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Venerable Kurunegoda Piyatissa Nayake Mahatero is a senior Buddhist prelate in the USA for over three decades as the head of the New York Buddhist Vihara, a position of great distinction which he gained with his achievements.

His name will always be associated with the New York Buddhist Vihara for posterity as the founder.  Buddhists and non-Buddhists, visitors from his motherland, Sri Lanka to the USA and Europe such as presidents and prime ministers and others would call on him – some as a matter of protocol and some as keen visitors.  They would do so because a meeting with him was always an uplifting encounter and his influence would touch them in many ways.  He is well known among the different communities in the world for his mastery of the Buddhist doctrine. He had a very influential role for maintaining the honour and integrity of Buddhist monks’.  Many foreign visitors with interests in eastern religions and philosophies would call on him to pay their respects, and to partake in some stimulating scholarly discussions.  His tireless dedication and genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of the laity and the monastic order remind us how much he conforms to the sayings of the Buddha:

“He who has control over his hands, feet and tongue, who is fully controlled, delights in meditation is  fully absorbed in it, keeps to himself and is contented – him do people call a monk.”

“The monk who has control over his tongue, is moderate in speech, unassuming and who explains the Teaching in both theory and action – whatever he says is pleasing.”

(Dhammapada 362, 363 Bhikkhu vagga)

Venerable Kurunegoda Piyatissa Nayaka Mahathero, whose lay name was Seneviratne Bandara, was born on 29th December 1928.  His birth place was Kurunegoda, a village in the district of Kegalla in Sri Lanka.  He was the elder son of Mr. Vasala Mudiyanselage  Punchi Bandara and Alahakoon Herath Mudiyanselage Alahakoon Menike, who were both devout Buddhists.  They had two sons and four daughters.  His parents observed the tradition of rural Buddhists in the middle decades of the twentieth century in Sri Lanka. As their elder son from an early age had a developed strong inclination to become a Buddhist monk, they decided to offer him son to the Buddhasasana - dispensation of the Buddha.   Another reason for their decision was the request came from Venerable Tiyambarahene RatanapalaThera, Head of Sri Sumanarama Vihara, Kehelwatta, and Sangha Nayaka of the Kegalla district.  Venerable Ratanapala was keen to ordain someone from relatives of this family to replace the loss of the late Venerable Kurunegoda Piyadassi Thera a close relative of the Punci Bandara family and erudite and devoted monk.

Therefore, at the age of thirteen Seneviratne Bandara was ordained as a novice (samanera) named Kurunegoda Piyadassi Thero under the guidance of Venerable Tiyambarahene Ratanapala Thero, at the Sri Sumanarama Vihara, Kehelwatta, Kegalla on 6th November 1941.  After nine years of training as novice monk, at the age of twenty two, Venerable Kurunegoda Piyadassi Thero, fulfilling necessary requirements received higher ordination, Upasapada under the teacher Venerable Parambe Sri Revata Nayake Mahathero, the Head of Maliyadeva Arahanta Vihara and the Principal of Bodhigupta Piriven, Dengamuwa, Polgahawela, on 22nd June 1950 at Malwatta Maha Vihara, in Kandy he took his name as Venerable Kurunegoda Piyatissa Thero.

Venerable PiyatissaThera’s early education started in 1935 as a young boy in Pindeniya School which was the nearest school to Kurunegoda. As a novice monk he started his the Jayawardhana Pirivena, traditional Buddhist school for monks in Kegalla.   His new education centre had closed down during the long years of World War II, had not been reopened.  Filling the gap he restarted his education under efficient leadership Venerable Parambe Sri Rewata Nayaka Thera,  the Principal of Bodhigupta Pirivena, Polgahawela.  The venerable Kurunegoda Piyatissa received higher education in the Vidyodaya Pirivena whichwas a leading Buddhist education institute in Colombo.  He had been outstanding a student at the Vidyodaya Pirivena till he completed its final examination and received highest scholarship-Siyam Tegga.  He gained Royal Pandit degree from the Society of studies in oriental languages. The university education had completed by gaining the BA degree from University of Vidyodaya.  Thus from the beginning he showed exceptional promise, earning glowing commendations from his venerable teachers and achieving many high academic awards during his studentship. 

He was then appointed teacher of the Bodhigupta Pirivena, a traditional Buddhist institute of education where he was student.  His special responsibility in this position was the educational training of young monks.  He successfully extended his teaching activities to Sri Jinarathana monks training college - Gangaramaya Colombo, Central College Polghawela and Ananda College Colombo respectively.  He also extend his service to the Dharmayatanaya, Maharagama as a researcher.  The concentration and industry with which he produced such an immense volume of scholarly writing – apart from correcting bundles of school and pirivena exercises and preparing lessons and test papers are amazing.  He very soon became a recognised teacher and expositor of the doctrine in Theravada as well as Mahayana schools of Buddhist thought. 

By now his reputation for scholarship and as an exponent of Buddhist teaching had spread rapidly.  The Mahabobhi Society of Sri Lanka invited him to go to England as a Buddhist missionary (Dharmaduta) to assist Dr. Hammalawa Saddhatissa, the Head of London Buddhist Vihara who continued the work initiated by the late Anagarika Dharmapala.  Anagarika Dharmapala was one of the greatest Buddhist revivalists, whose aim was to be a Buddhist leader beyond the boundaries of his own country. 

The position of assistant to Venerable Dr. Hammalawa Saddhatissa Thera at the London Buddhist Vihara and the Oxford Buddhist Centre showed Venerable Kurunegoda Piyatissa Thera the direction he was to go for the rest of his life – namely, dedicate himself to propagate the Buddhist doctrine in other parts of the world.  It was a mission he was to be engaged in for nearly half a century, until today.

He pursued his dharmamaduta activities in England and Europe with characteristic single-mindedness and energy, and to help him in his task, he mastered in the field ofdharmamaduta activities.  He was able to study eastern and western religions, philosophies and history and gain further academic knowledge and experience in the west.  A notable feature of his residence in England and other European countries fornearly a decade led to the rise of a group of Buddhists who felt he the need for a religious advisor in New York.  This resulted in the establishment of the New York Buddhist Vihara in 1981 with Venerable Piyatissa as its head in a temporary house.

His new achievement as the Head of New York Buddhist Vihara, was the yeoman service he did to Buddhists in the USA, a task with a tireless, sincere purpose.  His life had been devoted to making the Buddha’s message available in the West.  Under his charismatic leadership the new Buddhist Vihara moved into bigger premises and a building in the style of typical traditional Buddhist Vihara.  This was to inspire devotees who wish to learn more about Buddhism.  It soon became a focal point for Buddhists both Eastern and Western.

I shall conclude this brief account of Venerable Kurunegoda Piyatissa nayake Mahathera with sincere blessings and best wishes for his good health and services for Buddhism.

Full Photo list: කුරුණෑගොඩ පියතිස්ස නාහිමියන්හට සෙත්පතා පිංකමක්

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