Vote of Thanks to Dr. Ananda Guruge
Posted on November 3rd, 2013

by Senaka Weeraratna

‚ October 27, 2013

‚ (An edited version of a Vote of Thanks proposed by Mr. Senaka Weeraratna to Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge upon the delivery of a bilingual talk on the topic -Ëœ The Role of Sri Lanka in the growth of Buddhism in India in the new millennium-â„¢ ‚ on Sunday October 27, 2013 at 2.30 p.m. at the “Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya”, Colombo 05)

Mr. Chairman, Members of the Maha Sangha, Dr. Ananda Guruge, our invited guests, ladies and gentlemen!

It’s my privilege and honour to propose a vote of thanks to our distinguished guest speaker Dr. Ananda Guruge on this occasion.

I on behalf of the Indo -” Sri Lanka Buddhist Network which is sponsoring this event in association with SUCCESS Sri Lanka, German Dharmaduta Society, Buddhist Cultural Centre and the International Buddhist Centre, Wellawatte, Colombo 06 as well as on my behalf wish to extend a very hearty thanks to Dr. Ananda Guruge, for having accepted our invitation to grace this occasion and share with us some valuable thoughts and insights on a subject that is becoming of immense importance to the‚  Buddhists of both Sri Lanka and India, and the maintenance of a cordial relationship between the two countries.

 

SenakawMr. Senaka Weeraratna, Co – ordinator, Indo – Sri Lanka Buddhist Network, proposing the Vote of Thanks to Dr. Ananda Guruge.

Eminent Buddhist Scholar

‚ Dr. Ananda Guruge is an eminent Buddhist scholar. He is perhaps the last of the -Ëœgiants-â„¢ from Sri Lanka in terms of renown Buddhist scholarship that makes the world to continue to look up to Sri Lanka. Dr. Guruge is a source of immense pride to us in Sri Lanka and this is best illustrated whenever we attend International Buddhist Conferences particularly those organized by the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB). The proceedings of these Conferences are usually managed by Dr. Guruge. He is the lynchpin of these meetings. By this and other ways Dr. Guruge has kept the flag of Sri Lanka flying at these Conferences and International Buddhist gatherings.

The speech he gave today is especially significant. It is meant to be seen and treated as a road map on how Sri Lanka and particularly the Buddhists of this country can help our fellow co -” religionists in India. It is sweet music to our ears to learn that Buddhism has returned to India in the 20th century and it is now growing rapidly particularly in the Dalit communities which comprise about 25% of the Indian population i.e. 300 million people. These Dali communities see in Buddhism the panacea or solution to the horror of the Caste system in India.

Dhamma Revolution in India

For more than 2,000 years, the Indian community has been divided into castes and sub-castes in a system of -graded inequality- that degrades people for life based on their birth.‚ ‚  The Dalits -” the people formerly known as the -untouchables-â„¢ and ‚ later called -ËœHarijans-â„¢ (children of God) a term coined by Mahatma Gandhi, are forced to live apart from other communities and pushed to do only the filthiest and most menial work including cleaning human waste. They are usually denied proper education, health care, adequate housing or jobs, and they frequently become the victims of violence, including torture, rape and murder.

In Casteism we find one of the most pervasive and entrenched systems of social oppression in the world today, resulting in the degradation, enslavement and oppression of more than 300,000,000‚ people. ‚ It is a blot on India that it still persists to this day despite the valiant efforts on the part of innumerable number of right thinking people belonging to all sectors of the Indian community to eradicate this repressive menace from Indian society.

Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, one of the greatest social reformers of the 20th century, was a Dalit leader who was determined to reform Indian society and remove the caste system. Dr. Ambedkar realized that the gain of political and legal rights would never be enough to liberate his people from the social and cultural oppression of the caste system.‚  He saw with great foresight that the solution lay in changing religions.‚  On that historic day i.e. October 14, 1956 he took the revolutionary step of publicly converting to Buddhism in Nagpur together with nearly 400, 000 people and thereby encouraging similar conversions throughout India.‚  He saw in Buddhism an ideal religion, a spiritual tradition free of prejudice, and one that befits modern society because it teaches a path to attain wisdom and develop compassion to all living beings, supports tolerance and human rights, and answers the deep spiritual needs of all people.

Though Dr. Ambedkar passed away on December 6, 1956 i.e. only six weeks after his conversion, the movement that he started has helped to bring Buddhism back to millions of people in India. Buddhism has returned to India after nearly 1000 years of absence. Today India has become the scene of a most extraordinary social movement. Inspired by Dr. Babasahab Ambedkar, recently (2012) named by a popular vote in India as the most influential Indian since Mahatma Gandhi, millions of people from the lowest strata of Indian society have embraced Buddhism and thus rejecting the shame and dishonor imposed by the Caste system.

In thousands of Indian villages and towns the Dalit people have built shrines in their homes carrying pictures of both Lord Buddha and Dr. Ambedkar -” a man they idolize, revere and look up to as a Bodhisattva.‚ On the 14th day of October every year over a million Dalit Buddhists from all over India visit Nagpur to congregate at the site of the original conversion of Dr. Ambedkar to reconnect and gain spiritual strength by fraternizing with members of the new Indian Buddhist community.

We in Sri Lanka must appreciate that despite many handicaps, the new Indian Buddhists of dalit background are working today to create a righteous society in India and develop their knowledge and understanding of the Buddha Dharma.‚ We have heard from Ven. Rahula Bodhi and other Indian Buddhist friends who have recently visited Sri Lanka that in many places of India, temples and meditation centers have been established and new social projects have been launched and new generations of young Buddhists are working together to translate into reality Dr. Ambedkar-â„¢s vision of social justice and personal growth based on the enlightened teachings of the Buddha.

Buddhists anywhere are natural friends of Sri Lanka

I have read an account of Buddhism in China written by an Indian Journalist and published in the -ËœAsian Age-â„¢ a few years ago. The article quoted a senior official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China as saying that the Chinese attitude towards the religion of foreigners could be summed up as follows -Ëœif you are a Buddhist then you are a Chinese.-â„¢ It reflects how well entrenched Buddhism had become in Chinese society and civilization.

I believe that the position was no different in Sri Lanka particularly in the pre-colonial period. If you are a Buddhist then you are one of us. That was how our ancestors and forefathers looked at fellow Buddhists from overseas. The presumption was always in favour of the view that -˜ a Buddhist living anywhere in the world was a natural friend of Sri Lanka-™. It is from this angle that we must look at Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar and his colossal efforts and services to uplift Buddhism in India following the footsteps of the great Anagarika Dharmapala.

The destiny of Buddhism and the destiny of Sri Lanka are inter- twined. The close relationship of the Sinhala people with Buddhism for over two millennium is a historical fact. The development of our culture integrating both these factors ensured the survival of both particularly when Buddhism had virtually disappeared from India. Sri Lanka is essentially a Buddhist country and Buddhism being a non -” violent religion, teaches us to live in peace and harmony with adherents of other faiths as well as with all living creatures. The moral community of Buddhism encompasses all.

As Buddhists we must accept Dr. Ambedkar as one of us, a fellow Buddhist and co -” religionist, ‚ and therefore we are obliged to honour and treasure his memory at both national and international levels. In the pre -” colonial period ever since the historic encounter between King Dharma Asoka-â„¢s emissary and son Arahant Mahinda and King Devanampiyatissa in the 3rd century BC there has developed huge civilizational links between Sri Lanka and India through the radiance and overarching influence of Buddhism. These links must be preserved and continued despite the occasional hiccups due to the vagaries of politics.

Having thanked Dr. Ananda Guruge for his insightful address, I would like to take this opportunity to place on record our hearty thanks and gratitude to several others for their noteworthy contributions.

Extending thanks to several others

Mr. Chairman, an event like this cannot happen overnight. The wheels started rolling a few weeks ago. It requires planning and a bird-â„¢s eye for details. We have been fortunate enough to be backed by a team of very highly motivated and dedicated individuals from SUCCESS Sri Lanka led by the indefatigable and energetic Dr. Lilaknath Weerasinghe, the current President and ably backed by the generous Dr. H.B. Jayasinghe, the former President of SUCCESS, ‚ with both of whom I have had the privilege of having extended discussions on matters of mutual interest over a few days while attending the 26th General Conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Yeosu, South Korea last year.

Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi Thera has to be thanked especially. A significant proposal made by Ven Kirama Wimalajothi Thera for the establishment of an Institute in honour of ‚ -ËœDr. Babasaheb Ambedkar-â„¢ ‚ on a 2 acre plot of land in extent in Arraula, Pannipititya is now taking shape. ‚ This Centre will provide residential facilities as well as training opportunities for visiting Indian Buddhist monks. Ven. Wimalajothi Thera was also instrumental in getting the Sri Sambuddhathwa Jayanthi Mandiraya to release to us this Auditorium for our use today at a heavy discount.

Ven. Banagala Upatissa Nayake Thera (President of the Maha Bodhi Society) and members of the Executive Committee of the Maha Bodhi Society went out of the way to welcome and host Indian Buddhist delegates on two occasions in the course of this year and ensure that the memory of the services of Dr. Ambedkar will be treasured in Sri Lanka through the installation of a statue in honour of Dr. Ambedkar at the premises of the Headquarters of Maha Bodhi Society in Maligakanda, side by side with the statue of Anagarika Dharmapala.

Ven. Medagama Dhammananda Thera and Ven. K. Punnyaratne of the Asgiriya Maha Vihara Karaka Sabha are present here today. They have noting the importance of the event arrived here today despite their Kathina Pinkama commitments back home in Kandy. They have been very supportive of these endeavours throughout.

I must also acknowledge without fail the presence here today of several eminent monks particularly the Most Venerable Dr. Ittapane Dhammalankara Anunayaka Thero (acting head of the Kotte Sector of the Siyam Maha Nikaya), and Ven. Maharagama Mahinda Thero (Viharadikari, International Buddhist Centre, Wellawatte).

Mr. Jagath Sumathipala, President of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress, though he is not present here today because of pre-arranged commitments elsewhere, has given his fullest support to this movement , has seen and monitored its growth from the very inception of the Indo -” Sri Lanka Buddhist Network in Bangkok, Thailand in May 2012, has hosted the visiting Indian delegates for lunch twice at the Great Wall Restaurant in Colombo and on many an occasion he has supported us with remarkable generosity providing transport free of charge to the Indian Buddhist delegates to travel to Kandy and Anuradhapura, among other places of interest.

Desha Kirthi, Desha Shakthi Mrs. Sridevi Silva (Head of the Dayaka Sabha, International Buddhist Centre, Wellawatte) deserves a very special thanks. She is a highly motivated Buddhist worker, who has recently established a Buddhist Temple in the town of Kosambi, India a place which was regularly visited by the Buddha during his lifetime. We thank her for undertaking the catering of gilanpasa for the monks and tea and refreshments for the lay audience after this session today.

Mr. Bernard Kulatileke (President, Jt. Committee of Buddhist Organisations)‚ being a Civil Engineer made a significant contribution to the progress of these efforts, among other things, by undertaking and drawing a plan of the building of the Ambedkar Centre to be constructed at Pannipitiya. That will be the basis upon which the rest of the work will be done.

Mr. W. Panditaratne (Vice- President of the German Dharmaduta Society)‚  and an active member of SUCCESS Sri Lanka is an ardent supporter of the endeavours of the Indo -” Sri Lanka Buddhist Network and extremely generous with financial support at times of need.

I also wish to thank the compere Mr. Hema Nalin Karunaratne for accepting this assignment at short notice and executing his task with aplomb and thereby winning the admiration and awe of everyone present here today.

I thank the Board of Management, Board of Trustees, and members of the German Dharmaduta Society for their unstinted support – the presence of Dr. Manel Lakdivdas (President) here today is gratefully acknowledged.‚  I also wish to thank Mr. Lalith Manage for producing the Banner, Mr. Iresha Weerasinghe for his IT contributions, Mr. Keminda Silva of the staff of the GDS and Mr. Rienzie Ranatunga of the Sri Sambuddhatwa Jayanthi Mandiraya for their co -” operation and unstinted support.

I thank you all for your kind presence here today and helping us to ensure a successful completion of these proceedings. I must in particular thank Mr. Avinash Kamble (President, United Buddhist Federation of India and Vice -“Chairman, World Fellowship of Buddhists Standing Committee) for his kind presence here today and taking all the trouble to fly from Mumbai, India to attend this meeting. It is a good demonstration of how seriously our efforts are being taken into consideration by our Buddhist friends in India.

When we talk of friends in India, it would be an unpardonable conduct on my part if I fail to mention the good name of Most Venerable Dr. Bhadant Rahula Bodhi Maha Thera of Mumbai, India and thank him. He is one of the pioneering spirits and a live wire of the Indo -” Sri Lanka Buddhist Network. He is an ardent admirer of Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar, who has been instrumental in ushering in the peaceful Buddhist revolution that is now spreading fast throughout India. ‚ It is Ven. Rahula Bodhi-â„¢s unflinching efforts and far sightedness that ensure continuing support for this cause and regular interaction between the two sides, from an increasing number of Indian Buddhists. I salute him with all humility for his dedication to the cause of promoting Buddhism in India and worldwide.

Finally, the speech of Dr. Ananda Guruge today has given us a fresh hope for the future, to renew our determination to join hands with our Buddhist friends in India and to work tirelessly together side by side as kalyana mitras in the pursuit of forging close ties between the two nations on the basis of a shared deep civilizational continuum and common historical bond of Buddhism.

Thank you.

Senaka Weeraratna

Co -” ordinator, Indo -” Sri Lanka Buddhist Network

Colombo

 

 

 

 

 

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