Victoria 3806, Australia
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Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera was born in Gangodawila, a semi-urban locality in the outskirts of the capital city of Colombo.
Soma Thera was ordained as novice in 1974 when he was 26 years of age under the tutelage of two of the most revered monks in Sri Lanka – Most Reverend Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayake Thera and Venerable Ampitiye Rahula Maha Thera. He received training at the Bhikkhu Training Centre, Maharagama – an institution established by the monks mentioned above.
Having obtained his higher ordination in 1976, Soma Thera continued to study the Buddhist texts in Pali, their original language, according to Theravada tradition. He was particularly interested in doing research into the teachings of the Buddha and has written several books on the subject.
He saw his mission to mould the younger generation to live according to the Dhamma. He rallied round him a youth organisation called Tharunu Saviya ("Strength of the Youth").
A keen student of meditation, he took time off to be in solitude in distant, lonely locations. His interest in meditating on the qualities of the Buddha made him work on an exhaustive study on the subject. His published work Buddhastupa is a useful guide to those interested in such meditation.
Soma Thera's links with Victoria (Australia) dates back to 1986, when he was invited by some Sri Lankans to spend time preaching the Dhamma. After six months he returned to Sri Lanka. When he came back in 1989, the groundwork had been done to set up the Buddhist Vihara Victoria (Shakyamuni Sambuddha Vihara).
Prior to being ordained, Venerable Soma had been engaged in business, but had worked closely with the Siri Vajiragnana Dharmayathanaya as a student leader and lay preacher. Educated at Isipathana College, Colombo, formerly Greenlands College, Venerable Soma, in lay life known as Somaratna played Rugby for the school.
Venerable Soma first visited Australia in 1986, when he came on an invitation from the Buddhist temple at Richmond, where he stayed for a period of three months. Venerable Soma realised that Mahayana practices had a strong foothold in Australia and felt that there was a need for a Vihara where Theravada practices could be followed correctly. When he returned to Australia in 1989, Venerable Soma established the first Sinhala Vihara in Melbourne. This was known as the Melbourne Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara and was situated at Regent Street in Springvale. In 1993, he moved away from the Melbourne Sri Lankan Buddhist Vihara and established Buddhist Vihara Victoria at 21 Rich Street, Noble Park. Later, this Vihara was moved to Berwick and is called the Sakyamuni Sambuddha Vihara. It was established with the intention of becoming a Buddhist Education, Research and Information Centre for scholars of the Dhamma and to cater to all those who were interested in the study and practice of the Dhamma.
In 1996 he returned to Sri Lanka after seven years in Australia. This was intended to be a short stay to revitalise his spiritual development and to be at the side of his father who had suffered a stroke. The stay was extended as his father became more gravely ill and his presence was required to comfort his mother who was also ailing.
When Venerable Soma returned to Australia for a short visit, he launched a campaign to raise funds to reconstruct several tanks in these areas so that the villagers could engage in their traditional occupation of agriculture and be assured that they would not want for food. To support and sustain the villagers, he organised the local Buddhist monks at the village Viharas to move more closely with the people and help them in various ways.
On his return to Sri Lanka he was also appalled to note that alcoholism was rife in the country. He immediately began a campaign to open the eyes of the nation, especially the younger generation to the depravities of drink.
He also helped in the establishment of the Sinhala School at Brunswick, which today boasts nearly 200 students.
Venerable Gangodawila Soma Thera of the Vajiraramaya Maharagama died in St. Petersburg, Russia on 12 December 2003 in his 56th year. He was in Russia to accept an honorary doctorate conferred by the Russian Government. He was rushed to a hospital in St Petersburg after a heart attack. He underwent two emergency operations.