A rare mission of a bhikkhu in Florida | Sunday Observer

A rare mission of a bhikkhu in Florida

By Dr Nimal Sedera
By Dr Nimal Sedera

His mission I feel is an example to all bhikkhus. His beautiful effort of getting on well with the Churches, the Kovil and other places of worship in Florida is a lesson to be followed. His meditation programs in the Prison of Florida has turned the participants to better people, and all his work is voluntary.

The peaceful coexistence of faiths and religions has become a need of the hour to the world, especially, to a country such as ours. I was fortunate to come across a touching story of that nature in Florida, America and thought it would be opportune to share it with the people in my motherland.

In Clay Waters in Tampa, Florida, in the Unity Church, during the Christmas month of December, a special Buddhist function has been held every year for the past decade or more. The premises is decorated with Buddhist flags and the large Buddha statue is carried to the Church for this function. When this story was related to me in Brisbane, Australia, I was reluctant to believe it.

Ven. Dhammawansha a product of Maharagama, Dharmayathanaya visited Florida, USA in 1996, with a plan to return to Sri Lanka in two months. By then he had successfully completed the ‘Panditha’ examination. He took temporary shelter in a Vietnamese Buddhist temple on his arrival in Florida. It was a Sri Lankan Buddhist family that sponsored him to USA. They prefer to remain anonymous.

Destined to take roots in Florida, he returned to Sri Lanka only after seven years as a permanent citizen of USA. Dhammawansha thera was not very fluent in the English language at that time, but he was able to impress some Americans to try meditation. He spoke to them of the basic principles of Buddhism. The participants were impressed with his work and offered him accommodation, work to extend his visa and a lady from a rich family sponsored the priest to learn proper English at a school where they extend his studies to learn other religions. He was the first bhikkhu to that school and his dress and conduct won the hearts of the students and the staff of the college. Some of them began to attend his meditation classes.

Soon the support group to the monk formed an Association to promote his work. It was called the Dhamma Wheel Meditation Society. Most of the members belonged to the Unity Church. There were some Hindus too. They raised funds for the ‘Dhamma Wheel’ holding food fares at the Unity Church. The Minister of the Church befriended the Dhammawansha thera. They were happy that the Unity members improved their character through meditation. It was the Minister of the Church who suggested to the Buddhist monk to occupy the adjoining building to the church for ‘Dhamma Wheel’ when it fell vacant.

The members of the Unity Church, according to Dhammawansha thera became experts in meditation, they lived the Buddhist principles. They were a group of educated people and included doctors and professors.

The group insisted to have some kind of celebration to mark their change in lifestyle. They suggested that they be taken to the Buddhist religion. The monk explained that there is nothing called converting to the Buddhist religion. ‘You can live your life on Buddhist principles.’ On their suggestion a celebration was arranged by the Dhamma Wheel to mark their achievement. They proposed to have the function at the Unity Church which was well supported by the Church Minister. This festival more than a decade ago was held in the Church in the month of December. The five feet tall statue of the Buddha at the Society is taken to the Church for this event.

The church is decorated with Buddhist flags. Those who take the path of Buddha are dressed in white that day and as a symbol they adorn a yellow sash. In addition to their name, they get a Buddhist name too on this date. Prominent Sri Lankan Buddhist monks in USA travel to Florida to attend this annual function.

Last year, there were twelve who took to the Buddhist way of life and ten Buddhist monks attended the event. This year in the second week of December four Americans entered the Buddhist path and received Buddhist names such as, Sathimantha, Ananda, Dhamma Kusala and Pavithra. Six Sri Lankan monks and two Vietnam monks attended the event. Dhammawansha thera has a busy program conducting meditation classes on all seven days of the week.

He is the only Buddhist priest volunteer monk in Florida working with the prisoners of the Florida Jail. He works with the Satya Sai organisation every Thursday participating in the Dhamma discussion. He is invited to schools often to talk to senior students.

“They embrace the Buddhist teaching so quickly” Dhammawansha monk said. The members of the Dhamma Wheel Society are working on a felicitation volume to mark the 60th birthday of the monk to discuss the transformation of their lives with Dhamma through Ven Dhammawansha.

Some Americans toured Sri Lanka with the monk. “Last year a team of 12 visited Sri Lanka with me. They were thrilled visiting places like Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Sigiriya and Kandy. They were surprised at the respect the people have towards Buddhist monks.

I was so impressed with the mission of the monk that I accomplished his life story recently within the three months he spent in Brisbane this year.

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