Protestant Buddhism and Christianity

There were some Buddhists who also lived and worked in the Protestant atmosphere with its associated rise of Capitalism. Gradually these people began to lose the Sri Lankan feudal values that had grown up in the context of Buddhism. However, not all Buddhists wanted to give up Buddhism in order to become Christians, and so many of those living in the urban areas underwent an identity crisis. Without any doubt, the best example in this regard is a person commonly known as Anagarika Dharmapala whose former name was Don David Hewavitarne. Commenting on this identity crisis G. Obeyesekere has observed,

“ His lack of roots in the traditional social structure – the absence of village, caste or regional identities - impelled him to seek his identity in Buddhism. Moreover, insofar as he lacked local identities like caste, he could appeal to all sectors of the educated Sinhalese. His religious conflicts led him to be an inveterate and implacable foe of the Christian missions, and he brought into Buddhism the zeal, enthusiasm and bigotry that characterised the mission dialectic. In 1902 he writes (in English)

“The sweet gentle Aryan children of an ancient historic race are sacrificed at the altar of the whisky-drinking, beef-eating belly god of heathenish. How long, O how long will unrighteousness last in Lanka?” And: “ Practices that were an abomination to the ancient noble Sinhalese have today become tolerated “ And again: “Arise, awake, unite and join the army of Holiness and peace and defeat the hosts of evil. ”. “

Here, according to Obeyesekere, he (Dharmapala) became a Protestant Buddhist. Although initially, the impact of his appeal was on the Sinhala and English-educated intelligentsia, he later had an impact on all Sinhalese Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

Here we see how this English-educated person who studied in Christian schools and whose father became a rich businessman in Colombo in the Capitalistic set-up was instrumental in giving birth to a reformed form of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. He was greatly influenced by Madam Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott who organised the Theosophical Society in New York in 1875 and who came to Sri Lanka to organise the Buddhist Theosophical Society in Sri Lanka.

This shows how Buddhists had to adopt Protestant values to be Buddhists in the Capitalistic system. This once again proves the close connection between Capitalism and Protestant ethics. For example, these Protestant ethics are well highlighted in the Systematic Code for Laity prepared in Sinhala by Dharmapala in 1898. The rules were listed on the following subjects.

The manner of eating food (25 rules)Chewing betel (6)Wearing clean clothes (5)How to use the lavatory (4)How to behave while walking on the road (10)How to behave in public gatherings (19)How females should conduct themselves (30)How children should conduct themselves (18)How the laity should conduct themselves before the Sangha (5)How to behave in buses and trains (What village protection societies should do (On going to see sick persons (2)Funerals (3)The carter’s code (6)Sinhalese clothes (6)Sinhalese names (2)What teachers should do (11)How servants should behave (9)How festivities should be conducted (5)How to lay devotees (male and female) should conduct themselves in the temple how children should treat their parents (14)Domestic ceremonies (1)

These rules clearly depict Puritan and Calvinistic ethics at their outset, and so this gives the framework in which Protestantism influenced Buddhism in Sri Lanka. At the same time, this influence contributed immensely to Buddhist missionary activities in the West where Capitalism and Protestantism are two integrated realities.