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28th March 1999

Oh! holy city fathers

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Can we forgive them for they don't know what they do!

The Western Province Provincial Council together with the Colombo Municipal Council has taken an unprecedented step of re-naming a street in the country's capital city after a person who is not only living, but who also discarded the robes of a Buddhist monk, wore denim jeans and embraced Japanese style Mahanyanism sparking off a major uproar among the Buddhists of Sri Lanka in the early part of 1990.

Now, both the CMC and the Western Province Provincial Council whose leaders are going before the people, Buddhists included, for their votes are passing the buck on each other.

The Commissioner of Local Government who over-turned a circular issued by his own office, to avoid naming streets after living persons, deftly asks and advises The Sunday Times to ask the then Minister of Local Government, Vajira Pelpita why this was done.

The Sunday Times reproduces today an exclusive interview with Vipassi-Benpo of the Shingon-Su Order of Japan's Mahayana Sect published on November 11, 1990.

He had a thick black beard and was in blue denim jeans, a striped shirt and a pullover during the interview.

Q. Are you still in the bhikku order?

A. I am now a bhikku of the Mahayana sect.

Q. Was your decision to enter the Mahayana order a sudden decision?

A. It was not a sudden decision, but one taken after much thought. I decided on it for the love of the country and Buddhism. As a Theravadha bhikku, I am equipped with vast experiences. I know what happens within many temples. I also know the problems of young priests. I took my decision after carefully considering all these aspects.

Q. Sri Lanka is described as a country which has inherited the pure Theravada Buddhism. In this light, some condemn the move to bring Mahayana Buddhism into the country. What would you say about this?

A. Sri Lanka's Theravada Buddhism exists often only in name. Temples are filled with Theravada bhikkus, but within some of those temples are really Mahayana. There is no need to "introduce" Mahayanism as such. Are all the Theravada bhikkus strictly disciplined in their principles? Some chief priests, let alone the young priests, act with an inclination towards Mahayanism. There are other priests as well as dayakes who know better than I about what happens in temples. Need I elaborate more?

There should be some modernisation in the bhikku sasana. Otherwise, not only the bhikku sasana, but the existence of the religion will also be threatened. It is necessary for there to be a change in the bhikku sasana to ensure the existence of Buddhism. I believe that Mahayanism will shed some light.

Q. Do you believe that the country will also be benefited by Mahayanism?

A. Definitely yes. The Mahayana doctrine has greatly led to the development of countries such as Japan. The biggest problem in Sri Lanka, as I see it, is the poverty of the people who can hardly find their daily meals. What we should do is to save them from this suffering and not make them attain Nirvana. Some of our priests preach about after life and exploit the poor dayakes. We must first think about this life before we think of an after life. Theravada always reminds one about the uncertainty and sufferings of life. What is important today is to rescue people from sufferings. This is not the time to argue about what 'yana' to choose.

Instead of a system where the temple attracts money, there should be some system of distributing it. I have given Rs. 65 million to Sri Lanka's development work and charity.

Q. How did you come into possession of such a vast amount of money to be distributed like this? Are you also aware that there is criticism about the mode of distribution?

A. The way I got the money is no secret. I got this money from rich organisations in Japan. If I had all this money, I would have been the richest person in Sri Lanka. But I distributed this money, and gave some to Theravada temples also. It seems to be all right for those who shout of 'Mahayana terror' to receive money from Mahayana organisations. I have receipts with me to establish that some Theravada temples have received my money. So no one can now say that they did not receive these donations.

There is criticism even when someone tries to do something good. When I was progressing with my work, a number of persons tried to disrupt it by spreading false propaganda. I was greatly distressed by this and it led me to embrace Mahayanism sooner than anticipated.

Q. Why did you decide to leave the country in the midst of the Mahayana controversy?

A. I was aware of a secret plot against me. Certain authoritative people warned me to leave the country.

I became a Mahayana bhikku in June. There were large scale celebrations to mark the occasion. I entered the Shingon-Su order, which is one of the major orders of Japan. I handed over my Thervada robe to a Thai priest and after that I underwent a month of training under very difficult circumstances.

Q. Will you discontinue your donations to Sri Lanka?

A. No. I will continue to give donations to various organisations in Sri Lanka. In fact, I believe that I may be able to give more than the usual amount of donations.

Q. Do you propose to go back to Sri Lanka again?

A. I have no immediate plans to go back. In any case, I have no intention to go and reside in Sri Lanka.

And another interview also with The Sunday Times (published on January 12, 1992)with Vipassi-Benpo is reproduced below

Pelpola Vipassi who created a major controversy more than a year ago by embracing Mahayana Buddhism, was dressed in yellow and seated along with several Japanese priests. Although his dress was yellow I noticed that it was not a robe but a baggy pant and a long shirt which had been specially designed for the occasion.

"Pelpola Vipassi was blessed by two Sri Lankan Theravada monks, Ven. Keradwela Siri Sumangala Thera and Ven. Akuratiye Nandasara Thera who had been specially flown in for this occasion. Following are excepts.

Q. Are you not a member of the Buddhist clergy?

A. No. I am not in the clergy anymore. I have bid farewell to it.

Q. What is the difference between a Buddhist clergyman and a Buddhist priest?

A. There is a difference. Those who sacrifice their lives for a religious vision can be called priests like the ones in Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. This may be a new concept for Sri Lanka.

Q. If so, addressing you as Venerable Vipassi is wrong.

A. As I am a Buddhist priest this term might not suit me. Rather Vipassi is appropriate but there is nothing wrong in referring to a priest as monk. The term monk is applied to secular priests too.

Q. Do you plan to visit Sri Lanka?

A. I will. But I don't know when.

Q. You faced obstacles in Sri Lanka earlier. What do you think would happen now?

A. Even from Japan I wish to serve my country to the best of my ability. It is true that my work was obstructed when I embraced Mahayana but now that I have abandoned it, I see no reason for anyone to obstruct my work. However, if I am obstructed in future I will be forced to wage a political battle if necessary. I will even contest a seat.

So it seems that the City Fathers of Colombo, and Cabinet Ministers as well have re-named a road in Colombo "Ven. Pelpola Vipassi Himi Mawatha" when he called himself Plain Vipassi.

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