The Katina Pinkama at the New York Buddhist Vihara

by Dr. Mrs. I. Ratnayaka, Lanka Daily News, June 22, 2005

New York, USA -- The Katina Pinkama was well organised with the help of devoted dayakayas of the New York Buddhist Vihara. Their participation contributed in every way to the event - the assembling of the Pirith Mandapa, an all night Pirith, held for the second time in succession, Katina Perahera, morning and lunch time Dana and the Cheevara pooja ceremony.

There was nothing left undone. During the formalities, the halls were packed with devotees and friends of all religions, both local and foreign. The participation of Ven. Aluthgama Dharmajothi, Ven. Parambe Sirinivasa, Ven. Akmeemana Nagitha, Ven. Kottawe Nanda and Ven. Havovita Gunananda of the New York Buddhist Vihara, Ven. Heenbunne Kondanna, Ven. Pinnagala Pannatissa, Ven. Higgoda Khemananda, Ven. Pattiyawela Saddhatissa, and Ven. Seelaratna from Staten Island Temple, from New Jersey Temple Ven. Hungampola Sirirathana, Ven. Badulle Kondanna, Ven. Piyarathana and Ven. Kalatuwana Dharmarathana and from Sri Lanka, Ven. Marukkathure Soratha and Ven. Diyakelinawa Medhankara added very much to the occasion.

How did the New York Buddhist Viharaya become so popular? It was with the Buddhist community of New York that the Venerable Kurunegoda Piyatissa Nayake Maha Thera built this strong edifice - the New York Buddhist Viharaya to promote the Dharma specially among the educated who seek an alternative to stress and viles that loom in their minds.

Simple living needs relentless courage, untiring efforts and a positive mind. It is specially so for persons who have gone forth leaving their households. It is easy for one to be called a bhikkhu, but it is not so easy to live by the Dhamma. Pandit Venerable Kurunegoda Piyatissa Nayake Maha Thera is one who lives by the Dhamma. His peace of mind is depicted on his face which is a guide to his inner thoughts.

His mind is above worldliness and is at peace. Born on 28th December, 1928, Seneviratne Bandara was the second in a family of two boys and six girls. His birth place is the Mulgahalanda Valauwa at Kurunegoda, a very scenic village in the Kegalle district. His parents were land owners, on whom the village looked up to, and depended on.

On 6th November 1941 at the Kegalle Keselwatte Purana Vihara, Seneviratne Bandara was ordained Samanera Kurunegoda Piyadassi following the name of his mentor and relative, under the guidance of Thiyambarahene Shri Rathanapala. In the belief that taking the name of a bikkhu who died early in life was inauspicious and on the advice of guides, mentors and followers, the name was changed to Kurunegoda Piyatissa.

The Second World War had its impact on Sri Lanka with severe food rationing. The Dhayakayas of temples could not afford to offer alms, and the student priests in most pirivenas went back to their village temples.

This happened at the Keselwatte Purana Vihara, but Samanera Kurunegoda Piyatissa and Ven. Boswella Premaratne stayed on and looked after their food as best as they could by themselves.

The Pirivenadhipathi of Keselwatte Viharaya lived in the village of Hungampola and on the advice of the Nayake Priest of the Keselwatte Temple, Samanera Piyatissa walked daily to and from Hungampola, a distance of three miles each way for his education.

While walking he revised his home work like chanting the gathas. After an initial training at Hungampola, Samanera Piyatissa continued his work and studies with the Chief Incumbent Thera of Kurunegoda Purana Viharaya. After sometime he had the fortune of joining the Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena where most of the scholarly monks studied.

On the 22nd of June 1950, Ven. Piyatissa received Upasampada at the Pushparama Seemamalaka of Malwatte Maha Viharaya Kandy. He served and studied at the Kegalle Keselwatte Shri Jayawardenapura Pirivena, Denagamuwa Shri Bodhigupta Pirivena and Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivana and was conferred Pracheena Panditha, and graduated at the Vidyodaya University and later obtained B.A. (London) and M.A. (USA) thereby achieving great heights in education.

His services continued at Denagamuwa Shri Bodhigupta Pirivena, at the Hunupitiya Gangarama Pirivena, as Vice-Principal at Polgahawela Parakramabahu Madya Maha Vidyalaya, an assistant teacher at Ananda College Colombo, and lecturer at Maharagama Dharmayathanaya.

His analysis of the books Rasavahiniya, Naloparkyana, Sinhala Bodhivansa, Guththila Kavya, Poojavaliya chapters 11, 12 and 13, Buduguna Mahima, Oba Upan Rata, and a Sinhala Dhammpadaya are some of his works. These illustrate the depth of understanding of great Buddhist literature and the Sinhala language. His expert knowledge of Pali, Sanskrit, Sinhala and English is seen clearly in these works.

In 1972, on an invitation, Ven. Piyatissa visited Oxford Buddhist Centre and the London Buddhist Viharaya in UK. While there, he helped people to understand Theravada Buddhism. In 1981 Rev. Piyatissa visited New York Tristate.

On an invitation by Ven. Galaboda Gnanissara Ven. Piyatissa stayed on and with time opened the doors further to Buddhism in three Buddhist Centres. Here he expounded Theravada Buddhism and meditation where many New York residents realised salvation from stress is by meditation.

All these three Centres have Buddhist Viharayas through the generosity of Buddhists and others and it was at the Buddhist Viharaya at Queens New York built by the untiring efforts and generosity of Ananda Silva (now resident in Sri Lanka) and other dayakayas, that my son-in-law Santusht and daughter Sharmalie undertook the Katina Pinkama.

Vesak to be declared as an International Holiday was the brain child of Rev. Kurunegoda Piyatissa. The UN had allocated ten days as important religious or spiritual holidays for each year. Eight of these were allocated to Christian, Catholic and Jewish religious days. Noting the need for a spiritual day for Buddhism and on a resolution made by Ven. Kurunegoda Piyatissa Thera and Mr. Randy Sunday, a Buddhist Council of New York was established at the Dharmadutha Centre at Manhattan in 1985.

At one Council meeting Ven. Kurunegoda Piyatissa's proposal to write letters to the General Secretary UN and the President of the USA requesting Vesak Day to be recognised as an International Religious day was unanimously accepted by all at the meeting.

The letters were acknowledged. With no response after a few years, it was decided to send a reminder. Meanwhile the President of Sri Lanka Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga convened a meeting of the World Buddhist Sangha Council in Colombo.

Ven. Piyatissa who was invited to this meeting suggested that a proposal be sent to the UN and the government of USA to declare Vesak day as a world holiday. This proposal was accepted at the Council meeting. At a meeting with Lakshman Jayakody, the then Minister of Buddha Sasana and Ven, Piyatissa, all details and formalities of this proposal were discussed.

At the following UN meeting on 23rd September 1999, the then Foreign Minister Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar addressed the UN emphasizing the value of Buddhism to bring peace to the world and made a reference to Vesak Day.

On 13th December 1999 the proposal to declare Vesak day as a world holiday, signed by all the countries where Buddhism is practiced, was presented to the UN. It was adopted unanimously to declare Vesak Day as a world celebration day of the Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment and His Passing away.