Revival (VI). Tomas Rhys Davids
Thomas Rhys Davids was the founder and president of the Pāli Text Society that was of paramount importance in updating the Buddhist texts and making known the Pāli language in which they were written.
Rhys Davids was a Catholic. While his wife and successor was theosophist.His main motivation was to try to make a living with his love of ancient languages and especially the Pāli because his promising career in the British Civil Service was cut short very soon.
Having had to face several challenges due to the intense Christian missionary activity and the withdrawal of patronage from the state, the indigenous religions in Sri Lanka suffered a severe setback in the mid-nineteenth century. Buddhism in particular had lost its pristine vitality, its cohesion and its self-respect, but not to the point of dying.
From this arose a strong Buddhist response to the missionary challenge.The revivalist movement (in Christianity, a revival is a term that refers to a religious awakening in a certain place) manifested itself in many ways, one of which was a spectacular awakening in the Buddhist and Pali studies headed by the learned monks. Sri Lankan.
This intellectual upheaval was contemporary with a similar interest in Pali and Buddhist studies in Europe and the two movements fed and inspired each other.
At this time, three British public officials sent to Sri Lanka, George Tumor, RD Childers (1838-1876) and TW Rhys Davids (1843-1922) were interested in the language, religion and culture of the island and its untiring efforts introduced into the English-speaking world the wealth of Buddhist scholarship hitherto unknown to the West. This monograph will discuss the activities of TW Rhys Davids who spent his entire life working for this cause.
It was an administrative requirement that all officials should be familiar with the language, literature and culture of the land on which they were published. Therefore, in order to acquire this knowledge in a short time and pass their efficiency bar examinations, Childers and Rhys Davids sought the guidance of eminent learned monks such as Yatramulle Dhammarama, Hikkaduwve Sri Sumangala and Waskaduve Sri Subhuti.
Under his tutelage, the young British officers not only grasped the complexities of Sinhala, Pali and Buddhism, but they became for them not an administrative requirement but a lifelong obsession that led to important developments in Eastern scholarship both here as in Europe.
It should be mentioned that British Christian clergymen like the Rev. DJ Gogerly (1792-1862) did an intensive study of Sinhala, Pali and Buddhism and wrote extensively about their areas of study. However, his missionary zeal prevailed and the only objective of his studies was to promote his evangelical purpose. Rhys Davids, on the other hand, was essentially a scholar and the objective of his intellectual exercise was to make the Western world know Buddhism and its civilizing influence.
Caroline Rhys Davids called her husband the «Max Müller of Buddhism», but, although Müller is well known, his friend and contemporary Rhys Davids is less famous even among scholars. The explanation for this lies in the fact that India was the jewel of the British Crown and, therefore, Sanskrit and Hinduism were the main attractions; while Buddhism was limited to the periphery of the Raj – to Sri Lanka and Burma received less attention.
Therefore, as the exponent of Buddhism, Rhys Davids was little known, even in England, the country of his birth. In Sri Lanka he is especially known by Westernized Buddhists, whose knowledge of Buddhism is derived from English writings on the subject.
However, one of his works, Buddhist India, has been translated into Sinhala as Bauddha Bharataya and the Memorial Volume of Rhys Davids (1965) was published in Sinhalese with some articles in English. As a result, it is known to some extent among the Sri Lankan Buddhists of Sri Lanka especially the Buddhist clergy.
Like RC Childers, TW Rhys Davids was the son of a cleric. He was born in Colchester in Essex in 1843 as the eldest son of the Reverend Thomas William David, a Welshman who had settled in Colchester. He was a popular minister who had talent for preaching. In addition, he was a scholar of ecclesiastical history and Rhys Davids inherited from his father, his eloquence, indefatigable energy and patience.
His mother, Louisa Winter, a devout Christian, was the daughter of a lawyer in London. A Sunday school attached to her husband’s church was managed so efficiently by her that it was considered a model school. So competent was his task that the treatise he wrote on the administration of Sunday schools was published and he found several editions. She died in 1854 when Rhys Davids was only ten years old. This was the first of a series of tragedies that he had to face throughout his life.
Rhys David’s first education was at the school in Brighton, which was located near his home and run by his uncle Robert Winter. At the age of seventeen he went to London and attended the school now called New College on Finchley Road. Here he studied Latin with the famous scholar, Sir William Smith. No doubt, Rhys Davids inherited the academic inclinations of his parents, however, despite being a mother and lacking family fortune, he realized that he had to rely on his own sweat and his work.
While at New College, he decided to join the civil service of India. With his devout Christian background and his solid knowledge of Latin, what attracted him to the Civil Service of India is hard to say. At the height of the British Raj, the Indian Civil Service must have been an exotic dream for the young Englishman educated without financial resources, or it was a karmic call that led him to aspire to a career in India. Rhys Davids realized that achieving his ambition was to have a college education that his father could not afford.
Therefore, he went to Germany, where he could earn his expenses by teaching in English. He soon realized that there were many English students who paid for their education in this way. He selected Breslau where there were not many English students. He became a very popular English teacher and earned enough money to pay his college fees. He moved easily with all strata of German society and made friends very easily. In Breslau he had the opportunity to study Sanskrit with AF Stenzler, a distinguished scholar and professor of Sanskrit at Breslau from 1833 to 1868. The philological training that Rhys Davids received under Stenzler could be considered as a milestone on the path to Pali scholarship.
He returned to England in 1863 and presented himself for the examination of Civil Service Commissioners who offered Sanskrit, German, French and English. Although his ambition was to publish in India, he was appointed to Ceylon and this became the turning point of his life. He was assigned to the Colonies Secretariat in Colombo and was expected to learn the local languages. «With his philological training he was able to learn Sinhala and Tamil very quickly and a certain incident directed his interest towards Pali and Buddhism.
As Galle’s magistrate a case was filed with Rhys Davids involving issues of ecclesiastical law. A document written in a language that no one could read was presented to the court. The investigations revealed that the language was Pali in which the sacred books of Buddhism were written. was, immediately, decided to familiarize with him.
He got in touch with Yatramulle Unnanse, under whose tutelage he made rapid progress. Later in life, Rhys Davids paid an amazing tribute to his teacher. «When he first came to me the hand of death was already upon him. He was sinking into the grave because of the effects of a painful and incurable disease. He had heard of his learning as a Pali scholar, and of his illness, and he was grateful to him for leaving home in such tragic circumstances, to teach a stranger. There was a strange light in his sunken eyes, and he was constantly moving away from Pali’s questions to the questions of Buddhism. «
Having worked for short periods in Colombo, Kandy, Avissawella and Matale, Rhys Davids was transferred to Galle as a Police Magistrate. In 1871 he was sent as Auxiliary Government Agent of Nuwarakalaviya, of which Anuradhapura was the administrative center. The Governor Sir Hercules Robinson, aware of the special talents of the young civil servant, wanted to make use of him in the archaeological work for which Anuradhapura presented innumerable opportunities. The aspirations were made for Rhys Davids loved Anuradhapura and its ruins and spent much of his time among them. Unlike his predecessor, who was defeated by melancholy and depression by the dead city and its silent stones, Rhys Davids found eloquent monuments that sang the saga of the once glorious city and inspired him to unravel the religion and culture that These stones mysteriously represent. He loved to move with the peasants of Nuwarakalaviya, learned his language and eliminated the interpreters. In the field of archeology, his superiors gave him encouragement and freedom of action.
His stay in Ceylon coincided with the creation of an Archaeological Commission in 1868 by the governor, Sir Hercules Robinson. This was just a modest start and the work was limited to cleaning and taking pictures.Additional progress was hampered by a lack of funds and a permanent workforce. For the young Rhys Davids, this type of work was a labor of love unlike the routine duties of the administration. Several notable sites were eliminated, namely Ruwanvelisaya, Jetavana, Abhayagiri and Isurumuniya. These excavations provided him with the material to write his future research papers in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. In the course of his trip, Rhys Davids had discovered several inscriptions in places like Galle, Matara, Dambulla, Matale, Tamankaduwa, Anuradhapura and Padawiya.
He realized that Ceylon was extremely rich in inscriptions and that, if deciphered, it would reveal the drama of the island’s past. For the successful decryption of the inscriptions, many must be collected. In an article for the Ceylon Branch of the Journal of the Royal Society of Asia: he appealed to all readers to obtain copies of inscriptions, including copies of eyes and suggested methods for sending facsimiles of inscriptions.
He wrote a series of articles for the Ceylon branch of the Royal Asiatic Society Journal of 1870-72, related to several inscriptions found in Sri Lanka. This shows how well he knew the traditional literature of the island and the philological works of contemporary Sri Lankan artists such as James de Alwis and Louis de Zoysa. The governor, who had shown great interest in oriental research, was very impressed. The governor had decided to collect old books and manuscripts found in the temple libraries with the aim of establishing an oriental library in Colombo. Rhys Davids wanted to improve the scope of the work by adding the epigraphic resources of the island to his collection.
I had seen how the valuable epigraphs were destroyed by the ravages of man and nature. He noticed that the inscriptions were destroyed by chena culture, while in Dondra, the scriptures were submerged due to the erosion of the sea. While Sir Herrles Robinson had been succeeded as governor by Sir William Gregory, who, like his predecessor, admired the island’s heritage. Shortly after his appointment, Gregory made an extensive tour of the Anuradhapura district in the company of Rhys Davids.
The interest of Rhys Davids was not limited to antiques. As Agent of the Deputy Government of Anuradhapura, he tried to improve the economic conditions of people by encouraging rice cultivation, improving irrigation, introducing new crops such as tobacco and cotton and also introducing livestock. The diaries of Davids that are in the National Archives of Sri Lanka give an idea of the various administrative functions that the Agent of the Deputy Government had to perform.
However, everything did not go well for the young official because he was constantly arrested by his superior, the government agent, CW Twynham, who watched his subordinates.
The Rhys Davids race ended abruptly. Personal differences with his superior CW Twynham led to a formal investigation that ended with the dismissal of Rhys Davids for inappropriate behavior. A series of misdemeanors had been discovered, as well as complaints about fines imposed improperly on their employees and administered.
Rhys Davids returned to England frustrated and humiliated. The Civil Service at that time was prestigious with considerable pecuniary advantages. This was lost for him and, apart from the feeling of bitterness, surely he must have felt that he had no family resources to turn to. Then he studied law and was called to the bar in 1877. But his heart was elsewhere.
A legal career, although lucrative, did not interest him. His interests centered around Buddhism and Pali’s vast field of canonical literature. His wife Caroline Rhys Davids recorded that, during this phase of his life, «Rhys Davids was persecuted and persecuted for the spiritual legacy bequeathed from Ceylon.»
He embarked on his oriental scholarship career, knowing very well, his poor prospects and the lack of adequate remuneration. The documents in the Journal of the Royal Society of Asia (GB & I) in 1875 in «Inscriptions of Parakramabahu», «Sigiri, the lion rock» and «Two old Sinhalese Inscriptions» took the well-equipped scholar to the field of research. These articles that were written for the Ceylon branch of JRAS were printed in London.
In 1877 he published in International Numismata Orientala, an essay on «The Ancient Coins and Measures of Ceylon».
His first book on Buddhism he wrote for the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, in his series on non-Christian religions, was noteworthy. It deals in a compact way, the life of the Buddha, the essence of his teaching and the formation of the order of the monks.
The works of Rhys Davids should be viewed in the context of the predominant English books on Buddhism written by missionaries such as Spence Hardy and officials such as Emerson Tennent who relied on relatively recent comparative manuscripts of Sinhala and not on the Pali Canon and were also prejudiced Theological
Rhys Davids was the first to interpret and present to the Western world the Buddhism of the Pali Canon.
At the beginning of the 20th century, when Western Europe dominated the world, it was thought that supremacy would last forever. Therefore, only that which contributed to the emergence of Western Europe was considered as history and not as the totality of human experience. The other great cultures of the world that preceded Europe, such as India, China and Central America, did not even support the actors in the spectacular European drama. It was at a time when Rhys Davids wrote Buddhist India with an insignificant corner of northeastern India as its focus. He visited the ancient Buddhist shrines of India and felt that a study of the social and political conditions in which Buddhism emerged as a whole for the activities of the Buddha and the labors of his disciples was necessary. Pali Text Society.
Of all his innovative acts, Rhys Davids is best known for the founding of the Pali Text Society in 1882 according to the model of the English Text Society. He had the support of many distinguished scholars from England, France, Holland, Germany and the USA. UU who were interested in Oriental Studies. There were large collections of Buddhist manuscripts disseminated in many libraries in Europe and abundant in Sri Lanka.
It was proposed to publish them in Roman script with translations into English. In a report of the PTS, the comments of Rhys Davids are given on the value of these manuscripts: «They are our best authorities for the early history of that interesting system of religion so allied to some of the latest speculations among us, and that has influenced so powerfully, and for so long, such a large proportion of the human race, the system of religion that we now call Buddhism. «
Despite its value, Pali literature was not a popular field of study for reasons that Rhys Davids was painfully aware of. It was not financially rewarding.Rhys Davids undertook the work of editing and publishing the Pali texts as an amateur work and in this he had the unconditional support of the learned monks of Sri Lanka. In the PTS report of 1882, he wrote the following: «In the spring of 1882 came the welcome intelligence that more than seventy of the most important members of the Buddhist Order in Ceylon had shown their appreciation for the work and their trust. in its promoters, subscribing in advance to the cost of printing. It is nothing light that an established clergy has come forward so quickly to support the publication of the sacred books of their religion in an alien alphabet by the scholars of a foreigner. It should not surprise us that a body as liberal as the Buddhist bhikkhus has acted like this. «
Unlike many other Englishmen of his time, Rhys Davids had great respect for the Buddhist Sangha, gained their trust and they in turn gave them all kinds of support and guidance. Under Rhys Davids and his equally eminent wife and support partner, Caroline, the PTS grew in strength; his finances stabilized and his production was prolific. At the time of his death, the Society had issued 64 separate texts in ninety-four volumes covering more than 26,000 pages, in addition to many articles and important notes from European and Oriental scholars.
The service provided by the PTS to the cause of Buddhism in the West is priceless and the Buddhist world owes a deep debt of gratitude to Rhys Davids for his tireless efforts to preserve the Pali Canon for posterity.
While he was involved in the work of the PTS, he was also active in the Royal Society of Asia. First he was a carrier of the office and in 1887 he was unanimously elected by the Royal Council of the Asian Society to be its Secretary. As such, he had many responsibilities to take on. In addition to printing and publishing the magazine, he had to manage the finances of the Society, keep accounts and also function as a librarian, for which he was paid 200 pounds and residential facilities.
During this period (1882-1904) he was professor of Pali at the University of London, a position that did not have a fixed salary, apart from the fees for lectures. Rhys Davids was dismayed by the sad state of Eastern learning in England because higher education was often financed by private benefactors in accordance with the wishes of the funds. Therefore, traditional disciplines such as theology, classics and mathematics were strongly endowed. while the new studies had to fight under great financial stress. In his introduction to Buddhist India, he complains: «There is no chair of Assyriology, for example, in England and while, in Paris, Berlin, in St. Petersburg, in Vienna, there are great oriental learning seminars, we see in London the incredible absurdity of unpaid teachers forced to dedicate themselves to making a living doing other things, the time they should give to teaching or research. And throughout England, for example, the state of things bad. In all of England, for example, there are two chairs of Sanskrit. In Germany, the government provides more than twenty, as if the interest of Germany in India was more than ten times ours. «
The great interest in Eastern learning that prevailed on the continent was not evident in Britain. Perhaps the British were more interested in exploiting the wealth of the colonies than in their culture. Pali and Buddhist studies are not a marketable product even in Sri Lanka today and the situation was not very different in Britain in the time of Rhys Davids.
The result led the Royal Asiatic Society and Rhys Davids to take up the cause of Eastern learning and urge the government to establish an Eastern School at the University of London. It was pointed out that knowledge of the Oriental language, literature and history would be useful for better management of the Raj. There was already a growing gap in India between the rulers and the governed, and it was indicated that a familiarity with Eastern cultures would help officials see certain issues with sympathy.
As a result of the vigorous agitation of the Royal Asiatic Society and Rhys Davids, the government accepted the proposal of an independent Oriental school in 1908. Consider the dozens of Sri Lankan scholars who have entered the portals of the London School of Oriental ( and later on).
African studies over the past 100 years and have benefited from its concentration of academic resources, it is clear that the workforce of Rhys Davids has paid abundant dividends in Sri Lanka. His contribution to this cause is now forgotten, but even today there is a Senior Scholarship in Pali, Sinhalese and Theravada Buddhism reserved for a Sinhalese in the School of Oriental and African Studies.
While he was an energetic secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society, President of the PTS, and a Pali professor at the University of London, Rhys Davids continued with his translations and research work. His intuitive knowledge of Pali and Buddhism is reflected in his remarkable translations in which each Sutta is preceded by an introduction containing material of sociological, literary and philological interest.
In 1905 he resigned from the Royal Asiatic Society to accept the Chair of Comparative Religion at the University of Manchester of which he was the first distinguished holder. In addition, his new position gave him a reasonable income. Rhys Davids had expressed his bitterness at the fact that scholars are mistreated by society; They are poor and for that reason they are despised. However, Manchester gave Rhys Davids academic status and monetary rewards, but many felt that the University earned more with the presence of Rhys Davids than vice versa.
In 1905, when Rhys Davids left London to reside near Manchester, the president of the Royal Asiatic Society made a presentation on behalf of a large number of members. His response shows the academic humility of Rhys Davids and his concern regarding the continuation of the work he had started.
«Whatever work I have been able to achieve in the history of thought in India, or to the publication and elucidation of the historically important literature of the early Buddhists, I hope soon to be replaced by a better work, done partly on the basis of of those Works. And the greater my success in inducing other scholars to devote their attention to these matters, the sooner that desirable ending will be reached. «
Continuing with his speech, Rhys Davids made a strong argument for the study of the humanities especially Oriental studies that are relevant to this day, when even in the universities of Sri Lanka, the Pali and Sanskrit have become disciplines in danger of extinction.
«The study of nature looms much more in the public eye than the study of man, that our own activities and especially the history of philosophy, literature and religion, of economic and social institutions in the East seem to be left out. in the We do not have any dispute with science, just the opposite. But we have a reasonable hope that the contempt in which we now look at Orientalism is only a passing phase and that our work is really useful in a modest way, to that increase in knowledge., Broadening of ideas, which is the basis of the welfare and progress of humanity «.
In Manchester, while teaching the history of religions, Rhys Davids found time to publish a book, Early Buddhism (1908) and a chapter for The Cambridge History of India in the early history of Buddhism. Meanwhile, he was concentrating on the preparation of the Pali Dictionary for which the PTS had provided so much new material. There were many European academics who were interested in the same project and it was expected in the Eastern Congress in Copenhagen, in 1908, that an international cooperation scheme could be organized. Some letters were entrusted to coworkers. The work did not progress according to the schedule and, finally, with the outbreak of the war all academic links with Germany were cut and the execution of the plan fell only on Rhys Davids.
His greatest achievement was the Pali English Dictionary in which he worked for 40 years with the collaboration of other renowned scholars.Unfortunately he died before he could finish his work, but the task was completed by his student W. Stede.
In 1915, at the age of 72, Rhys Davids left Manchester. Many years before the University of Edinburgh conferred him an LLD and Manchester named him Doctor of Letters. Copenhagen and Sheffield enrolled him as a Doctor of Science. In 1902 he had been one of the original founders of the British Academy.
The service that Rhys Davids provided to the Buddhists of Sri