05 October 2008

Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima

Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima was born in Matara District of southern Sri Lanka on 3rd February 1957. Sri Lanka, or 'Ceylon', as she was called during the colonial era, lies in the Indian Ocean, south of India. She is a beautiful island, flourishing with thousands-year-old of Buddhist culture.

According to a Sri Lankan chronicle, the Mahavamsa, it was to the people of Sri Lanka that the Buddha gave the auspicious responsibility of protecting Dharma before his final nirvana. Since young, Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima has been nourished in Dharma.When he was eleven, his aunt invited three monks to take the rainy season retreat at her house, for there was no proper place nears the village for the monks to hold the retreat.

Young Chandima was attracted to the Dharma the monks disclosed and the bright yellow color of robes the monks wore at the first sight. He went to his aunt's place every day after school to hear the Dharma sermon from the monks.'Mama,' he begged his mother, 'I want to wear that robe.'

At the first, his mother refused. But after awhile, she relented. So three months later, young Chandima followed the three monks to their temple and as he had wished, wore the robe.

But soon, young Chandima found out that wearing the monastic robe was no fun at all! He must get up at four in the morning for the morning prayer. Everyday, there was sutra-studying and there was so much to be learnt! He ran away three times. But each time, his teacher went after him and persuaded him to return.

Despite all the hardship of monastic life, young Chandima remained in the robe.

In 1970, at the age of 13, young Chandima formally received Buddhist monastic ordination. After the ordination, he was sent to study at Maha Mantinda Pirivena. A pirivena is a Buddhist monastic school where young monks (and after 1980s young nuns) are trained. The subjects of study at a pirivena include Pali, Sanskrit, Tiripitaka, social studies, Sinhala, mathematics, etc. Studying at a pirivena is no easy task and one needs great determination to finish the strict and demanding courses. After seven years of study, Ven. Chandima graduated from the pirivena with a Distinction and he stayed on at the pirivena as a teacher.

In 1980, after more than ten years of 'wearing the robe', Chandima received the higher ordination and became a Bhikkhu, a full member of the Sangha (Buddhist monastic order).

In 1982 Ven. Bodagama Chandima was admitted into the renowned Buddhasravaka-Dharmapithaya University in the northern Sri Lanka. There he studied courses such as English, Pali, Sanskrit, Hindi, Sinhala, Tiripitaka, Abhidharma, meditation, Buddhist history and culture, etc. After three years of study he was granted a B.A. degree and in 1986 a M.A. degree. At the same time he also studied at Peradeniya University as an external student and was eventually granted a M.A. degree in Buddhist philosophy.Although as soon as he obtained his M.A. degree, he was invited to be the principal of a pirivena, he felt that he had yet seen the world.

So between 1986 and 1988 he traveled to Thailand for trainings in meditation. And later he went to Malaysia to study under the revered Ven. Dr. K. Sri Dhammananda Nayaka Maha Thera and at the same time helped to translate Pali texts. During his stay in Malaysia, library was where he spent most of his time.In 1990 under the encouragement of Chinese Buddhists in Malaysia, Ven. Bodagama Chandima came to Taiwan to study Chinese.

He thought that he would stay in Taiwan only for a few years and after acquiring Chinese language skills, he would return to Malaysia to spread Theravada Buddhism to the Chinese population there. Little did he know that he would go on to make Taiwan his home!At the first he took a Chinese language course at National Taiwan Normal University in Taipei.

During this period (1990~1993) all of his tuition and living expenses were paid by Mr. Jian Fengwen, the former Chairperson of The Corporate Body of Buddha Education Foundation. After he finished his Chinese language course, he was invited by the Corporate Body of Buddha Education Foundation to teach meditation and to translate Pali texts into Chinese. This has never stopped. Till today, Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima still engages in the task of translating Pali texts for the Corporate Body of Buddha Education Foundation and holds regular Dharma sermons and meditation classes there.Even though he lived in Taiwan, he never forgot about the needy in Sri Lanka.

Thus, in 1993, he founded the first Dharma Chakkra children's home near Colombo as well as the Dharma Chakkra Child Foundation for the upkeep of the children's home. In the meantime, he always tries to spread Dharma. For example, between May and September of 1997, he was invited to New York, Atlanta, Paris, and Germany to teach meditation and give Dharma sermons. But charity works remain important to him. In 1999, he founded the Theravada Samadhi Education Association in Taiwan for the purpose of funding various charity projects in Sri Lanka.In 2001 he was granted a honorary Ph.D. degree in philosophy by Kandy University. And in 2003 he was granted another honorary Ph.D. degree in Buddhist study from Southern University.

In Buddhist legend, there is a mystic bird called 'garuda'. A garuda has wings miles wide and when it flies, it can fly from one end of the world to the other within blinks. It flies alone but it is strong. Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima is like a garuda. In the dark sky of night, he frequently flies between Sri Lanka and Taiwan, spreading Dharma and compassion.His ability and compassion soon gained the attention of Ven. Dhamma Kitthi Thera, the abbot of the Sangharaja Museum, Kandy.

He then offered Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima a temple in Kaleniya near Colombo. Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima was puzzled. He asked Ven. Dhamma Kitthi Thera: 'Why did you give me this temple?'. The elderly Ven. Dhamma Kitthi Thera gave a simple but assured reply: 'I have confidence in you.'.Manelwata Vihara in Kaleniya is a big but half-ruined temple. Given its approximate to the capital Colombo, Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima thought that he might utilize this temple. The idea of 'Kaleniya Buddhist University' was thus born.

He plans to establish a Buddhist university at the location. And in order to provide better understanding among Buddhists of different traditions, the 'Kaleniya International Buddhist University' will differ from other Buddhist universities in Sri Lanka, in the way that it will provide not only courses in Pali and Theravada Buddhism but also courses in Buddhist studies of other traditions.

However, because of the devastating situation caused by the 2004 tsunami, all fund-raising events for the establishment of Kaleniya Buddhist University have been diverged to Tsunami relief projects.

As soon as the tsunami relief project was completed to a satisfying stage, a catastrophe, caused by the May 2008 cyclone, hit Myanmar. Forever compassion, Ven. Dr. Bodagama Chandima immediately threw his energy to help the cyclone victims. Therefore, the "Kaleniya International Buddhist University" will have wait even longer.