Meditation center in Washington to honor Madihe Mahanayaka Thera

This year’s Vesak will be of special significance to the Washington Buddhist Vihara. A newly bult meditation retreat centre is being opened. Identified as the ‘Lion of Wisdom’ (‘Pannasiha’) Meditation Centre, it has been erected in memory of the founder of the Washington Vihara, Most Ven Madihe Pannsiha Mahanayaka Thera. The Vihara – the frist Theravada Buddhisi temple in USA was set up in the mid-1960s.

The brain-child of Maharagama Dhammasiri Nayaka Thera, the chief prelate of the Vihara will be the abbot of the meditation centre with Bhante Yogavacara Rahula as the director and the chief meditation master. Along with the present meditation master at the Vihara, Bhante M. Pannawansa, one to ten day meditation courses will be offered.

The Vihara had been conducting meditation classes regularly but with the increasing interest in mediation, the need to have a quiet, spacious place where devotees can conveniently follow a course was felt. The centre stands on the top of a small hill offering beautiful views from two sides. Built on a land extending over three acres, two of the three levels in the building have been allocated for male and female meditators. More ‘kutis’ are being planned in the years to come.

Once Ven Dhammasiri told me that tension and stress in their lives have led Americans to look towards Buddhist meditation as a form of relaxation. “With only a few holidays, the life of an American revolves round work. Their stress levels are high. So they try to get away at least for an hour or two on Sundays to follow our meditation classes,” he said. “Saying that at one stage the foreigners were more interested in Buddhist philosophy, the accent is now on meditation,” he added.

Ven Dhammasiri has been at the Vihara for thirty years. Having observed his skills in planning and organising activities as well as his ability in administrative work, he was handpicked by Madihe Mahanayaka Thera to function as the secretary of the Washington Buddhist Vihara Society which is an incorporated body. A year later he succeeded Ven Dr Henepola Gunaratana as president and continues in that capacity to date.

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