The Venerable Henepola Gunaratana Nayake Thera — often known as “Bhante Gunaratana” or just as “Bhante G” — is 85 years old this week. He’s a well-known writer and a highly respected teacher, who has now lived in the US for 50 years. This tribute comes from the Sri Lankan monk and former parliamentarian, Ven. Udawatte Nanda Nayake Thera. (Wikipedia says Bhante G’s birthday is in December, but he’s such a noted figure that he can have two birthdays if he wishes!)
Born to Ekanayake Mudiyanselage Punchi Bandara Nilame and Herath Mudiyanselage Lokumenike on October 07, 1927 in a family of seven in Thumpane of Galagedara, the Ven Henepola Gunaratana Nayake Thera at his young age received education in Dehideniya Primary College and subsequently entered the monkhood under the tutelage of Ven. Karmacharya Kiribathkumbure Sonuttara Mahanayake Thera, the incumbent of Malandeniya Sri Vijayarama Pohoyamalu, Weuda, Kurunegala at the age of 14.
He received his primary education from Vidyasekera Pirivena, Gampaha Bandiyamulla and entered Peliyagoda Vidyalankara Maha Pirivena for higher education and subsequently received the Higher Ordination in 1947 at the Mangala Uposathagara Seema Malakaya of Malwatte Mahaviharaya. At the invitation of Most. Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera, Ven. Dr. Henepola Gunaratana Thera visited the First Theravadi Buddhist Temple in Washington – USA where he held the General Secretary post from 1968 to 1988 and ascended to the position of President there. During this period Ven. Nayake Thera engaged in the propagation of the Buddhism in the USA and several other countries.
Having admitted to a world renowned university in Washington Ven. Nayake Thera penned a research book on Buddhist ways of meditation for which work he was awarded a Doctorate and thereafter engaged in teaching the Buddhism in George Town University and many other Universities for more than 10 years as a lecturer.
The experience gathered through preaching the Buddhism and Vipassana Meditation in almost every State of the United State of America made the Ven. Nayake Thera think of the urgent need of a Training Centre to teach Theravada Buddhism, which prompted the registration of a dedicated Dhamma Centre with the government.
A portion of land located in Virginia more than 100 miles away from Washington was purchased for the purpose in 1984 and an Aranya Senasana was put up on a land in extent of 10 acres and later it was possible to purchase some other portions of adjoining lands. This place consists of a large meditation hall, a shrine room, a library, a conference hall and accommodation for both bhikkus and bhikkunis.
Sri Lankan devotees residing in distant States visit this seat of meditation with alms and beverages to be offered as was the practice in Sri Lanka.
In appreciation of the religious mission performed by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana Nayake Thera, the honorary title of ‘Sri Sonuttara Gunarathana’ and the position of Chief Sanghanayake of America was conferred on Ven Nayake Thera by the Most Venerable Mahanayake Anunayake Karaka Sangha Sabhawa of Mahaviharaya Chapter of the Syamopali Mahanikaya in 1996.
The government of Myanmar conferred the honorary title of ‘Aggamaha Pandita’ on Ven. Gunaratana Thera.
Devoting the entire life for religious interests of the people living in India, Malaysia, Europe, Australia and Africa the Most Ven. Nayake Thera has undertaken a noble mission following the teachings of the Buddha ‘Maniwatta Abhikkama’ (continue to proceed) facing many untold hardships, being away from the motherland, with perseverance: making use of every moment available for some productive purpose. Ven. Nayake Thera wrote and published a number of books in English and Sinhala.
He has ordained more than 25 Americans and taught ‘Samatha’ and ‘Vipassana’ meditation to many people abroad.
A felicitation ceremony has been organized in appreciation of the services rendered by Ven. Gunaratana Nayake Thera towards the Buddhasasana of Sri Lanka and throughout the world by his first disciple Ven. Katugasthota Uparathana Nayake Thera, incumbent of Maryland Buddhist Temple in Washington, America, Dr. in Sinhalese Language and Civilization – Foreign Affairs Ministry of the State Department of America, Advisor of Buddhist Affairs in Washington American University and the Chief Sanghanayake of America Ven. Talgaswewe Seelananda Thera in collaboration with the Meditation Society Performance Board and the subscribers in the vicinity of Washington along with ambassador of Sri Lanka in Washington Jaliya Wickramasooriya, deputy ambassador Esala Weerakoon and the staff.
An all night Pirith chanting was held on October 6 and an alms giving (Dana) on the following day and a felicitation ceremony in the afternoon.
Via the Sri Lanka Daily News