Tribute to Ananda Coomaraswamy
Review of The Unanimous Tradition: Essays on the essential unity of all religions edited by Ranjit Fernando
The Ceylon Daily News (Colombo) Wednesday, March 11, 1992
A book recently released in Colombo, though launched with little fanfare, can certainly be regarded as a landmark in Lankan publishing. Titled The Unanimous Tradition, it was compiled and edited by Ranjit Fernando for the Sri Lanka Institute of Traditional Studies in memory of that illustrious savant, Ananda Coomaraswamy.
It is quite obvious even at a glance that this is a publication of the highest quality with its fine binding, its exquisite paper and hand-mounted plates. But equal to the presentation and far more important is the content sixteen internationally eminent traditionalists have come together to pay tribute to Coomaraswamy in a manner that brings alive to the reader, whether he be an academic or a lay person, the traditional or religious worldview of pre-modern man in contradistinction to the present, Western—invented, materialist worldview which dominates today's world.
This book is no Festschrift; these essays have not been arbitrarily brought together as a salute to a major figure. This collection is a carefully orchestrated whole theme, which, as the sub—title and the blurb in the dust jacket tells us, is the essential unity of all religions and the forms of traditional societies with their sacred arts and their sciences.
But although the search for the now apparently forgotten meaning of Tradition and the significance of the perennial philosophy is being pursued with an ever—increasing sense of urgency in the highly materialistic West, here, in the East, the years since independence from colonial rule have witnessed a corresponding indifference and a growing lack of concern with those things for which the East was once famous.
The Institute was formed to remedy this state of affairs, but it was clear from the start that it could only function with State patronage and adequate financial support from the private sector. Yet, in the course of more than a decade, despite repeated requests, the relevant authorities did not assist the Institute with funds.
The opportunity that private and public sector organizations that could have helped but did not is clearly shown by the excellence of the present publication. The one shining exception was the Bank of Ceylon which generously funded The Unanimous Tradition and thereby set an example that others may even now wish to emulate.
Despite all this, the Institute has managed to get quite a lot done over the years. Most significantly, it has slowly developed into a publishing body of international standing. One of its books—on Buddhism—was made ‘compulsory reading' in an American university, and, of another book, an English critic wrote that it influenced his outlook more profoundly than anything he had read in decades.
But it is with The Unanimous Tradition that the Institute has finally established itself internationally; its publications are now certain to command the interest of scholars, students and serious readers around the world with a special interest in comparative religion. All credit to the Bank of Ceylon for having helped to make this achievement possible.
The Sri Lanka Institute was the first of its kind in the world. But, more recently, similar institutes have sprung up elsewhere, the Foundation for Traditional Studies in the U.S. being one such. In India, The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, lavishly endowed by the Indian Government, has quickly developed into a centre for traditional studies with plans to publish the complete works of Coomaraswamy, something that we should have done. But our Institute, though first in the field, has lagged behind for want of support while its well-funded but younger sister institutes have forged ahead. Let us hope that even now something will be done to remedy this situation.
Considerable sponsorship is available in this country for sport and that is right and proper. But there are other areas too that deserve support. President Premadasa has been particularly sensitive to the condition of indigenous artistes, many of whom were living in penury prior to his intervention.
The George Keyt Foundation, for example, has received generous support from a private sector firm. The President's Fund, both during the Jayewardene and Premadasa administrations, has been of considerable assistance for matters concerning the arts and artists over the years. But much more remains to be done.
Philosophers, artists and the like live on, long after the more ephemeral achievements of their contemporaries have been forgotten. Coomaraswamy's reputation has grown immeasurably in recent times but Sri Lanka has made little use of him. There is still time to make amends.
The Sri Lanka Institute of Traditional Studies is pleased to announce the publication of The Unanimous Tradition, a collection of essays on the essential unity of all religions, compiled and edited by Ranjit Fernando in memory of the great Sri Lankan scholar, Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877-1947), metaphysician, interpreter of Indian and other traditional art, and distinguished exponent of the Perennial Philosophy.
20 plates—10 in colour—Printed in England by Lund Humphries and Co. Ltd., Clothbound, Limited edition. Inquiries are invited.
The Institute of Traditional Studies