Englishman Ordained as an Upasaka
By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando
Lord Buddha said on his deathbed: Do not believe what others say just because others say so! Do not believe it because you heard it from a wise being, but only believe something when you know it in your Heart. The Heart is supposed to be the seat of sentiment, which changes in a fraction of a moment concerning emotions.
Simultaneously it is designed for spiritual experience and wisdom! When someone is not spiritually inclined or has no wisdom, one may blindly follow life's path. Nature consists of both right and wrong to overcome and maintain equilibrium: which means the universe exists on dualism. One who surpasses dualism can taste the absolute and smell its fragrance or discover one's inherently illuminated state of mind.
Buddhists recite 'gatha' daily, especially on Poya (full moon) day while observing 'Ata Sil'. They promise to uphold the five primary precepts mentioned by Lord Buddha to lead a practical life. A person who attained such a state of mind was Anagarika Dharmapala. On 17 September 1864, one of the wealthiest Buddhist entrepreneurs in Ceylon - Don Carolis Hewavitharana and Mallika Hewavitharana, gave birth to Don David Hewavitharana.
Young Hewavitharana attended Royal College, St. Thomas' College and St. Benedict's College in Colombo. As he grew up from childhood to adult, he observed that numerous Buddhists were drifting towards an alien and unnatural phenomenon, which resulted in Buddhism being on the verge of collapse in Ceylon.
For a human being to observe all those five principles regularly in a lifetime is very difficult, but Don David Hewavitharana had taken an oath of chastity as a youngster. After ordination as Anagarika Dharmapala, he became the first Sri Lankan Buddhist evangelist to contribute to non-violent Buddhist nationalism and patriotism. Anagarika Dharmapala means a 'homeless one’ and 'the protector of the dhamma' respectively.
He started to travel the world over wearing a robe of a Buddhist devotee and as a religious propagandist, thereby placing himself into midstream between a Buddhist priest and a layman. Buddhists saw Anagarika Dharmapala as the pioneer in the revival of Buddhism in India when Buddhism was seen virtually extinct for several centuries.
He also became renowned as the first Buddhist to preach the Buddhist philosophy in Asia, North America, and Europe. When Henry Steel Olcott and Helena Blavatsky created the Theosophical Society, Anagarika Dharmapala became a prominent reformer and revivalist of Buddhism in Ceylon. He was known as the fundamental dignitary in Western programme, thus becoming one of the most revered Buddhists in the 20th century.
Anagarika Dharmapala lived 157 years ago. But Andrew Redhead of Warrington, Cheshire, in the UK, a born Christian and a bachelor at the age of thirty-five, made a beeline to Sri Saddhatissa Buddhist Centre in Northwest London twenty-three years ago. He wished to become a Buddhist, ordained by Aggamahapandittha Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahanayake Thera. The eminent monk was the patron of the Buddhist Centre, and the Venerable observed the rainy season (Vassana retreat) in London at that time.
Andrew wanted to ascertain whether he drifted into an emotional state alien to him? He then started reading books on Buddhism at the age of eleven and acquired a fair knowledge of the philosophy. He later became a firm believer in one of Lord Buddha's preaching’s, which he memorised: “Brethren ye have no mother and no father to take care of you. If you will not care of each other, who else I ask, will do so? Brethren, he who would sit with me, let him wait on the sick".
It may sound quite unnatural for an English lad of eleven years of age to have developed an interest in theology at such a tender age and transform into a completely different faith! But in the case of Andrew, it was an internal and automatic revolution or a spiritual prompting! He then started to concentrate on what was familiar to him in the Christian Bible 'Reap according to what you sow': And concluded that it was due to his positive karma in the previous birth that followed him.
After such a spiritual awakening, Andrew started to read more and more books on Buddhism, and delved into further experiments in meditating. It was tricky for Andrew to concentrate on onepointed thought at first as his mind was working overtime! He thought it was akin to an eleven-year-old boy falling off a push bicycle umpteen times while trying to establish his balance to stay on two wheels.
However, after numerous proverbial falls, he managed to master meditation. At the age of twenty-two, Andrew Redhead began to understand what Samsara and human birth mean, and the only path to escape from this human suffering should be to live a moderate life. When he progressed in his meditation more profoundly, he began to understand Lord Buddha's second sermon in detail, which deals with Samsara as Anicca (state of flux or impermanence); Dukka (suffering) and Annattma (soulless in everything). Seemingly spiritual doors opened for him to become one of the privileged Westerners to meet an equally rare and highly respected Buddhist monk.
The writer witnessed how the Ven. Aggamahapandittha Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahanayake Thera accepted Andrew Redhead most compassionately and ordained the Englishman to perform the religious ceremony welcoming him to the Buddhist Upasaka Order by decoding Pali Buddhist stanzas into simple English by pronouncing thus: “From now on, you should aim to have good thoughts and ideas.
You must have good reasons for doing things. You must speak goodness and truth; you must have good behaviour. You should love other creatures and never kill any living being and you should always be useful to others; you should think carefully about your actions and try sensibly whatever you do".
It indeed was a rare occasion in London to witness an Englishman becoming an 'Upasaka’ status (whilst still appearing as an ordinary laity). From the moment the Venerable Thera pronounced Andrew Redhead as a ‘Buddhist’ his first reaction was to change the name and adopt a most suitable name as 'Upasaka Sudharma.’ Once the ceremony was over, Upasaka Sudharma said “Many Westerners undergo similar experiences to mine.
I had the good fortune to be in a Buddhist group in Kendal, composed of entirely Westerners. Our spiritual advisers were two Sri Lankan Bhikkhus Ven. Aggamahapandittha Ananda Maître Thera and Ven. Henepola Gunaratana Maha Thera". Upasaka Sudharma then amplified his gratitude to the Sri Lankan people, especially to the generosity of the Most Venerable Aggamahapandittha Ananda Maître Thera, and all the monks at the Sri Saddhatissa Buddhist International Centre at Kingsbury, London.
He thought even Benjamin Franklyn would have had a streak of Buddhism in him when he once said: "Doing an injury puts you below your enemy; revenging one make you but even with him; forgiving it sets you above him." Finally, Upasaka Sudharma told the crowd who had gathered to witness him becoming a Upasaka: "My success is due, in no small measure to your support, but the only thing I can do is to make great efforts diligently, like any other Buddhist”.
Two different schools of thought
The fundamental belief in Buddhism often refers to reincarnation, which is the concept of people being reborn after death. Buddhist philosophy states that all individuals go through Samsara, which consists of many cycles of birth, living, death and rebirth etc. After many cycles swimming in the ocean of Samsara, and when a person releases their attachment to desire, he can attain Nirvana or a state of liberation or freedom from suffering.