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11 December 2013 06:31 pm - 2     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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By Ven. Walpola Piyananda
Chief Sangha Nayake of America


A ten-year-old boy from Matara was taken up to Colombo by Ven Galaboda Devananda Nayake Thera and handed over to Ven. Vacissara Nayake Thera of Gangaramaya. The well- known monk Ven. Morontuduwe Sri Dhammananda read the young boy’s horoscope and determined that he was suitable for ordination as a Samanera. The wise Venerable said he was ‘a saviour who should be ordained for the welfare of everybody”.

Eight days after his arrival in Colombo, on November 8, 1954, the boy was ordained and given the name Galaboda Gnanissara Thera. It didn’t take long for the ten-year-old to become a favourite at the temple, and they nick-named the active child ‘Podi Hamudurwo’ because of the smallness of his physical stature and his quick energy. To this day Ven. Gnanissara is still known as ‘Podi Hamuduruwo’ even though he grew up to become one of the greatest world figures of modern Buddhism.
The talented young Samanera quickly caught the attention of four of the highest-ranking Sangha members in Sri Lanka: Ven. Morontuduwe Dhammananda Nayake Maha Thera, Ven. Welewitiye Soratha Nayake Maha Thera, Ven. Dehigaspe Pannasara Nayake Maha Thera and Ven. Kotagama Wacchissara Maha Thera. They protected, educated, and mentored him and most of all, they blessed him and his future life - understanding full-well his potential as a vital force for both the Sasana and the general welfare of the people of Sri Lanka.

Ten years later, on June 21, 1964 he received his higher ordination at the Malwatta Viharaya in Kandy at the historic Poya Ge.

‘Podi Hamuduruwo’ was educated at the Vidyodaya (now Sri Jayawardenapura) University and graduated in 1967. He was not able to study for higher degrees because of the illness of the Gangaramaya Nayake Thera who depended on him to administer the affairs of the temple. This is the period when he started to explore his humanitarian leanings, and put his focus on the country’s underprivileged youth.

One day young Podi Hamuduruwo caught the attention of Mr. William Gopallawa, the first President of Sri Lanka, when he visited Gangaramaya for a religious service. A close relationship with the statesman developed from that day onward and Mr. Gopallawa treated the young monk as if he were his own son.
Two of Podi Hamuduruwo’s most notable characteristics, recognised even at this early age, are confidence and fearlessness. He has demonstrated these two strong traits time and again over the last five decades by expanding Gangaramaya’s programmes for the poor, implementing his visions of social welfare and speaking out for what he knew was right.

A good example of this trait was when President J. R. Jayewardene, another close friend of Podi Hamuduruwo, made an ill-advised pact with India in 1987 that didn’t sit well with him and many others. Instead of taking his friend’s side in the issue, Podi Hamuduruwo took the opposite side and participated with the people of Sri Lanka in public demonstrations against the pact. He put his relationship with the President in jeopardy but he won the respect of many, and his view on this issue has since been proven to be correct. Mr. Jayewardene later said that if Podi Hamuduruwo had been a layperson he would have appointed him to the highest Cabinet position in the land. He admired the young monk’s charisma, leadership, wisdom, and fearlessness.

Speaking of Presidents, Podi Hamuduruwo is a close friend and confidant of Sri Lanka’s current President Mahinda Rajapaksa. They have known each other for three decades.

Not restricting his role in life as a Buddhist monk who performed the traditional rituals, “Podi Hamuduruwo’ began creating a variety of social programmes for the benefit of the people of Sri Lanka. During the last thirty years he funded vocational and technical schools at both Gangaramaya and Kataragama. Literally thousands of young men have received free education in various vocations that enabled them to work and support their families thus leading productive lives.Twenty years ago he set up a programme in Kataragama for Colombo’s homeless people, and he provided education, counselling and vocational training for these unfortunate citizens in the process of rehabilitation. Thanks to Ven. Gnanissara, one rarely sees beggars or homeless people on the streets of our capital - as we do so often here in Los Angeles or San Francisco or in other big American cities where there are no such far-sighted programmes in place.

Other projects Podi Hamuduruwo developed in the Kataragama area are orphanages for children and a hundred-bed guesthouse for pilgrims visiting the sacred sites in the area. On one occasion he went to Taiwan where he persuaded a group of devotees there to donate thousands of bicycles which he distributed free to the underprivileged in Kataragama.

My favourite example of Ven. Gnanissara’s genius is the way he decided to improve the appearance of the country’s young monks. He noticed that they weren’t trimming their hair properly or rather not often enough. When he inquired he discovered that the razors they used in the temples were old, dull and painful to use and shaving their heads became something they would rather do without, Podi Hamuduruwo’s answer was to buy two thousand sets of hair clippers and offer them to monks throughout the island. He started this programme twenty years ago and he still performs this act of generosity to this day.

Another favourite example that demonstrates Podi Hamuduruwo’s practical nature is his programme to clean and modernize all the bathroom facilities in Pirivenas all over the country. An important part of this programme was to train the young monks how to use and maintain the facilities since many of them were from rural areas and had no knowledge of such devices or understood the personal hygiene that went along with using them.

His generosity and broad vision led him to help the Buddhists in other countries as well. A good example is the frequency of his visits to Burma to offer alms to Burmese monks. He developed talented assistants such as Ven. Dr. Kirinde Assaji and Ven. Dr. Palegama Ratanasara who help him to administer the vast array of programmes he has created under the aegis of the Gangaramaya temple.

Another of his gifted students is Ven. Henbunne Kondanna who oversees five temples in the Metropolitan New York City Area and other temples in Chicago and Boston as well. Ven. Gnanissara was the founder of the first Buddhist Vihara in New York City and brought well- known scholar monk Ven. Kurunagoda Piyatissa to be its abbot.
Ven. Siyabalagoda Ananda Thera is another good example of Podi Hamuduruwo’s positive influence and good training; he is the founder and the abbot of the Arizona Buddhist Vihara in Phoenix. Ven. Witarandeniya Kassapa, the abbot of the Birmingham Buddhist Vihara in the UK is another of Podihamudurawo’s disciple. Several dozen of students have been trained under Ven. Gnanissara’s aegis in temples in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and several European countries.

Podi Hamuduruwo and I have known each other for over fifty years. He is one of my closest friends and confidants. He is a brilliant, visionary, energetic monk, who has performed a vast number of meritorious deeds during his life, and his influence has spread around the world.

I offer him congratulations on his 70th birthday on December 14th and wish him a long life and the blessings of the Noble Triple Gem.


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  Comments - 2

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  • Cindy Montrose Friday, 13 December 2013 10:55 AM

    Podi Hamuduruwo is very good. He can get many things done. He developed the Gangaramaya to a high standard and the perehara is an international event.

    Das Friday, 13 December 2013 11:48 AM

    From where did he get funds for his projects.


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