From “The Village In The Jungle” To the Country In The “Great Arctic Circle”

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Ending up as the Chief Incumbent of The Ottawa Buddhist Vihara in Ontario, Canada

Ven. Walasmulle Sirisumana Thero, a young boy from Walasmulla, a village of the Hambantota District, of Southern Province, Sri Lanka, fifth of a family of eight children, and the son of a striving farmer and his wife, was brought to Colombo and ordained at the Mallikarama Temple in Dematagoda in the 70’s. He continued his studies in Buddhism at the Vidyodaya Pirivena in Maradana.

Ven. Thero, can you please tell us how you became a monk and came to Mallikarama Temple in Dematagoda being so far from Walasmulla, your hometown?

I Left Sri Lanka in 1983. I left for Russia, and studied in Moscow. After staying for some years in Russia I moved to Belarus, in Belarussia and stayed in Mince till 91. I completed my degree and came back to Sri Lanka in 91.
Although I was offered to take up a teaching position at the Vidyodaya Pirivena, in Sri Lanka, I was not very keen at the time. I wanted to travel, to see the world.  I then went to switzerland and stayed in Geneva for some years under the patronage of Ven. Thawalama Dhammika Thero. Ven. Thawalama Dhammika Thero studied in Sorbornne in France at the time. Those days he used to come to Russia often. During these trips we built up a friendship with each other. We both did the same degree. He always told me to come to Switzerland once I finish the degree. And he sponsored me and took me there. After a few years in Geneva, I went to France and lived there. Then I moved to England and stayed there for a further two years. The Chief Incumbent there requested me to stay on. But, one day when the Chief Incumbent went to the Embassy of France for some errand, I went with him and visited the Canadian Embassy next to it and applied for a visa to Canada.
I was granted the Canadian Visa and then I flew to Canada. As soon as I landed there I felt very lonely because the country was large and quiet unlike the countries that I had lived in. I felt some sadness also at first. And I thought to myself, what have I done? Was this the right thing to do?
From then on, I stayed in Canada for 12 years in a small 3 bedroom house after converting it to a place of religious worship. Many foreign nationals supported me during this period.  After many years of  striving, I suggested to my supporters and laymen that we get a bigger place for worship as we were finding it difficult with the small space we had to carry out all our religious activities. And they agreed. So we applied for a bank loan and bought a building in Ottawa city close to the Parliament. This is a very highly valued area. It cost me 800,000 Canadian Dollars for the building.
I somehow paid off the loan for a number of years among many difficulties. I have 240,000 more Canadian Dollars to pay. These days I am in Sri Lanka due to medical issues and I wanted to receive Ayurveda treatment. But when I am not there, it is difficult to run the place. No one gives donations when they come if they don’t see me around. Currently there are two Theros in the temple whom I’m training to take over after me one day. One Thero is from the Tangalle area, who is knowledgable, capable and also has language proficiency and stayed in many countries.
And there is another Thero from Matara who  came there recently. I have devotees from 13 contries who are supporting me. Among them are people from Iran and Iraq who are Muslims. I have a devoted segment of Muslim devotees who kneel at the statue of Lord Buddha. These people are highly into meditation. My best friend there is also a Muslim, gentleman who lives in Canada who is a businessman. He brings his children to me and they get blessings from the temple, they meditate, listen to Pirith and on some days has long discussions with me.

How did he get so devoted to Buddhism?

He is devoted and taken up with Buddhism after reading about it. Many of those whom I associate with are those who have read about Buddhism. I’ve only a handful of Buddhists from Sri Lanka who are Buddhists by birth.  The others are Vietnamese,. Cambodian and Laosian, Nepalese, Bangladeshis, Malaysians, Thais, Thaiwanese, and Chinese, who have been Buddhists for generations. But, there are Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, Iranians, and Iraquis  who have read about Buddhism and came to me.  They are also working and devoted to the Temple as well.

When you started this Ottawa Buddhist Vihara, did you receive support from someone and what were the issues you had to face while establishing the temple?

I never really had to face many issues when establishing the temple in Canada. However, I did everything according to the laws here. I also pay taxes on time. But when it comes to the tax documents after I pay off everything with the mortgage and the bills, the government is liable to pay me something back. This is due to the expenses that we go through here./  All the bills including, water, gas, etc. are very expensive.
However, all the donations I receive as in dry goods, I also donate to the needy. I get nearly 10-15 packs of rice a week. I donate these. I also offer a Dansala once a year. And I have asked my subordinates to give away the excess donated food items to the needy.
In a closeby forest there is a Meditation Centre. in the middle of a beautiful park. We do the programmes here and I also send rice sacs here. We also do a hospital charity service among other religious beneficial activities to the community. Just like in Sri Lanka we recite Pirith. Now I have lived in Canada for 20 years. I am happy about these twenty years. Once I came to Canada I got so many experiences. Before that I didn’t get much experience from the other places that I lived in. But living in Canada has given me so much exposure and experiences due to the many struggles that I had to face. When I was in Russia, I had no worries or responsibilities. I was living in a cloud with no worries. I was getting a government grant as a university student, I had no responsibilities, and lived a carefree and enjoyable life. But here in Canada, I faced so many challenges. And because I am the Chief Incumbent all the responsibility and paying off the loan, rest heavily on my shoulders.
While in Russia I went to Mongolia from time to time. In Mongolia they are such devoted Buddhists. When we get to the airport, they have a red carpet for us and a special vehicle for transporting Bhikkus. This is the country next to the Tibet border and they also speak Russian. So it was easy for me to communicate with them. The Llama in Mongolia was very close to me. He used to send me the ticket to come and visit Mongolia and gave me a reasonable sum of money also for spending. He tells me to go to Sri Lanka also for the holidays with the money he gives me and come back. However in Mongolia, all the Bhikkus are married. They practice the Mahayana Buddhism. While in Russia it was the Mongolian Bhikkus that I mostly associated with. Russia was a communist country when I entered there. While I was in Russia, our dean introduced me to the Priest of the Church. So the Priest used to call me and once in a while I go to the church and have tea with the Priest while having religious discussions. Once we became very friendly, the Priest used to bring me food so that I didn’t need anything. It was difficult to find rice, or sugar at that time in Russia. Once he brought me 30 kilos of rice.
Canada has been my second home now and I am happy to say that I am helping many nationalities here including Sri Lankans in their religious activities. I hope this place of religious worship will continue to serve all people even after me.

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