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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2345

Remembering Bhante Madawela Punnaji

By Ven. Dr. Walpola Piyananda, Maha Nayaka Thera

I personally and all who knew him were saddened to hear of the passing of our Venerable Dr. Madawela Punnaji.

He made a lasting impression on everyone he met. He certainly was not the average Sri Lankan Theravadan monk, who becomes a novice in his teens or pre-teens and then has his entire education and life dedicated towards practicing as a Buddhist monk, which he continued until his death at age 89, when he passed away with his mind and his voice as sharp and as clear as ever.

Bhante Punnaji was highly educated in both Western science and Buddhism. He was in fact a practicing physician for many years before deciding to dedicate himself to a life as a Buddhist monk.

He became one of the foremost meditation teachers in all of Buddhism. He was an iconoclast – indeed, many traditional Sri Lankan Buddhists and even Buddhist monks were sometime uncomfortable with his teachings -- but he backed up everything he said with his own experience and his research.

He was totally dedicated to the truth, and he found that truth in Buddhism. He was quite taken with Western Psychology and the relationship between psychology and Buddhism was an ongoing them for him. He wrote countless articles and books on these subjects while maintaining a steady schedule of meditation classes and retreats.

Bhante Punnaji traveled extensively until his last years, rarely staying in one place too long. Fortunately, one place he came back to time and again, starting from its founding in 1980, was Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara. He wrote many of his articles here with the assistance of some of our Western disciples. He conducted retreats, taught some yoga, and continued his own research throughout his life.

Yes, Bhante Punnaji was his own man: he wasn’t afraid to express ideas that ran counter to traditional thinking, but it was always supported by his vast knowledge, and never did he do anything to bring Buddhism or the Sangha into disrepute. While I personally did not always agree with his ideas, I realized the importance of the discussion he brought up. And there is no denying that many of the Western disciples as well as Asian Buddhists who practiced meditation with him felt he was the best meditation teacher they had ever encountered.

He left a fairly extensive body of writing, books and articles, which are timeless and which will be sure to influence future generations of meditators. Many will miss that twinkle in your eye.

Thanks for all your years of service to Buddhism and to mankind.

- Asian Tribune -

Venerable Dr. Madawela Punnaji
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