Thursday, June 26, 2008

German Swami: Buddhism in Sri Lanka

"German Swami" was Peter Joachim Schoenfeldt (1907-84). He spent time in mystical circles around the poet Stefan Georg in Berlin in the 1930s, grew interested in Buddhism, and traveled to Sri Lanka in 1936. He became Buddhist as Nyanakhetto, and was later ordained as Swami Gauribala Giri.

By 1971, German Swami had a circle of followers in Sri Lanka that included the former American Beatnik poet Alan Marlowe, and the former Sri Lankan actor Manik Sandrasagra. They were all reading the Traditionalist classics--Coomaraswamy, Guénon, and Schuon. This orientation did not last, however.

While visiting the US with the Sri Lankan president in 1981, Manik Sandrasagra went to Bloomington to meet Schuon. When he heard of this, however, German Swami summoned him back to Sri Lanka. In Sandrasagra's words,
When I returned I asked him why. His response was “You need to be turned off from traditionalism.” He then showed me an article by Schuon that was titled ‘The Problem of Sexuality’ and asked “Do you have a problem with sexuality? Is there a problem with sexuality?” He then smiled and stated in Tamil the famous Yogaswami dictum “Oru Pollapum Illai” meaning ‘Not one problem exists’.