History, Vision, Community, and Theravada Buddhism
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana Mahathera – Founding Abbot
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is one of the most senior monks on the planet and is the founding abbot of the Bhavana Society. Born in rural Sri Lanka, he has been a monk since age 12 and took full ordination at age 20 in 1947. He came to the United States in 1968. “Bhante G” (as he is fondly called by his students) has written a number of books, including the now-classic meditation manual Mindfulness In Plain English and its companion Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness. Bhante G regularly leads retreats on vipassana, mindfulness, metta (loving-friendliness), concentration, and other topics at the Bhavana Society.
Bhante Gunaratana is an internationally recognized author and meditation teacher. Prior to coming to the United States, he spent five years doing missionary work with the Harijanas (Untouchables) of India and ten years in Malaysia. He has taught in a number of settings, including the Buddhist Vihara of Washington D.C. where he served as president, the American University in Washington D.C. where he served as Buddhist chaplain and also earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, and at meditation centers worldwide. Bhante G has a strong scholarly background and lifelong commitment to dhamma.
In 1985, Bhante G co-founded the Bhavana Society and became its abbot. He wanted to teach meditation in an environment allowing for longer retreats and intense practice free from the trappings of a city vihara. He continues to teach in the direct, compassionate style that characterizes his books and articles. Bhante G conveys a well-rounded approach to Buddhist Dhamma, touching on all aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path. He emphasizes metta bhavana (the cultivation of loving-friendliness) as a basis for samma-samadhi, or right concentration. As a teacher, he is known for his emphasis both on samadhi and on metta as part of spiritual training.
In 1996, Bhante G received the title of Chief Sangha Nayaka Thera for North America. This acknowledged his status as highest-ranking monk of his sect in the United States and Canada. Originally published in 2003, his autobiography, Journey to Mindfulness, was updated in 2017 with an “Expanded Anniversary Edition” adding five new chapters. In 2005, the Sri Henepola Gunaratana Scholarship Trust was founded under his guidance. This trust provides educations for poverty stricken children in rural Sri Lanka.
Bhante G continues to write books and articles, lead retreats, and teach at the Bhavana Society. On the occasion of his 90th birthday, December 7th, 2017, Bhante G decided that he would no longer accept invitations that require long-distance travel. He says, “Thank you all for your kind consideration. With Metta, Bhante Gunaratana.”
For more about Bhante G be sure to check out this collection of reminiscences about him and the early years of the Bhavana Society in Preserving the Dhamma: Writings in Honor of the Eightieth Birthday of Bhante Gunaratana, especially the 12-page section of photographs of his early life in Sri Lanka and the building of the Bhavana Society.
Bhante E. Saddhajeewa Mahathera – Co-Abbot
Bhante Ethkandawaka Saddhajeewa Thero is Co-Abbot of the Bhavana Society. He received his higher ordination in Sri Lanka. He is a meditation and Dhamma teacher with many years of experience in working with youth and young adults as an educator, administrator, psychotherapist, as well as a social worker.
Bhante Saddhajeewa holds master’s degrees in psychology, sociology and education from universities in the United States and Sri Lanka. In addition, he holds a doctorate from the University of the West in Rosemead, CA with research focus on Mindfulness for substance abuse recovery. He has published eleven books and many articles and was the coordinator for the United Nation’s 2600th year commemoration of the Buddha’s enlightenment.
Bhante Dhammaratana Mahathera
was born in Detroit and worked primarily as a mechanic in lay life. He became interested in Buddhism from the Dhamma writings in The Tassajara Breadbook. These inspired him to contemplate ways to improve his life and overcome suffering. He came to Bhavana in 1991, where he served as a lay resident. In 1992, he was ordained by Bhante Gunaratana and is currently the most senior monk at the Bhavana Society ordained by Bhante G. Bhante Dhammaratana became a monk because of a desire for a more enduring happiness found by serving and being sensitive to others
Bhante Rathana (Dhammarathana) Mahathera
Bhante Ratana was ordained in Dhammanikethana Vihara, Jayawardanapura, Columbo, Sri Lanka in 1999 and received his higher ordination in 2008. Prior to coming to Bhavana Society, Bhante Ratana lived in Los Angeles. Bhante Ratana enjoys the calm forest environment of our monastery, meeting new people, and sharing his knowledge of the Dhamma
Bhante Rahula received his ordination in 2009 at Sithulpawwa Rajamaha Viharaya and his higher ordination at Yatagala Rajamaha Viharaya in Galle, Sri Lanka in 2022. Bhante has resided at Yatagala Rajamaha Viharaya for the past 10 years. Bhante came to Bhavana Society in 2023 to study meditation and assist Bhante G. Bhavana Society is Bhante’s first experience in the United States. When he is not helping Bhante G, Bhante Rahula enjoys walking in nature and cooking traditional Sri Lankan dishes.