Gangodawila Soma Thero
|Gangodawila Soma Thero|
Ven.Gangodawila Soma Thero in a meditating posture
|School||Amarapura Sri Dharmarakkhita (Theravada-Sri Lanka)|
April 24, 1948|
Gangodawila (Sri Lanka)
|Died||December 12, 2003
St. Petersburg (Russia)
|Title||Chief incumbent of Buddhist Temple Victoria(Australia)|
|Teacher||Most Ven.Madihe Pannaseeha Thero|
Gangodawila Soma Thero (Sinhala:පුජ්ය ගංගොඩවිල සෝම හිමි) (24 April 1948 - 12 December 2003) was a pioneer Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka. Following tradition, he used the name of his birthplace, Gangodawila, in front of his name. Ven Soma thero followed the example set by his teacher, Most Ven Madihe Pannaseeha thero and served the Buddha Dhamma and the Sinhala Buddhists both as a learned monk and as a social reformer.
The cause of his death remains in dispute.
Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera was born in Gangodawila, a semi-urban locality in the outskirts of the capital city of Colombo.
Soma Thera was ordained in 1974 when he was 26 years of age under the tutelage of two of the most revered monks in Sri Lanka – Most Reverend Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayake Thera and Venerable Ampitiye Rahula Maha Thera. He received training at the Bhikkhu Training Centre, Maharagama – an institution established by these two monks for the training of novices who enter the Order of the Maha Sangha.
Having obtained his higher ordination in 1976, Some Thera continued to study the Buddhist texts in Pali, their original language. He was particularly interested in doing research into the teachings of the Buddha and have written several books based on such research.
His mission was to mould the younger generation to live according to the Dhamma. He had the right approach in handling youth problems and soon they rallied round him in an organisation called 'Tharunu Saviya' (Strength of the Youth).
A keen student of meditation, he also took time off to be in solitude in distant, lonely locations where he could meditate undisturbed. His interest in meditating on the qualities of the Buddha made him work on an exhaustive study on the subject. His published work 'Buddhastupa' is a useful guide to those interested in such meditation.
Soma Thera's links with Victoria dates back to 1986 when he was invited by some Sri Lankans to spend some time preaching the Dhamma. After six months he returned to Sri Lanka. When he came back in 1989, the groundwork had been done to set up the Buddhist Vihara Victoria.
Soma Thera's last visit to Sri Lanka made him realise the need to inject Buddhist values into the minds of people, travelling widely throughout the country spreading the message of the Buddha on how to lead simple lives based on the Five Precepts. Thousands flocked to listen to his sermons, which were delivered in simple language yet most effectively. Most of the listeners were young men and women. He discussed religious and social issues on television and these became popular.
 The Buddhist Vihara Victoria
The Buddhist Vihara Victoria, a new temple, was established in 1993 at Noble Park. This was established in view of spreading the Dhamma to not only the Sri Lankan community but also other nationalities. At present all religious work is going well. As this premises is not big enough to provide the Buddhist service on a global scale, Soma There bought another 5-acre (20,000 m2) block of land with the help of the community to found the Sakyamuni Sambuddha Vihara. 800 trees were planted on the land and necessary plans were drawn up.
Prior to being ordained Venerable Soma had been engaged in business, but had worked closely with the Siri Vajiragnana Dharmayathanaya as a student leader and lay preacher. His teachers were the most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka Thero and Venerable Ampitiye Rahula Thero. His love and veneration for his teachers was exceeded only by his deep and abiding veneration of Lord Buddha.
Educated at Isipathana Vidyalaya Colombo, formerly Greenlands College, Venerable Soma, in lay life known as Somaratna played Rugby for the school.
Venerable Soma first visited Australia in 1986, when he came on an invitation from the Buddhist temple at Richmond, where he stayed for a period of three months. Venerable Soma realised that Mahayana practices had a strong foothold in Australia and felt that there was a need for a Vihara where Theravada practices could be followed correctly. When he returned to Australia in 1989, Venerable Soma established the first Sinhala Vihara in Melbourne. This was known as the Melbourne Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara and was situated at Regent Street in Springvale. In 1993, he moved away from the Melbourne Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara and established Buddhist Vihara Victoria at 21 Rich Street, Noble Park. Later, this Vihara was moved to Berwick and is called the Sakyamuni Sambuddha Vihara.
Venerable Soma was a farsighted person and his vision was to pave the way to establishing a centre of Buddhist philosophy in Australia. Sakyamuni Sambudddha Vihara was established with the intention of becoming a Buddhist Education, Research and Information Centre for scholars of the Dhamma and to cater to all those who were interested in the study and practice of the Dhamma.
In 1996 he returned to Sri Lanka after seven years in Australia. This was intended to be a short stay to revitalise his spiritual development and to be at the side of his father who had suffered a stroke. The stay was extended as his father became more gravely ill and his presence was required to comfort his mother who was also ailing. While in Sri Lanka Venerable Soma became aware that Buddhists and the Dhamma were increasingly under siege from various outside influences that threatened to distort the word of Lord Buddha and destroy Buddhism. He was moved by the plight of the rural people, especially those living in areas under threat from terrorist attacks, who were undergoing great hardship and suffering and had no one to turn to for help.
When Venerable Soma returned to Australia for a short visit, he launched a campaign to raise funds to reconstruct several tanks in these areas so that the villagers could engage in their traditional occupation of agriculture and be assured that they would not want for food. To support and sustain the villagers, he organised the local Buddhist monks at the village Viharas to move more closely with the people and help them in various ways.
On his return to Sri Lanka he was also appalled to note that alcoholism was rife in the country. He immediately began a campaign to open the eyes of the nation, especially the younger generation to the depravities of drink.
He also carried out a campaign to root out misconceptions entertained by all Buddhists with regard to the worship of Hindu deities practiced by Buddhists, and especially the practice of having Hindu Kovils as an integral part of a Buddhist Vihara. He also campaigned against the bringing in of Sai Baba worship into Buddhism.
He also helped in the establishment of the Sinhala School at Brunswick, which today boasts nearly 200 students.
Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera of the Vajiraramaya Maharagama died in St. Petersburg, Russia on 12 December 2003 in his 56th year. He was in Russia to accept an honorary doctorate conferred by the Russian Government. He was rushed to a hospital in St Petersburg after a heart attack. He underwent two emergency operations.
Sri Lankans were shocked and saddened by his death. The circumstances of his death aroused suspicion. It was widely believed that he was murdered by Christian fundamentalists. Therefore two autopsy tests were carried out. A commission was appointed to investigate the death. Out of the four people in the commission, 3 deduced that it was intentional but the other thought the evidence was not enough.. However most of these commissions were politically motivated to appease Sinhala Buddhist Fundamentalists who formed major part of the Government of President Rajapakse. Eminent physicians could not find any foul play even after repeated autopsies.
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 News Updates
- Ven. Soma. The Forthright One - 12/Dec/2007 Daily News
- Ven. Soma Thera's approach would have paved way for just, free and peaceful society - Sri Lanka Muslim Federation - 24/Dec//2003 Daily News
- Ven. Soma Thera's cremation today - 24/Dec/2003 Daily News
- Fears of religious clashes grip Lanka - 23/Dec/2003 The Hindu, India
- Lankan monk's death, a grievous blow to Sinhala-Buddhist revival - 21/Dec/2003 Hindustan Times, India
- Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera's cremation tomorrow - 23/Dec/2003 Daily News
- Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thera was in the fore front to protect, safeguard nation and Buddhism - Samastha Lanka Pevidi Sanvidanaya - 23/Dec/2003 Daily News
- CBK won't allow religious conflict - 23/Dec/2003 Daily Mirror
- Soma Thera's relatives seek commission to inquire into death - 23/Dec/2003 Colombopage.com
- Mourners flock to pay last respects - 22/Dec/2003 Daily News
- Jana Vijaya editor questioned - 22/Dec/2003 Daily Mirror
- State funeral for prelate - 21/Dec/2003 Sunday Observer
- Soma Hamuduruwo had a mission to fulfil - 21/Dec/2003 The Sunday Times
- Lankan Ambassador in Moscow says - 20/Dec/2003 Daily News
- Ven. Soma Thero's death due to heartattack - 18/Dec/2003 Lankatruth
- Remains of Ven. Soma Thera arrive today - 18/Dec/2003 Daily News
- Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Australia demand a full investigation into the death of Venerable Soma Thera - 16/Dec/2003 Go2lanka.com
- Patriot of Sri Lanka and popular leader of the Sinhalese venerable Gangodawila Soma Thero dies in Russia .- 12/Dec/2003