Japan to confer Dharma Chakra Gold Medal on Sri Lanka President

by Rodney Martinesz, Lanka Daily News, Dec 4, 2007

Kyoto, Japan -- President Mahinda Rajapaksa is to be presented with a 24 carat gold medal for his efforts to propagate Buddhist cultural values and precepts by the Honganji Foundation when the Lankan leader visits Japan this week.

This is the first such honour bestowed on a citizen of any country by the Honganji Foundation responsible for erecting the Bamian Buddha statue in Peraliya to replace the one devasted by the tsunami.

Honganji is a Mahayana Sect in existence for over 800 years and has a large following in Japan and other parts of the world.

The Bamian statue was unveiled at the second anniversary of the tsunami attended by the Chief Incumbent of the Honganji Viharaya Choujun Otani where Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake was the Chief Guest. The chief incumbent was subsequently presented with a plaque by President Rajapaksa in appreciation of the gesture.

The area surrounding the statue has already been declared sacred and also serves as a symbol of friendship between Japan and Sri Lanka.

The Honganji Foundation has been assisting Sri Lanka in many ways to foster Buddhism in the country.

It has already set apart one million yen (US$ 9,000) to be awarded to a prominent Buddhist monk in Sri Lanka each year for selfless services towards the development of Buddhism.

The money is to be awarded through the Otani-Choujan - Mahinda Rajapaksa Joint Award Foundation.

It has also donated one million Yen for initiating religious functions and other related arrangements with regard to the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations in May 2006 where Buddhist clergy gathered from various countries to mark the event.

Speaking to the Daily News at the Honganji Foundation in Kyoto, the chief incumbent of the Viharaya His Holiness Choujun Otani said he was eagerly awaiting the President's visit on whom would be conferred the Dharma Chakra Gold Medal at a special Pooja at the shrine.

He said the Dharma Chakra Medal is the most coveted award not only in Japan but other countries where Buddhism is practised.

The Head of the Foundation said he was thoroughly impressed by President Rajapaksa's dedicated services towards Buddhism and his actions and conduct that since precedence to the Buddhist faith.

"He is a strong Buddhist and we are honoured to have him with us", the chief incumbent said.

"In my observation he has a strong interest in Buddhism and we not only appreciate his contribution to foster and develop the Buddhist faith but also see much expectation along this path in the future as well".

"We are not concerned with the form of Buddhism practised. To me Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism is the same. Our aim is to promote and propagate Buddhism as a whole in the Universe".

He said while the main reason for the President's visit to the shrine is worship, there will also be discussions on how the Honganji Foundation could further assist Sri Lanka to spread the word of the Buddha in a more effective way.

His Holiness Otani also appreciated President Rajapaksa's move to make the unveiling of the Peraliya Buddha statue a State event, saying this was a hallmark of a true Buddhist.

Honganji Foundation General Manager Taino Akihiro said Japan had been a recipient of many Buddha relics from Sri Lanka during the past five to six years.

He said a Buddha relic given to Ven. Gunarathana thera of Sri Lanka by former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from the Sanchi Viharaya in India was given by the Thera to chief incumbent Honganji Viharaya where it lies today.

The Honganji Foundation has also donated 300,000 yen towards the restoration of the Abhayagiri Dagoba and also the Jetawanaramaya. Rs. 1.2 million was also spent to fashion miniature Bamian replica statues of the one at Peraliya to be distributed among the President, Prime Minister, Temples and Buddhist Organisations and other institutions of Buddhist identity.