From the time of ancient kings devotees attended to the needs of the Buddhist monks in temples by providing the four requisites and monks guided the people by developing their good and noble qualities and by providing education. Therefore, there was an inseparable bond and cooperation between the village and the temple.

But, after the arrival of the Portuguese, Dutch and the British the goodwill and the cooperation between the temple and village deteriorated and so did the corporation between the monks and general public in this country. The Portuguese and Dutch ensured this result by using weapons but the British were more insidious and did this by imposing laws and regulations. With the presentation of the Colebrook Cameron Report of 1883 the pirivena and temple based education system in the country was transformed into a western education system.

Therefore, by the end of the 19th century and early part of 20th century  Sinhala Buddhists’ knowledge of Buddhism and conversance in the Sinhala language declined. The opportunity of studying in English schools was limited to the privileged Sinhala families and the normal populace in the country had no access to these schools.  During this period Catholic priests propagated incorrect interpretations of Buddhism. This missionary propagation was sponsored by the missionary rulers.  These invasive steps were conceptually defeated by the Bhikkhus and foremost among them were Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Mahathera, Ven. Hikkaduwe Sumangala Mahathera, and Ven. Vaskaduwe Subhuti Mahathera.

The opponents were specifically defeated by Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda Mahathera at the Panadura Debate. Due to the vast publicity on this debate through the printed media His Excellency Henry Steel Olcott,  Madam Annie Basent and Madam Helena Blavatsky in the US  arrived in Sri Lanka. This incident opened a new chapter in the revival of Buddhism and was a significant milestone in this country’s religious history.

The Beginning of the Dhamma Education.

Henry Steel Olcott was unhappy when seeing the injustice undergone by Buddhist children under the missionary education system.  Therefore he commenced establishing Buddhist schools and in addition he also commenced setting up  Dhamma schools – at which the teaching was on Sundays – with the leadership of Buddhist monks to teach Buddhism and Buddhist customs.

According to this concept, in 1895, Vijayananda Dhamma School at Weliwatta Wijayananda temple commenced as the first Dhamma School in Galle, in Southern Sri Lanka with the leadership of Ven. Galle Jinorasa Mahathera.

The commencement of Dhamma School education on Sundays paved the way in taking children and elders to the temple.

Evolution of the Dhamma Education.

The strongest and most virtuous monks commenced setting up Dhamma schools at their temples with the objective of regaining Buddhism, and the most well known Buddhist donors were extremely helpful towards ensuring the success of these ventures.

Especially, erudite monks in the leading two pirivenas Vidyodaya and Vidyalankara lead and guided this venture.

In the development and evolution of the Dhamma school education, the 2500 Buddha Jayanti celebrations in the year 1956 BCE was greatly helpful. On behalf of celebration of Buddha Jayanti, one of the recommendations made by the Buddhist Commission was that Dhamma Schools should be set up throughout the country.

The Importance of the Dhamma Education.

Although there are many outcomes expected from education, the following two main objectives were expected from Dhamma School education:

  1. Good guidance in spiritual development and character development.
  2. Guidance in economic development.

The reality is that character development and spiritual development are not given the necessary prominence in the present systematic school education system. Today, the main objective of school education is providing an education which targets financial and economic development.

At present, under this background Dhamma school education is a necessity. But, today usually  the functioning of the Dhamma School is handed over only to the Buddhist monk and temple. If we need to succeed in Dhamma school education, this approach will not suffice.

Therefore the involvement of the “Dayaka Sabha” would be helpful. A Dhamma School is the key venue at which the ethics of a Buddhist child is developed. The austere beauty of the shrine room in a temple, or the peace of mind experienced at the pristine white pagoda, cannot be found at any other place. The child who grows up in association with the yellow robe becomes a good and useful citizen. Therefore, Dhamma school education provides a much needed foundation for any child.

Ven. Balapitiye Siri Seevali Nayaka Thero

(B.A, Hons, M.Phil, Royal Pandith)

Vice Chancellor – Prachina Bhikkhu College of Sri Lanka, Balapitiya