As part of the 75th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the United States, the Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C. in association with the Bhāvanā Society and Maryland Buddhist Vihara held a ceremony on 25th August 2023 at the chancery premises to honour the Most Venerable (Dr.) Henepola Gunarathana, founder of the Bhāvanā Society in West Virginia for his 55 years of religious and social service in the United States of America. The main objective of the event was to symbolically offer the postage stamp approved by Ranil Wickremesinghe, President of Sri Lanka in honour of the Most Ven. Henepola Gunarathana Nayake Maha Thero.
The event commenced with welcoming the Nayake Maha Thero, a procession followed by a traditionalpooja dance. During his welcome remarks, Ambassador Mahinda Samarasinghe mentioned that the Most Ven. Gunarathana Thero has been the beacon of Buddhist missionary service worldwide particularly in the US rendering an immense social service not only to Sri Lankans in the US but to the US nationals seeking truth as well as to Theravada Buddha Sasana. He further mentioned that his decision to host the ceremony at the Embassy premises was also as a reverence to the exemplary services of the Nayake Maha Thero to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Ambassador Samarasinghe applauded his enormous service of publishing books that had been translated into many languages whilst practising his spiritual manoeuvre. The Ambassador also appreciated the US for the opportunity given to Buddhist Monks to spread the words of dhamma as well as to establish temples in the US.
Matt Flickstein, during his keynote speech, elaborated on how Bhante Guanarathana made efforts to illuminate devotees whilst practising mindfulness in day-to-day life. Ven. Ethkandawaka Saddhajeewa, Ven. Heenbunne Kondañña and Ven. Soorakkulame Premarathana also spoke of the different facets of the enormous service of Bhante Gunarathana. Ambassador Samarasinghe officially handed over the commemorative stamp to the Nayake Maha Thero amidst homage of the drums, hevisi pooja. He, then, conferred a token of appreciation from the Ambassador and the staff of the Embassy. Several other attendees benefitted from the opportunity given to award Bhante Gunarathana during the ceremony. Prof. Don Gunasekara expressed his gratitude to all the members of the organizing committee of the meritorious initiative including the Ambassador.
More than fifty representatives of Maha Sangha from different States, officials of the US Department of State including Deputy Assistant Secretary Afreen Akhter and other government officials, members of the diplomatic corps, many US nationals and Sri Lankans and devotees of different nationalities such as Chinese, Taiwanese, Bangladeshi, Burmese, and Vietnamese from many parts of the US attended the event. Copies of the Special newsletter of the Bhāvanā Society and the Stamp Bulletin issued by the Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts of Sri Lanka were also distributed among the attendees. The book "Mindfulness in Plain English" written by Bhante G has sold more than 10 million copies in the US. The special guests at the ceremony also received copies of this valuable book.
In Appreciation of his service, he has been conferred with honorary degrees from several countries, including the Aggamaha Pandita degree from Burma. Ven. Gunarathana studied for Bachelor's, Master's and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from the American University, which enabled him to expand his theological service further.
He is also the first Buddhist monk to be awarded the title of Chaplaincy of the American University. Bhante Gunarathana, in 1982, established the first Aranya Senasana (forest monastery) in the United States, “Bhāvanā Society" in West Virginia State. He welcomed thousands of Vietnamese people who sought refuge in the United States of America after the Vietnam War and provided them counselling as a Colonel appointed by the government of the United States of America in 1975. The Committee of the Malwatu Maha Vihara of the Shyamopali Maha Nikaya, in 1985, awarded him the title of the Chief Monk of North America.
Embassy of Sri Lanka
28th August 2023