Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera : Buddhist revivalist of recent times | Daily News

Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera : Buddhist revivalist of recent times

 Using simple language drawing parallels from everyday life was his way of addressing the young and old. The popular programme Anduren Eliyata SahaNana Pahana (From darkness to light and Wisdom) proved his virtuosity as a speaker whose ideas appealed to the minds of his listeners. 

A wave of shock swept across Sri Lanka in the evening of Friday 12 December 2003, when the news came from Moscow announcing the passing away of the much respected Ven. Gangodavila Soma Thera who was on a visit to Russia to receive his Doctorate in Buddhist philosophy from the Petersburg University.

Venerable Soma Thera was 55 years old, at the time of his passing away. He suddenly fell ill and underwent urgent heart surgery but did not recover in-spite of the doctors’ effort to save his life.

Venerable Soma Thera popularly known in the country as Soma Hamuduruvo was the Head of the Australian Buddhist Vihara in Victoria. He was born on April 24, 1948 and at the age of 26 became a samanera under the guidance of Venerable Madhihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka Thera and Venerable Ampitiye Rahula Thera.

Higher Ordination

In 1976, he underwent his training at the Buddhist Training Centre in Maharagama and received his Upasampada – Higher Ordination. Thereafter he left for a forest hermitage in Maha Oya in Ampara district where he practised Buddhist meditation. While staying at the hermitage he wrote his first book on the Buddha Dhamma in which he stated that Bhikkhus should not confine themselves to their pansalas. He also said that participation in pirith ceremonies, alms givings, administering pansil, conducting pansakula and delivering Mathaka Bana did not constitute the desired results in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha, he asserted.

Following the footsteps of his erstwhile Nayaka Theras of Vajirama temple in Colombo - Ven. Palane Vajiragnana, Ven. Narada, Ven. Piyadassi and Ven. Madhihe Pannaseeha – Venerable Soma Thera adopted a new path. It was approaching the problems of youth in the country by organizing discussions explaining to them how to overcome their problems in a rational way. Before long he became popular as a preacher among the listeners on Buddhist values. With his ideas on youth problems he formed Tharuna Saviya to guide and direct the young men and women on Buddhist thinking.

On realizing the importance of meditation Venerable Soma Thera wrote Buddhastupa, a guide book on meditation.

  Dharmamduta Mission

His visit to Victoria in 1986 was a memorable one as he enlisted the support of the Sri Lankans living in Australia to build the Buddhist vihara in 1993. It was the Dharmamduta Mission that helped to spread Buddha Dhamma among the enlightened people living Down Under.

The sil campaign he began in 1975 with 35 youths increased to thousands over the years because of the commitment to what he began, in helping young people in their longing to live according to Buddhist precepts. His ideas on religious beliefs deviated from the orthodox form. It was the result of new thinking at a time when the society was changing with the rapid development of science and technology breaking barriers that hitherto existed in our country. The national issues took a different form when violence increased affecting the very existence in keeping with Buddhist values. While visiting remote villages he gave sermons to those who wanted his advice and guidance. He also contributed to the national newspapers.

Numerous sermons

Soma Thera also appeared on TV and participated in radio programmes on panel discussion on issues affecting the lives of the people. Thus he became a popular preacher among the Buddhists in the country.

In his numerous sermons he emphasized the value of Buddhist philosophy and made the people to think and live according to the teaching of the Buddha. It was this practical approach that made him popular among the laymen as their guide and philosopher. Using simple language drawing parallels from everyday life was his way of addressing the young and old.

The popular programme Anduren Eliyata SahaNana Pahana (From darkness to light and Wisdom) proved his virtuosity as a speaker whose ideas appealed to the minds of his listeners.

He also pointed out that as long as Buddhists believe in Hindu religious ideas and other forms of beliefs based on the supernatural, they are unable to understand the fundamental teachings of the Buddha and therefore they should eschew such thoughts.

Soma Thera showed the teachings of the Buddha contained in the Tripitaka and to follow the Gnana Marga instead of Bhakthi Marga. He was critical of some practices at the Buddhist places of worship. These practices he said lead to ignorance and corruption in the name of religion.

Buddha Dhamma

He pointed out that the national problems have become acute because of the bungling of the politicians. He mentioned that the duty of the leaders should be to shun all forms of corruption and should endeavour to improve the lives of the people.

The Bhikkhus he said should take an active part in this process. In his sermons Soma Thera mentioned about the role of the Bhikkhus.

In his message to the politicians he admonished them to follow the Buddhist precepts.

With these ideas in mind he organized Jana Vijaya Foundation to bring among the laymen. People he said should live according to Buddha Dhamma to achieve their salvation.

He mentioned what he called social justice sans violence and respect for all human beings including animals. His popularity was amply shown when his last rites were performed at the Independence Square in Colombo. 


 

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