OLD DIARY LEAVES, Third Series (1883-87)
by Henry Steel Olcott
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TURNING our backs upon the tragical episode of the attack of the S. P. R. upon Madame Blavatsky and her associates, we will now take up the pleasanter task of recalling, for permanent record, in greater detail than was given in Chapter VI, the incidents of the Buddhistic commission with which the Sinhalese nation had honored me, and which had brought me to London in the spring of 1884. The events preceding this action are historically so important, and their consequences have been so serious, that I feel it a duty to expand the brief narrative above mentioned, and to quote, from the original documents in my possession, facts that must otherwise go unrecorded, My duty was, as above stated, to lay before the Colonial Office certain grievances for which no redress had been obtained in Ceylon. They struck at the very root of the principle of religious neutrality, so clearly and so wisely announced by Her Majesty the Queen, as the future policy of her Government throughout her dominions. Of course, the British Empire would not hold together under any other system than the absolute guarantee to all the followers of the various religions under its sway, of the right of private judgment as to
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their creeds and of personal freedom as to their forms of worship. When the Portuguese conquered the Maritime Provinces of Ceylon, they adopted the opposite policy and employed the brutal agencies of the sword, fire, confiscation, and rapine to compel the mild and inoffensive people of the Island to adopt the Christian religion, but without avail. The poor creatures saw their houses burnt, their females dishonored, and their friends put to the sword, but they only fled to the jungles and clung to Buddhism. Under the rule of the Dutch, who supplanted the Portuguese, the same stress was put upon them, but by chiefly legal enactments and appeal to selfish motives, rather than by military cruelty. Cruel enough, though, were some of their laws as, for instance, the denial of legitimacy to children born in lawful Buddhistic wedlock and of their right of inheritance, unless the parents were married in a Christian church: an infamous bit of cunning. A Jubilee Report of the C. M. Society, noticing the past and then present state of the Christian Churches in Ceylon, says that these harsh measures of the Dutch bred "Christians"—i.e., hypocrites—prolifically, and when the British drove out the Dutch and conquered the Maritime Provinces, the church registers bore the names of thousands of this sort of Christians, but within a brief time after the proclamation of religious freedom was made, "the flourishing tree was wilted as though stricken by a black frost". I quote the substance of this avowal from memory, but I think I am fairly accurate.
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However warlike the Sinhalese of the seaboard may have been in the far past, the fight has all been drawn out of them by three centuries of foreign rule1; yet its potentiality is always there, according to the law of sociological evolution, and it only needs the right concatenation of circumstances to set their passions ablaze again. On Easter Day, 1883, a crisis occurred which, under less wise self-restraint in the leaders of the Buddhist community, might have caused serious riots and blood-shed. If the leaders had not been under what we may call the conservative training of membership in the Theosophical Society, which had taught them the benefit of union and patient persistence in the conduct of public movements, the masses might have broken loose and taken that Lynch law redress for their wrongs which they could not get from a vacillating Governor and unsympathetic officials. Briefly, the facts were that on the Easter Day a procession of peaceful, unarmed Buddhist worshippers was passing through the streets of Colombo to Kotahena, a suburb where one of their most revered temples is situate, to make the customary offerings of flowers, fruits, and other things at the shrine, when they were assaulted violently by a large mob. To quote from the Petition laid before the Governor: "They were murderously assaulted by a mob of Roman Catholics and other evilly-disposed rioters, who bore
1 The Portuguese held the seaboard for 153 years; the Dutch, from A.D. 1658 to 1795, when the British expelled them and made themselves a present of the sovereignty. "In the interests of Christianity and civilisation," of course!
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painted upon their persons the sign of a cross, who had inflamed their passions by intoxicant drinks, and who were armed with bludgeons, sharp weapons, and other deadly instruments; that in the affray which followed, the lives of women and children were imperilled, great bodily harm was done to a number of Buddhists, five head of cattle drawing their carts were slaughtered in the Queen's highway, and the carts themselves, with their valuable contents, were consumed by fire." It goes on to state that a Buddhist named Juan Naid was murdered, the Police looking on without interfering; that the mob was collected by the ringing of tocsins on the bells of the Catholic churches, and that certain noted persons were seen by the Police painting white crosses on the dark-skinned bodies of the rioters, organising the attack, and giving them liquors. Although these outrages were witnessed by thousands, and the leaders were all well known, no action was taken by the authorities, and it was but too evident that the whole thing was to be ignored. After waiting some days, the leaders of the Buddhist community, taking counsel together, brought a criminal action against certain suspected parties, with such proofs as, without Police help, could be discovered. The Justice of the Peace recommended that twelve of the accused should be committed for trial, but the Acting Queen's Advocate, acting in violation of the "Ordinance (Ord., XI of 1868) and of the settled policy of British justice, the sitting Justice of the Peace was obliged, under instructions of the Acting Queen's
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Advocate, to assume the functions of the Supreme Court, and, without trial by jury, to decide the validity of the complaint and the value of the testimony offered by the accused. . . . Thus, then, as events proved, the ordinary course of justice was interrupted and the accused were released. . . .” The result being,” says the Petition, "that, notwithstanding we have spent Rs. 5,000 in legal and other expenses to secure justice, the murderers of an unoffending Buddhist are unpunished, no recompense has been given for property destroyed, to the value of some Rs. 4,000, and the whole body of Sinhalese Buddhists. . . are left to face the possibility of similar bloody attacks in future by the various enemies of their religion. . . . So serious has the agitation upon this subject already become, that, but for the remonstrances of counsel, ten thousand Buddhists would have presented this petition in person to your Excellency; and a committee of our influential men have, in despair, taken the preliminary steps to ask of the Home Government and the Commons of England such help as may be practicable to redress their wrongs and give full effect in future to the assurances of religious neutrality in Her Majesty's Asiatic dominions which have, from time to time, in the Royal name been solemnly pledged."
Things went from bad to worse. The Buddhists, smarting under a sense of their wrongs, and goaded by the jeers and taunts of the unpunished rioters, were getting ripe for bloody reprisals. Government had not turned over a finger to right them in more than
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a year. In short, there was a crisis that menaced the destruction of law and order.
The first thing that occurred to the Buddhist leaders in their time of worst trouble was, as stated in Chapter VI, to telegraph me an urgent request to come over and help them. Accepting, as in duty bound, I crossed via Tuticorin and reached Colombo on Sunday, 27th January, 1884. I went straight to Sumangala's College and organised a meeting of leading Buddhists. The next day I got them to form a Buddhist Defence Committee, with old Mr. Goonewardene Mohandiram, as Chairman, Don Carol is, as Vice-Chairman, H. A. Fernando as Treasurer, and C. P. Goonewardene as Secretary; that is to say, all most respected persons in the community. They elected me an Honorary Member, as the following extract shows:
"At the suggestion of the High Priest, and upon the motion of Mr. Don Carolis, seconded by Mr. H.A. Fernando, and supported by Mr. J. P. Jayatilleke, it was unanimously
"Resolved, that Colonel H. S. Olcott, of Madras, be respectfully requested to generally assist the Committee to carry out the objects of its organization.
"And that provided he consent, he be made an Honorary Member, and asked to proceed to London as the Chief Agent of the Committee, with full power to represent it under any circumstances that may arise, and in its name and that of the Sinhalese Buddhists in general, to ask for such redress and enter into such, engagements as may appear to him judicious."
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The next day I went to Kandy to personally confer with the new Governor, Sir Arthur Gordon, who had just succeeded Sir James R. Longden, the Feeble. I found him quite another sort of person, and from his intelligent grasp of the situation felt much encouragement for our cause. He promised to forward immediately to London any papers we might wish to lay before the Colonial Office, and altogether expressed his sympathy with our party under the afflicting circumstances. Messrs. Wm. de Abrew and Goonesekara accompanied me to the interview. These preliminaries being satisfactorily settled, we returned to Colombo on the next day.
At the College I held, on the following day, a private conference with the High Priest, Sumangala, Dhammalankara, Subhuti, and Weligama, who, among other things, joined in giving me a written commission to, accept, in their names, any persons, in Europe or elsewhere, who might wish to formally declare themselves Buddhists. The ranking High Priests of Malwatte and Asgiri, the Royal Temples at Kandy, had, given me similar powers already. Having done all that was possible in Ceylon, I returned that evening to India, to arrange affairs at Adyar and make as early a start as possible for London.
The idea of H. P. B.'s accompanying me to Europe was an afterthought, it having been decided in a Council meeting after I had foreseen that I would have to go to London for the settlement of the Ceylon business.
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H. P. B., taking time by the forelock, preceded me to Bombay so as to make a promised visit to our colleague, the late Thakur of Wadhwan.
On the 15th of February I left for Bombay with Mr. St. George Lane-Fox, F. T. S., and on the 18th was rejoined by H.P.B., Dr. Hartmann, and Mohini, who had extended their Kathiawar trip as far as Sihor, to visit our always beloved and loyal colleague, Prince Harisinhji Rupsinhji. On the 20th, at noon, we sailed for Marseilles on the S.S. "Chandernagore," of one of -the French lines, receiving demonstrations of affection from a large number of friends who came, with the usual bouquets and flower-wreaths, to see us off.
The particulars of our delightful voyage, our arrival at Marseilles and Nice, the incidents which occurred while we were the guests of Lady Caithness, our arrival at Paris, my leaving H. P. B. there and proceeding on to London with Mohini, the settlement of the teapot -tempest in the London Lodge, and the melancholy results of our intercourse with the S. P. R., have been recorded above. We will now resume the thread of our narrative of the results of my Buddhist mission.
A long familiarity with the methods of public business as followed in governmental departments restrained me from hurrying to the Colonial Secretary's antechamber with my papers in my hand. Instead of committing that indiscretion, which has caused so many aspirants for official favor to spend weeks and months outside the door behind which the great man sits, I made it my first business to find out how the
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business of the Colonial Office was transacted, which bureau had special charge of Ceylon affairs, and what was the character of the gentleman in charge of it. These inquiries—which, of course, I might have completed in an hour had I been so fortunate as to meet with the right man—took up a fortnight. Seeing at last my way clear, I called at the Colonial Office and sent in my card to the Hon. R. H. Meade. Mr. Meade received me with the utmost politeness, and showed himself entirely familiar with the details of our case. He was good enough to enlighten me about the forms of correspondence used in the British public offices, and I addressed to Lord Derby the following letter:
77 ELGIN CRESCENT W.,
LONDON, the 17th May, l884.
THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARL OF DERBY,
Secretary of State for the Colonies.
1. The despatch of the 18th of February of H. E. Sir Arthur Gordon to your Lordship will have informed you of my having come to London as the representative of the Sinhalese Buddhists, to obtain redress for the gross wrongs done them in connection with the riots of Easter Sunday last year.
2. I have personally conferred with the Hon. R. H. Meade of the Colonial Office with respect to
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the matter, and now have the honor to ask your Lordship's consideration of the enclosures herewith forwarded, copies of which are not on file in the office. They are:
3. A copy of an official report of a meeting of Sinhalese Buddhists held at Colombo on the 28th day of January, 1882, to consider the present state of Buddhism in the Island of Ceylon, and adopt such measures as may be necessary for obtaining redress for certain grievances.
4. Copy of a letter and appeal to H. E. Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor of Ceylon, asking him to take certain specified lawful steps to secure redress for the Buddhists: the writer being Edward F. Perera, Esq., leading Proctor for the Buddhists in the late riot proceedings. To which letter, although written and delivered to its addressee on the 5th of February, no response had, I believe, been received up to the most recent dates from the Island.
5. Extracts from a private letter to myself from Mr. J. R. De Silva, one of the best and most intelligent Buddhists of Ceylon, and the gentleman who was Secretary to the meeting for forming the Defence Committee named in the Document; the information showing the despairing state of feeling with regard to the prospect of getting justice from Government unless my present mission should succeed.
6. I have also shown to Mr. Meade a copy of a Colombo paper, which sets forth the unlimited power habitually enjoyed by the second law officer of the
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crown—the local official primarily responsible, as alleged, for the apparent miscarriage of justice complained of.
7. That your Lordship may know what the Sinhalese people hope for as measures of justice, I would state that I am asked to beg your consideration of the following points:
(a) That the Attorney-General of Ceylon1 be instructed, if not illegal, to order the parties accused of the guilt of the Easter Riot and of its consequences to be committed for trial.
(b) That, either by extending the terms of the Imperial Indian Proclamation of religious neutrality by the British Government, or otherwise, some absolute guarantee of their religious rights and privileges shall be at once given the Sinhalese Buddhists, so that the prevailing inquietude may be done away with, and all officials be made to feel that Her Majesty's Government will hold them to stern account should they henceforth fail in the impartial performance of duty.
(c) That the Brithday of Buddha, viz., the Full Moon day of May, be proclaimed a full holiday for "Buddhist employees of Government, as the sacred days of Mussulmans, Hindus, and Parsis are officially recognised holidays in India for employees of those several faiths. The Buddhists, who are always most loyal subjects, are compelled to either work on this, their most holy day of the year, or lose the day's pay.
(d) That all restrictions upon the use of their national and religious music shall be removed, and
1 The title of the Queen's Advocate under the New Code.
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the Buddhists permitted to hold their religious processions as always hitherto since the remotest epochs. Though your Lordship's despatch to Sir Arthur Gordon of December last, as transmitted to Mr. Perera through the Ceylon Colonial Government, declared that instructions had been given which your Lordship trusted "will enable all Her Majesty's subjects in Ceylon to practise the rites of their respective religions without: interference"; yet the most revered and respected monk in the Island—Sumangala Thero, High Priest of Adam's Peak and Principal of Widyodaya College, Colombo—was, only the other day, denied the privilege of a procession with tom-toms, and thus forced to bring his religious fair, or pinkamma, to a permature close. Harsh and unpleasant as the sound of the tomtom may be to European ears, yet it is music to the Asiatic, and a festival without it is lifeless and uninteresting to them.
(e) That Buddhist Registrars of Marriages, etc., shall be appointed in Buddhist villages and wards of cities, and the Buddhists not forced as hitherto to depend for these services upon their bitter enemies of others faiths.
(f) That immediate steps shall be taken to decide the question of the Buddhist Temporalities, and, by taking financial matters out of the hands of the priests who, by their ordination laws, are prohibited from meddling in worldly affairs, but nevertheless have been greatly corrupted by the hasty action of the British authorities in turning over to their custody
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(see Ordnance No. 10, of 1856) the vast estates of the Church, to aid in restoring the pristine virtue of the priesthood. An examination of Ceylon official records shows that the British authorities have, unwittingly, helped to a great extent to injure the tone of Buddhist morality, by first extinguishing the ancient sovereign power of ecclesiastical discipline vested in the King, and then failing to either exercise it themselves or to vest it in a Chamber, or Board, or Council of Priests. The High Priest of the Dâlada Maligâwa, at Kandy, himself bitterly complained to me about this when I was at his temple in January last.
I am sorry to inform your Lordship that discontent and despair are rapidly spreading among the Sinhalese Buddhists; a fact to be the more deplored, since there is not in all the Imperial realm a more simple, peaceable community.Before the manufacture and sale of arrack was promoted for revenue purposes, they were—unless history belies them—a most kindly, quiet, and virtuous nation. Their devotion to Buddhism appears in the fact that, despite the bloody policy of the Portuguese, and the despicable and crafty one of the Dutch, they ever remained secretly true to their forefathers' faith, and as soon as it became safe under British rule, openly professed it. They feel just now, however, as though the ruling powers were secretly willing to deliver them over to the Romish mob, and determined to deny them common protection. No seer is required to foretell what the legitimate outcome of such a feeling must be, and on behalf of
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the better part of the nation, I do most earnestly implore your Lordship to take such steps as shall, without dangerous delay, prove to them the sincerity of the professions of Government as made from time to time.
I have the honor to be,
Your Lordship's obedient, humble servant,
(SD.) HENRY S. OLCOTT.
A few days later, having received further communications from Colombo, I supplemented it with a second letter, to the following effect:
77 ELIGIN CRESCENT, NOTTING HILL,
LONDON, 27th May, 1884.
THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARL OF DERBY,
Secretary of State for the Colonies.
My LORD,—I have the honor to enclose, for your Lordship's information, the following additional papers on the matter of the late religious riots at Colombo, Ceylon:
Copies of eight letters and endorsements, included in a correspondence, in February last, between H. Sumangala Thero, High Priest, and certain Government officials, with respect to a Police permit for a religious procession.
The venerable High Priest, as your Lordship will perceive, asked for permission to perform the well-known, popular rite of conveying about the city, with appropriate music, a sacred relic. The object was to
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help ally the prevalent apprehension "with respect to sicknesses now prevailing at Colombo," the relic being supposed to possess a certain power in itself. If this be regarded as a mere superstition, it is to be observed that it is identical in character with the popular feeling in Catholic and Greek Protestant countries, which demands the similar bearing of relics about the streets in times of pestilence. Moreover, among the Sinhalese Buddhists the ceremonial is hallowed by the custom of many ages.
The documents show that their innocent request was virtually denied, notwithstanding the benevolent assurances of your Lordship, as communicated through the Colonial authorities in January last.
My latest advices from Ceylon—May 5th, instant—indicate a continuance of the unsettled feeling among the Buddhists; and I venture to hope that, in view of the fact that they have now been patiently waiting for about thirteen months for justice, your Lordship may be able to give early and favorable consideration to the appeal which, on their behalf, I have had the honor to make. With assurances of profound respect,
I have the honor to be,
Your Lordship's obedient servant,
(SD.) H.S. OLCOTT.
About this time some of the London editors, coming to know of the nature of my business in London, expressed their sympathy; and one Conservative organ,
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at least, intimated- that there had been a miscarriage of justice, and that it was the duty of Government to make proper amends.
I will now complete the record, by giving the text of the reply of the Earl of Derby to my communications, and of the letters which subsequently passed between us:
17th June, 1884.
SIR,— I am directed by the Earl of Derby to acknowledge the receipt of your letters of the 17th and 27th ultimo, relating to certain grievances which the Buddhists of Ceylon are alleged to be suffering.
2. Lord Derby has already expressed his great regret that it has not been found possible to prosecute the ringleaders of the riots of Easter Sunday last year, and is ready to acknowledge that the sufferers on that occasion have real grounds for complaint in this respect; but in the absence of fresh evidence, it would be impossible to reopen the matter.
3. Her Majesty's Government are resolved that in Ceylon, as in other parts of the Empire, the principles of religious liberty shall be strictly adhered to, and will do their utmost to remove any grievance under which any religious community can be shown to labor, and to put an end to any appearance of disregarding the proclamations of religious neutrality which were made at the time when the English took possession of the Island. It is impossible to make any more
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explicit statement of the firm intention of the Government to abide by the spirit of those ancient proclamations than has already been made by the Governor, under the instructions of the Secretary of State, as given in Lord Derby's despatch, to which reference is made in your letter of 17th May,
Lord Derby has confidence in the loyalty and good sense of the Buddhist community in Ceylon, and feels sure that they will loyally accept his assurances in this matter.
4. The question of dealing with the Buddhist Temporalities is a difficult one, and has already engaged the attention of Her Majesty's Government, and of Sir Arthur Gordon's predecessors. No doubt Sir Arthur Gordon, to whom your letter will be referred, will carefully consider the whole matter, and Lord Derby will be glad to give his attention to any practicable scheme suggested to Sir A. Gordon and recommended by him, which would enable the Buddhist community to control the management of the Properties vested in their Church, though clearly the exercise of any such control should be by the Buddhists themselves rather than through the instrumentality of any Government officials.
5. As regards the suggestion that the Birthday of Buddha should be observed as a full holiday for all Buddhist servants of the Government, and the questions of allowing tom-toms in the religious processions, and of the appointment of Buddhist registrars of marriage, Lord Derby can express no opinion without
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first referring to the Governor, but he is confident that it will be the wish of Sir Arthur Gordon, as it is that of Her Majesty's Government, that every consideration possible should be shown in these matters.
Your letters will accordingly be referred to the Governor by the outgoing mail.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
(SD.) R. H. MEADE.
77 ELGIN CRESCENT, NOTTING HILL, W.,
LONDON, 19th June, 1884.
THE RIGHT HONORABLE THE EARL OF DERBY,
Secretary of State for the Colonies.
MY LORD,—I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your Lordship's letter of the 17th inst., replying to mine of the 17th and 27th ultimo.
II. On behalf of the Buddhists of Ceylon, I have to thank you for the frank and unequivocal declaration of the intent of Her Majesty's Government to rigidly enforce the neutrality of the Crown in the matter of religious liberty as regards the Buddhist community of Ceylon, equally with other religious communities in all parts of the Empire. Or, as you state it, "to put an end to any appearance of disregarding the proclamations of religious neutrality which were made at the time when the English took possession of
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the Island." This assurance, if published in the Gazette of the Local Government, and made obligatory upon all local officials, will go far towards re-establishing the confidence of the Sinhalese nation, now so deeply shaken by recent events. What the nation wants is the full conviction that they are not to be made the victims of a mob of religious fanatics who, by threatening the peace of Ceylon, can intimidate officials and escape punishment of their crimes.
III. I beg your Lordship's attention to the 2nd clause of the letter under reply, as it really touches the most vital point of the present question. It is there remarked that "in the absence of fresh evidence, it would be impossible to re-open the matter" of the trial of the alleged ringleaders of the riots of Easter Sunday last year. By implication this, of course, affirms that if such "fresh evidence" had been by me brought forward, Her Majesty's Government would have felt it their duty to instruct the Colonial law officers of the Crown to proceed to prosecution, as by statute provided. If I am not mistaken in this deduction, I would most earnestly beg of your Lordship to put that affirmation into so many words. For, that alone would, in the opinion of the Sinhalese, restore them to their vested rights as subjects, by showing them that the Courts are as open to them as to their foes, and they need not sue for justice in vain. Until this moment, in the absence of some such assurance since the riots, they have felt the contrary, and it was their despair which drove them to organise
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the "Buddhist Defence Committee" on the 28th of January last, and send me to England upon my present mission.
IV. A reference to the archives of the Colonial Office will convince your Lordship of the fact that the question of the Buddhist Temporalities is in the state of a case awaiting decision, after a full report by a Special Commission appointed to look into the entire subject. Their report is dated 17th October, 1876, and the delay of Government in acting upon its recommendations has been productive of much injury to the morals of the Kandyan priesthood.
V. I thank your Lordship for the promise to refer to H. E. Sir Arthur Gordon, Governor of Ceylon, with the expression of the wish of Her Majesty's Government "that every consideration possible should be shown in these matters"—the questions of making Lord Buddha's Birthday a Government holiday for Buddhist public servants, of allowing tom-toms in religious processions, and of the appointment of Buddhist Registrars. I have the full conviction that Sir Arthur Gordon will do all he can to give effect to the expressed sympathies of Government, and in all official matters to treat the Sinhalese with justice, when his attention is called to grievances.
VI. To complete the files of the Colonial Office to date, I hand your Lordship herewith copies of documents received by me by last mail from the Buddhist Defence Committee. They show that permission was denied for a Buddhist religious procession upon the
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Birthday of Lord Buddha (May 9th), and for another on the Sinhalese New Year's Day (April 11 th), although permits were issued for processions, with tom-toms, during the months of February and March, to Mohammedan and Hindu applicants. Can it be that to the representatives of the most ancient religion in Ceylon these simple privileges are to be denied, while granted to communities of all the other and later faiths? That permission to march in religious procession was actually given the Buddhists in one or two instances within the past year, but was of no practical benefit to them, since they were prohibited the use of their tom-toms; and therefore the permit or permits were not availed of. For, as the correspondent shows, a procession without those musical instruments is a tame and lifeless affair. It is the commonest of things in Great Britain for the ordinary street traffic to be suspended in streets along which authorised processions are passing. It would be no great concession, therefore, for the same thing to be done in the small town of Colombo—where the street traffic is usually very small—upon the rare occasions of Buddhist processions, seeing that the Sinhalese people have ever been loyal and peaceable subjects of Her Majesty, and the privilege for which they are contending has been enjoyed from the remotest antiquity.
I am, my Lord,
Your Lordship's obedient Servant,
(SD.) H. S. OLCOTT.
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SIR,— I am directed by the Earl of Derby to acknowledge the receipt of your further letter of the 19th instant, on the subject of the late unfortunate riots which took place in Ceylon on Easter Sunday last year.
A copy of your letter will be sent to Sir Arthur Gordon, with the previous correspondence, for his consideration. As Governor of the Island he is responsible for the peace and order of the community, and no final decision can be taken without first referring the matter to him.
Lord Derby, however, desires me to acquaint you, with reference to paragraph 3 of your letter, that your inference is correct that if any fresh evidence had been forthcoming, such as would justify legal proceedings, a prosecution would have been instituted and pressed to its conclusion.
I am to add, what must be well known in Ceylon,1 that when the new Queen's Advocate arrived in the Island, he was instructed to review the whole proceedings, with the view to ascertaining whether then, late as it was, those who took part in the disgraceful riots of Easter Sunday might not be brought to justice, and Lord Derby much regrets that this has not been found possible.
I am, sir,
Your obedient servant,
(SD.) R. H. MEADE.
1 As above shown, this fact was not known to the Buddhists.
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The London business being thus satisfactorily disposed of, I waited, by appointment, upon Lord Derby, to take leave and to thank him for the prompt attention paid by the Colonial Office to the representations, made through me by the Sinhalese Buddhists. His Lordship's reception of me was most cordial. He said that the members of Government had been much pained on hearing of the lawless events at Colombo, and he: was very sorry not to be able to do more than he had; but he said that if, at any future time the Sinhalese Buddhists should have occasion to seek the protection of the Colonial Office, he hoped that I would have no hesitancy in writing or speaking to him about it: I should always be most welcome.
The sequel to this interesting case is soon told. The, demands of the Buddhists, so far as they could be in law, were complied with. Their right of religious processions was recognized. The Birthday of Lord Buddha was proclaimed a full holiday for the Buddhists of Ceylon. The displeasure of Government for the failure of justice, in the matter of prosecuting the rioters, was made known in the Island. Buddhist Registrars of Marriages were appointed; and finally, the Buddhist Temporalities problem has been recently put in the way of settlement, by the proclamation, in, the Government Gazette, of the Buddhist Temporalities Ordnance No. 17, of 1895, which placed the vast land endowments of the Viharas under the control of committees of laymen, whose duties and responsibilities were defined in the Ordnance itself. In the
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Gazette, of November 12th, 1897, Sir E. Noel Walker, Colonial Secretary of Ceylon, proclaimed, by the Governor's command, the rules of the Colombo Provincial Committee, of which not the least important are those relating to the trial and punishment of Buddhist priests for offences against the rules of their ordination, and to the qualifications necessary for candidates for incumbencies of temples. This being the first step in what, I sincerely hope, may be the beginning of the entire reformation of the Ceylon priesthood, I shall quote the Rules in question in this connection.
"1. A representation of an offence committed by an incumbent of a temple or any other priest or priests in violation of the 'Vinaya,' made in writing by five or more laymen, or by two Buddhist priests, or a Committee member, or by the President of District Committee of the district wherein the offender lives, shall De considered a sufficient cause for the Provincial Committee to institute an inquiry.
"2. The Provincial Committee and a chapter of five, ten, or twenty Buddhist priests selected by the Committee shall constitute a competent body to inquire into offences committed by priests in violation of the Vinaya '.
"3. The chapter of Buddhist priests shall belong to the same sect as that of the offender against whom a complaint is preferred, and its opinion is to be taken by the Committee only on 'Vinaya' matters.
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"4. The Provincial Committee alone shall have the power of finally deciding on the removal or otherwise of the accused from the incumbency, and in the event of the nature of the offence established at the inquiry requiring that the offender or offenders should be disrobed, it shall be competent for the said Committee, provided the action be acquiesced in by the said advisory councilor a majority of its members, to entrust a Committee of priests especially appointed with the execution of this part of the finding.
"5. All charges preferred against priests shall be fully inquired into, and the proceeding duly recorded. Every such inquiry shall be in the presence of the accused, who shall have full liberty to make their defence, unless in case of their absence it is proved to the satisfaction of the Provincial Committee that they have had ample and distinct notice of the inquiry, and the Committee is satisfied that they have no valid excuse for being absent therefrom, and satisfied that they purposely evade the inquiry.
"6. If any priest who is not duly ordained a priest, or who has been disrobed under the above rules, is found wearing the robes of a Buddhist priest, the Provincial Committee shall have the power to prosecute him at the nearest Police Court.
"7. The characteristic qualifications required in a priest of the Buddhist faith (adherence to an observation of the rules laid down in the 'Vinaya' for their guidance, knowledge of the Buddhist doctrines, and education) shall be considered essential qualifications
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in candidates for incumbencies, and the Provincial Committee shall give due weight and consideration to such qualifications.
"8. In selecting a candidate to fill up an incumbency Nâti-sisya and Sisyânu sisya Parâmpara successions shall be observed, provided the Provincial Committee is satisfied that the election is not liable to operate against the interest of the temple, and the candidate possesses the qualifications prescribed in rule No.7."
The following excerpt from my address before the convention of Buddhist Priests, which met at my invitation at Galle, on July 4th, 1880, will also be of interest as showing that my original plans for the elevation and purification of the Buddhist Sangha have now, after the lapse of seventeen years, been realised in the official proclamation of the foregoing Rules. Events have clearly proved the truth of my forecast, that what a nation really needs and persistently demands, any wise Government will concede. I said, in the address in question:
"I have noticed a very sad apathy among the priests about the question of disrobing such as have been proved immoral and to be disgracing their religion and their Order. At a recent convention of Chief Priests and Kandyan Chiefs I spoke of this as doing enormous injury to both priests and laity. The explanation given was that the Church has no power to unfrock a bad priest, and he can continue to wear the robes in defiance of their authority. In the time
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of the Kandyan Kings, I was told, the King had the power and used it, but under the present Government there was no remedy. Well, my answer to this is to point to the Vth clause of the Kandy convention rules, and to have the two million Buddhists of this Island petition and demand that its spirit as well as letter shall be strictly obeyed. The Government has there solemnly bound itself to protect and maintain Buddhism, and, if you demand it, believe me, the clever lawyers of the Crown will find a way to disrobe your bad priests and not violate Buddhist Law Nothing would be easier than for a High Ecclesiastical Tribunal with adequate powers to be constituted by law. If the Government does nothing, no one is to blame except the Buddhists themselves. How can you expect a Christian Government to help to maintain, ‘inviolable,’ the religion of Buddha, when Buddhists will not even open their mouths to ask it to do so? . .
"It is my deliberate conviction, based upon these two months' observations, that the entire structure of Sinhalese Buddhism is in danger, and that if this apathy of yours continues, and no determined effort is made to reform the abuses and dissensions that now prevail among both priests and laity, in one more century all Ceylon will have become infidel or Christian—probably the former.
"One more important idea has come to me. The children of Buddhists should be taught their religion, regularly, on specified days, at a specified hour, at "very temple in the Island. How can we expect them
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to grow up strong Buddhists if they are not taught the elements of their parents' religion in their childhood? The Christians do not neglect their children; why should Buddhists neglect theirs?"
It was the large endowments of the Viharas by former Buddhist sovereigns that demoralised the Order of the Yellow Robe, so far as it was enriched. Private purity, piety, and spiritual aspiration have never survived the acquisition of wealth; the spirit becomes less willing as the flesh grows more and more pampered. However, we are now at the parting of the ways, and the future of Ceylon Buddhism looks brighter. To the spread of our educational movement we have every right to look, in Ceylon, for that gradual raising of the popular intelligence and purging of the national ideals which, infallibly and invariably, react upon all priestly fraternities that develop out of the body of the people.