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Craving goes in the passionate
For the person who is perturbed by evil thoughts, who is exceedingly lustful, who contemplates pleasant things, craving increases more and more. Surely he makes the bond of Mara stronger.

(Tanha Vagga - The Dhammapada)

‘Only four people attended my first sermon’



Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thera

Last October 40 monks and 800 Buddhist followers of the Mahamevna meditation Dwelling went on a pilgrimage to India led by Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thera. At the time he was interviewed by Shyama Samarasingha, which was published in the Budusarana of November 28, 2006. The translation of this interview.

When did you decide to become a bhikkhu?

I was ordained at age 17. I did not have a good understanding of life at that age. Just felt attracted to it. First I received traditional Buddhist academic education and entered the Jayawardenapura University. Before completing the degree, I left the university education and became a hermit.

I understood that what I was seeking was not available in the traditional education system. Because of this understanding, most of the time I lived on my own and learnt the Dhamma through meditation centres and hermitages.

In the beginning I stayed with Kithulampitiye Wipularansi Thera. He is a special person. He has abandoned everything and has gone to India ten years ago and reached the Himalaya. I have not heard about him since then.

After that I stayed at a meditation centre in Colombo for sometime. In 1997, I started a Dhamma service though I was not particularly interested in it. I had a personal ambition to attain Nirvana quickly. I pursued this goal with dedication. I lived in the Sri Pada forest many times alone.

During the off season periods I took the Kuruwita route to Sri Pada. I met Baduraliye Chandima Thera in one of these trips. My desire was to live alone in a sparsely populated place. But while paying homage to the Sri Pada, it dawned on me that I can be in danger in the forest and can even get killed by wild animals. If that happens, then nobody is going to benefit from me.

Therefore I decided to teach the Buddha Dhamma to the people for sometime. I was able to do this from time to time. In 1997, I decided to go to the forest again, but soon realised that I could not achieve my goal as fast as I wished. Again I decided to spread the Dhamma.

I went to Colombo Sambodhi Vihara to deliver Buddhist talks. Because I was new, I had to overcome many obstacles. Only four people attended my fist sermon. Slowly, this situation changed. The problem at that point was to find a large enough place to give the talks.

At this time I met Kotapola Amarakitti Thera by chance. He asked me to accompany with him to Polgahawela. He took me to the present day Mahamevna monastery site. At the time it was an expanse of Eraminiya shrubs. I did not know anybody in the village and there were no Dayakayas. Amarakitti Thera offered me support.

He told me that I have to take charge of the place. It was a very quiet place, and I thought it would be ideal for meditation and to propagate the Buddha Dhamma. As the pioneer, I had to make many sacrifices.

I was able to build three Kutis with thatched roof and walls of plastic sheets. In addition there was a Dhamma Hall of 20 x 10 also with a thatched roof. This was the beginning of the Mahamevnawa.

Afterwards, the Dhamma started spreading beyond belief. My honest and sincere wish to spread the Dhamma is the secret to this success.

I understood the real Dhamma as taught by the Buddha and used my creativity to propagate it. I talked to the seekers with empathy. I showed them the delusions. I convinced them of their wrongful attachments and devotions to the astrology, auspicious times, and the likes which consume their energy.

I used simple Sinhalese to explain the Dhamma. I made it clear that it is the Four Noble Truths that is essential to the realisation of the Buddha Dhamma.

Intelligent people gathered around me, and hundreds of young men came to me to be ordained as monks. The learned and intelligent monks in Sri Lanka ordained these young men. Now we have 35 branches of Mahamevna in Sri Lanka and one in Canada. There are 300 trainee Bhikkhus in these hermitages.

The Mahamevna that I started in August 14th, 1999 blossomed into a huge tree with numerous strong branches within a seven year period. It is a common thing to be the target of criticism and slanders when one becomes a popular figure. I was the target for endless criticism from Sri Lankan monks. It is difficult to develop Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

The main reason for this is the jealousy among the monks. The Sri Lankan attitude is to destroy the person who is genuinely serving society. This happened to the Bhikkhus Dolakande, Soma and Ariyadhamma. This can also happen to me. Before that I have to stop my Dhamma propagation activities. At that time, the jealousy ridden individuals can sleep soundly.

I have herd that you are a Catholic by birth. What led you to become a Buddhist?

After 1505 Catholicism started spreading. Before that all the Sinhalese were Buddhists. There was no foundation for Catholicism in Sri Lanka; it is not surprising for a born Catholic to become a Buddhist. Missionary invasion of Asia forced people to convert to Christianity. It is happening today too.

Especially the Catholicism spread in the coastal areas of Sri Lanka among the fishermen. This happened because many people who lacked the understanding of the Dhamma looked down on fisherman clan.

Why did you decide to go on a pilgrimage to India with a large group this time?

There is a reason for it. Many of us do not create a complete mental orientation for such a pilgrimage. People lose their spiritual tendencies after reaching India. I felt empathy towards them. I taught them how to methodically conduct a Buddhist pilgrimage to India. I met a suitable and capable organiser for our Dhambadiva pilgrimage.

Dambadiva is the land of the Buddhas and Buddhist saints. The environment in Dambadiva has not changed from the great times. I have gained many experiences travelling in the area.

I see it as an ideal place for a lay person to attain his goals amidst many hardships. Bodhisatvas are born from time to time in Dambadiva. I see Dr. Ambedkar, a Buddhist leader from the recent past, as a future Buddha. Anagarika Dharmapala also had Bodhisatva qualities.

What do you think about the Sri Lankan Buddhists?

Most Buddhists in Sri Lanka are filled with empty pride. They are plagued with many obstacles, preventing them from reaching a sound understanding of the Dhamma.


Mahamevna forest retreat at Polgahawela

They think they know everything even though they know nothing. They engage in slandering and gossip. There are also very intelligent, moral, and faithful Buddhists in Sri Lanka. I am very proud and happy about it.

I have a special request for all Buddhists. Do not vote for any bhikkhus to the Parliament. It will be detrimental to the Buddhists. I translated many Pali Pirith books to Sinhalese.

The translations available were not very meaningful. I also started reciting Pirit in Pali mixed with Sinhalese. People did not understand even the meanings of the verses used for the homage to the Buddha. It is useless to recite Pali verses beautifully to the common people who can not understand them.

The verses recited in Pali have many mistakes in the way we break the sentences and also in the pronunciations. People really like the way I recite the Pirith, since they could know the meaning of contents.

What a blessing it would be to see the young generation being attracted to the Meditation and Dhamma in an age that most temples are being abandoned.

Why is it that the Mahamevna monastery does not have a Bodhi Tree or a big Pagoda?

In most places there are pagodas and Bodhi trees. They are satisfied by these things, but there is no practice of Dhamma.

To be honest, people know that most monks do not even live in temples. I wanted to establish a real genuine monastic centre. I wanted to provide a true understanding of the Dhamma to the innocent people, who believed that all their problems could be solved by Bodhi Poojas.

When I want to pay homage to the Bodhi Tree, I like to go to Sri Maha Bodhi in Anuradhapura. I also like it very much to pay homage to the Pagodas. Mahamevna has many small Pagodas with Relics and Statues. People pay homage to them.

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Review

Excellent vehicle of dissemination of the Dhamma

‘The Buddhist’
Journal of the Y.M.B.A. Colombo
Vesak issue of the Year 2551 of the Buddhist Calendar

THE BUDDHIST: Most Buddhists, who have cultivated the habit of reading serious material and who whenever the opportunity arises, persist in widening and deepening their knowledge of the Dhamma will not fail to appreciate this year’s excellent production.

It is not merely a collection of articles by well-known scholars and others, who try to assist their readers to understand the sometimes abstruse Buddhist concepts, but also offer something that would lead them on the path of Nibbana.

The cover carries a most attractive photograph of an image of the Buddha in the ‘samadi’ posture giving a concrete impression of a person who has reached the ultimate goal of Nibbana.

The collection of articles start with one by our most distinguished Sanskrit and Pali scholar and academic, now resident in California guiding graduate and post-graduate students in their studies and research, Dr. Ananda Guruge Ajan Chah of Thailand whose reputation as a teacher of meditation has attracted a large number of Westerners, Bikkhu Bodhi born in the US and who served as the Editor of the publications of the Kandy Buddhist Publication Society, have contributed to the journal and many others devoted to the discussion of aspects of Buddhism in this and other journals whose columns were open to them.

There are also poems, as usual, both in English and Sinhala which greatly enhance the aesthetic value of the journal. Even though the original Editors meant ‘The Buddhist’ to be a vehicle of dissemination of the Dhamma among the exclusively English educated, it was thought later that the inclusion of articles in Sinhala would widen its appeal among those who were not sufficiently conversant with the European langauge.

A striking feature, thematically, this time is the greater sociological bent of some articles. Even the Editorial exhibits the need to look at the ‘economic’ aspect of life.

However doctrinal matters have not been ignored or sidelined and abstruse points of the Dhamma have been dealt with as competently as before, both in English and Sinhala ensuring that the journal promotes the discussion of the core issues of the Buddhist interpretation of life and its meaning.

Interpretation is an important function of journals of this nature, and this is because Buddhism would have spread originally only among people speaking Magadhi or a simple form of colloquial Pali in North Central and North Eastern India where the Buddha was engaged in his mission.

Buddhism happened to be introduced to Sri Lanka after the Vinaya and Sutta Pitakas were recited for the third time, in India, due largely to the absence of authoritative texts, and the tendency to re-state the Buddha’s words, and the formation of different schools of thought promoting individual lines of thinking of the heads of the different sects.

However, when Buddhism came to Sri Lanka, it did not take the more serious erudite monks long to realize that the entire known tripitaka had to be committed to writing. Sinhala would have been used originally for the purpose, as Buddhaghosa who came from India undertook the task of translating it into Pali at Mahavihara in Anuradhapura, to ensure that people in North India understood, the Buddha.

The commentaries followed, which helped greater accuracy of interpretation.

With the changes in language, with active discourse and writing the commentarial branch of writing progressed from Atuwa to Tika (sub-commentaries).

The demand from foreign countries where Buddhism was introduced, like Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and China greatly expanded the demand for centres for learning and writing. Aluvihara, apart from Abhayagiri, attracted those who were interested in writing and ensuring, naturally, greater faithfulness to the original message of the Buddha.

Today, even with this heritage of exegetical writing, and modern interpretations in the light of discoveries in ancient Hindu and Greek writing, areas have been found where use of analytical methods, could be further extended to get closer to the original sense of what the Buddha uttered, under varying circumstances in his wanderings in then known North Eastern India.

The Editorial of the present issue is of special significance Rajah Kuruppu has drawn our attention to a very topical and useful subject which some might construe as having nothing to do with Buddhism.... Economics.

The relevance of the subject has been underlined by the Editor in the Editorial, by focusing on the work of the academic and scholar Muhamed Younis of Bengal, winner of a Nobel Prize last year for his pioneering studies in poverty alleviation.

Copies of this journal are available free to Members of the Colombo YMBA, and others have the opportunity of buying it from the Head Office of the Association in Borella at Rs. 100 per copy.

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Dedicated to the memory of Aranthalawa victims

ARANTHALAWA: Though 20 years have gone by memory of this inhuman, gruesome killings of the 31 monks cannot erase off from the minds of many Sri Lankans. Majority of the monks were below 15 years of age, eight-monks survived. One monk was paralysed and still moves around in a wheelchair.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Hagoda Indrasara Thera and 30 other monks who sacrificed their lives for hatred and ignorance of the LTTE movement. The Buddha proclaimed as a peerless teacher “ignorance is the foulest stain of all”. By ignorance he meant belief in Self and all the wrong thinking, wrong actions and wrong speech that arise from it. Ignorance is the primal condition behind all manifestation of life.

False understanding of Prabhakaran and the LTTE Movement is under the opinion that only the Tamil community can live in the North and East of Sri Lanka, other communities such as Sinhalese and Muslims do not have legitimate right to live in the East; they are invaders. The false understanding, false interpretations, false values has brought despair to valuable human lives. Thirty one monks sacrificed their valuable lives for the very reason.

Ven. Hagoda Indrasara Thera was well known to the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka as a devoted Buddhist monk who was determined to safeguard the Buddhist interest in the East which date back for more than 2000 years.

He came to Ampara, Digamadulla way back in 1956 as a junior monk. He lived in Hagoda Nigrodaramaya, Galle. His knowledge about the ancient history, of the east, and the valuable temples built by the ancient Sinhala kings ancient splendours at the East fascinated the young monk. He stayed back in Ampara, Digamadulla.

He found some of the temples systematically desecrated, many temples shamefully neglected.

He stood face to face with destiny. He was determined as a young energetic monk to safeguard the Buddhist interest.

He lived for 31 years in Digamadulla. He ordained junior monks to look after the temples which date back for over 2000 years. This journey on June 2nd 1987 was an education tour for the junior monks.

Leader of a movement who believes the killings and destructions are the only way to liberation will never liberate his people. He will only push his people further into darkness, this is the universal truth.

Christians, Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists should protect these holy places and historically valuable places for future generations understanding each others values.

Ven. Hagoda Indrasara Thera and 30 other monks who sacrificed their lives 20 years ago taking the leadership to safeguard splendours of the East which date back for over 2000 years.

May they attain unborn, unoriginated happiness - Nirvana.

Nahi verena verani -
Sammantidha Kudachanam.
Averena Ca Sammanti -
Esa dhammo Sanantano.

Hatred never ceases by hatred;
It ceases by love and compassion
This is an eternal law.

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