Posted on February 27th, 2014

Dr.Tilak Fernando (Continuing from episode 67)

Sepala Moonasinghe’s contemporaries at Trinity College included Chandra Monerawela, Jayantha Dhanapala, Sarath Amunugama, Ananda Pilimatalauwe, SML Markkar, etc. He has been a regular visitor to the London Buddhist Vihara at Ovington Gardens, Knightsbridge from about 1959.

Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi who looked after  Ven. Dr. Saddhatissa

In 1926 Anagarika Dharmapala established LBV (London Buddhist Vihara) as the first Buddhist Theravada monastery outside the continent of Asia to disseminate Dhamma (original teachings of Buddha) with resident monks from Sri Lanka throughout, except during the World War II.

Ven. Hamallawa Saddhatissa, educated in Benares, London and Edinburgh, became the Head of the LBV from 1957. The Venerable was proficient in Pali, Sanskrit, Sinhala and Hindi. He obtained his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 1963.

Dr. Ven. Saddhatissa also forged very close contacts with The Pali Text Society; an organisation based in Oxford with persons like Ms. I.B. Horner – an eminent English authority in translating, editing and publishing the Theravada Canon into English.

Commemorative stamp for Ven. Dr. Hamallawa Saddhatissa

During this period devotees to the Vihara had the privilege of meeting with members of the venerable Buddhist clergy visiting and residing at the Vihara such as: Venerable Narada, Madhihe Pannasiha, Ven Piyadassi, all from Vajirarama: Ven. Hawenpola Ratanasara, General Secretary of the Eksath Bhikku Peramuna, which was responsible for bringing in the village votes to catapult SWRD Bandaranaike to power in the 1956 general elections.

The LBV, when in Knightsbridge, was well managed, respected and many Sri Lankans as well as foreigners supported it.

|Ven Dr. H. Saddhatissa went out of his way to attract English Buddhists into the Vihara and spread Dhamma within the UK as well as outside in Western Europe. Eminent scholars like Christmas Humphreys, a member of a scholarly English family with roots into the English legal establishment visited the Vihara regularly as the President, English Buddhist Theosophical Society; also Herr Hungerleider, the then President of the Vienna Buddhist Society.

Business visits

Sir Cyril de Soysa and Moonasinghe Snr, being devout Buddhists and sharing a common interest in Omnibus Companies, were close buddies. When Sir Cyril made numerous business visits to the UK, he made it a point to look up the young Munasinghe (who had been introduced by his father to Sir Cyril in Colombo) when Sir Cyril was the President of the Senate.

Once Sir Cyril accompanied Sepala Munasinghe to the LBV and introduced him to Dr. Saddhatissa with the hope of the venerable keeping an eye on the young man, no doubt, to prevent him going astray!

Every time he visited London, Sir Cyril would contribute a great deal of funds for the upkeep and maintenance of the Vihara. The LBV was constantly visited by ‘Ceylonese’ as well as others who came to worship there and it was managed by a Vihara Management Committee appointed by the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust in Colombo who appointed the resident Dhammaduta Bhikkhus; the Vihara Management Committee reported directly to the Trustees. Sir Cyril, as Chairman of Associated Motorways, on visits to London would stay at the Whites Hotel in Lancaster Gate or at Park West flats in Edgware Road. On an invitation to visit Sir Cyril at Whites Hotel young Sepala was once dressed informally with a scarf round his neck. Sir Cyril was entertaining three senior Directors from Leyland Motors. Having introduced Sepala to his guests as the son of another bus operator, who had also bought Leyland Comet buses, Sir Cyril hurriedly took Sepala to another part of the lounge.Sir Cyril than proceeded to give Sepala a sound lecture on ‘how to dress well’ sternly reminding him that Sepala’s father was sending him sufficient money to buy proper clothes! Sepala was very grateful to Sir Cyril because he had an extra 20 Pounds in his next remittance from his family!

Next time Sepala saw Sir Cyril was at a Sunday luncheon hosted by the great man at Park West. Taking his sartorial advice seriously Sepala was attired in a three piece suit – only to find all his guests informally clad!

The Buddhist abode moved to Chiswick during 1964 when the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust of Sri Lanka purchased the freehold property at Heath field Gardens, Chiswick, SW London.

Finally Dr. Ven. H. Saddhatissa was to retire, probably due to ‘ill health’. Maha Bodhi Society in Colombo appointed Ven. Vagiragnana as his successor to the UK when hairline cracks started to appear and caused a split between two groups of Dayakayas – one favouring Ven. Saddhatissa and the other going against the Ven. Vagiragnana!

Indecorous fracas

This led to an indecorous fray and the atmosphere became unpleasant even for Ven. Dr. Saddhatissa which compelled him to spend much of his day time at the London University Library and return at night to the LBV only to rest. The two priests, Galayaye Piyadassi and Balangoda Mangala, who were duty bound and looking after the welfare of the Senior Ven. Saddhatissa, were allegedly labeled as ‘supporters’ of Ven. Saddhatissa’.

The unpleasant atmosphere continued which more or less forced the two young priests to leave the LBV.

The battle amongst Dayakayas went too far and ended up as a legal battle at Courts thus tarnishing the good name of the LBV, the priests and the Buddhism as a whole! When matters became so critical to a point that the Charity Commissioners in England needed legal Advice as to the ‘Vinaya rules of succession and who exactly owned the Vihara’. Being a civil matter, and at that time Sepala Moonasinghe being registered at the Bar Council of England, as an expert on Sri Lankan law, he was briefed by the Treasury Solicitor to give such Advice.

Fortunately, Sepala Moonasinghe had acquired some knowledge of Buddhist Temporalities laws having worked as a junior to T. B. Dissanayake – one of the most respected lawyers in Hultsdorf at that time and an undisputed authority on laws relating to Buddhist Temporalities.

The matters given to him by way of instructions in his Brief greatly saddened him. In the end the succession took place according to the Vinaya rules of Sisyanu Shishya Paramparawa. As to the ownership of the Vihara, the best being that Sepala Moonasinghe continued to remain unspoken.


Suffice to say that due to all such happenings it sorrowfully led to a proliferation of Buddhist temples in London while some of those Dayakayas who contested the legal battle becoming homeless, having had to part with their houses and property to raise money to pay the cost of the long drawn lost legal battle. Their lives became fully shattered, perplexed and they were infuriated.

Seemingly, Ven Dr. Saddhatissa became very much frail and his health started to deteriorate rapidly. Frequent visits by many to the Vihara became less and less being disappointed at the goings within the Vihara amongst the priests and the Dayakayas relating to succession of the ailing Nayaka priest and “ownership” of the Vihara.

Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi, who was looking after the welfare of Dr. Ven. H. Saddhatissa at the LBV during the trouble period, was housed later at new premises at Denzil Road, Willesden Green, London North West 10, with the participation of a few Buddhist philanthropists.

Once settled at Denzil Road abode, Galayaye Piyadassi looked after Ven Dr. Hamallawa Saddhatissa up to the time of the venerable’s demise.

In 1994 the London Buddhist Vihara moved again to its new spacious premises at The Avenue, Chiswick, London W4 (near Turnham Green London Underground station) .

New abode

As a mark of recognition for the social and welfare work done for the community in London, Venerable Galayaye Piyadassi was honoured by Queen Elizabeth II by conferring on the Ven priest an MBE, thus becoming the first Sri Lankan Buddhist priest to be recognised in this way by the British Royalty.

Finally Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi moved into a separate abode at Kingsbury NW London and with the assistance of Ven. Balangoda Mangala initially, and the Dayakayas developed and improved the temple over the years to a prominent standard incorporating social, spiritual, cultural and inter-faith activities.

Kingsbury Buddhist abode was later named after the late Ven. Dr. Hamallawa Saddhatissa calling it Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, to bring to mind the name of Ven. Saddhatissa perpetually worldwide.

It was sad indeed that Ven. Dr. Hamallawa Saddhatissa did not live to see, or spend at least even one single night, at Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre.

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