The Buddhist Cultural Centre has just released a new book titled, Western Contribution to Buddhism by William Peiris. The publication of this fine volume will be a welcome addition to the literature in English on the important subject of Buddhism and the Buddha. A foreword by the late Ven. H. Saddhatissa Maha Thera, a distinguished [...]


Buddhism’s appeal to the Western mind


The Buddhist Cultural Centre has just released a new book titled, Western Contribution to Buddhism by William Peiris. The publication of this fine volume will be a welcome addition to the literature in English on the important subject of Buddhism and the Buddha.

A foreword by the late Ven. H. Saddhatissa Maha Thera, a distinguished Professor Emeritus of the  Benares Hindu University and of the University of Toronto, Canada, is evidence of the importance of the new publication.

The author has been a journalist and broadcaster for over half a century and is well qualified to speak with authority on the subject.

The preparation of this work had entailed an enormous amount of research, for it is an account of the services that Western scholars have rendered in the past 150-200 years to Buddhism.

The book which has 48 portraits of famous scholars is made up of  11 chapters in which the author deals with the work of scholars from England, France, Germany, Russia and America. Schopenhauer, the famous German philosopher who early in the 19th century, drew the attention of the Western world to the importance of Buddhism, occupies a prominent place in the work.

Sir Edwin Arnold, author of the world-famous Buddhist poem, The Light of Asia, also ranks as one of the outstanding Western contributors to our knowledge of Buddhism.

The author, William Peiris had written a most readable biography of Arnold which was published by the Buddhist Publication Society of Kandy.

The Rhys Davids, husband and wife duo, who contributed greatly as founders of the Pali Buddhist Tripitika,  occupy a prominent and well-merited place too in the book.

The author has pointed out that Buddhist Asia owes a great deal of gratitude to Western scholars for their enormous contribution to Buddhist scholarship and the spread of Buddhism in the West. Peiris enumerates the facts relating to this growth and achievement.

According to Peiris, of all the countries in  the West, Britain has rendered the greatest service to Buddhism. The name of  Rhys Davids heads the list of British scholars who dedicated their lives to the study of Buddhism and the propagation of its tenets and doctrine.

The name of Rhys Davids is remembered and honoured as the founder and first president of the Pali Text Society. His “missionary zeal for Buddhist studies made him the staunch champion in this sphere. He helped the Society publish almost the whole of the Pali canon and a considerable number commentaries and English translations.”

Mrs. Rhys Davids will always be remembered as the “greatest expositor of the Buddha’s doctrine. She is also given an equal tribute and “by their combined endeavour they have established a place for Buddhism in the Christian world.”

Rhys Davids once mentioned,  “I have examined Buddhist or not Buddhist – every one of the great religious systems of the world, and in none of them have I found anything to surpass in beauty and comprehensiveness,  the Noble Eightfold Path of the Buddha. I am content to shape my life according to that Path.”

Rhys Davids was committed to organise Pali studies in the West and to pave the way for Buddhism to become a household word in the West.

The contribution made through  Sir Edwin Arnold’s beautiful poem The Light of Asia was practically helpful for the propagation of Buddhism in the West.

The book achieved a phenomenal success and its sales exceeded one million copies in Europe and America. Its circulation has been wider than any other book on Buddhism. Buddhism became widely known in the West by its publication in 1879.

Friedrick Max Muller, was another who contributed to Buddhism from England, where he spent the greater part of his life and earned a high reputation as a competent editor and translator of Buddhist texts.

The name of Ms. I.B. Horner, as the president of the Pali Text Society, prominently stands out among the benefactors of Buddhism in the West. She was a Pali scholar of the front rank.

Dr. Edward Conze was another outstanding English Buddhist scholar and author, well versed in Pali, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, Mongolian and Japanese. He was a practising Buddhist for 30 years and was one of the world’s greatest Buddhist scholars.

Christmas Humphreys, was another well-known British pioneer and propagandist who believed in World Buddhism, and was convinced that only in a combination  of all schools of Buddhism can the full grandeur of Buddhist thought be found. Peiris confirms that Germans can claim to be the first Westerners to gain an insight into Buddhism  and to extol it. He comments, “The number of those who practise Buddhism without publicly announcing it is believed to be very much high.”

Schopenhauer, the philosopher, assigned Buddhism the highest place among world religions. He had been since the first quarter of the 19th century the most widely read German philosopher. He was the first to tell the West about Buddhism.

“If I wished to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I should have to concede to Buddhism pre-eminence over the others. It must be a pleasure to me to see my doctrine in close agreement with a religion that the majority of men on earth hold as their own, for this numbers for more followers than others,”Schopenhauer said.

The founder of the Buddhist House in Berlin, well-known all over the world as a thinker of great originality, Paul Dahalke stated; “Buddhism has a great mission to fulfil in the life of mankind that cannot be performed by any other religion or philosophy. Irreplaceable for the seeker after Truth, and entirely unique in  its mental structure for the thinker. The Buddha Dhamma stands secure in the power of its inner Truth, waiting serenely for that recognition of its worth which other religions seek to obtain by  eager propaganda.”

The late Ven. Nanatiloka Maha Thera who spent in Ceylon 54 years of his life of 80 was among the Western pioneers of Buddhism. He was the first German to enter the Order and selected a small island in South Ceylon, in 1911. This Island hermitage became famous throughout the world,  and  many Westerners, specially Germans, were ordained there.

“The credit for beginning the systematic and scientific study of Buddhism in the West goes to France,” says Peiris. It was the great French orientalist, Eugene Burnouf who may be described as the Father of Buddhist Studies in Europe – he published a scholarly pioneering work in Buddhism. He was the first to make Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism, known in Europe.

V. Trencher, initiated the massive Critical Pali Dictionary that was compiled with international support and collaboration.

It was Dr. Paul Carus who pioneered a vigorous movement to popularise Buddhism in America. His first book, The Gospel of Buddha, published in 1894 was a best seller.

What appeals to the American in particular, is the freedom of thought and expression underlined in Buddhism, its invitation to the inquirer to “come and see” to investigate its doctrine, and to believe nothing until the inquirer is fully satisfied about the truth enshrined in it.

It is worth quoting the words of the Venerable Saddhatissa Maha Thera who wrote that “this fascinating chronicle should become a textbook for all who wish to pursue a study of Buddhist history. This book is essential reading for all who are interested in  the development and range of influence of Buddhism and the Buddha. As it is written in English it will appeal to millions of potential readers – good auspices in the present deplorable state of morality in the world of today.”

Dr. Edward Conze, the greatest Western Buddhist by common consent and Buddhist scholar stated, “Dear Professor Peiris, rather belatedly I have just studied your book. It gives a most fascinating account of the many gifted people who took up Buddhism in the West…..”

The Buddhist Cultural Centre has published the book with a new cover. Copies of this book are available for sale at 125, Anderson Road, Nedimala, Dehiwela, Sri Lanka, Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya, 32, Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mawatha, Colombo 5 and

Book Facts
Western Contribution to Buddhism by William Peiris.

Reviewed by Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi Thera

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