Obituary of the most Venerable Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara

The Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California regretfully announces the death of their leader and the oldest and most respected Buddhist monk in Southern California, the Most Venerable Dr. Havanpola Raranasara, on Friday, May 26, at his apartment at International Buddhist Meditation Center.

Dr. Ratanasara was a Buddhist monk, an educator, an interreligious worker and a constant proponent for peace.

Dr. Ratanasara came in 1979 to live in Los Angeles from Princeton, where he was attending a seminar on world peace, in order to help solve a problem within the Sri Lankan community. He then helped Ven. Walpola Piyananda and Ven. Pannila Ananda to start Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara and remained as its chief patron until his death.

Ven. Ratanasara devoted 60 years of his life to Buddhism, following his full ordination in 1940, in Sri Lanka. He began the Buddhist Sangha Council of Southern California in 1979, sereving as its president until February, 2000, and the College of Buddhist Studies in 1983. In 1987 he co-founded the American Buddhist Congress, an organization of Buddhist groups and laypeople, to help Buddhists of all traditions. He reigned as its Executive President until 1999, when he resigned against protest on the grounds that his health was failing.

In keeping with his motto of "Amity Among Religions, Unity Among Buddhists", he joined the Interreligious Council of Southern California in 1984, and served as one of its vice-presidents. In 1986 he co-founded the Buddhist Catholic Dialogue, serving as co-chairman until his death.

He served as Buddhist spokesperson to His Holiness John Paul II, in welcoming the Holy Father to Los Angeles1987, and at the Dialogue between the Pope and the non-Christian religions noted in Nostra Aetate.

Dr. Ratanasara twice hosted the Dalai Lama in Los Angeles, first in 1989 with the Buddhist Sangha Council for a conference entitled The Changing Faces of Buddhism, and again in 1999 when ABC awarded the Dalai Lama the first of its annual Bodhi Awards.

In addition to his tireless work for Buddhism he worked constantly for peace. He served his native Sri Lanka as a representative in the United Nations in 1957-58, as the first Buddhist monk, while attending Columbia University, working on his M.A. degree. He was a member of the Executive Committee for UNESCO's National Conference in Sri Lanka, and represented Sri Lanka in numerous international conferences on religion and peace, acting as director for several of them.

During the 1990's he conducted a period of "shuttle diplomacy" as the President of the committee for National Reconciliation, joining together Catholic, Muslim and Hindu minorities to try to bring about a peaceful solution tor the Tamil insurgency crisis. His work for peace in Sri Lanka was tireless and brave, as he went several times into Tamil Tiger camps to try to work out a solution, the last in January of this year.

Dr. Ratanasara's main interest, however, was in education. In 1965, after receiving his Ph.D. from London University, he returned to Sri Lanka and joined the faculty of Vidyalankara University, and became founder and director of the Postgraduate Institute of Buddhist Studies at Vidyalankara campus, of Kelaniya University from 1965 to 1980, when he established himself permanently in Los Angeles. He served on numerous committes on education for the government of Sri Lanka.

The last institute of learning which he founded was Buddhist Studies International on the temple grounds of Sri Ratna Vihara in Iriyawetiya, Sri Lanka. He was in charge of four temples in Sri Lanka. The most important were the famous 1500 year old cave temple at Sangelena near Kurunegala and the Sri Ratna Vihara at Iriyawetuya near Kelaniya

Ven. Dr. Havanpola Ratanasara was born on February 28, 1920 in Havanpola, Sri Lanka, the youngest son of the prestgious Dassanayake family, his father being Chieftain of the Hewavissa province.

His body will be on view at Wat Thai temple, North Hollywood, from 4-8 pm on Wednesday, May 31. The funeral ceremony will take place at Wat Thai on Saturday from 4 - 8 pm.

Instead of flowers, people are asked to make donations in care of Ven. Havanpola Shanti, who will forward them on to Buddhist Studies International, Sri Lanka. Cremation will take place Monday morning at Evergreen mortuary.

Ven. Dr. H. Ratanasara's Web-Page