Sri Lankan monk Bhante Wimala and Buddhism in the Czech Republic
This week sees an important holiday for a fifth of the world’s population, namely Buddhists, who will be marking the anniversary of the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha on May 17. Some in the Czech Republic will be celebrating the day as well, and that will be thanks to a large part to Bhante Wimala, a Sri Lankan monk based in the United States who started the Czech Republic’s first two Buddhist centres, the Samadhi Meditation Centre near Mělník and the Lotus Centre in Prague. In Today’s One on One Christian Falvey speaks with Bhante Wimala about his work in the Czech Republic and the messages of Buddhism.
So you felt there was a larger response to Buddhism and to your message than elsewhere in the world where you’ve been?
“Not necessarily larger, but the kind of people who were interested and practicing on their own were young people, mostly in their twenties or their late teens, so it is so nice to see young people who are interested in learning about spirituality and dedicating their lives to broadening their perspective and searching for deeper truths in life.”
The question often arises whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion. What is your view on that question, and how do the Czechs you’ve met who are involved with Buddhism take it?
And the religious aspect?
“It is there. Because of temples, priests, monks, chanting, rituals… All these things are there, but when you go back to the original teachings of the Buddha and the heart of Buddhism, and what Buddha taught, it is definitely psychology/psychotherapy. The religious aspect is there, philosophy is there, but they are only peripheral part of Buddhism as a whole.”
You’re celebrating the birthday of the Buddha now; what does that mean to you personally and how will you be celebrating it in the Czech Republic?
“Yes, on May 17 we are celebrating the 2600 anniversary of the enlightenment of the Buddha – when he achieved awakening. We call it the day of enlightenment. So, to me, I think the greatest gift that anybody can give to the world is wisdom, and the message of compassion and love, and the message of spiritual transformation. So in that sense, it is the most spiritual holy day, or important day for me, personally. And that is also true for many Buddhists around the world; Buddhists are celebrating the day of enlightenment – which we call Vesak - all over the world in many different ways: joyful ceremonies, retreats, meditations classes, study groups and so on. So it is an important day for most all Buddhists.”
“Well, when you think about Czech Buddhists, there are all kinds, Tibetan Buddhists and Zen Czech Buddhists. I come from a particular tradition called Theravada Buddhist. So there are Theravada monks in the Czech Republic – I know four at least – and there are Theravada nuns, women who have received ordination. So it is slowly, surely spreading. And I think local people are becoming monks and nuns, and slowly many organisations are beginning to spread, even in remote regions of the Czech Republic. So I think the message will continue to grow in the Czech Republic. What it will become is very difficult to predict.”
From what you’ve learned of the Czech Republic and its people over the last 17 years, are there specific things in which you think Buddhism can particularly help here?