the Introduction to
From the Living Fountains of Buddhism
A historical work looking at the scholar monks in Sri Lanka and their influence upon early Western scholars of Buddhism, giving biographies and bibliographical information.
Sri Lankan Support to Pioneering Western Orientalists
Ananda W. P. Guruge
originally published by
The Ministry of Cultural Affairs
Colombo 7, Sri Lanka
Ven Hikkaḍuwe Śrī Sumaṅgala
holding a class at Vidyodaya College
Html Table of Contents
“We Europeans must, of course, stand in need of such help
as we are so far from the living fountains of Buddhism
and so scantily furnished with materials.”
– Viggo Fausböll
in his letter to
Ven. Waskaḍuwe Subhūti Nāyaka Thera
on 14th March 1877.
“The Western World discovered Pali, and the Buddhist scriptures barely a hundred years ago; Sri Lanka again provided the most material. It was George Turnour’s discovery and translation of the Mahā Vansa, in 1837, which helped scholars working in India to identify King Piyadassi of the inscriptions, which they were trying to decipher, with King Asoka of history. Subsequent advance was made comparatively easy.
‘Vincent Fausböll translated the Dhammapada in 1855 and Robert Caesar Childers, a member of the Ceylon Civil Service as was Turnour, published a Pali-English Dictionary in 1870. They were given considerable help by the Sinhalese Bhikkhus, especially Subhūti and Dhammarama.
Dr. Rhys Davids, another member of the Ceylon Civil Service, founded the Pali Text Society in 1881, and with the help of his wife, gradually unveiled to the Western World, the unique and original literature contained in the Buddhist scriptures.”
His Excellency J. R. Jayewardene – President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka: BUDDHIST ESSAYS (First Edition 1942) Fifth Revised Edition 1983: Chapter VI. Page 39.
Note to the Digital Edition
One of the real untold stories in the development of Buddhism in the West has been the immense help that the early Western scholars received from their Eastern counterparts, who were nearly all members of the Saṅgha, which has been preserving and passing on the teaching of the Buddha for the past 2,500 years.
Prof. Guruge has done a veritable service to us all, not least his countrymen and the Saṅgha in making this material available, and it deserves a much wider reading public than it has received so far, which is the reason behind preparing this digital edition.
For now I reproduce here just the Introduction of this book, which in itself amounts to well over 200 pages. The letters, which included facsimiles, took up more than 450 pages, but most of the information that can be gleaned from them was summarised in the Introduction.
The first half of the Introduction throws light on some of the main Sri Lankan scholars who were the source of much of the information and even interpretation of early Buddhism received by these pioneer workers in the field, and provides short biographies or vignettes of their lives.
The second half does the same for the Western scholars themselves, giving short biographies and bibiliographies of their major works, which has gone so far in introducing Buddhism to a Western public.
In preparing the work, noting what Prof. Guruge himself says about presentation towards the end of the Introduction, I have made some small changes that mainly affect consistency and the way diacritics are used in the text.
I have also occasionally added explanatory notes and other materials when they serve to better illustrate the texts presented, and in this regard I have also transliterated the Sinhala text, when it occurs, so as make it intelligible to a non-Sinhala reading audience.
The text was first scanned and then a rather poor quality OCR was made of it. This was passed to Donny Hacker who did the major work of correcting the text. I have then read the whole thing through myself, making final corrections, and whatever editorial decisions were necessary.
I hope this work will go some way to helping people understand the dedicated work of generations of monks and scholars who remained quietly in the background preparing the way for the introduction of Buddhism to a Western public so that we in the future could benefit from their endeavour.