Arnold, K.C.I.E. MA, a lover of India, opened wide the "windows" of the spiritual East, with his celebrated publication The Light of Asia, perhaps, he little realized that the imcomparable epic would influence and invite the intelligentsia of the West, to visit India and Ceylon to get a better understanding of what the Buddha has said. In the wake of that, scholars T.W. Rhys Davids and his wife Caroline, Oldenberg, Dr Paul Dalke, Henry Clark Warren, George Turner who translated the (Mahavamsa) and Prof R.C. Childers studied Pali and the Buddhist scriptures at the feet of learned Bhikkus.... the Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangale Nayake Thera, the Ven. Weligama Sri Sumangala Nayake Thera, the Ven. Waskaduwe Sri Subuthi Nayake Thera and the Ven. Ratmalane Dhammarama Nayake Thera, to mention a few. These scholars later introduced the message of the Great Master to the people and Universities of Europe and the USA.
Following this great thirst for a better understanding of the Buddha word, about forty years later, after the English bard had published his masterpieces, and when over one hundred and sixty editions of The Light Of Asia were sold all over Europe and in the USA; an Englishman named Allen Bennet (who incidentally is believed to be the second Britisher to be ordained a Bhikkhu in Ceylon, taking the name Bhikku Ananda Metteyya, conceived of an idea to form a Society in Colombo, with a view to inculcate in English the Buddha Dharma, to those who studied in Anglicized schools. Buddhism was then not taught as a subject in schools. About that time. Dr. Cassius A. Pereira, LMS (Cey), LRCP (Lond.) who had listened to the Venerable Ananda Metteyya Thera speak on the "Three Noble Truths", decided at the age of sixty five years, to embrace Buddhism. He took the Sangha name Bhikku Kassyapa of the Vajiraramaya Temple, and became a "champion" of the Theravada School of Buddhism. He was energetic, to propagate the Buddha Dharma, and wielded his pen diligently and masterfully.
Along with a few others, on 16th April 1921 he founded The Servants of the Buddha Society, and became her first President. During the formative years, several notable persons were associated with the society, and a few of the names recalled are the Venerable Naradha Maha Thera. Hema Basnayake QC (later a Chief Justice) and Victor Pulle, who had been baptised a Roman Catholic and was educated at St. Benedicts College, Kotahena - he was later ordained, taking robes as Venerable Soma Thera of the Vajiraramaya. Also H.A. de Abrew and W.J. Soysa of Bambalapitiya were among the others.
The founding of the Servants of the Buddha Society signified that, yet another "window" had been opened wide in the East, to radiate the message of Sakyamuni Gothama Buddha, for the benefit of the English speaking Ceylonese, who yearned to learn more about Buddhism.
A week ago, on June 21, 1997, this Society celebrated its 75th anniversary at the Maitri Hall, Bambalapitiya. On that happy and historic occasion, the Hon. G.P.S. de Silva, Chief Justice was the principal Guest of Honour. Facing a large gathering of persons, the President of the Society, Deshabandu Alec Robertson (he has held this high office for over 25 years), delivered a keynote address on: "The Eight Thoughts of a Great Man". Also at this Assembly, names of several persons who have over long years served and contributed towards the growth and stability of the society were remembered in gratitude. They included Ananda Pereira (a Crown Counsel of the 1940s),S. F. de Silva (Director of Education), Victor Gunaratne (Public Trustee), G. P. J. Kurukulasuriya (Lawyer), the Venerable Mirisse Gunasiria Maha Thera, the Ven. Piadassi Maha Thera, Mudaliyar P.D. Ratnatunga, Mrs. Liela Basnayake, U.N. Gunasekera, Trustees of the A. B. Gomes Trust, and Cyril Randunu (a Lawyer from the Gampaha District) now known as Bhikku Sridhamma who leads a life of a Buddhist recluse at the Ms. F. R. Senanayake (known to the Maha Sangha as "Ellen Methiniya" - the modern Visaka of Ceylon) Hermitage, situated at Udawatte-Kelle, Kandy.
The Servants of the Buddha Society has always conducted its business in the English language exclusively and, is the only Buddhist Society in Lanka to have conducted sermons and lectures every week, uninterruptedly (even during war times). Throughout her long history her "home" the Maitri Hall, Bambalapitiya has been the venue of several illuminating talks. On March 20, 1948 (nearly 50 years ago) the German scholar-monk, Venerable Nyanaponika Maha Thera, who resided at the Island Hermitage and was also a founder of the Buddhist Publications Society Inc. Kandy, delivered a lecture, to an audience who listened with rapt attention, to a sermon on The Threefold Refuge. Professor G. B. Malalasekera Ph.D., Prof. Y. Karunadasa Ph.D., Prof. Chandima Wijebandara Ph.D., Dr. Mrs. Lorna Dewaraja Ph.D., Ven. Prof. Dhamma Vihari Ph.D., Ven. Piyadassi Maha Thera, T. B. Ratnayake and Raja Kuruppu are a few other names of speakers recalled.
In January 1925, the first issue of The Blessing was published. This was the "Dharma - patrika" of the Society, and was edited by Dr. Cassius Pereira. The first issue carried 38 pages, and was sold at 50 cents, which then was valuable money. It is interesting to note that in the foreword the Editor said:
"This long outstanding aspiration of a few keen Servants of the Buddha, is partially satisfied with the launching of The Blessing..." The Editor continued later to say:
"In the ocean of Pali texts lie hidden many a pearl of great price whose radiant beauty, and placid perfection are lost to all but a few yellow robed lovers of the law, who alone possess the secret that enables them to plunge into tranquil depths. In the secluded temples of the East, remote from the restless turmoil of a world wrapped in materialism, these single-minded members of the Buddha Sangha, have preserved almost untarnished through passing centuries, the very words in the very language of the Great Master." The Blessing usually carried translations (from Pali) of the Majjima Nikaya.
It is from the "Maitri Hall", Lauries Road, Bambalapitiya (named after Ven. Ananda Metteyya Thera), a stately building built by the father of Dr. Cassius Pereira, and projecting an unique Anglicised architecture with heavy furniture like pews of a church but having on the wall at the entrance an ornate freeze of distinct Buddhist outlook relating to the Gupta period, that the untarnished Message of the Master, has radiated. It has throughout been a "Power House" of Buddhist thought. People of all walks of life who seek the samaric clear path to Nirvana, striving to eradicate themselves from the Three evils of Loba, Dhosa and Moha, gather there to listen to the glorious Dhamma, and to live with that Dhamma, knowing well that:
"The gift of the Dhamma excels all (other) gifts; The flavour of the Dhamma excels all (other) flavours; The pleasure in Dhamma excels all (other) pleasures; He who destroys Craving, overcomes all sorrow." - Dhiga Nikaya (354)
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