- The first arrival of Bhante Sobhita to Singapore upon an invitation from the Singapore branch of the World Fellowship of Buddhists
1981 – 1983
- Bhante Sobhita’s stay in Cheng Beng Buddhist Society, Singapore as a resident monk
- His involvement with religiousactivities there and with other Buddhist organizations such as Sri Lankaramaya, Tisarana Buddhist Association and Singapore Buddhists Mission.
- Helping to organize the first Joint-Vesak Celebration in Singapore.
- Bhante Sobhita’s pursuing of his doctorate studies in Delhi University
- His frequent visitation to Singapore to serve in the above Buddhist organizations
- Bhante Sobhita’s moving to Marine Terrace
- Establishing Bodhiraja Buddhist Society
- Moving to the premises in Haig Rd
- Commencement of weekly meditation classes, puja, chanting classes and celebration of Vesak and other ceremonial events in the Buddhist calendar
- Moving of BBS to Jalan Ulu Siglap
- Bhante Sobhita’s undertaking of the task of teaching in the Pali and Buddhist College of Singapore
- Continuing regular programmes of weekly meditation classes, puja, chanting classes and celebration of Vesak and other ceremonial events in the Buddhist calendar such as Seventh month festival and Katina ceremony
- Commencement of regular Dhammatalks, Tai Qi classes and Bodhi Newsletter
- Moving of BBS to Lorong 30, Geylang.
- Continuing regular weekly and annual programmes
- Commencement of larger welfare projects such as the housing project for victims of Tsunami of 2004 and annual Cattle saving programme
What is the role of Bodhiraja Buddhist Society?
The 20th anniversary of the Bodhiraja Buddhist Society (BBS) falls on 20th of September, 2013. We have walked together a long and humble journey, sharing happiness and joy along the way. We started our Society to help the people of Singapore to progress spiritual, moral and ethical ways, according to our greatest teacher, the Buddha.
From the beginning I had respect and gratitude to people of Chinese origin in Singapore and Malaysia for their dedication to Buddhism. Up to 13th century, Buddhism prevailed in this region. Since the Middle Ages, due to the influence of other anti-Buddhist elements, Buddhism declined. However, after 18 centuries, Chinese people migrated to this region, and the lost message of Buddha revived and flourished. Thus the road had been paved for us to come and conduct Dhamma service and we are grateful to the Chinese for bringing Buddhism back to this region. The Chinese have achieved spectacular economic success in this region and the practice of Buddhism is important to share peace with this prosperity. Buddhism has clearly proved during the last 2600 years as the religion of peace and non-violence. Neither bloodshed nor terrorism had been promoted by Buddhism in its history.
Therefore through Buddhism, real peace can be achieved, in this life. During the past twenty years we have been dedicated to serve to this aim. BBS has given me strength to carry out the advice of the Buddha to his disciples. That is:
Parattha (Benefit of others)
I am happy that these objectives were achieved via BBS and we could help the people of Singapore as well as neighboring countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Cambodia. We could conduct religious, social development and various charitable works.
What are the significant international projects of BBS?
During the 2008 cyclone in Myanmar we collected essential goods and sent them there. Later, we visited the affected areas and conducted house building programs as well as assisted local monks. In Cambodia too we assisted local monks in preparing their requisites.
In Sri Lanka we built an International Meditation Center at Rakvana with the support of Mr and Mrs L. Y. Ling of BBS. We also completed a project of building 700 houses for those affected by the tsunami of 2004 together with Singapore Red Cross and Taiwan Interreligious committee. Additionally, 14 containers of basic essentials were sent as immediate relief. This was succeeded with the dedication of Ms Shu Yin Lim.
We also completed a 60 feet pagoda and 28 Buddha statues at the Bodhiraja Temple in Embilipitiya, Sri Lanka. Mr Dennis Low headed this project together with many friends and well wishers from Singapore and Sri Lanka.
How has the Centre evolved over the years?
Twenty years ago in 1993, many friends came forward with the idea of forming a society to serve Singapore and Sri Lanka. Our friends and well wishers discussed and there was a positive response in general. Mr Lee Kwee Hok, MS. Tay Soh Wah, Mdm Teng and Ms Nancy, Ms Amara, Ms Ivy and many other friends backed this new idea. Ven. Sek Tahuat and Ms. Florence helped to prepare the constitution for the new society. Thus we formed the Bodhiraja Buddhist Society and the first president was Mr Ng Aik Hoe. Later we moved to Haig Road premises to expand our work. Then president was Mr. Ng Kok Hai. During this time, I was also involved with the interreligious committee of Singapore and worked with other representatives of different faiths in Singapore to ensure interreligious harmony. Subsequently we moved to Siglap with president as Ms Sally Ang. At the time I served as a lecturer at the Buddhist and Pali University College under the direction of Ven. Dr. Gnanarama Thero. We moved to our own premises at Gaylang under the patronage of Mr. and Mrs. Ling where we are at present. This location ensured the stability and continuity of BBS for the future. Our programs were expanded after we moved here.
How Bhante Sobhita came to Singapore ?
In 1981 while I was serving as a government teacher after my university graduation, I was selected for a scholarship provided by Thailand. It was ‘Royal Thai Fellowship’ and was presented to the Sri Lanka Ramanna Nikaya. In February of 1981 I reached Bangkok, Thailand and I stayed at the “Wat Paknam” Temple. Under the scholarship program, Thai language was to be studied during the first year. I got to know upon the completion of the current course, I could follow a three years course at the Maha Choola University.
But I felt that course did not suit me because it did not provide sufficient English language exposure. Therefore I researched and came across a very important institution, the head quarters of World Foundation of Buddhists (WFB), which was situated at Sukumwit Street in Bangkok.
I went there frequently and participated in their activities enthusiastically. Every Wednesday Dhamma Desena was held and Sundays meditation programmes were conducted by a British monk and a European gentleman.
After three months of studying Thai culture and language while attending the activities of WFB, reading books at the library and helping at the center, I requested the secretary of WFB, Mr. Akhil Viraj Baruwa to allow me to continue my studies in Singapore. He did not agree to my request at once. He stated that I could be given the opportunity to hold a responsible position within WFB if I continue my current course for a year. Due to the lack of monks who could communicate effectively with foreigners, he stated that I would easily obtain this position. After my insistence over a few days, Mr. Baruwa agreed. After about a week he guided me as to the details of the journey. I was introduced to the WFB of Singapore.
In May of 1981, I left Bangkok departing Kruntep Manakow Station, reached Buwoth area and in turn reached Pinang city in Malaysia. The length of the Journey was about 24 hours. Since it was not connected by roads as it is today, Pinang city was to be reached by a ferry. I took shelter at Sri Lankaramaya in Pinang. The temple head, Ven. P. Sri Pemarathana Thero kindly helped me. I spent four days climbing the ‘Pinang hill’ visiting Chinese temples and talking part in activities at Sri Lankaramaya.
When I was preparing to leave, Ven. Pemarathana Thero requested me to stay there for a few more days, so I obliged and left after three days. Although he had wanted me to stay on even longer, I wished to carry on with my main objective. Ven. Pemarathana Thero obtained the train ticket for me from Pinang to Singapore and gave me 50 Malaysian Ringgit as a present.
After a journey of several hours, I reached Singapore and was refused an entry visa. The lack of insufficient funds and a return air ticket were reason for this. About 10 – 15 people including myself were detained in a room at the train station.
After considering my student visa and the certified letter from the WFB, I was allowed entry by an officer, but for one week. After my three hour detention, I reached Lankarama Temple in Singapore which was located at St. Michael road. It was around eight at night. The date was 25th May 1981. The head monk at the time was Ven. Aththaragama Vajirajothi Thero. He kindly assisted me. I met the chairman Mr. Kumanayaka as well. The next day was my 31st birthday. I did puja at the Bodhi tree, chanted pirith and blessed for myself.
I met a group of young patrons at Lankaramaya that night. They were trying to build a carouse lantern on the temple grounds as I watched them. Due to some mechanical issue the lantern did not turn. I fixed the mechanical problem and the lantern began to turn well. The group including Indu and Ranjith were very pleased.
Upon my notification, Mr. Lee Kwee Hock, who was the chairman of the World Fellowship of Buddhist Singapore branch came to see me. He was also the chairmen of Cheng Beng Buddhist Society at Geylang Road. Along with him, other members, Mr. Lee Ken Yong, Mr. Sin Hock Chuan and Mr. Ong Boo Kok also came to welcome me.
Mr. Lee told me that my accommodation was set up at a Chinese temple. We bid farewell to Lankaramaya and went there. This was the largest temple in Singapore, Phor Kark See temple. The head monk at this temple was 70 year old Ven. Sek Hon Chun. I spent my time enjoying this beautiful temple and taking part in religious activities. His student was Sek Chai Thero. This was the first time in my life that I got to associate with Mahayana monks in a Mahayana temple.
On the second night of my stay Ven. Sek Hon Chun gifted me a bundle of dollars. It was a bundle of a hundred of one dollar bills. It was a huge surprise for me. It was the largest gift of money I had ever received. At the time, one Singapore dollar was worth 10 Sri Lankan rupees. Today it is 103 rupees.
After a week stay at Phor Kark See temple, with the guidance of Mr. Lee Kwee Hock, I arrived at the Cheng Beng Buddhist Center which was in Lorong 27 A in Geylang. On the way, I met Ven. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Maha Thero as well. He was residing at the old building where Tisarana Buddhist Society used to be in Duku road. Cheng Ben Buddhist center’s sole room on the wooden top floor of two storied old building was given to me. The chairman of this center, Mr. Lee Kwee Hock, helped to extend of my visa. I spent a month there, visiting other temples and taking part in the center’s activities with the care taker, Mr. Ong. As I had hoped, Cheng Ben Society’s assistance for my future in Singapore was becoming apparent. At this point, I wanted to withdraw from my Thai scholarship and bid farewell to my colleagues at Wat Paknam temple.
I left Singapore and first reached Brickfield Temple in Kuala Lumpur. I met Ven. Kirinde Sri Dhammananda Nayaka Thero. He assisted me in a friendly and generous manner. I also met Ven. Kirama Wimalajothi Thero who asked,
“There is an another temple close by, would you like to visit it?”
I agreed. He sent me to Sentul temple by his devotee’s vehicle. A monk called Wachissara was in charge of that temple. There were three other monks in this temple. They were Siddhartha thero, Paduma thero, and Dhammasiddhi thero.
Wachissara thero who took a liking to me asked,
“I would like to develop this temple so what should be done at first?”
“First, treat the Bodhi tree with love and respect. Then the temple will grow in no time”.
The Bodhi tree at the temple was in bad shape. There was hardly a pedestal for flowers in the Bodhi tree arena. There was cow-dung on the premises where cows used to walk often. Upon the request from this monk, I drew a proper plan a surrounding construction of the Bodhi tree along with pedestals. The monk was delighted at seeing this. Next day he spoke with his devotees about my draft. At the end, it was concluded that I should stay till the completion of this project. Considering the importance and sensitivity of the matter, I obliged. On the Esala full moon day which came two days after we all observed the rainy retreat (Vas) in Sentul Temple.
A new committee was appointed. Mr. Milroy Nanayakkara was the chairman. The devotees donated money. We all worked hard. There were many religious activities including ‘Bodhi puja’. K. Sri Dhammananda Thero and Sri Lankan ambassador Mr. Ana Senewirathne often took part in these activities. The enthusiasm of devotees made the temple function in an ordinary way. The Bodhi arena was beautifully built. At the end, the three months of rainy retreat, the Kathina ceremony took place in a grand manner. After this, I left to Thailand.
There later arose some conflicts between the committee members and Wachissara thero. As a result, the temple lost the monks who were residing there. Temple was totally vacant. Venerable Saranankara Thero arrived there later. This was in the monsoon season of 1982. Under his guidance Sentul temple has achieved a great progress as at present. This is how the improvement of the temple began with the building of the Bodhi tree surrounding structure (Bodhi Prakara), how everything was completed was unbelievable.
Completing my responsibilities in Thialand and services in Malaysia, I became a resident at Singapore’s Cheng Beng Buddhist Society. Under the sponsorship of the committee, I followed a course at the British Council which was at Rubber House in Clifferd Pier. Meanwhile, I dedicatedly helped the religious activities of Cheng Ben Centre, Sri Lankaramaya, Tisarana Buddhist Association and Singapore Buddhists Mission. During this time, I got the chance to work with the current chairman of Cheng Beng Buddhist Society, Mr. Ng Ghin as well as Ms. Soh Wah, Mr. Goh Song Wee along with others and worked together in various projects.
As I was provided with daily meals and facilities, Cheng Beng Buddhist Society assisted me in my growth and I mention this with immense gratitude.
Under the guidance of Ven. Dr. Waragoda Pemaratana Thero, I decided to continue my studies and registered for the doctorate programme in the Delhi University in 1983. During this period, I came to Singapore to spend my vacations. I was able to fly to Singapore quite often through ‘Airoplot’ Russian airline which allowed me very special travel facilities.
At this time Mr. Lee, the president of the Cheng Ben Buddhist Society, requested me to find them a genuine relic of Lord Buddha. I took this request to the most Ven. Pottewela Pannasara Maha Nayaka Thero and with his kind help we could find a relic which was recovered from an old stupa by the Commissioner of Archaeology of Sri Lanka in 1987. The Maha Nayaka Thero came to Singapore and donated the relic to Cheng Ben Buddhist Society, which was received with a very grand ceremony by the then president Mr. Low Kin Chong and devotees on 05th March 1994.
There was new building being built at Cheng Beng Buddhist Society after removing old ones. So, my accommodation was made at Ho Hai temple in Geylang East. I got to meet Mr. Ng Aik Hoe and Mdm. Teng at this time. I was asked to reside at one of their homes, at BLK 57, Marine Terrace. After that, each time I visited Singapore, I opted to stay there. When I visit Singapore, a lot of my friends and those who would like to learn about Buddhism and receive blessings, they come to visit me there. This group started to grow day by day. It was during this period that the suggestion to establish a formal organization came forward. Then we got together and formed “Bodhiraja Buddhist Society” in 1993 giving a formal character to our long held friendship and companionship.
Thank you All !