Sri Lanka Express

Dharma Vijaya's "excruciating birth pangs" recalled at stupa unveiling ceremony

"I feel vindicated" - Dr. Gamini Jayasinghe
 Ven. Walpola Piyananda, Chief Abbot & founding member of DVBV
 Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam lighting the traditional oil lamp.
Story & event photos by Hassina Leelarathna
 It was a long-drawn out event lasting nearly three hours, with several lengthy speeches  that didn’t lack for whopping doses of praise and tribute, attended by dozens of Buddhist monks, a leading MP from SL, the Sri Lankan ambassador, and about 200 from the local expat community.    

Conducted solely in English, the stupa unveiling ceremony at Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles, May 20, was in a way reflective of the slow but steady rise of the temple from its troubled beginnings in 1980. 

As the temple’s principal founding member Dr. Gamini Jayasinghe declared in his address to the audience: “Today in this “LA Village,” after 37 years, the cycle is complete.  We have these wonderful Sadhus headed by Venerable Walpola Piyananda, the budu-ge, the Bo tree, and finally the dagaba or stupa.”
  Dr.  Gamini Jayasinghe
  MP Udaya Gammanpila
  Buddhist monks lining up to place flowers at the new stupa.
Dr. Jayasinghe, promising to take the audience “down memory lane,” recalled that Dharma Vijaya suffered “excruciating birth pangs” before its opening in 1980.

He was referring to the eviction of Ven. Piyananda from the Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara, the first Sri Lankan temple in California, following several months of tensions brought about by a “power struggle” centering on the extent of control lay devotees (dayakas) had over the temple and its monks.  The ouster decision was taken by the dayakas while the monk was away on a visit to Sri Lanka.  Upon his return, in January 1980, Ven. Piyananda was served with a 30-day legal notice to quit the temple premises, effectively rendering him homeless.   

“I call Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara “the temple that was born on the streets of LA”.  That’s where the monks were stranded in mid 1980,” Dr. Jayasinghe said. 

Subsequently, several Sri Lankan doctors rallied to purchase a new building which became DVBV.  “In drafting the DVBV constitution, we enshrined this principle: venerable monks [will be] in total charge.  … Today, practically every Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in the US follows our leadership and constitution.”
Students of the ThathJith dance classes in Anaheim & Crenshaw performing “Samindu Vadinava Bo.”  ("සමිඳු වඩිනවා බෝ).Performers: Chirantha , Malaka , Paboda , Sanduni , Upuli , Nishagi & Ayesha. Costumes by - Amila Prabath Samaranayaka: make up by  Nishadi Abeywardena.  The ThathJith Dance Academy was founded by Prasanna Yamasinghe. This photo courtesy Sadeepa Herath. 
Dr. Jayasinghe said he feels “totally vindicated” seeing the strides the temple has made and its role in the Los Angeles community.  “DVBV monks gave leadership in funding the Sangha Council of Southern California and the Southern California Inter-Religious Council.  DVBV monks serve as chaplains at UCLA and USC.  Our monks are at the forefront in feeding the homeless in Los Angeles,” he said.   

Ambassador Prasad Kariyawasam echoed similar praise.  Conveying  good wishes from President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremasinghe, he called Ven. Piyananda “a good diplomat” with a reputation for helping and working with Sri Lankans and others alike.  “It has been a long walk  from [the village of] Walpola to California,” Mr. Kariyawasam said.  

The ambassador said Buddhism is spreading fast because it is a peaceful religion, adding “Monks who are running temples here are our frontline [diplomats] in spreading Buddhism.”   

Member of Parliament Udaya Gammanpila in his address touched on the core values and importance of “Sinhala Buddhism.”  He said while there’s just one doctrine there are “many colors of Buddhism” and the Sinhalese transformed the Buddhist philosophy into a way of life.  The values of Sinhala Buddhism and its future role was first recognized by Dr. Ananda Coomaraswamy “who was neither a Sinhalese or a Buddhist.” 
    The stupa being unveiled.
In 1907, when Sir Henry Edward McCallum assumed duties as governor of Ceylon, he sought the advice of Dr.Coomaraswamy who wrote back  that whatever he did he should not destroy Sinhala Buddhist rural culture.  According to Mr. Gammanpila, Dr. Coomaraswamy believed that “within a century the whole world will be in crisis, full of unrest triggered by lack of resources….. The solution will lie in the simple compassionate life that exists in Sri Lankan Buddhist rural culture.”

As predicted, said Mr. Gammanpila,  the world is in the throes of numerous crises and none of the western philosophies, from Marxism to capitalism, have been able to offer a solution.  “According to Dr. Coomaraswamy, we’re the only nation that possesses a solution to these crises.  What do we do about it? “

Gammanpila concluded that as Sinhala Buddhists “we’re duty-bound to preserve this culture and spread it to the rest of the world.  Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara led by Ven. Dr. Walpola Piyananda is performing this duty.   It has now emerged as the center of Buddhist activities not only in California but also in the entire USA.” 

The visiting parliamentarian thanked Mr. Oliver Namal Gamage for sponsoring the stupa.

Ven. Professor Kotapitiye Rahula, Director of the Pali and Buddhist Postgraduate Institute of the University of Kelaniya and Professor of Pali at the Peradeniya University also addressed the gathering.  

Ven. Maitipe Wimalasara conducted the ceremony. 

Students of the Thathjith Dance school performed a dance choreographed for this special occasion.