Free, open Buddha Dhamma flows at the Oxford Buddhist Vihara

By Kooi F. Lim, the Buddhist Channel, 30 March 2024

Oxford City, UK -- As the cold wind and heavy drizzle wrapped and blanketed the vicinity of this Oxford based Theravada Buddhist centre, the blighted weather reminded us of the three characteristics of England: cold, rain and uncertainty.

The breeze was strong enough to wake the bell hanging by the porch, but not loud enough to summon the residents from within to open the door. The white Buddha statue in the garden was probably watching with amusement at these two Malaysians getting drenched cold while waiting for some response from occupants inside the building.

Moments later two monks donning robes familiar to the Theravada tradition came to greet us. They were Ven. Mahasena and another junior monk.

Welcome to the Oxford Buddhist Vihara

Oxford Buddhist Vihara (OBV) was founded in 2003 by Venerable Dr Khammai Dhammasami, a Shan Buddhist from Myanmar. Ven. Dhammasami received his higher ordination (upasampadā) as a Bhikkhu in 1984 under the preceptorship of Taung Lay Lone Sayadaw Venerable Nāgasenābhivaṃsa. He completed his doctorate in philosophy at Oxford University and later decided to serve the Buddhist community in his adopted city.

The OBV focused on using a non-sectarian approach although it is rooted in Theravada tradition. It does not differentiate between the Dhammayut or Mahanikay schools. In fact it's so open that even non Theravada traditions such Mahayana and Vajrayana practitioners are welcome to use the centre.

"Ven Dhammasami wanted the universal Dhamma to become the primary message here at OBV, thus he encouraged openness and non-sectarianism," explained the current abbot Ven. Mahasena.

Ven Dhammasami is now based in his home centre established in the Shan region of Myanmar. That centre, called Shan State Buddhist University is dedicated to training of monastics and the promotion of Buddha Dhamma globally as espoused by great schools of old such as the Nalanda University.

Community Service

The centre served Buddhists living around Oxford. The centre is well supported by the the Buddhist community from all denomination here through regular Dana activities.

Ven Mahasena has also practiced for 2 years in Sri Lanka, thus he was familiar with the style of chanting there.

"Sinhalese Buddhists are very happy to visit our centre because we can do paritta chanting", he explains half jokingly.

He highlighted the sense of community building through preserving Asian culture and language. The setup of the shrine is typical of a Buddhist temple that respects all traditions.

Ven. Mahasena, Chief monk (abbot) of Oxford Buddhist Centre

"This coming April we will be commemorating the annual Songkran festival here. There will be no water throwing but more sombre and meaningful activities will be carried out such as puja offerings, Dana and Dhamma talk," said Mahasena.

The centre does not just cater to it's Asian base but also involves itself within the community around its premise.

"We are invited some times to share Buddhism with the schools here. Also schools do drop by the temple to make social visits. Exchanges like these help to strengthen community ties of different faiths," he said.


Main activities carried out by the centre includes evening chanting and also regular Sunday services, such as chanting, sutta readings, short Dhamma talks and Dana. Special activities like Kathina, magha puja, Vesak and new year chanting are also organised annually.

Meditation is also taught here and the methods of loving kindness (metta bhavana) and satipaṭṭhāna are very popular.

Should there be a visiting monk of other traditions teach at the centre, like Zen or Tibetan geluk, members of the public are welcome to join in.

Dhamma haven

As a Dhamma teaching centre, those looking to deepen their knowledge and practice finds OBV to be Buddhist haven in Oxford. The centre has made such an impact that a bigger centre dedicated to meditation has been established in the beautiful woods at the Forest of Dean, in the vicinity of Gloucestershire. This 10 acre space is dedicated to the practice of mindfulness via short and long retreats held amidst peaceful greens and rolling hills.

Apart from this, OBV also has centres in Serbia, Hungary, Singapore and Malaysia.

The growth of OBV goes down to the vision and untiring dedication of its founder Ven Dhammasami to spread Buddha Dhamma. He has accomplished this without being encumbered by the lens of sectarianism.

"The Dhamma is open and inviting, so why do we restrict its message based on tradition?", adds Ven Mahasena in his parting message.

Indeed if all temples and centres were to keep to this spirit, the Buddha sasana (dispensation) could even be more effective and widespread through optimization of assets usage.

Through the dedication of the Sangha from OBV, may we all learn to be more open and efficient in our Dhamma sharing endeavours.

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