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
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
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
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