by Anoja Wijeyesekera
Bhante Kondanna who passed away in London on February 3, 2022 was a remarkable disciple of the Buddha, who communicated the message of the Enlightened One, to all who sought the truth, regardless of where they were located in the world. He travelled to every continent and communicated the message of the Buddha and taught people in Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, UK, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina and Brazil, to practice meditation based on the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the direct path to Enlightenment.
So profound was the impact of his teachings and the meditation retreats he conducted in all these countries, that his followers from every time zone of the world, participated via Zoom, in the Pansakula ceremony held at the Kavijada Meditation Centre in Moratuwa, Sri Lanka, on February 6. They joined this event to honour their respected teacher, even though for some of them it was in the middle of the night.
His followers from Argentina and Canada spoke of their profound sadness at the demise of Bhante Kondanna whom they considered to be their “father, brother and friend.” He predicted his own death and travelled to the UK, his second home, where he died suddenly and peacefully at the Atuladassana International Buddhist Vihara, Heathrow. With no apparent illness and no cause for hospitalisation, he died exactly as he would have liked, with Ven Kassapa in attendance. A simple cremation would be held in London, in keeping with his wishes.
Bhante Kondanna devoted his entire life as a monk to the service of others and had a unique ability to transcend boundaries and empathise with anyone at a human level of compassion and understanding. He reached out to those who sought his advice and gave them the strength to transcend the vicissitudes of life, the inevitable condition of human existence. The Eight Vicissitudes of Life are praise-blame, fame-ill-fame, gain-loss, happiness-sorrow, which the Buddha identified as imposters to be confronted with equanimity.
Born in 1939, to a large family from Homagama, Sri Lanka, he had his education at Royal College, Colombo, and completed his higher education in the UK. After graduating as a Mechanical Engineer, he specialised in automotive engineering, which enabled him to pursue a lucrative career with Rolls-Royce, the prestigious car and aero engine manufacturer in the UK. With the experience thus gained, he ventured into his own car business in West Hampstead, London.
As a successful businessman in London, and known to his friends by his first name, Don, he dined at the top restaurants, wore the best Saville Row suits and drove around in a Bentley, living what most people would consider the perfect life. However, he began to see the hollowness beneath the glittering veneer of wealth and material comforts. His eyes opened to the reality of the human condition, namely, “jathi, jara, vyada and marana” (birth, old age, sickness and death) which made him completely disenchanted with his worldly life.
He was on the brink of signing a lucrative business deal which had the potential to make him enormously wealthy, when he withdrew from it all. He decided to renounce the lay life completely in 1978, and ordained as a Buddhist monk, under Ven. Dr. Hammalwa Saddhatissa Thera, the Head of the London Buddhist vihara.
At his ordination ceremony, he was given the name “Kondanna” by Ven. Sadhatissa Thero, who may have been influenced by the significance of this name in Buddhist history. Kondanna was one of the Five Ascetics to whom the Buddha preached his first sermon, the Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta, 2,600 years ago. After hearing the Buddha’s words, Kondanna attained the first stage of sainthood, sotapanna.
Bhante Homagama Kondanna obtained his higher ordination after two and a half years of study and practice, under the guidance of both Ven. Sadhatissa and Ajahn Sumedo, the Chief Abbot of Amaravati. He then proceeded to develop his meditation practice in Thailand and became a disciple of Ajahn Chah, the renowned Meditation Master. Bhante Kondanna spent more than two years in full time meditation at Ajahn Chah’s monastery namely, Wat Nong Pah Pong, in Ubon province located in the jungles of North-eastern Thailand. It was a centre that attracted many western students some of whom graduated to become Chief Abbots of Buddhist monasteries in Western countries.
At Ajahn Chah’s monastery, which followed the Forest Tradition, living conditions were extremely spartan. The one meal they consumed each day was obtained through pindapatha, (alms round of mendicants). It meant trekking through jungles to reach the little hamlets of poor peasants, who eked out a living through their land. Pindapatha being a well-established tradition in Thailand, people regarded it as a great blessing to make offerings to the monks who came on their alms round.
For the disciples of Ajahn Chah this was a daily exercise in the practice of humility and gratitude. They learned to appreciate the most basic of food, to eat only for survival, to give up indulging in taste and to transcend the pangs of hunger, till the next meal, 24 hours later. Bhante Kondanna continued this practice of having only one meal a day throughout his life.
Ajahn Chah’s guidance and unique teachings enabled his students to progress on the path. Many were the methods the master used to tear down the ego and self-view that is the most difficult defilement to overcome. The methodology adopted was one of self-realisation through direct experience and meditative insight, rather than book learning.
While Bhante Kondanna was into his second year at Ubon, Ven Saddhatissa of London, was given the task of finding an abbot for the Kavidaja Meditation centre in Moratuwa,
Sri Lanka. He thought that Bhante Kondanna would be the ideal candidate. So, in consultation with Ajahn Chah, Bhante Kondanna was requested to return by Ven Sadhatissa Thero. Unable to refuse the request of his teacher and mentor, Bhante Kondanna returned to Sri Lanka and was appointed as the Chief Abbot of the Kavidaja Meditation Centre.
From then on, Bhante Kondanna devoted his entire life for the welfare and happiness of the many, as the Buddha asked his disciples to do. He dedicated his life to the teaching of meditation both Samatha (Tranquility) and Vipassana (Insight). In Sri Lanka he conducted regular meditation retreats both in his own temple as well as at the Knuckles Mediation Centre, which he founded and at several other locations. One of his pupils, Prof. Rajah de Alwis, Professor of Civil Engineering at the Moratuwa University who followed his meditation classes at the YMBA Dehiwala, himself became a meditation teacher and introduced meditation to his engineering students, giving them a head-start in life.
Bhante Kondanna started an English Dhamma school at his temple in Moratuwa for children attending international schools. This has proved to be a great success as the 200 or more children who attend the school are also given a good grounding in meditation practice. Many of the teachers who provide voluntary services are professionals from many walks of life who are excellent in their English, dhamma knowledge as well as meditation.
Bhante Kondanna has also been the spiritual advisor of Seva Lanka Foundation, a charity that assisted poor rural communities of Sri Lanka. He was closely associated with the German Dharmaduta Society and was their anusasaka (spiritual guide) Bhante was also a regular speaker at the Maitriya Hall, Bambalapitiya, the Headquarters of the Servants of the Buddha, where he conducted meditation classes. He participated in their Centenary Celebrations in April 2021.
From the very outset, Bhante Kondanna received invitations from various parts of the world to conduct meditation retreats. This entailed travel to all parts of the world and long periods of stay outside Sri Lanka. At his pansakula ceremony it was mentioned that he spent approximately 50 years of his life outside Sri Lanka.
His easy-going manner, command of the English language, his sense of humour and simplicity enabled him to reach out to people from all walks of life, all nationalities, all ethnic groups and scores of free-thinking people from the far corners of the world, who were looking for answers to the enigma of life. His popularity as a meditation teacher grew to the extent that he ended up conducting meditation programmes in the long list of countries listed at the beginning of this article.
In South America which was totally alien to Buddhism, he attracted a large following, so much so that he received invitations from most of the south American countries, year after year. His influence was so profound that two persons from Argentina even followed him to Sri Lanka to gain ordination as Buddhist monks, at the Kavidaja Meditation centre in Moratuwa. Later, one of them went to Thailand to continue his meditation practice and the other returned to Argentina.
Bhante Kondanna was a monk who practiced what he preached and preached what he practiced. His day began with meditation long before dawn, while the rest of the day was devoted to the service of others. He lived a life of extreme simplicity, that bordered on austerity. He ate only one meal a day. Very often he obtained this meal through pindapatha (alms round), which in addition to being an act of humility is a re-affirmation of a monk’s vows of being totally dependent on the generosity of others, and of giving up personal possessions and resources. He explained that anything that a person puts into the bowl, must be eaten with gratitude and humility. Pindapatha was a practice that was followed by the Buddha.
During the first lock-down and curfew, when Bhante Kondanna was on his alms round, the local police who were arresting curfew violators, stopped him and questioned him. He replied that he was on pindapatha. The police then begged for his forgiveness and helped him on his path.
Bhante Kondanna never stood on ceremony or sought titles or positions and shunned any form of elevation and publicity. He did not promote fanfare and rituals and asked his followers to practice what the Buddha prescribed, namely Dana, Seela and Bhavana, (Generosity, Virtue and Meditation). He expressed disappointment that many people in Sri Lanka, replace Bhavana (meditation) with “puda puja” rituals, which was not what the Buddha recommended.
In his meditation classes, in addition to the instructions on the path to liberation, he advised his students on how to transcend pain through mindfulness. A few years ago, in London, he tripped on a pavement and fractured his ankle. At the hospital, the doctors wanted to give him a local anaesthetic before carrying out the procedure to re-set his ankle. He refused the anaesthetic and told that doctors that he taught his students how to transcend pain through meditation and that he has to practice what he preaches. The doctors had been astounded. Bhante Kondanna also had teeth extractions without anaesthesia much to the surprise and consternation of his dentists!
As a meditation master and guide, Bhante Kondanna leaves a great vacuum in the lives of his followers across the world. However, he made sure that he trained and guided several Sri Lankan monks who were his disciples, to learn English, practice meditation and proceed to other countries to impart the Dhamma. Ven. Dhammakusala of the Berlin Temple in Germany and Ven. Soratha at the Buddhist temple in Canberra, Australia are disciples of Ven. Homagama Kondanna. Here in Sri Lanka, Ven. Thirikunamale Sobitha Thero who was a devout follower of Ven. Kondanna will take over at the Kavidaja Mediation Centre. The torch that was lit by Bhante Kondanna Maha Thero will be carried by them to encourage human beings to strive for Enlightenment through the direct path of meditation, as extolled by the Buddha.
I would like to conclude by quoting from an article written by Bhante Kondanna “Why meditate?” which he wrote for the Centenary Volume of Dhamma Gems, the Journal of the Servants of the Buddha, in 2021. He speaks directly to the reader as follows:
“Through meditation and quiet contemplation, you will realise that, with everything being impermanent and causing so much pain, there is really no control, no power vested in me, you, or us. Even though we think this is my body, and my mind, everything is subject to automatic processes such as ageing, falling ill and dying, and so do the habitual reactions based on perceptions of what one likes and dislikes. Through meditation you will gradually realise that to live means to experience everything that is happening through awareness. That awareness is all that there is. No person, no being, just an ever-changing body and an ever-changing thought process, both of which have come together temporarily in this birth, giving the illusion of a permanent self. Meditation will help one see that the true nature of the world and of oneself is impermanence, suffering and non-self. (anicca, dukkha and anatta)
Once you realise this you have experienced the blissful state of Enlightenment. You are free of passion, desires, aversion. A state of blissful peace that comes with contentment, of not wanting, of having no desires, of just being.
Therefore, my friends, I invite you to tread the path shown by the Buddha, which is to sit in quiet contemplation, and see the truth of the universe within the body and mind.
May you all achieve the blissful state of Nibbana.”
Likewise, may Bhante Kondanna, attain that same blissful state of Nibbana, that he encouraged and guided his followers to strive for, through his life of selfless service as a Buddhist monk.
Responding to our energy addiction
by Ranil Senanayake
Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.
Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.
The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.
A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.
The creation of desire
This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:
“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.
And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …
Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.
One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.
Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.
As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.
Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.
Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’
With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.
Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!
Australia-Sri Lanka project in the news…Down Under
The McNaMarr Project is the collaboration between Australian vocalist and blues guitarist, John McNamara, and Andrea Marr, who is a Sri Lankan-born blues and soul singer, songwriter and vocal coach.
Her family migrated to Australia when she was 14 and, today, Andrea is big news, Down Under.
For the record, Andrea has represented Australia, at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, Tennessee, three times, while John McNamara has also been there twice, representing Australia.
Between them, they have 10 albums and multiple Australian Blues awards.
Their second album, ‘Run With Me,’ as The McNaMarr Project, now available on all platforms, worldwide, has gone to No. 1 on the Australian Blues and Roots Sirplay charts, and No. 12 on the UK Blues charts.
Their debut album, ‘Holla And Moan,’ released in 2019, charted in Australia and the US Blues and Soul charts and received rave reviews from around the world.
Many referred to their style as “the true sound of soulful blues.”
= The Rocker (UK): “They’ve made a glorious album of blues-based soul. And when I say glorious, I really mean it. I’ve tried to pick out highlights, but as it’s one of the records of this year – 2019 – (or any other for that matter) it’s tricky. You have to own this.”
= Reflections in Blue (USA): “Ten original tunes that absolutely nail the sound and spirit of Memphis soul. Marr has been compared to Betty Lavette and Tina Turner and with good reason. She delivers vocals with power and soul and has a compelling stage presence. McNamara’s vocals are reminiscent of the likes of Sam & Dave or even Otis Redding. This is quality work that would be every bit as well received, in the late 1950s, as it is today. It is truly timeless.”
= La Hora Del Blues (Spain): “Andrea Marr’s voice gives us the same feeling as artistes, like Betty Lavette, Tina Turner or Sharon Jones, perfectly supported by John McNamara’s work, on vocals and guitar…in short words, GREAT!”
Yes, John McNamara has been described as an exceptional vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, whose voice has been compared to the late great Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, while Andrea Marr often gets compared to the likes of Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Sharon Jones.
Manju Robinson’s scene…
Entertainer and frontline singer, Manju Robinson, is back, after performing at a leading tourist resort, in the Maldives, entertaining guests from many parts of the world, especially from Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Poland…and Maldivians, as well.
His playlist is made up of the golden oldies and the modern sounds, but done in different styles and versions.
While preparing for his next foreign assignment…in the Maldives again, and also Dubai, Manju says he has plans to do his thing in Colombo.
Manju has performed with several local bands, including 3Sixty, Shiksha (Derena Dreamstar band), Naaada, Eminents, Yaathra, Robinson Brothers, Odyssey, Hard Black and Mark.
He was the winner – Best Vocalist and the Best Duo performer – at the Battle of the Bands competition, in 2014, held at the Galadari Hotel.
In 2012, he won the LION’s International Best Vocalist 2012 award.
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