscripts to the Society, brought about this development.
Before presenting the background for the new policy in the words of Rhys Davids himself, a word of appreciation is due to Edmund R. Gunaratne, Atapattu Mudliar of Galle, whose name occurs many times in the correspondence published in this Volume. His conversion to Buddhism is attributed to Ven. Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala. Rhys Davids had befriended Gunaratne while in Galle on account of both their official relations in the administrative and judicial service of the Southern Province and the common link which the learned scholar-monk provided. So it was natural that Rhys Davids invited Gunaratne to be the Sri Lankan representative of the Society and to recruit subscribers. On the success of Gunaratne and its consequences as regards the Society’s policy and priorities, Rhys Davids wrote in the Report for 1882 as follows:–
“In the spring of 1882 there came the welcome intelligence that more than seventy of the most important of the members of the Buddhist Order in Ceylon had shown their appreciation of [cxxxvii] the work, and their trust in its promoters, by subscribing in advance to the cost of the printing. It is no slight thing that an established clergy should have come forward so readily to support the publication of the sacred books of their religion in an alien alphabet and by scholars of an alien faith. We need not perhaps be surprised that so liberal minded a body as the Buddhist Bhikkhus should have acted so; but this was due, no doubt, in great measure, to the personal influence and high position of the Sinhalese gentleman who has so kindly consented to be our agent in Ceylon the Atapattu Mudaliyar of Galle.
This assistance came at a very opportune time. The want of good manuscripts had already in several instances made itself felt; and it was intended to apply, for the purpose of supplying this want, the donations of some generous friends who, not themselves acquainted with the Pali language, had come forward to support a movement which bade fair to throw so much light on the comparative history of ideas and especially of religious belief. These donations having supplied at home the deficiencies which would otherwise have arisen in the charges for printing it we had not had recourse to the subscriptions of the Bhikkhus in Ceylon, we have been enabled to leave the whole of the latter amount in the island itself, to be applied there exclusively to the purchase of manuscripts.
The adhesion of so large a number of Buddhist Bhikkhus to our enterprise has had also another result. We announced in our prospectus, which was circulated in Ceylon in the Sinhalese language, that it was proposed to include in the Society’s series those of the more Important of the earlier Jain and uncanonical Sanskrit Buddhist texts which might be expected to throw light on the religious movement out of which the Pali Piṭakas also arose. Since nearly half of the number of our subscribers are now Bhikkhus belonging to the original Order of Buddhist recluses, it is only fair to them that this Intention should be so far modified that we should devote our funds more immediately and continually to the publication of those texts in which they are principally interested – that is, of the ancient Pali literature preserved in their own bright and beautiful island, by the zeal and industry of the successive generations of [cxxxviii] scholars who have kept the lamp of learning alight through its long and illustrious past. To this the other half of our subscribers in Europe and America will no doubt readily agree. It was to that end, indeed, that our Society was in the first place devoted: our other aims were always intended to be only subservient to that.
But the Buddhist Bhikkhus themselves are by no means desirous that our efforts should be directed either entirely or immediately to the publication of the Pali Piṭakas alone. I have received from four of their number, whose opinion, especially on those points on which they agree, may fairly be taken as representative of the general opinion of the Saṅgha.”
The list of 96 subscribers from Sri Lanka as per [the] list of Edmund R. Gunaratne appears in the Report for 1882. Of them 74 were Buddhist monks and every name we have mentioned above as scholar-monks of this time is in the list. Perhaps, because Gunaratne’s influence was in Galle and the neighbouring districts, every one of them is from maritime Sri Lanka. But the 22 lay subscribers are geographically more widely distributed. Again we find such well-known names as H. S. Olcott; Louis de Zoysa Mahā-mudliar; Iddamalgoda Basnayake Nilame and Louis Gomeille Wijesinha.
The policy, which the impressive support of the Sri Lankan Saṅgha induced, appears to be in force up-to-date. Attending the annual general meeting of the Society in September 1982, I found it gratifying to note that the influence of the Sri Lankan Saṅgha continued to be present, as already stated, in the persons of Ven. Hammalawa Saddhātissa and Ven. Walpola Rāhula – both eminent Buddhist and Pali scholars of our time – who qualify exceptionally well to be termed “living fountains of Buddhism.”
last updated: June 2016