Sri Lanka has issued a special stamp honoring Ven. Dr. Henepola Gunaratana, known to his students as Bhante G, for his services to the nation and to Buddhism. Ven. Gunaratana, who is 95 years old, is perhaps best known for his work at the Buddhist Vihara Society of Washington, DC, beginning in 1968, and his founding of the Bhavana Society retreat center in 1982, earning him the Sri Lankan title of Chief Sanghanayaka of North America. At an event hosted by Sri Lankan Transport, Highways, and Mass Media minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, several Sri Lankan officials and leading monastics offered praise for Ven. Gunaratana.
Van. Gunaratana was born on 7 December 1927, and was ordained at the age of 20. He spent five years in India after this, staying at the Mahabodhi Society, living in Sanchi, Delhi, and Mumbai. After this, he spent 10 years in Malaysia teaching and spreading Buddhism, working as a religious advisor for the Sasana Abhivurdhiwardhana Society and other groups.
After moving to the US, Ven. Gunaratana studied at American University in Washington, DC, earning a PhD in philosophy. He later taught at American University, Georgetown University, and the University of Maryland. During his time as a student, Ven. Gunaratana was invited by the US State Department to help in the resettlement of more than 10,000 Vietnamese refugees.
Ven. Dr. Ethkandawaka Saddhajeewa Thera, co-abbot of the Bhavana Society, said that Gunaratana was the first member of the Buddhist clergy to receive a military honor from the US Air Force for his services, adding, “He was also the first Bhikkhu to obtain a doctorate in the US.” (Daily News)
“He worked diligently to popularize the Washington Buddhist Temple. Both Sri Lankans and foreigners gathered around him as a result of this. He received many invitations from universities to deliver lectures on Buddhism,” Ven. Saddhajeewa said. “Many of those scholars from these universities later took part in the policymaking and legislative processes in their countries. The Thera’s message of Buddhism, therefore, became a topic of discussion in many of these institutions.” (Daily News)
Ven. Gunaratana has authored several books, including The Path of Serenity and Insight (Motilal Banarsidass 1985), and The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation (Buddhist Publication Society 1988). His book Mindfulness in Plain English (Wisdom Publication 1994) was a bestseller, helping to earn him global recognition. Mindfulness in Plain English was listed at the top of The New York Times list of books for anyone curious about meditation in 2023. In the review, author Hope Reese writes: “This straightforward and accessible guide . . . is a favorite among meditation teachers and scientists alike.” (The New York Times)
Ven. Saddhajeewa noted: “Today only a few bhikkhus in both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions can be compared to Gunaratana Thera. Therefore, five years ago he was named as one of the three most revered bhikkhus by the Wisdom magazine.” (Daily News)
Ven. Prof. Kamburugamuwe Vajira Nayaka Thera, chancellor of Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka, also spoke at the ceremony, noting: “To be a successful ambassador of faith one must complete three requisites. One must first understand what one is preaching to the world. Then he must have a good language of knowledge, and charisma as well. Gunaratana Thera had all of this in abundance.” (Daily News)