Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya: A responseJune 3, 2011, 6:15 pm
I refer to the letter under the heading ‘Meethirigala Arannaya’ by R. Somasiri which appeared in the Opinion Page of The Island on May 30, 2011 which was misleading as it lacked both clarity and accurate information. I wish to place the following details before the readers of your newspaper.
There is more than one Meditation Centre at Mitirigala. The oldest and biggest one is the Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya (Mitirigala Forest Hermitage). It is a monastery in the strict forest tradition. It is considered as one of Sri Lanka’s most respected meditation monasteries and was founded in 1967 by Asoka Weeraratne (the founder of the German Dharmaduta Society and the Berlin Buddhist Vihara in Germany). He equipped the monastery with all the facilities conducive to the meditative life, found an accomplished meditation master, Ven. Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera (author of Seven stages of Purifications and Seven Contemplations, both published by the BPS), to direct the meditation training, and then, his mission accomplished, he himself entered the Buddhist order under the name Dhammanisanthi in 1972. Ven. Dhammanisanthi passed away at the age of 80 in 1999.
The second Meditation centre is known as the Dharmayatana a place for Tipitaka studies which was later turned into a Vipassana meditation facility for monks. It was founded in the 1980s by Mr. N. Panditaratne, who had close connections to the UNP. He was either the Party President or Secretary during the regime of President of J.R. Jayewardene.
The Meethirigala Arannaya which Mr. R. Somasiri refers to is the Dharmayatana founded by Mr. Panditaratne and not the Nissarana Vanaya founded by Asoka Weeraratna. The latter is a large forest hermitage nearly 485 Acres in extent. The distinguished senior monk Venerable Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera was the first abbot and the meditation master. During his period Nissarana Vanaya became one of the most respected meditation monasteries of Sri Lanka due to the fame of its meditation master as well as its secluded and contemplative life where monks practised sincerely with the aspiration of attaining Nibbana in this very life.
Many foreign monks and lay people have also been trained and practised meditation under the guidance of Ven. Sri Nanarama Mahathera, including Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Panyawaro (Australian monk and now the webmaster of the BuddhaNet). The Sri Lankan monk Ven. Katukurunde Nanananda Thera (famous for his books Concept and Reality, Magic of the Mind and his series of 33 sermons on Nibbana) also had his initial training at the Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya under Venerable Matara Sri Nanarama Mahathera.
Due to his enormous influence on the revival and study of meditation techniques Ven. Nanarama was appointed as the head meditation master of a chain of forest monasteries throughout the island called Sri Kalyani Yogasrama Samsthava or Galduwa Samsthava. One of Ven. Nanarama greatest gifts was his ability to incorporate the Burmese Vipassana techniques into Sri Lankan meditation traditions and balance them with the teaching of Samatha meditation.
On his passing away in 1992 a senior pupil, Venerable Panaduwa Khemananda became the new abbot and meditation teacher and served the monastery for 15 years. With his death in July 2006 the then most senior meditation teacher Ven. Uda-Iriyagama Dhammajeewa Thera became the Chief Preceptor. . Ven. Dhammajeewa (or Dhammajiva) is fluent in English and Burmese and has translated several meditation guides and books from Burmese into English and Sinhalese. Apart from the years of training under Ven. Matara Sri Nanarama he had spent several years of training under Sayadaw U. Panditabhiwansa in Myanmar (Burma).
Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya currently has about 20 resident monks and it is well cared for by the Dayaka Sabha of the Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya Sanrakkshana Mandalaya, which is responsible for the maintenance and administration of the Meditation centre.
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