Tribute : 15th death anniversary of Deshabandu Alec Robertson : An outstanding propagator of the Dhamma | Sunday Observer

Tribute : 15th death anniversary of Deshabandu Alec Robertson : An outstanding propagator of the Dhamma

It is 15 years since Deshabandu Alec Robertson – preacher, writer and broadcaster of the Dhamma and one-time Member of Parliament – passed away.

Alec Robertson was born in Gampola on October 30, 1928, and died on the last day of 2002, at the age of 74. His working life was dedicated mainly to the Buddhist cause – propagating the Dhamma through talks, discussions, books and articles to Buddhist journals and newspapers.

Propagating the Dhamma

One of his significant contributions was the popularization of the weekly Dhamma discussions in English at Maitri Hall, Lauries’ Road, Bambalapitiya. He was closely associated with the Servants of the Buddha Society, which conducted Buddhist discussions on Saturday evenings for almost half a century. He started taking part in these meetings while he was still at school. He became the Society’s Assistant Secretary when he was just 21 years, and later, became secretary, and served as president for an uninterrupted 30 years, from 1969.

He relinquished this office only when he realized that declining health would not permit him to discharge the duties of his office effectively. But he continued to be associated with the Society as its adviser until his demise.

His voice and personality reverberated in Maitri Hall, where he chaired the Society’s meetings and gave a Dhamma talk on the first Saturday of every month. When the scheduled speaker could not turn up, Alec Robertson would deliver the talk himself, often asking the audience to suggest a topic.

Robertson had a prodigious memory. His knowledge of the Dhamma was extensive, based on his studies of Pali, the Dhamma, the Abhidhamma, and commentaries, as well as through his association with Buddhist scholars, monks and laymen.


Robertson was also for many years associated with broadcasting, giving Dhamma talks, and participating in Dhamma radio discussions. For several decades he participated in one of the most popular Buddhist radio programs at that time, namely, the “Buddhist Forum”. In this forum, a number of Buddhist scholars discuss various aspects of the Dhamma and entertain subjects for discussions, from listeners. Participants in this forum apart from Robertson included at that time, the late S. R. Wijayatilake, a former Judge of the Supreme Court and the late Austin De Silva, a dedicated Buddhist worker. Robertson became the Chairman of the Buddhist Forum later, and continued to perform the task for a period of two and a half decades, until his demise.


As a writer, Robertson had many Buddhist publications to his credit, which include, the Buddhist Attitude To Christianity; Nibbana – Happiness Supreme, The Triple Gem and the Uposatha, and ‘Buddha, the Healer Incomparable. He also contributed articles, regularly, to newspapers, Buddhist journals and the Buddhist annual, Vesak Sirisara.

Although largely known as a promoter of the Dhamma among English-speaking people, Alec Robertson also had a good command of the Sinhala language. As a young man he travelled to different parts of the country giving talks, usually in Sinhala, at the invitation of Buddhist organizations in the outstation.

Unseen capacity

He strove at all times to share his knowledge about the latent power held within the human mind. His messages were directed at awakening the people to recognize this great untapped and unseen capacity within them and to introduce the teachings of the Dharma as the path to greater self-awareness. Deshabandu Robertson masterfully used the Dhamma to explain the most abstract concepts such as, the doctrine of impermanence that has even posed challenges to Western psychologists.

Deshabandu Robertson was well read in the discipline of Western psychology. He openly challenged eminent western scholars like Dr J. B. Reihn’s conceptualization of the human mind as inconclusive on the strength of the deeper understanding he had developed through the teachings of the Dhamma, continually asserting his belief that Lord Buddha has been the greatest psychologist the world has ever seen.


His outstanding services in the cause of the Dhamma were recognized by the State when the J.R. Jayewardene administration conferred on him the title of Deshabandu. Later, the Premadasa government appointed him as a Member of Parliament. He served for five years as an MP, focusing largely on Buddhism, social welfare and education. The UNP assigned him to the Avissawella electorate, and his addresses to the constituents were mainly on the Dhamma and its practice.

Commemorative stamp

In recognition of the yeomen service rendered to the nation and the Buddha sasana by the well-known propagator and preacher of the Dharma, Deshabandu Alec Robertson, a commemorative stamp was issued on October 30 2013 under the National Heroes category. This was arranged to mark his 85th birthday.

Robertson pursued his mission in life with determination, courage and commitment. May his onward journey in Samsara be smooth and brief, and may he realize early the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

Prof. Mahendra Fernando