Ven. Madihe Pannsiha Mahanayaka Thera

The Founder of First Theravada Buddhist Temple in the USA

By Patricia Mangalika Yahampath

In the province of the southern territory, district of Matara in the village of Madihe, where the coconut palms sway, and the never still ocean runs, in the year of 1913 on the day of 13th June, a fortunate baby was born to parents J.C. Pujithagunawardena and Bella Anjela Dheerasekera, both parents were of a generation of high esteem. The father of this little child was a Christian and the mother a Buddhist. He was named Wilmot – Wilmot Pujithagunawardena.

This little child grew in a home where he got the abundant love of his parents when the school going age came, he was admitted to St. Thomas’s Boys School, Matara where the Principal was Mr. Janz. While in the classroom or at home, or elsewhere, the thought that circled his mind was the thought of becoming a Buddha Putra, a bhikkhu. That was his only dream. At the tender age of thirteen, his dream came true.

The mother who was a noble lady realised the wish of the child, she did not stand in his way and so was the father. Mother took the son to the great prelate Weragampita Sri Revatha Thera, the Chief Incumbent of the Kamburugamuwa Vihara with a sheaf of betel and requested the prelate to ordain him as a Samanera. So on the 24th June in the year 1926, he entered the Sasana and was named Madihe Pannghaseeha.

The great prelate, the Most Venerable Revatha Thera was also the teacher of the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera; thus this young Samanera Ven. Pannghaseeha, having studied all that a young bhikkhu could learn under the guidance of Sri Revath Thera, came to the Vajirarama Temple at Bambalapitiya for further studies.

Under the tutelage of the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera, the young Samanera mastered the Dhamma.

On the 9th day of June 1933 at Weligama in the vicinity of Pelane, Samanera Pannghaseeha received Upasampada, the Higher Ordination by his teacher, Pelane Vajiragnana Thera. During the very first days of his stay at Vajirarama, he had to undergo many hardships.

There were no rooms as such, no beds. Electricity was unheard of. It was by candlelight that he studied. In the mornings, with the other Bhikkhus he went begging for alms. The spare time was spent in cleaning the surroundings, and the temple. These are the beaming factors that lit his life and brought about his popularity.

Those who entered the University at that time were learned Bhikhus. Ven. Madihe Pannghaseeha along with them entered the University. Then he set on the noble task of performing his duty to the country and the religion, and for the upliftment of Buddhism. In the year 1951, he set forth on a peace mission to Nepal and in 1954, participated in the Dhamma Sangayanava held in Burma.

In 1955, the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera passed away. With his passing away, the seat that became vacant was filled by the Ven. Pannghaseeha Thera who was recommended for his cleverness, diligence, piety and high esteem, and was honoured with the title of Mahanayaka on the 27th of November 1955 at Vajirarama at Bambalapitiya. He was offered this title at the time of the Buddha Jayanthi.

Accompanied by a band of pilgrims, both laymen and Bhikkhus he left the country to participate in the World Buddhist Congress on its fourth session.

The great prelate, the Most Venerable Pelane Vajiragnana Thera who founded Vajirarama Temple at Bambalapitiya had the great thought and wish to mould and train bhikkhus dedicated to service and the Dhamma be trained here and abroad as missionaries of the Dhamma.

The noble thought that sprung on in the mind of his master was set forth to success by the Mahanayaka Thera. It was that noble thought, that gave way for the uphill task of opening of the Bhikkhu Training Centre at Maharagama.

On the 21st of April 1958 this long cherished dream came true and the Bhikkhu Training Centre was started at dwelling on a rental basis. At present the Centre is located at an eleven acre picturesque land. It contains well equipped buildings where the novice monks and the student monks are trained for missions abroad. Provisions are made for the meditating monks.

The main aim of this Bhikkhu Centre is to spread the Doctrine – the Dhamma far and wide. The devotees who observe Sil at the Centre is enormous in number. exceeding 20,000.

The bhikkhus who come to deliver Dhamma Desana are learned, pious and of high esteem and also the lay preachers are learned and disciplined. Renowned physicians in the country, surgeons, paedriaticians, psychiatrists and medical consultants come to deliver these orations, which are of great value to the public.

It is the Mahanayaka Thera – Ven. Madihe Pannghaseeha who deserves praise for all this and more than everything for moulding the Most Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera for whom all Buddhists should be ever grateful. He taught the Buddhist masses especially the youth to observe and practise Pan Sil.

Another great task performed by the Mahanayaka Thera was sending Dhamma missions abroad. Venerable Thera was instrumental in establishing Theravada Vihara in the United States of America with the untiring efforts of the Sasana Sevaka Samithiya and the then Prime Minister Hon. Dudley Senanayaka and also with the help of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Washington.

In the year 1965 in a Flat in Howard the Temple was founded and today it lies in the 16th Street, a fully equipped temple in a beautiful surroundings on a picturesque setting in the vicinity of the “White House” giving the golden opportunity for the devout Buddhists in America to worship and pray.

Words cannot simply say the great deeds performed by the Mahanayaka Thera. His leadership, correct advice and the correct guidance led to many virtuous programmes.

The great Sil campaigns, The Asarana Sarana Sevaya, The Dharma Charika, The Campaign against use of alcohol.

The policy that he emphasized most was the policy of mouldsing man. “Reform man and the whole world will be reformrd”. “MINISA HADA RATA HADAMU”

Simplicity was Ven. Thera’s hallmark. Never did he look for comforts. The simple life he lived, bears testimony to this.

He was soft spoken. Never did he utter a harsh word, never did he hurt any one. He could be reached by any one. He treated the haves and the have-nots alike. He did not fear, or favour.

This tribute is in kindness to the prelate’s immense generosity, and loving kindness. May his journey in Samsara be smooth with no grief until you attain Nirvana, that ultimate bliss.

Courtesy: Daily News