When I first started translation work – although I had certain misgivings like everyone else – I was astonished at the early pioneer Western scholars, who seemingly working with a blank sheet to start with had managed to translate the Pali texts, and so accurately at that (no matter what we may think of vocabulary issues).
It was only some time later that I read Prof. Ananda Guruge’s work From the Living Fountains of Buddhism that I realised what had been in the background all that time: they were not working from a blank sheet at all, but had had the full co-operation of the Sangha and other traditional Buddhist scholars, but that this help had barely been acknowledged.
Prof. Guruge’s monumental work runs to over 700 pages in all, and documents some of the letters that flowed to and for these early pioneers and the Sangha in Sri Lanka. In the Introduction he summarised the findings, and provided short biographies of the monks and scholars involved.
It is this informative Introduction, in itself running to 200+ pages, that I have now prepared for inclusion in the reference section of the Ancient Buddhist Texts website. It provides biographical, bibliographical and other information on some of the great scholars in Sri Lanka in the 19th and 20th centuries, and their contacts with Western scholars, and opens a door on this otherwise hidden cultural exchange.
Some of the monks that it deals with are Vens. Waskaḍuwe Śrī Subhūti, Weligama Śrī Sumaṅgala, Hikkaḍuwe Sumaṅgala, Doḍanduwe Piyaratana, Alutgama Seelakkhandha, Yātrāmulle Dhammārāma and Polwatte Buddhadatta; and on the Western side: Prof. Robert Childers, Mr. and Mrs. Rhys Davids, Henry Steele Olcott, Paul Carus, Sir Edwin Arnold, Henry Clarke Warren, Frank Lee Woodward, Wilhelm Geiger and Lord Chalmers.
The work also provides something of an intellectual history of the development of Oriental Studies in Sri Lanka during the same period, and ends with recommendations for the furtherance of such studies in the future.
For anyone interested in how we in the West received Buddhism I would say this is a must-read, and there are no doubt similar stories to be told about contacts between Western scholars and other Buddhist countries that some enterprising young Buddhist scholar might want to take up.
I have to thank Donny Hacker for initially preparing the text from a rather poor OCR version, which he painstakingly corrected before passing to me for final work on the text. The book is available in html, pdf, mobi and epub formats.