Buddhist Vihare at the London Games
Spiritual assistance is an unseen inner force that the majority of human beings seek. Sometimes the power of it is so great that it drives people to achieve, sustains their form or even gets them past a personal bad patch. With this in mind the Olympic organisers, over the years, have given the participants at the games assistance in five of the major religions in the world. Followers of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism have been provided with their own places of veneration at the Olympic Village.
The Olympic area is a huge place and the number of people who move about it is phenomenal. Yet once, while scampering about doing our duties, we came across a Buddhist monk who was ambling calmly through the area. Suspecting that he was from Sri Lanka, we inquired and the answer was affirmative. Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala – the Head of the London Buddhist Vihare and the Chief Sanga Nayaka of Great Britain is here at the village with a huge task on his hands.
How this responsibility was bestowed upon him and what his mission there was is quite interesting.The prelate explained, “The episode began about four years ago. I applied for the position of the Buddhist spiritualist for the Games and first I had to undergo a written test then an oral test which was followed by some telephone conversations. They were quite earnest in their line of questioning. One question that was asked was –‘If anyone who is seeking your spiritual care asks for asylum, how you would react?’ — I think I provided my answer to that very successfully and they were satisfied.”
He further explained, “After the tests we had to undergo a training programme, it was held in Hackney – quite close to the Games Village. There we were taught how to greet people and handle situations. The training programmes were followed by seminars. Then I began work at the village on July 16.”
Out of the twelve-thousand odd participants there are well over five hundred Buddhists from China, Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand, Chinese Taipei, Japan and Sri Lanka, the prelate explained. According to the programme he has to begin at 7 am and go on till 3 p.m. or else begin at 2 pm. and work for eight hours. “Yet, I consider this as a privilege rather than a duty. I think this is also an honour for Sri Lanka and the Lankan community in England.”
Once Ven. Seelawimala was handed the task, the organisers visited the London Buddhist Vihare and brought enough equipment from there so that they could put up a miniature temple at the Games’ location. “There are days when over fifteen persons visit the temple at the Games Village and there are days when the numbers are lower than that. My duty is to do a round of meditation with them, answer any of their queries and then invoke blessings on them by chanting pirith.”
When asked if any of the athletes who have visited him have won medals, the prelate said that he had not kept a count of that, but he is aware that the Chinese and the Korean athletes are doing really well and he will not be surprised if some of them have already climbed onto the victory stand.
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