Midweek Review
'Why shouldn't this be your goal?'

Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s Prize Day Speech (July 30th 1914) This speech is reproduced from the latest issue of the Mahinda College Magazine 2002, which has been dedicated to commemorating the 110th Anniversary of the founding of the College.

"Reverend Bhikshus, Mr. Woodward, Ladies and Gentleman :- it gives me much pleasure to be here today and to take part in this function. I thank you, Mr. Woodward, for giving me the opportunity of doing so and of showing my continued interest in an institution of which the people of the Southern Province may well be proud. I thank you also for your kind congratulations and good wishes on the honour which His Majesty the Kind has been pleased to confer on me. In Mahinda College you have the best of all memorials of my friend Colonel Olcott, and a living testimony to the beneficent activity and influence of the Theosophical Society, which he founded, and to the public spirit and piety of the Buddhists of the Province. I can well remember the inauguration of the Society in 1880 by that remarkable woman Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott. I was then Police Magistrate of Kalutara, and they visited me there. Buddhism in Ceylon was at that period at a very low ebb indeed. It had been abandoned by men of light and leading, especially among the English-educated classes. Those who remained Buddhists were too often ashamed to acknowledge it. In the Courts I was sometimes saddened to see in the witness box Buddhists pretending to be Christians, and taking their oaths on the Bible. I am not a Buddhist or a Theosophist; but I was much pleased to give Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott such help as I could in their mission to restore the influence and prestige of Buddhism in the Island. What a change they have wrought in Ceylon, and how far and wide over the earth, they have spread the influence of Buddha’s teaching!

Great as the obligation of Ceylon is to them, we must not forget the debt due to the masses of the Sinhalese people. who clung to the national religion, however little they understood its beauty and greatness, or were able to justify their faith, -clung to it through generations in spite of the disabilities and, in former times, even persecution to which they were subjected, and which proved too much for the constancy of their chiefs and leaders. Among the very few who did not succumb to these powerful influences was your fellow-citizen, E.R. Gooneratne, Maha Mudaliyar, who I congratulate heartily on his selection for that high and honourable office by H.E. the Governor . The appointment, though an officiating one, must be very gratifying to all Buddhists throughout the Island, not least to this school. He has always taken a warm interest in its welfare and has set the rather rare example of the life of a staunch Buddhist in high position, and of a scholar of no mean order in Pali and Buddhist learning. These qualifications, I venture to think, enhanced his merits in the eyes of H.E. Sir Robert Chalmers, himself a Pali Scholar and deeply interested in Buddhism and solicitous of the welfare of the Buddhist populations. It is a strange anomaly that the Buddhists though they constitute about two-thirds of the islands populations and are not lacking in men of ability and culture, have for years past been without a single representative in the Legislative Council, and the protection of their interest has been left a good deal to chance. I trust it will not be long before this legitimate grievance is redressed and it is definitely laid down and followed that there shall be at least two Buddhist representatives on the Council, one for the Low-Country and one for the Kandyan Country.

The Southern Province has an honourable distinction among the provinces of the Island. It has the largest populations of Buddhists in its population-as much as 94% - and from the earliest times, when it gave refuge to the Kings of Ceylon, driven from the North by invading hosts, has been foremost in maintaining the national ideals and traditions. It will, I trust, continue to do so always, at the same time, under the auspices of such institutions as Mahinda College, utilising all that is good in Western science and learning. The report that we have heard read by the Principal is a record of good work done, of steady progress made and is alike creditable to the teachers and the pupils and gratifying to its supporters. On their behalf and on behalf of the public I wish specially to congratulate and thank you, Mr. Woodward. Where would the School be but for your self-sacrificing zeal and devotion?

For eleven years you have toiled unweariedly and single heartedly, amid infinite hardships and privations. You have spared yourself neither in bodily and mental toil, nor in your purse. The school, which you took over with 60 boys in very unsuitable quarters in the town, now contains close on 400 and is housed in these spacious premises and grounds, crowned by this beautiful hall, named after Colonel Olcott and probably the biggest in the Island. It must be great comfort and consolation to you to have been permitted to see these splendid results. As a Cambridge man, like yourself, I am proud of the work you have done. But there is more to be done, as you have said to meet the requirements of the Education Code, to make the School an efficient secondary school, to enable it to take its proper place in the educational system, to which a great impetus will be given next year by the establishment of the University College, thanks to the warm interest taken by H.E. the Governor in higher education. A laboratory is an urgent necessity, and additional class rooms and science teachers, and what is a school without a good play ground? Not only must these be provided, but endowments are needed to make its future secure. I earnestly support the Principal’s appeal for help. I trust that the excellent examples set by Messrs. Amarasuriya, father and son, to whose public spirit and munificence the school owes so much, will be followed by other wealthy Sinhalese.

If you all work together strenuously you may raise this institution to a positions in which perhaps will be revived the glories of that great seat of learning, which in the fifteenth century adorned this Province and was the pride of Ceylon. I refer to the Wijayabahu Piriwena established by Parakramabahu VI, at Totagamuwa Vihara, about 14 miles from here on the road to Colombo. It was a University, catholic in its aims, and provided instruction for Buddhists and Hindus, clerical and lay in all the knowledge of the time. There were classes and lectures on the Buddhist Canon in all its branches (for Buddhist monks), in Sinhalese, Pali, Sanskrit and Tamil; in the four Vedas and connected literature (for Brahmin students); in astronomy with special study of the Surya Siddhanta; in Medicine, Prosody, Dramaturgy and Poetry. The Chancellor of the University was Sri Rahula Sthawira, a scholar whose reputation extended over the greater part of Asia. He was master of Sanskrit, Magadhi, Sauraseni, Apabhransa and Paisachi languages and therefore had the title of Sadbhasha Paramisvara, Lord of the Six Languages. He, himself took part in the lectures. A vivid picture of the University and its throngs of students is given in the Girasandesa, a contemporary poem composed in honour of the Chancellor. His works- the classic poems Kavyasekara, Selalihini Sandesa, Paravi Sandesa, and the commentary Panchika Pradeepa on Moggallana’s Pali Grammar have transmitted his name with undying renown to prostrity. Why should this not be your goal? What Wijebahu Pirivena was for the Eastern learning of that age, let Mahinda College be for the combined Culture of East and West. I am glad to see the important place given in your curriculum to the teaching of the religion of Buddha, a most essential thing for Buddhist children: and of Sinhalese and of Ceylon History-subjects too often neglected in school. I trust some at least of the boys will acquire sufficient taste for these subjects to prosecute that further by the study of Elu and Pali and Buddhistic philosophy, for which I do not doubt facilities will be found in the Monasteries in the vicinity.

Drawing and clay modelling too are receiving due attention and have today been awarded prizes. This is a direction in which great developments are possible. Some of you may be acquainted with that monumental work of Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy on Mediaeval Sinhalese Art in which he revealed to a rather astonished Ceylon public the achievements of your ancestors and the good work still being done in various parts of the Island and the splendid artistic capacities of your people. Sinhalese art is not be regarded as an isolated phenomenon. It is part of the great stream of India and Asiatic Art which has exercised a world-wide influence and whose value is well recognised in Europe. During the last thirty years or more, Chinese and Japanese Art, mainly the outcome of Buddhist influence, and more recently Indian Art, have come into much vogue in Europe and influenced the work of European artists; and public galleries and private collectors have vied in the acquisition of the handwork of Oriental artists, ancient and modern.

In February last at the Grand Palais in Paris I saw a fine exhibition of Oriental Art representative of art from Japan to Algiers and Morocco, and among them Indian exhibits took a high place. There were not only reproductions of the frescoes of Ajanta, akin to the frescoes of our own Sigiriya, but exhibits of the mediaeval schools of Rajputana, Punjab and Delhi, of Madura, Tanjore and Travancore, and also of the latest Bengal School which has its headquarters at the Art School of Calcutta presided over by my friend Abanindranath Tagore Cousin of the Tagore who recently won the Nobel prize for Literature. I visited the school about three years ago and found some hundreds of students working under his guidance and drawing their inspiration from a fine Indian Art Gallery something like which I should much like to see established in Ceylon.

Among the students I was interested to see a Sinhalese youth from this College. I learned to-day from Mr. Woodward that he had returned to Galle. His name is Nagahawatte and two of his works are hanging in this Hall and others are to be exhibited at Colombo at the Art Show next week. Mr. Woodward is trying to provide for him as Art Teacher in this school. I trust that he, and such as he, will pass on to Ceylon the torch of that renaissance of Indian Art which is one of the most striking and pleasing features of modern India. You boys, who have won prizes should remember that they are only valuable as an index to the possession of certain qualities which enabled you to win the prizes and without which no good work is possible. I mean concentration and perseverance. These are the qualities you must cultivate and carry into the world. If you do not, you will find that the laurels you have won here are of no value, and you will be distanced by boys of lesser intellectual calibre who have those qualities, perhaps some of the boys you beat at School. This has been confirmed by experience here and in other countries time after time, and should be an encouragement to the plodding boys who have not won prizes. Pleasant as it is to succeed in winning the material rewards of life-high position and wealth and fame it is far more important that you should be men of honour and character.

In a well-known work of your Sacred Cannon-Anguttara Nikaya there occurs a passage in which Buddha impresses on his disciples the supreme importance of the highest morality and urges them "to pursue it strenuously, with manly vigour, manly ability and manly effort, so long as skin, nerves and bones remain, even if flesh and blood dry up". That is an injunction which we should all lay to heart and try to follow. While doing so, we should direct our activity into channels of social service. There is a good deal of poverty, misery and crime in Ceylon- and not so much perhaps as you see in Western Countries-but still far too much, and none of us can shirk our responsibility for it. We must learn from early in life to think of our less fortunate brethren and to do what we can for them. There can be no real wealth or happiness of the individual apart from the welfare of his fellow. This is one of the greatest truths, and least remembered. The Buddhist missionaries of old did not forget it. Can you have nobler models to follow? With a zeal that has never been surpassed, the heralds of the great Doctrine went in search of the remotest barbarous or civilised peoples, everywhere proclaiming the good tidings of equality, self-abnegations, justice and brotherly love. Crossing the Hindu Kush, the Pamirs and Himalayas, they undertook the moral conquest of the regions stretching from these lofty ranges to the Pacific seaboard. Their faith subdued the people of Tibet, Mongolia, China, Japan, while their influence was felt under the form of Shamanism amongst the Chukches, Tunguses, Samoyedes and other tribes dwelling along the shores of the frozen Ocean. Buddhism thus brought with it the moral and legal discipline of mankind, softening their rugged character, polishing their rough edges, and introducing Arts, Sciences and Literature to the nations. Of the spirit of these great missionaries you have a living example before you in your Principal. To be brought up under this influence is the greatest of the blessings you enjoy here. I heartily congratulate you on your good fortune.

For the realisation of these ideals I advise you strongly to avail yourselves of the opportunities afforded by the Scout Corps which has been started by the zeal of your Vice Principal Mr. Pearce and the aim of which is to train boys to be useful to others. I can think of no movement so pregnant with benefits to our rising generation and to our country as this Scout Corps movement, which the world owes to General Baden Powell. Though it has been in force in Ceylon, I believe, for some years, I think this is almost the first time it is being carried out properly on the lines of the Founder. It is not an excuse for swaggering as a soldier. A Scout not only learns obedience and discipline, but is clean in thought, word and deed, is a friend and helper to all of every race, religion or caste and indeed to all living things. A scout trains himself, disciplines his mind and body, strengthens his character, learns many handy pursuits, - in order that he may be a more useful member of the human race. We cannot be really useful unless we are self-controlled and observant. Every weak, ignorant, helpless, idle member of the human race is just like so much dead weight, which the rest of humanity has to pull along the way of evolution. The true scout determines not be a weight and a burden to humanity but, on the contrary, trains himself deliberately to be a "puller," a helper of others. All religions teach that man ought to help his fellow-creatures. Scouting is one of the best ways of learning how actually to carry out that teaching.

In the year 1911 there was discovered in this town a stone tablet with inscriptions in three languages-Chinese, Persian and Tamil. It was found built in to a culvert, and the Provincial Engineer Mr. Tomalin who found it very kindly sent it to the Colombo Museum, where it now is. The Royal Asiatic Society of Ceylon has had the Chinese inscription translated by a Chinese Scholar, Mr. Backhouse of Peking. It bears a date corresponding to 1410 of the Christian era and appears to have been set up here by a mission sent by the Emperor of China with costly offerings to Buddha’s shrine in Ceylon. The inscription is mainly in the form of a prayer and thanksgiving of the Emperor to "Buddha the world-honoured one," and one of its passages runs thus: - "Deeply do we reverence you, Merciful and Honoured One, whose bright perfection is wide embracing, and whose way of virtue passeth all understanding, whose law enters in to all human relations, and the years of whose great kalpa are like the sand of the river in number; you whose controlling influence ennobles and converts whose kindness quickens and whose strength discerns, whose mysterious efficacy is beyond compare."

May the beneficent power invoked by the Chinese Emperor ever guide, inspire and quicken this school, and those connected with it, watch over its destinies and make it a fountain of good to the people."