2nd July 2000
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Asoka Weeraratna Remembrance Day 

"Buddhism in Europe" 

By Dr. Granville Dharmawardena President - German Dharmadutha Society 
Albert Einstein was not only a great German scientist, but he was also the greatest human being who lived on earth in the 20th century. The global community has named him as the Man of the 20th Century to honour him for enabling mankind to perceive the true reality of nature. He is truly a giant among scientists. He is also a person who made a giant contribution to Buddhism in Europe by enabling everyone to follow the Buddha's instruction "Ehi Passiko" or come and see. 

Before Einstein, science had the great disability of having to be restricted to three spatial dimensions and what is material. This was because scientists were unable to perceive anything that extended beyond the scope of their five senses. Our universe, however, consists of a lot of very important phenomena that extend beyond three spatial dimensions. These phenomena, therefore, are beyond the scope of pre-Einstein Science. 

The Buddha's holistic way of acquiring knowledge did not suffer the above disabilities and, therefore, the Buddha perceived the true reality of the universe before he founded the Buddha Dhamma. Teachings of the Buddha, therefore, encompass all natural phenomena including those that lie beyond the scope of pre-Einstein old science. The inability of old science to undertstand the true reality of nature made it incompatible with Buddhism. Hence such natural phenomena and concepts as mind, rebirth, telepathy, impermances and selflessness (Anatta) which are important in Buddha's teachings were considered as unscienctific in Europe where what received the label "scientific" was believed to be true. 

Einstein's great contribution to mankind is pulling human perception out of the three dimensional frog's well and extending the scope of science to vistas of nature that lie beyond three dimensions. Quantum sciences that followed, fully opened up the true nature of the universe to human perception. 

The new knowledge that developed on top of pre-Einstein science, as a result of Einstein's theory of relativity and quantum theory is referred to as modern science. (Some refer to this as new science and pre-Einstein science as modern science). 

It has already been shown that on the basis of modern science, rebirth and telepathy are natural phenomena in our universe. Buddhist concepts such as impermance and Anattha are true in terms of modern science. 

Albert Einstein, having mastered modern science and studied Buddhism said, "The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal god and avoid dogmas and theology covering both the natural and spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity. Buddhism answers this description." 

Einstein learned of Budhism from the writings of the great German Buddhist scholar, Arthur Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer was the first person to present the teachings of the Buddha to Europe by his book "Die Welt als Wille and Vorstellung", which was published in 1818. In his book Schopenhouer explains in a clear way that European intellectuals could understand and accept that, everywhere in existence we inevitably find discomfort, distress and suffering of some kind or other. Then he pointed out that this distress springs simply from the fact that men are willing, desiring, wanting creatures, since it is impossible in a world like this, that their wants can ever be fully satisfied. From this predicament there is only one way of realse, namely that men should cease to will and desire. 

Albert Einstein later said "If there is any religion that would cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism", and Bertrand Russel, one of Europe's greatest Philosophers said, "Of the great religions of history I prefer Buddhism." 

Having carried out his own research, Derek Parfit of Oxford University who is considered as the world's most important living philosopher, has begun to accept the Buddhist view of life and selflessness. He believes that his acceptance of selflessness which was inspired by split brain research, has liberated him from the prison of self. He says "when I believed that my existence was such a further fact, I seemed imprisoned in myself. My life seemed like a glass tunnel, through which I was moving faster every year, and at the end of which there was darkness. When I changed my view, the walls of my glass tunnel disappeared. I now live in the open air." 

Our mission is to make all Europeans realize for themselves what Einstein has said of Buddhism, take them out of the old science's three dimensional frog's well which still keeps them shrouded in a cloud of mysticism, take them into the open air that Parfit has experienced and help them to live more meaningful lives based on truth and universal reality. 

This we intend to achieve through the German Dharmadutha Society and Das Buddhistische Haus (the Berlin Buddhist Vihara), which is the oldest Buddhist institution in Europe. 

Asoka Weeraratna conceived the idea of founding a Society for Dharmaduta work in Germany on his first visit to Europe in 1951. He successfully formed the German Dharmaduta Society within one year i.e on September 21, 1952. Asoka Weeraratna undertook a second visit to Europe in 1953. On this trip he travelled widely all over Germany, meeting leaders of Buddhist organizations in various German cities and enlisting their support for the cause of establishing the Buddha Sasana in Germany. It was on this trip while looking for a suitable site for a Buddhist Missionary Centre and Vihara, and a Settlement for lay Buddhists and Upasakas, that he located Das Buddhistische Haus (built by Dr. Paul Dahlke in 1924) in Berlin - Frohnau. The German Dharmaduta Society purchased this property in 1957, and converted it into a Vihara, thus enabling Theravada Buddhst monks to reside for prolonged periods at this Buddhist House and spread the Dhamma in Europe.

Dr. Wimala de Silva

Her life has been so fulfilling

Down Memory Lane
By Roshan Peiris
At the age of eighty walking down memory lane could be both an exhilarating and rewarding experience. 

Dr. Wimala de Silva, though slightly feeble after a mild stroke, was glad to go down memory lane. Today she also occupies the exalted position of Chancellor of Sri Jayawardenepura University. 

"I have three outstanding memories, which after all these years remain both vivid and amusing" smiled Wimala. 

She first attended a village school which did not boast of individual classrooms. The classes though divided were held in one big hall. "Instead of attending to my work, I was raptly following what was being said in the parallel class. 

"My teacher wanted us to mark the 'wewas' on a map. Maps were then not easy to come by. Instead of writing 'Yodaweva' I had written of all things Mihi Hareka!" ( ) Of course the girl who would one day be the first woman Chancellor of an University was whacked by the teacher." I did not cry out, since I hate any sort of violence and was too shocked even to cry for the very bad mistake I had made. 

"Next, my memory goes back to my school Newstead, a Missionary school which I loved. While there, a young Tamil dancing teacher Gladys Paulickpulle got the school to invite the renowned Rabindranath Tagore." 

Wimala recalls "he came with his pupils from Shantiniketan. They gave a dance recital. And I can still picture Indira Nehru dancing gracefully among them. This is a memory I shall cherish dearly. Also Tagore with his beautiful deep voice read to us from some of his writings." 

These are Wimala's indelible memories which will always remain with her. 

"My mother died when I was only five years old but her two sisters loved and spoilt me. My father never punished me, a motherless child he would say often wiping a tear. But he was strict, the very epitome of the Victorian type. 

"No boy friends were allowed, but what is more, even my girl friends were carefully vetted.

"I was lonely sometimes since my only brother was eleven years older than I and hence we did not have common interests to share." 

In school the young girl who was only seven years old was in Grade V and considered to be outstanding in her studies even then. 

"Being very young for the class I unfortunately did not have any close school friends." 

In class she effortlessly occupied one of the first three positions. On leaving Newstead she went on to the Unversity of Ceylon. "There with my Newstead influence I chose to study for English Honours with Sinhala as a subsidiary. 

"I did well by obtaining Second Class, to the delight I recall of my family. "No" she said "I had no boy friends. My father would have pulled me out of the University had I had boy friends, with his Victorian norms of behaviour." 

After University, Wimala taught English at Dharampala Vidyalaya. "Here comes my third indelible memory. 

"I lived with an aunt whose house was about hundred yards from the school, so naturaly I walked. A dog from the village took a liking to me and daily accompanied me to the school." 

"One day" says Wimala in this co-educational school, a boy came upto her to show her some of his work and get her opinion and corrections. 

"What do you think, the possessive dog snapped at him and bit his leg. I wonder even now whether the dog had an aversion to boys!" 

The next day the Principal of the Vidyalaya, Mr. Lawris having heard of this amusing incident called Wimala up, "he told me Miss. Jayatilleke either you must take the lesson or the dog must take the lesson. Both my dear, cannot come to school." Wimala recalls that she did post-graduate studies at the Institution of Education, University of London. 

The University she recalls, "used to have a guest speaker to speak during lunch time. I was once asked to speak on Ceylon and I was both thrilled and nervous. That was my first attempt at public speaking." 

Food at the University of London in the boarding, Wimala describes as being drab, "eggs and bacon was all we got. Food was scarce since it was just after the second World War." 

The boys she said came over to the girls' hostel for meals. The table was set spic and span with an array of cutlery. 

"One boy" said Wimala with a laugh."Never was so little eaten with so much cutlery and grandeur! 

Wimala did not like sports and cooking she recalls. "But I did play tennis and net-ball for my House while at Newstead". 

At home her aunts and servants never allowed her to chop or clean food. "They thought I was too small and would accidentally chop off a finger or two." 

Her marriage, she said "in keeping with the mores of the times was arranged. My husband was connected to some of my relations and so I had seen him. We got on well and it was a happy marriage. We did not have any children unfortunately" Since 1985 for 15 years Wimala has been and is the Chancellor of Sri Jayewardenapura University. 

"All my memories as I go through them, I find have enriched my life, and will remain with me always. It has been so fulfilling a life, that if I had to live again I would like the same life, of course without illness. Her sunny disposition and acceptance of life makes her a worthy person to meet, and an example to us all. 

Venerable Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thera (1918 - 1999) 

His was a life of dedication, fulfilment and achievement

Venerable Mitirigala Dhammanisanti Thera, who passed away one year ago on July 2, 1999 aged 80 years spent his entire life, practising the Dhamma in the most exemplary fashion and setting an example so difficult for ordinary Buddhists to follow. His was a life of dedication, fulfilment and achievement of the highest aims he nurtured and developed from his childhood. Even in his teens he demonstrated a strong will to shun the material comforts which other children yearned for - although he had them in ample measure - and attempt to follow the five Buddhist precepts. He always impressed on all of us that mere lip-service to Buddhism would not suffice but that we should try to live as true, practising Buddhists. Indulgence in sport and entertainment, as a youngster, had no appeal to him, as to others of his age, because he was prone to reflection and the cultivation of the mind in the Buddhist way. He received a good eduction at Mahinda College where his strong Buddhist convictions and ethical values were further strenghtened in the peaceful religious environment of the school which had acquired a reputation of imparting education combined with a firm grounding in essential Buddhist principles. It was easy for Asoka Weeraratna as a layman from a respected and affluent family, firmly established in the jewellery business to have embarked on a business career and amassed wealth. Though he and his brother Dharmasena later ran a profitable jewellery business, Asoka undertook the project with the sole aim of collecting funds for the laudable aim he had of setting up a forest hermitage for the practice of meditation under the guidance of an experienced teacher monk following the successful completion of work of a Buddhist missionary. Often arguing with his brother on the worhlessness of the secular life bringing sorrow and misery as against the realisation of selflessness in the pursuit of the Dhamma, he prepared himself for the renunciation of all that was near and dear to him. It led to the decline of their flourishing business and the ultimate closure of their reputed establishment P.J. Weeraratna & Sons, Colombo in 1965.

While engaged in business and undertaking foreign tours to meet business clients in the early 1950s he had the opportunity of coming into contact with persons interested in the study and propagation of Buddhism, particularly, in Germany. The idea of establishing a Buddhist Mission in Germany took shape and after obtaining the support of interested parties he came up with the idea of forming a Society, called the German Dharmaduta Society, on land donated by the Government of the times. He next proceeded to win over genuine German Buddhists to support his cause of setting up the Centre, in Berlin - Frohnan, in Dr. Paul Dahlke's house, which he, as Secretary of the Society, had succeeded in purchasing with funds collected in the Million Rupee Trust Fund Campaign, again personally undertaken by him among the Sri Lankan people. 

The German Dharamduta Society which he was able to establish with the support of leading Buddhists here provided the groundwork for the next step in his dedicated effort to organise the Mission in Germany. Leaving nothing to chance, he made trips to Germany and found the ideal location for the Buddhist Centre combined with a Vihara for resident monks who went on the first Buddhist Mission to Berlin, in 1957. He worked with great zeal and in an indefatigable manner to develop programmes of religious and propagation work in Colombo to provide the necessary support for the missionary activities planned for the Berlin Vihara. 

The Society, in Colombo, and the Vihara in Berlin, set up for the spread and promotion of Buddhist activities contributed also to the establishment of strong links between interested German and Sri Lankan Buddhists as we often hear from the reports and news emanating from the Berlin Vihara and its influence among German people. These two institutions would have been adequate as achievements in the life of any citizen of this country. But Asoka Weeraratna as I knew him from his childhood, would not give up the ultimate goal he sought, that is the total renunciation of the material life and the development of the spiriptual in him. 

In the search planning, setting up and running of the Mitirigala Forest Hermitage, too, was meticulous and he attended to every detail - so well-planned and executed it has been that even today (after 32 years) it remains an ideal place for meditation and practice of self-discipline leading to the 'fruits of the Path' - Magga Phala. It is indeed a unique institution founded by an extraordinary personality. The 'Daily News' (1968) summed up his work for the Mitirigala Nissarana Vana (Hermitage) thus:

"He has not only pioneered the construction of this unique institution but he also treads the Path himself, setting an example in true renunciation. 

"When one considers the two aspects of his life, one as a layman, determined and hard-working to achieve success as an entrepreneur and businessman, up to the time of preparation for 'renunciation' and the other as vana-vasi, 'forest-dwelling' recluse, homeless and meditative, it appears that he had in him spiritual qualities which made it easy for him to forego material comforts and take to a path of detachment. 

Although the contribution he has made in establishing international links for the spread of the Teachings of the Buddha in Germany, sacrificing a great deal must be considered as a laudable achievement comparable with the missionary work of pioneering missionary leaders like Anagarika Dhammapala, he must, in his own reckoning, be judged as a seeker of Truth, who set himself rigorous standards of moral conduct to achieve and attain a state beyond our mortal reach. May he realise the fruits of his search. 

Jayadeva Tilakasiri 
(Emertius Professor of Sanskrit University of Peradeniya and Vice President, German Dharmaduta Society) 

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