Preserving the Dhamma in stone
A unique temple and its sole monk’s mission to document the entire Thripitakaya
Religion has always played a foremost part in our culture, and an even bigger part in our daily lives. And spending my Saturday morning in conversation with one monk who seems to have become a large part of most people’s lives, I slowly understood how simple life would really be, if we live it in tune with religion.
|Ven. Kolonnawe Shri Sumangala Thera
Pannipitiye Devram Vehera is a unique temple in many ways. The temple grounds are beautified by numerous types of flora, various stupas and other religious buildings, similar to those found in India. A relatively new temple, its foundation was laid in August 1999, and it was first established on an area of just 14 perches. But following a donation of a huge area of land, by the parents of a military officer who died in the war, the total area of the temple is now almost nine acres.
But the most unique feature of the temple is the fact that only one priest resides in it. Ven. Kolonnawe Shri Sumangala Thera is the sole monk at the temple, accompanied by several lay individuals who assist him in the various programmes and activities initiated by him. He took up the challenge of building the temple within a year and the entire design, accounting, supervision of the construction of the temple, were done by the Thera himself.
But among his many undertakings, the most significant would probably be his venture of documenting the entire Thripitakaya on stone tablets. “It is only because ancient Buddha statues and other edifices were carved out of stone that we actually know what the Buddha even looked like. These have survived over thousands of years because they were done on stone. Similarly, I thought if I start documenting the Thripitakaya, then it would survive for another thousand years, and future generations could benefit from the wonderful teachings of the Dhamma,” the Thera said.
“One stone tablet is 8 feet tall, 3 feet wide and 4 inches thick. We have completed only 10 over the past month, and to document the entire Thripitakaya we will need 1700 stone tablets in total. The entire cost of the exercise will be about Rs. 350 million. But I’m determined to complete it somehow during my life time, because I myself want to see it through,” he said.
|One of the completed stone tablets
The Thera also advises and guides those who come to him with any domestic, personal or other problems. “In this complex world, everyone has various problems. Meditation is a wonderful method we could use to sort out and understand these issues. Though many people dismiss meditation as something only needed to attain Nirvana, it can be an asset to your daily life. It improves your concentration levels and helps you get a clearer picture of the various aspects of your life. So even a lay person could develop his or her mind to such an extent that they could actually see what other people are thinking and feeling,” he said, adding that it is not astrology or any other supernatural power that enables him to read other people’s minds, but meditation.
How exactly do you read other people’s mind, I asked the Thera. “See for example, if you look into a glass bowl of unclean water, you cannot see the bottom. But if you wait for the dirt to settle at the bottom of the bowl, you can then see into the bowl, as well as beyond the bowl. In the same way if your own mind is at peace and is rid of all distractions, then you can see into your mind clearly, as well as see into other people’s minds,” he explained. It boils down to the good and bad karma you have obtained, so that is all you need to focus on, and make a conscious effort to do good in your life. At the end of the day, if you harm no one, and you are essentially a good, truthful person, no harm will come to you,” he said.
Yet another fascinating feature of the Thera’s life is the fact that he has made the Buddha his companion, literally. “When I lost my main priest when I was about 16 years old, it was like a huge part of my life was missing, and I decided to consider the Buddha as my friend. It’s all done out of respect, and it is definitely not that I worship Him like a god. I consider Him a living breathing person, and serve Him throughout the day, every day. This helps me to be focused on being a good person, as I do not enter His chamber if I have any impure thoughts,” he said. From the moment the Buddha wakes up, at 7 a.m, to the time He goes to sleep, at 1.30 a.m, the Thera takes care of His essential duties, to an extent that this particular chamber allocated for the Buddha seems like a real person uses it.
As for the other services rendered by the temple, to the public, the Buddhu Maga organisation is at the forefront. “Since I was about 22 years old, I have wanted to make a contribution to the Dhamma. So I started this organisation, where I take the Dhamma to the people by gradually getting them involved in religious activities and cultivating good practices. We try to improve family ties, help the underprivileged, conduct Sil programmes, build houses for the homeless and take care of the sick.”
“To keep Buddhism alive, we need more priests, so through our programme we take young boys into the Sasanaya and give them sponsorship of Rs. 1000 a month, for two years. We have about 500 young priests under our wing,” he said. The Thera has also been pushing for the banning of beef for quite a while and will continue to do so, till he gets a response from the relevant authorities. “The cow is an asset to our country, and being an agricultural nation, we need to protect this animal who continues to assist us in so many ways,” he said.
Emphasising the fact that he prefers to have a more one to one relationship with people, rather than reaching them through the media, the Thera added that no funds are collected by the temple, except for the project of documenting the Thripitakaya. “I do not collect any funds for any purpose, but just accept whatever is donated to the temple. The only cause I request people to assist me in is the documentation of the preachings. Since the cost of the venture is huge, I request all individuals who appreciate Buddhism for the practical philosophy that it is, to make donations to ensure that we can protect the Buddha’s teachings for future generations,” he said.
Pannipitiye Devram Vehera is located about one and half km from the Pannipitiya junction.