Meethirigala Forest Hermitage
marks 40th Anniversary
by Janaka Perera
Hermitage. Pic by Dr Wasantha Weliange
Meethrigala Nissarana Wanaya, one-of-Sri Lanka's
most respected and largest Buddhist Forest Hermitages,
celebrated its 40th year of existence, on December 23 (Unduvap
The occasion was marked with the laying of
foundation stones for a new building complex at the base camp of
the Hermitage to provide better accommodation facilities for lay
visitors and meditation practitioners.
The Forest Hermitage is nearly 500 acres in
extent and situated in a tropical forest reserve surrounded by
scenic paddy fields. It is located close to the village of
Meethirigala, off Dompe on the Colombo-Kandy Road .
At a time when Buddhism had lost its most
supportive and protective structure, namely meditation, Asoka
Weeraratna, who founded the German Dharmaduta Society and the
Berlin Buddhist Vihara in Germany in the 1950's for the benefit
of the German people, established the Forest Hermitage (not very
far from Colombo) in 1967 to enable Buddhist monks to meditate
and contemplate in a suitable and peaceful environment.
He brought there the most respectful meditation
teacher, the late Venerable Matara Sri Nanarama Maha Thera,
widely, recognized as one of Sri Lanka's outstanding meditation
masters of recent times, to be the guide and instructor.
The Forest Hermitage now comprises over 40 fully
equipped independent dwellings (kutis) for Buddhist monks
and yogis to engage in meditation under strict supervision by
experienced meditation masters (Bhikkhus).
Apart from Sinhala Buddhist monks and laymen,
many foreign monks and laymen alike have had the opportunity to
pursue here the practice of meditation with full dedication,
unhindered by other tasks and duties. Some of them have come
from USA, some from Canada, England, Netherlands, Germany,
Austria, Switzerland , Portugal, Italy, Yugoslavia,
Czechoslovakia, Greece, India , Singapore , Taiwan , Korea ,
Japan , Australia , and New Zealand . They include the well
known American monk Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, the Australian monk Ven.
Pannavaro (founder of the Buddha Net), the Czechoslovakian monk
Ven. Dhammadeepa and Ven. Nnadassana Thera (Greece).
Having equipped the monastery with all the
facilities conducive to the meditative life, and having found an
accomplished meditation master to direct meditation training,
and then his mission accomplished Asoka Weeraratna renounced the
lay life and entered the Buddhist order under the name Venerable
Meethirigala Dhammanisanthi Thera in 1972.
Das Miriyagalla, Vice-President of the
Meethirigala Nissarana Wanaya Sanrakshana Mandalaya (Forest
Hermitage Preservation Board), in his address on the occasion,
observed that the founding of this Hermitage by Asoka Weeraratna
was the crowning achievement of the post - Buddha Jayanthi
Buddhist resurgence in Sri Lanka. He said:
"During the last 50 years - after the Buddha
Jayanthi of 1956 - there has been a significant revival of
Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka. This flowering of Buddhism is
visible in every aramaya, aranya, asapuwa, and village temple.
In my view the most striking symbol of the revival of Buddhism
in Sri Lanka during the past 50 years is the establishment and
maintenance of the Meethirigala Nissarana Wanaya."
Miriyagalla further said that human beings live
only on planet earth. Sri Lanka's special place on the ancient
world map has been highlighted by many ancient historians and
travelers of yesteryear. They had come from places like Rome and
Greece in Europe, the Middle-East, Persia and other Asian
countries. The most significant account is set out in the World
map drawn by Claudius Ptolemy in the 2nd Century AD. This map
has been used for over 1200 years as the most authoritative map
of the world. In this map many detailed features of Sri Lanka
are shown, he added.
Miriyagalla attributed the decision of India's
Buddhist Emperor Asoka to send his own son, Arahat Mahinda to
Sri Lanka for spreading the word of the Buddha (and thereafter
his own daughter Sangamitta with the Bo sapling) to the
important position that Sri Lanka had occupied in the ancient
world - whereas to all other countries the Emperor had sent
missionaries drawn from outside his own close family circle.
Venerable Dhammajeewa, the Chief Monk of the
"There is a growing interest expressed by many
people in different parts of the world for knowledge relating to
meditation. We have seen that many Buddhist organizations both
in the East and the West are making earnest requests for
assistance and guidance on meditation. Meethirigala Nissarana
Wanaya has responded to this interest positively. Further,
Buddhists should make full use of the opportunity available for
getting the maximum benefit out of time - the most valuable
resource we have. The utilization of time for optimum spiritual
benefit is very important. It is a challenge that we must
Ven. Dhammaransi Thera, Deputy Head monk of the
Hermitage, enumerated the contributions of Asoka Weeraratna to
Buddhism and compared Emperor Asoka's role with that of Asoka
Weeraratna. He said that as much as Emperor Asoka was honoured
by his contemporaries and posterity by the sobriquet 'Dharma' (Dharmasoka),
Asoka Weeraratna was likewise entitled to be honoured as 'Weera
Asoka for his determination and capacity to translate a
prophetic vision into reality against all odds. Both the Asokas
had left a sweeping legacy of spreading Buddhism touching
several continents. The Venerable monk added that it was up to
posterity to ensure that this legacy was protected and fostered.
Emeritus Professor Jayadeva Tilkasiri, President
of the German Dharmaduta Society, recalled his close association
with Asoka Weeraratna from his childhood days when both of them
were students at Mahinda College, Galle.
Lochana Gunaratne, Architect gave details of the
building plans in relation to the new construction. The proposed
project is to build a new Sermon hall for lay people, a
dormitory and hygienic kitchen, toilet facilities to encourage
and foster meditation retreats at Meethirigala.
P. W. Amarasekera, President of the Meethirigala
Nissarana Wanaya Preservation Board welcomed the guests and
thanked them for their presence. Daya Samarakoon (Australia ),
and the two Joint Secretaries of the Board, Chandrasiri
Sumanasekera and Vishantha Peiris also spoke.