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History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - Highway Tax Protests of 1848

When in 1848 Lord Torrington, Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), established a highway tax, the Buddhist priests protested, and demanded to be exempted from the tax.

Coat of Arms of Viscount Torrington - History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - Highway Tax Protests of 1848

George Byng, 7th Viscount Torrington (9 Sept 1812 - 27 Apr 1884), was a British colonial administrator and courtier. Lord Torrington was the son of Vice-Admiral George Byng, 6th Viscount Torrington, and succeeded his father in the viscountcy in 1831 at the age of eighteen. In 1847 he was appointed Governor of Ceylon, a post he held until 1850.

History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - In 1848 Lord Torrington, Governor of Ceylon (Sri Lanka), established a highway tax, by this law, every inhabitant, without exception, was bound either to perform six days' labour on the highways, or in default to pay a certain sum of money. The Buddhist priests presented to the Governor a humble but at the same time dignified petition, in which they set forth how impossible it was for them to submit to this general rule; and the motives they gave were very forcible.

They represented that during four months of the year their subsistence depended entirely on the alms given by the population, from whom they received their daily food, without even being permitted to ask for it; that, during the other eight months, when their subsistence was no less precarious, they were constantly travelling about; that they could neither work nor even take off their clothes for a moment without forfeiting their title and ceasing to be priests; and therefore they could not personally contribute to the construction of the roads. Moreover, that as they fasted, according to rule, eighteen hours out of every twenty-four, and never ate except between six o'clock in the morning and noon, they were incapable of executing any manual labour without falling ill; on the other hand, they could not replace an impossible labour by a pecuniary compensation, for according to their rules they could possess neither money nor property in any shape whatever; and that they could no more exact money from the faithful, than they could bread.

History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - Highway Tax Protests of 1848

They added that, since the establishment of Buddhism in Ceylon, 316 years before the Christian era, they had never been compelled either to work or to pay any tax; that the convention of 1815, by which the inhabitants of Ceylon had freely surrendered to the English crown, stipulated, amongst other guarantees, the maintenance and independence of the Buddhist religion; and finally, that by compelling them to work, they would be violating their most sacred duties in this world and forfeit all hopes of a world to come. In consequence, they petitioned that the tax, in both its alternatives, should not be applied to them.

The Governor listened to this just claim, and acceded to their request, but this was not done, however, without a good deal of trouble. The Buddhist priests' protestation was followed by others. The Bishop of Colombo protested and alleged that it would give Pagan Buddhism an immense advantage over Christianity if their request was granted.

The 'Highway Tax' petition can be seen in the Blue Book published in 1849 under the heading of Papers Relative to the Affairs of Ceylon. This document, which consists of 300 pages in folio, relates all the facts about the insurrection which occurred in 1848, and which, although unimportant, lasted several months. Lord Torrington's energetic measures soon suppressed it; the highway tax and other administrative measures had been the pretext, but in reality the Kandyans rose in 1848 as they had risen in 1818, 1827, 1834, and 1843, and as they may possibly again rise in rebellion. In 1818 the removal of the Buddha's tooth, transferred from one city to another, had been the signal for rebellion. They (Kandyans) resented a foreign yoke, and were always striving for the restoration of an Indian monarchy. The Kandyans must not be confused with the remainder of the Sinhalese population; they are more restless and warlike. They were considered 'of a different race', being generally descendants of the Tamils. Lord Torrington's administration was attacked by one of his successors, Sir H.G. Ward, but the former easily refuted these undeserved criticisms, and his reply, dated January 17, 1557, was published in the parliamentary reports. From the time of Lord Torrington's administration (May, 1847 ~ Nov, 1850) dates the prosperity of Ceylon. Thanks to the impulsion he gave to all great works of public utility, the island already possessed, in 1851, 1,500 miles of admirable roads, besides a large number of other financial ameliorations.

Next >> Under English Administration In The Mid-1800s

History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - Highway Tax Protests of 1848

Text adapted from 'The Buddha and His Religion'
by Jules Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire (19 Aug 1805 – 24 Nov 1895)

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The Buddhist Flag
First hoisted in 1885 in Sri Lanka, is a symbol of faith and peace used throughout the world to represent the Buddhist faith.

Buddhist Flag Picture - Buddhist Flag Colours - The Buddhist Flag Sri Lanka 1885

Buddhist Flag Meanings
Blue: Universal Compassion
Yellow: The Middle Path
Red: Blessings
White: Purity and Liberation
Orange: Wisdom

History of Buddhism in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - Highway Tax Protests of 1848

The Dharma Wheel

Spokes of the Dharmachakra - "The Dharma Wheel" Meaning - The Dharma Wheel Symbol - The Dharma Wheel Image - 8 spokes representing the Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya magga)

In Buddhism—according to the Pali Canon, Vinayapitaka, Khandhaka, Mahavagga, the number of spokes of the Dharmachakra represent various meanings:

8 spokes representing the Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya magga).
12 spokes representing the Twelve Laws of Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppada).
24 spokes representing the Twelve Laws of Dependent Origination and the Twelve Laws of Dependent Termination (Paticcasamuppada).
31 spokes representing 31 realms of existence (11 realms of desire, 16 realms of form and 4 realms of formlessness).

Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo is a Japanese Buddhist chant based upon the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren Daishonin (Feb 16, 1222 – Oct 13, 1282) a Buddhist monk who lived during the Kamakura period (1185–1333) in Japan. Nichiren taught devotion to the Lotus Sutra, entitled Myōhō-Renge-Kyō in Japanese, as the exclusive means to attain enlightenment and the chanting of Nam-Myōhō-Renge-Kyō as the essential practice of the teaching. Various schools with diverging interpretations of Nichiren's teachings comprise Nichiren Buddhism.
Nam - To devote one's life
Myoho - Myo is the mystic nature of life and Ho, its manifestation
Renge - "Lotus Flower"; which symolises the ballance of cause and effect
Kyo - Sutra, the voice or teachings of Buddha (The sound or vibration that connects everything in the ubiverse)

As the Buddha had never claimed to be a god, it is evident that he never prescribed the form of worship that was to be rendered to him. A legend, however, attributes to him the institution of this form of worship

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