The German Dharmaduta Society to celebrate 60th anniversary
September 18, 2012
The German Dharmaduta Society, Sri Lanka will mark its 60th Anniversary (1952-2012) with an alms giving to 60 Buddhist monks at the B.H. William Hall, All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, Colombo on Sunday September 23.
Among the highlights of the day's proceedings will be the screening of a video documentary on the history of the GDS and a new website dedicated to its founder Asoka Weeraratna. The Society was the first to send a Theravada Buddhist Mission to Germany in 1957. Weeraratna also founded the Berlin Buddhist Vihara and the Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya (Mitirigala Forest Hermitage)
Much of the GDS work in the initial period was done in an upstairs back room of the now-defunct well-known business enterprise, Messrs. P.J. Weeraratna & Sons, 2nd Division, Maradana, where the office of the Society was first located. Ven. Nyanatiloka Maha Thera (the well respected German monk) was the first Patron of the Society.
In 1956 this Office was shifted to the newly built Headquarters and Monk's Training Centre at 417, Bullers Road (Bauddhaloka Mawatha), Colombo 7, which was declared open by the then Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike on August 7, 1956. The Society's name was changed from Lanka Dhammaduta Society to German Dharmaduta Society on May 8, 1957. The following month i.e. June 1957, the GDS sponsored the first Buddhist Mission to Germany from Sri Lanka. It comprised Ven. Soma, Ven. Kheminde and Ven. Bope Vinitha, all recruited from the Vajiraramaya Temple, Bambalapitiya. They were later joined in Germany by Asoka Weeraratna, then Hony. Secretary of the society.
One of his most significant contributions to the spread of Buddhism in the Germany was the critical role that he played in the purchase of "Das Buddhistische Haus" which the German Buddhist Dr. Paul Dahlke had established in 1924 before his death four years later. Das Buddhistiche Haus, having an extent of nearly 6 acres, is located in the picturesque suburb of Frohnau in North Berlin, and was considered the Center of German Buddhism during Dr. Dahlke's time.
Asoka Weeraratna personally negotiated with the nephew of the late Dr. Paul Dahlke and bought the property in December, 1957 on behalf of and in the names of the five Trustees of the German Dharmaduta Society (which comprised Dudley Senanayake (former Prime Minister of Sri Lanka) Henry Amarasuriya, Dr. P.B. Fernando, Nelson Soysa, Proctor, S.C., and Asoka Weeraratna). Today, it is the oldest Theravada Buddhist centre in Europe. It has been designated as a National Heritage site since 1995 by the German Local Government authorities and enjoys their protection.
The Ceylon Daily News (Dec. 21, 1957) reported the purchase of Das Buddhistische Haus, the title of which property was acquired by the Trustees of the GDS, on December 13, 1957 as follows:
"The acquisition of these premises last week is an epoch making event, not only because these premises, will be the first Vihara and permanent Buddhist settlement which a Buddhist Country of the East owns in Europe but also because it will be a step forward in the successful achievement of founding the Buddha Sasana in Germany and the other countries of the West".
Since 1957, the German Dharmaduta Society has continued to sponsor monks from Sri Lanka to take up residence at the Berlin Vihara and played a key role in cementing religious and cultural relations between the two countries. Today, there are impressive Buddhist activities in Germany. Many German Buddhists regard Buddhism in Sri Lanka as their spiritual home. The name of Dr. Paul Dahlke is held in high regard in Germany. The GDS converted the Das Buddhistische Haus, into a Buddhist Vihara by stationing resident monks, and it is now an important centre in the dissemination of Theravada Buddhism in Europe.