It is on a footing of gratitude, that the larger Buddhist community both within and outside Sri Lanka must take stock of the significant contributions made by the members of the Sumathipala family to the cause of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and in particular to the revival of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC), the premier Buddhist organization in the country, when it had virtually collapsed due to fractious litigation in courts between various factions of the ACBC. It was a disheartening scene at that point in time to see the closure of the main gates to the premises of the ACBC barring any one from entering and to note with sadness that access to ACBC funds had been blocked by court order on an indefinite basis.
It was at this stage of the waning of the fortunes of the ACBC that Dr. Mrs. Milina Sumathipala courageously stepped forward to give leadership and take on the mantle of the Presidency of the ACBC. She thus became the first female to hold this high office commencing in 2001. The ACBC did not have sufficient funds to meet even the basic requirements such as payment of salaries of the staff and maintenance, as the pre-existing funds were all frozen, by order of court. The innumerable challenges faced by the ACBC were no small ones. The very survival of the ACBC became an issue causing dismay among both the Buddhist clergy and laity. It was during such financial difficulties that Dr. Mrs. Milina Sumathipala and her family rose to the occasion to prevent the collapse of the ACBC by financially supporting the ACBC to enable it to continue its regular activities. The Buddhist public began to breathe a sigh of relief over this development.
All Ceylon Buddhist Congress
The All Ceylon Buddhist Associations Congress was founded in 1919 by Dr C A Hewawitharana a leading Buddhist activist and a close relative of Anagarika Dharmapala. Sir Don Baron Jayatilaka became its first elected President. The following year i.e. 1920, the name was changed to All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and thereafter it became closely associated with the revival of Buddhism in both Sri Lanka as well as in other parts of Asia. As the premier Buddhist organization, the ACBC functioned as an umbrella body and gave leadership to all Buddhist organizations/associations in Sri Lanka. Its foremost objective was to promote, foster and protect Buddhism and the Buddha Sasana, and safeguard the rights and privileges of the Buddhist community.
Mrs. Sumathipala’s son Jagath Sumathipala succeeded her mother to the post of President, ACBC, in 2006.
Here is a summary of the outstanding contributions made by the ACBC under the watch of the Sumathipala family and Executive Committee members of the ACBC:
1) A Programme called ‘ Bauddhaloka Wesak’ was commenced in 2002 to light up Colombo during Wesak celebrations and showcase the occasion particularly the elaborate Buddhism themed decorations and festivities at Bauddhaloka Mawatha to the world. This programme continues to this day during Wesak.
2) A Dambadiva Tour Service was inaugurated in 2003 thus enabling thousands of Buddhist pilgrims to travel to India at an affordable price.
3) A Buddhist Renaissance (Punaruda) Project was commenced by the Executive Committee of the ACBC to enable inputs from patriotic scholars directed at the revival and restoration of Buddhism to its rightful place in the country as in the past under Sinhalese Kings when a Buddhist Social Order prevailed to ensure peace, justice and compassion to all living beings.
4) Tsunami Disaster on 26th December 2004 destroyed / damaged 76 Buddhist temples throughout Sri Lanka. The ACBC came forward and undertook to renovate 20 selected Buddhist temples to protect the sacred places.
5) A Women’s Progressive Society was founded by Dr. Mrs. Milina Sumathipala with the objective of uplifting the lives of rural women and spreading the Dhamma among Buddhist women. The provision of financial assistance to low income groups to cover cost of marriages and shelter for needy families constitute a part of the objectives of this Society.
6) A Commission on Unethical Conversions was established by the ACBC under the guidance of Mr. Jagath Sumathipala (then President of ACBC) in 2006 to investigate the incidence of conversion of Buddhists into other religions by illicit and unethical means. A comprehensive Report containing the findings of this Commission was released in 2009 under the title ‘Report of the Commission Appointed to Inquire and Report on the conversion of Buddhists in Sri Lanka to other Religions by immoral and fraudulent means’. An English Translation of this Report was published in 2012. Here is the web link to this Report:
7) A project entitled ‘Preservation of Archeological Heritage’ was launched in collaboration with the Department of Archaeology with the aim of protecting and preserving the Buddhist archeological heritage and to instill in the Buddhist community a sense of moral responsibility to preserve these heritage sites from generation to generation. The programme commenced by educating the monks via courses.
8) An Annual Buddhist Literature festival was commenced in 2007 to highlight and appreciate the on - going contributions to Buddhist literature and felicitate dedicated Buddhist writers and authors and place on display their literary work and publications.
9) 60th anniversary of the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB)
The WFB was founded by Dr. Gunapala Malalasekera in 1950 with 129 foreign delegates from 29 countries, attending the inaugural session held in Colombo. The head office is currently in Bangkok, Thailand. The 25th Annual General Conference marking the 60th anniversary of the WFB was held in Sri Lanka in November 2010 with the main Regional Centre i.e. ACBC, playing the role of host. The total expenditure of staging this event was Rs. 30 million. The Sumathipala family, singularly and on its own, contributed a princely sum of Rs. 10 Million to meet the expenditure and ensure the success of the event. Mr. Jagath Sumathipala is an Executive Council Member of WFB.
10) In addition the Sumathipala family has fully funded the construction of the “Ransivige’ in Dalada Maligawa, the Stupa at Sambuddhaloka Viharaya, Fort and planting of the Ananda Jaya Bodhiya in Sithulpauwa, among others.
11) Mr. Thilanga Sumathipala, brother of Jagath, donated his entire monthly salary which he drew as Chairman of the Sri Lanka Telecom to the ACBC altogether totaling approximately a sum of Rs. 3 Million for the period 2002 to 2004.
These initiatives have been taken single handedly by a family for the betterment of the Buddha Sasana in times where Buddhists did not have the finances to help sustain Buddhism despite the over bearing challenges and incursions into Buddhist space and territory.
It is time to recall and appreciate these noble contributions to the cause of Buddhism by the Sumathipala family with a deep sense of gratitude as extolled by the Buddha.