Ven. Pitiduwe Siridhamma Thera turned Siri Samantha Bhadra has been the focal point in society and his recent statements and his life style as a Buddhist monk have created many a controversy. He has been accused of attempting to ruin the Buddha Sasana. Ven. Thera has been subject to slashing criticism that he is not a sensible person. What is the Ven. Thera’s response to the allegations leveled against him?
Q: Ven. Sir, are you a follower of the Theravada or Mahayana school of Buddhism?
Even the word Mahayana frightens the people in Sri Lanka. When one wants to attack me one would say I am a Mahayanist. But I dare say that there isn’t anyone else who knows pure Theravada teaching as I. It is absolutely a false allegation that I am a Mahayanist.
Q:You have changed your name Pitaduwa Siridhamma to Samantha Bhadra, and what made you change your name?
Now you ask me whether I am Pitaduwe Siridhamma or Siri Samantha Bhadra. I changed my name in keeping with my philosophical advancement. However, I am still Pitiduwe Siridhamma. I use my previous name for my literary pursuits. You know that Ven. Henpitagedara Gnanasiha used the name Mayurapada as the writer of his articles. Anyone is at liberty to change his name and the Sri Lankan constitution has provided for it. Journalists write under different names. When I change my name it is subject to criticism.
Q: The Mahasangha in the country and even the lay society have levelled allegations against you. What is your response to such allegations?
A group of individuals entered the Ashram by force and attempted to assault me. In another incident an organised gang waylaid me and attempted to assault me when I was on my way to preach a sermon. I was subject to criticism even by the media. It is going on unchecked. But I have been able to stand aloof of any attack. One, who makes allegations, must prove them. The world today is entirely different from the world of previous days and the people nowadays are more intelligent than their predecessors. They are not gullible to everything that appears in the newspapers. People paid more and more attention to me due to the publicity given by my critics. They were divided in opinion. One group was for me and the other against. But I want those who are neutral for unbiased discussion on my preaching. I am not prepared to accept any allegation unless supported with facts. The Buddha has laid down in Majjima Nikaya, Chabbi Sodhana Sutta that a statement of a monk who has attained any ecstasy should not be accepted or rejected. His views should be discussed amicably. Pindola Bharadvaj Thera once said he practised meditation, concentration and attained wisdom and that he was an Arahat. Other monks were displeased with this statement. The Buddha who heard their complaint said in fact Pindola Bharadvaj was an Arahat. Anyone can show me the shortcomings, if any, in my preaching. I preach Theravada Buddhism.
Q: Buddha’s teaching is based on cause and effect. As you said anything that happens should have a cause. Then there must be a reason for criticism against you, isn’t it?
There are many reasons. Some individuals do not appreciate my views. If my preaching is wrong they must come out with a factual criticism. I am prepared for a public debate with anyone who wants to criticise my teachings. It will be a Dhamma Forum and not a riot that demands baton charging.
Q:You have been accused of attempting to ruin the Buddha Sasana. How do you respond to this allegation?
I ask them what damage have I done to the Buddha Sasana? Everybody thinks that the temple buildings are the Buddha Sasana. I tell them that Buddha Sasana means the disciplining of one’s mind. Spiritual development and physical resources are far apart. Even Welivita Saranankara Maha Thera was subject to criticism. There were monks who maintained families, had children, and looked after the temple property and even held the post of Village Headman. Ven. Saranankara Thera said they were not Buddhist monks and that they were leading a life unbecoming of Buddhist monks. They accused Ven. Thera of attempting to ruin the Buddha Sasana and even complained to the king. Anyone has the freedom to criticise my preaching, but I invite them for discussion. They must be prepared to question me on any matter pertaining to meditation, and the noble eightfold path which is a way leading to Nibbana.
Q: Buddhist monks have a traditional dress which is respected by the lay society. But some of your garbs in some photos were a matter of concern to the Buddhists. Particularly the one in which you were wearing a T-shirt.
It is a very good question. When we visit a country with a cold climate we wear a T-shirt under the robes. We do so when we even visit Nuwara Eliya. Any Buddhist monk has to do it. However, the T-shirt should be the colour of the robe and not any other colour. That particular photo had been taken at Ritigala forest when I was preparing to have a bath. We were on our way from Nuwara Eliya. The gang that entered the Ashram by force and stole my camera and other property had found that photo which they used for their mud slinging campaign.
Q: This is the first time I visited the Siri Sadaham Ashram. This is like a palace. Why do you have such a mansion?
This was formerly Sir Baron Jayatilleka’s residence. We purchased it with the help of the donors and turned it into an Ashram. You must visit the upper compound as well to find the Cheithiya, and several other features of a temple. Please tell others also to visit this Ashram.
Q: You claim to have realised Nirvana. What is the stage you have attained?
I have realised the truth. Anyone who does not accept it must come and meet me and decide. The Lord Buddha after attaining Buddhahood went in search of the five disciples. The Buddha met Upaka, a householder on the way. Lord Buddha said, “I am the only Arahat in the world. I have attained Buddhahood and I am on my way to Uruwela to preach the noble eightfold path.” However, Upaka found it beyond understanding. He said let it be so and went his way. Great men in the world have often been subject to slashing attacks, but they are worshiped after death.
Q: How did you realise Nibbana; was it through meditation?
One can never realise Nibbana through meditation. He must follow the noble eightfold path and the four noble truths. I preach paramount truth that is interwoven with life. It is not a dead letter. It is for the wise and not for the individuals who stick to the age-old misconceptions.
Q:You have realised Nibbana and you will not be reborn again. It is the truth, isn’t it?
I am confident, that I will not be reborn. But you must not accept it. If you accept it without enquiry it is foolhardiness. You must ask me how I attained that position.
Q:The doors of media institutions were closed for you after you claimed that you realised Nibbana.
Some media institutions did so at the instigations of an organised group of Buddhist monks. However, there are media personnel who are not gullible to such instigations. So they listened to my preaching and after realising that there was something worthwhile in it, decided to give it publicity.
Q:One of the most serious allegations against you was made by a woman who claimed to have a child by you. She went to court. What was that incident?
Not one woman, several women came to me with children. One of them distributed a leaflet that she had a child by me. She went to court. I have never seen that woman. I did not appear in court. Mr. Wijedasa Rajapakshe appeared for me. The woman told court that I harassed her using my mental power. She failed to prove her charges and ultimately I was exonerated and acquitted. About a year later that woman came with a handful of lotus flowers and apologised to me for making a false allegation. One day when I was conducting a meditation session, a woman who appeared all of a sudden with a child shouted out that I was the child’s father. I preferred to be silent. A gentleman in the crowd caught and handed her over to the police. Police investigated the incident to find that she was not stable in her senses. I faced problems similar to those faced by the Buddha.
Q: Another allegation against you is that you resort to Bodhisathwa worship.
As Theravadians we believe in Maithree Bodhisathwa. A statue of the Maitree Bodhisathwa is found also in the Bellanwila temple. I entered the order at the Galle Wijeyananda temple where there is a large statue of the Maitree Bodhisathwa. You will find a similar statue near the Ruwanweliseya in Anuradhapura. We refuse the worship of gods in Hinduism. However, we must never insult god worship. If the Buddhists give up the worship of gods and switch to the worship of Maithree Bodhisathawa I find nothing wrong with it.