The Spritual Journey
Of Most Ven. Kiribathgoda Gnānānanda Thero
This time period is very fortunate for us. We are fortunate to have obtained a rare human life,
during a very rare time in which Supreme Buddha’s dispensation still exists in this world. If we
don’t realize how rare this opportunity is, we will continue to endlessly cycle through the rounds
of birth and death in this samsara. We will be re-born in hell, the animal world, the ghost world
and in other unpleasant planes of existence. This danger has been explained very clearly by our
great Teacher, to whom we have gone for refuge.
I’d like to share some facts about my life that are perhaps not commonly known. It is well known
that I am not a Buddhist by birth. However, at the age of 6 months I took refuge in the Triple
Gem and became a Buddhist. I’ll describe how the incident took place.
My parents wanted to have a son, so they prayed incessantly, but a daughter was born instead.
They continued praying for a son, and yet again a daughter was born. Again, for a third time,
they prayed for a son, and once again a daughter was born. My parents were deeply saddened.
One day, a Buddhist Upasika (lay devotee), Wimalawathie, came to meet my parents and told
them to seek help from the Triple Gem. Accompanied by Uppasika Wimalawathie, my parents
went to the Kiribathgoda Buddhist Temple and after paying homage to the Triple Gem they
observed a vow to the deity Katharagama, asking for a son. Soon after, I was born. However, my
parents did not follow the Dhamma properly. They continued to practise rites and rituals from
their previous religion. Six months later, Upassika Wimalawathie advised my parents to
discontinue their current practices as they were unbeneficial and to go to Katharagama Temple
and fulfill the vow that they had made instead.
I can still remember the experience to this day. My father stood me up in Katharagama’s Manik
River at the age of six months. When we were near the Kiri Vihara Dagaba, some kind of
invisible power possessed my father and said, “This son was born to your family in order to
convert to Buddhism.” So that day, embracing me, my parents converted to Buddhism.
However, no one knew the purpose of taking refuge in the Triple Gem, and that the real purpose
was to understand the Four Noble Truths. Since no one taught them these principles, they went to
a mix of Catholic, Hindu and Buddhist temples, like many Buddhists in Sri Lanka at that time.
Nevertheless, due to my good fortune, when I was sixteen years old, a thought occurred to me:
‘This is not the correct way. Realising Nibbana is the best way.’ I then received my
parents’permission to be ordained as a monk.
Dikwelle Pannananda Lokuswaminwahanse and Seruwawila Sri Sumedankara Mahanayaka
Swaminwahanse assisted me in training to become a monk. I was ordained at the age of
seventeen, following these Bhantes’ advice. First, I received traditional Buddhist academic
education under the guidance of Seruwawila Saranakiththi Nayakaswaminwahanse, and then
later enrolled in Jayawardhanapura University. However, I felt that my university studies were
futile, and that the truth lay in attaining Nibbana in this very life. There was a reason for this
thought. When I was studying in university, I resided in a temple. There, I had the opportunity to
read many discourses from the Sutta Pitaka. At the end of all these discourses, it was stated that
many different kinds of disciples attained Nibbana. Reading this brought tears to my eyes as I
asked myself the question, ’Why can’t we realise Nibbana?’
As the thought sunk deep within my heart, I began to find the Dhamma. Before completing the
degree, I left university and became a recluse. Then I decided that I would go the Himalayas to
seek the assistance of invisible powers.
I had traveled to India previously to learn Hindi, at which time I participated in a Buddhist
pilgrimage. I worshipped at Varanasi and Buddhagaya, and then we started the journey to
Rajagaha. However, while stepping on the stairs to Gidjakuta rock- mountain, a wonderful thing
happened. A memory of a previous birth started flooding my mind. When I arrived at the peak of
the mountain, I remembered that in a previous birth I had been practising the Dhamma as a monk
with the Venerable Ananda, the Chief Attendant of Gautama Supreme Buddha. I was overcome
with tremendous sadness in learning that I had lived such a life and associated with such
Arahants, and yet in spite of that fortune, I was still unable to escape from the grips of samsara.
Having gone to the middle of the forest, I wept until the sadness left my mind.
I returned to Sri Lanka and dedicated my life to finding the true Dhamma. I would either go to
the Himalayas and find the Noble Dhamma, or die on behalf of my attempt. I started to read
discourses (suttas) with the pure intention of understanding this Dhamma for myself. While I
was reading, I found wonderful and marvelous discourses. However, lay people did not have this
opportunity to know about the Supreme Buddha’s discourses, as people in Sri Lanka had lost
confidence in these great Teachings. They had given up the Dhamma saying that it was a useless
effort nowadays, and cannot be understood. Attaining the fruits of the Path (maggaphala) was a
joke to many. They were under the misconception that one needs to achieve the perfections
(paramitas) in order to have any significant gain. Others alleged that before attaining the fruits of
the Path, we must deal with more important worldly life issues, like earning money or raising
In this way, there was a wrong view among both lay people and monks that the Dhamma
couldn’t be realized in this life itself. It was very hard to find disciples in Sri Lanka with saddha
(unshakeableconfidence in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha). Instead of trying to understand
the Supreme Buddha’s Dhamma, they were more focused on large traditional ceremonies and
I faced a lot of discouragement while trying to understand the Dhamma, but in fact the Dhamma
has thousands of wonderful and marvelous discourses. In the Acchariya-abbhuta Sutta (MN
123), the Supreme Buddha explains there are four wonderful and marvelous things in this world
with the appearance of the Supreme Buddha and the Noble Dhamma. In this world, people find
pleasure in attachment, take delight in attachment and enjoy attachment. But, when the Dhamma
of non-attachment is taught by the Tathagatha, people like to listen to it, give ear to it, and try to
understand it. This is the first wonderful and marvelous thing that arises upon the appearance of
a Tathagatha; an Arahant, a fully Enlightened One. Generally people find pleasure in conceit
(mana), take delight in conceit and enjoy conceit. However, when the Dhamma is taught by the
Tathagatha for the abolition of conceit, people wish to listen to it, they like to give ear to it, and
try to understand it. This is the second wonderful and marvelous thing. People generally find
pleasure with defilements, take delight in defilements and enjoy defilements. However, when the
peaceful Dhamma is taught by the Tathagatha for the eradication of defilements, people wish to
listen to it, give ear to it, and try to understand it. This is the third wonderful and marvelous thing
about this Dhamma. Lastly, people generally live in ignorance, are blinded by ignorance and
fettered by ignorance. But when the Dhamma is taught by the Tathagatha for the abolition of
ignorance, people wish to listen to it, like to give ear to it, and try to understand it. This is the
fourth wonderful and marvelous thing in this Dhamma.
If the Gautama Buddha’s dispensation is to shine tomorrow, it’s due to efforts to attain the fruits
of the Path, namely, the fruits of: Sotapanna, Sakadagami, Anagami, and Arahant, and not
because of anything else. If we discuss and practise this Dhamma clearly, we will have noble
disciples that attain fruits of the Path. Only then can the Buddha’s Dispensation shine. The
Supreme Buddha teaches us a rare path. It is the Noble Eightfold Path. If we could even just
enter that Path, our problems and troubles would diminish significantly. Initially, there was a
large debate about whether people could still realize the Dhamma in this Gautama Supreme
Buddha’s dispensation. Many thought that our one and only salvation was in the future Maitreya
Buddha’s dispensation. People had given up the Gautama Buddha’s dispensation saying, ‘this is
unnecessary, as we will meet Maitreya Buddha in the future, listen to His Dhamma, and then we
will realize Nibbana and escape from samsara in His dispensation.’ Some wish to become
Buddhas themselves. I even wished this in the past, but the Supreme Buddha never advised us to
wish to become a Buddha. He taught us to understand this Dhamma as followers. It was about
twenty years ago that I began to have a strong belief that this Dhamma could be realized exactly
the way Supreme Buddha had taught it. It was then that I decided to find the true Dhamma.
Though there were many places that taught meditation, I couldn’t find even one place where they
clearly explained the Teachings of the Supreme Buddha. In comparison, if asked today ‘What
did the Supreme Buddha teach?’, many people will clearly answer by saying, ‘the Four Noble
Truths’. But at that time, even I did not know this. We were learning concepts: concepts of Mara,
concepts of Nibbana, Buddha and nature, etc. If I was asked, ‘What are basic teachings of the
Buddha?’, I would not have been able to answer this question.
I commited myself to reading the Supreme Buddha’s original discourses, but I didn’t have a clear
understanding of where to begin to practise. Over and over, a thought occurred to me:
‘Somehow, I must escape from samsara.’ The prospect of being born again into this
unwholesome existence worried me; it was not the fear of dying one day. If we are born, death is
a guarantee – whether we like it or not. My problem was the uncertainty of my destination after
death. This was the one major concern I had as a monk. In order to find the answer to this
problem, I gave up my higher education, temples and friends. Then I studied the Dhamma
through the association of various monasteries and institutions. But I still didn’t have a clear
understanding of what I should practise. So, I decided to go to India thinking that if I was in a
forest, I would meet religious teachers (rishis) and they would advise me.
In 1994, I went to the Himalayas and thought, ‘Let me offer my life in the name of the truth and
seek my liberation. Perhaps, it will help me to realize the Dhamma in the next life.’ My only
friend was a small Dhammapada book. For a few days in India, I associated with monks and
rishis. Later I left them and stayed in a little hut, near the Ganges River. With the river floating
down calmly, and the Himalayan Mountains in the distance, I started thinking as I sat on the
bank of the river. I heard chantings of Bajan (ritualistic worship) for devas everywhere.
Suddenly, I felt a deep loneliness. This thought occurred to me: ‘I am a disciple of the Supreme
Buddha; and I have gone for refuge to the Buddha by saying, ‘Buddham saranam gacchami’. Oh,
but I do not hear the sound of those sweet words here! And if I were to die in the Himalayas, is
there the chance that I would be born in a place where the words ‘Buddam saranam gacchami
wouldn’t be recited?’ But then again I thought, ‘No, that won’t happen. I am seeking liberation
with an honest and sincere heart. I will not get lost.’
I decided to go into the forest in the Himalayas. A friend, Rishi Rajakrishna, planned to
accompany me to Chandabedi, a village one hundred miles from Rishikesh. From there, we
would have to travel by bus, and a further ten kilometres by foot. There, lay a forest near the
Ganges River that was known to have lions roaming within. So, I thought to myself, ‘Let me go
there and tear up my passport, and sit under a tree thinking about Supreme Buddha. Then a lion
could attack me, so that in my next life I could realize the Dhamma more easily than I am today!’
We needed to take the bus at 3:00 in the morning. The previous evening, I wrote a letter to our
temple in Sri Lanka saying that I would never return to Sri Lanka. I prepared my robes, bowl and
a few other things. At nightfall, a monk came to my hut and knocked on the door. When I asked
for the reason, he replied, “Our Guru has said that you should not go on this journey.” It occurred
to me that the journey I had planned had been cancelled in order to save me, as no one there
could have known about my plan to leave in the morning.
After a week or so, one early morning at 1:30am, while I was still half asleep in my hut, which
was a 6×4 foot area, covered with plastic sheets and plastered with clay, I saw a person dressed
in white entering the hut. He said, “You’re very sad, aren’t you?” I replied, “Yes, I am very sad.”
He then asked, “Could you not fulfill the purpose of coming to the Himalayas?” I replied,
“That’s right, I could not fulfill the purpose of coming to the Himalayas.” He then asked, “Do
you believe that you will be able to find what you are looking for in the Himalayas?” I replied,
“Yes, I think so.” However, he retorted, “No, it is not here.” Thus, I immediately sought
answers: “Then where is it – that which I am seeking?” He answered, “It is in the Noble
Eightfold Path!” That was the very first time I had heard that phrase. I had never heard it from a
human being. He said, “Go and follow the Noble Eightfold Path. Don’t stay here.” I quickly sat
up on my bed, wondering and wondering: ‘What’s the meaning of this?’
From that moment on, I abandoned the idea of seeking external help, from monks and rishis. I
understood that I, myself, must find my own liberation and that no one could give it to me. I
knew my refuge should be based on the Dhamma. I decided to leave the Himalayas. By that
time, I had many friends there. I informed them and the monks that I was planning to leave. They
asked why I was leaving and where I was going. I told them, “I am going to Savathi.” They
asked me what had happened, and what was the matter with me. I said, “I have decided to
abandon all of these things. Only I can find my own liberation.”
Having reached Savathi, I entered the Ghanda Kutti, the room where the Supreme Buddha
preached the Dhamma. I felt a great sense of joy. Staying at Lankarama temple, I found many
books of the Sutta Pitaka again, and began reading. However, now I was eager to attain Nibbana
quickly. I think this is the natural reaction of one who really sees the dangers of samsara. I
wanted to escape samsara quickly.
I came back to Sri Lanka eventually and stayed at the Vipassana Meditation Center in Colombo.
I used to read discourses alone so that I could try to comprehend them. However, I didn’t have
the intention to teach the Dhamma or to write books. My only goal was to escape from samsara
as soon as possible. In order to achieve this goal, I decided it would be more suitable if I went to
the Siripada mountain-forest. However, there I wouldn’t be able to find alms, so I would have to
eat leaves from trees to survive. As I didn’t know much about Siripada, I started seeking
information. Then I got to know that there was a monk in Sripada forest named Badureliye
Chandhima. The Bhante said, “Yes, you can stay in the forest eating leaves.” The Bhante had
lived in the forest for two years in a cave only eating leaves and never going into the village.
With the desire to lead a similar lifestyle, I went and resided there as well. One day, while going
to the Erathna temple, I observed my precepts, and began to climb the mountain. There is a nice
place called Varanagala on Kuruwita road. I stayed there approximately two weeks, and
eventually left there with the intention of going into the forest. I used to travel during the off
season and along the way I would chant Pirith (protective discourses). I saw footprints of a tiger
and heard the sounds of elephants passing through the middle of the forest.
Finally, I arrived at the Holy Footprint of the Buddha on Siripada Mountain. There, we met a
watcher who was very kind, had great saddha, and treated us well. After spending two or three
days there, when I was ready to go back down, I noticed that the road had been blocked. Some
people had placed coconut branches across the road. I walked up close and wondered, “What is
this? I do not remember these coconut branches across the road when I was coming up. Perhaps
this is a message warning me not to come to this forest. So, I continued to descend the mountain.
I then got the opportunity to donate one of my kidneys. Following that time period, I decided that
I must go back into the forest. So from the other side of the mountain, I went into the forest
where other monks dwelt. While I was there, I realized that there are big barriers and obstacles,
placed by Mara (the Evil One) to anyone who seeks liberation. I’m not going to go into detail
about them, but while I was there, I understood them well. Later, I became severely ill in the
forest, and came down with high fever. Other monks advised against remaining in the forest as
the conditions were too harsh. They accompanied me down to a cave where the climate was
When I was in the cave, I received some Tripitaka books from Colombo through the help of a
monk. While reading, a thought occurred to me: ‘One day in the future, if I were to get the
opportunity, I would like to translate the Tripitaka into simple Sinhala.’ Then I thought, ‘I have
faced so many obstacles on this path to discovery, perhaps I don’t have enough good merit. How
shall I collect merit to help me on this Path?’ I decided that propagating the Dhamma (offering
Dhamma dana) would be the best and most significant way that I could acquire merit. This is
why I decided to teach the Dhamma.
There is no connection between seeking worldly gains, offerings, veneration or publicity, and my
personal journey. I am not looking for those types of gains. My only goal is enlightenment. No
one can satisfy me by giving money, land, dwellings and vehicles. I seek for my happiness not
by clinging, but by abandoning. I returned to Colombo to teach the Supreme Buddha’s
discourses. Generally, people didn’t have a great desire to learn, so I hung up a small sign
saying, “Supreme Buddha’s Discourses are being taught.” My first program was on a Saturday
afternoon at 3 pm. Only four people attended the first sermon and I started to teach the Dhamma
to them. The same four people attended the following Saturday, and they continued to come for a
month. Gradually, the news spread, and the number of disciples who came to listen increased.
When the number increased to 200, the program was prohibited by the temple. So, the problem
became finding a large enough space that was also calm and quiet. This would be the most
suitable way to teach the Dhamma. I did not have any intention of building an institution of such,
as this would defeat the purpose of my mission.
At the time I met Kotapala Amarakerthi Thera and he asked me to accompany him to
Polgahawela. He took me to the present Mahamevnawa site. At that time, it was an expanse of
Eraminiya Strums. I did not know anybody in the village and there were no dayakas (lay
devotees who would run and maintain a meditation centre). Amarakerthi Thera offered me
support, and asked me to take charge of the place. It was a very quiet and calm place, so I
thought that it would be ideal for meditation practice and to propagate the Dhamma.
In the beginning, I had to make a few sacrifices. I was able to build three huts with thatched
roofs and walls of plastic sheets. In addition, there was a Dhamma hall (20 X 10 feet) with a
thatched roof. And with those meager facilities, the Mahamevnawa Meditation Monastery at
Polgahawela was established. I organized a meditation program, and 25 people attended.
Eventually, the number of people increased, and little by little, the Supreme Buddha’s true
Dhamma spread thoughout society.
Soon, the Dhamma started spreading beyond belief. My honest and sincere wish to spread the
Dhamma was the enabler of this success. I understood the real Dhamma, as taught by the
Buddha, and used a little creativity to propagate it. I preached to the Dhamma-seekers with
sympathy, and convinced them of their wrongful attachments (devotion to astrology and
auspicious times), which wasted their energy.
I used simple Sinhala to explain the Dhamma. I clearly explained the Four Noble Truths, which
is essential to realizing the Supreme Buddha’s Dhamma. Wise people gathered around and
hundreds of young men came to me and asked to be ordained as monks. They took a profound
interest in the Dhamma and earnestly learned the Buddha-Dhamma. This allowed for the renewal
of the true Noble Dhamma, as there were now monks to sincerely teach the Dhamma to others.
Now we have about 54 branches of Mahamevnawa in Sri Lanka and branches in foreign
countries such as India, Canada, America, Australia, Germany, Dubai and England. There are
about 600 trained Monks in these monasteries. The Mahamevnawa started on August 14, 1999,
and blossomed into a huge tree with strong branches, for thirteen-years. There was a big
difference in how people understood the Dhamma, which was demonstrated in the questions that
they asked. Now people ask about the Five Aggregates of Clinging, the Six Faculties, Dependent
Arising, the Noble Eightfold Path, and the Four Noble Truths. Therefore, they have been able to
accumulate a vast knowledge of the Dhamma.
So in this way, I wrote my first book, “Ae Ama Niwan Suwa Boho Dura Nowey?” This book
spoke of the supreme bliss of Nibbana, and about the four foundations of mindfulness – the
Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10). The second book was “Ape Budhu Samidhu Thawama Wada
Wesethi”. It is the Sinhala translation of Sutta Nipata, a very old book. I hadn’t even heard of
this book in my fifteen years of monkhood, so I doubted that any lay people had heard of it,
eventhough it was chanted by lay people during the Supreme Buddha’s life. My next book was
about Dependent Arising which was named as “Wismitha Avabodhaya”. Another book was
printed named “Budhu Samidhu Daka Ganimu,” which consists of some of my Dhamma
sermons that were held in Colombo and recorded by a lay devotee. The next translation was the
Dhammapada, translated into simple Sinhala, and a book for children called “Sigithi Lowata
Budhu Samidhu Wadinawa”.
Then I decided to translate the original discourses into simple Sinhala, beginning with Majjhima
Nikaya-Part 1. While I was translating, I remembered it was the first book which I had read
many years ago. Once when I was staying in a temple, there were big books of suttas, but I didn’t
have a proper understanding of what these books really were at that time. However, when I
started to read these books, my life changed completely – in a wonderful way. I realized that
these are the real discourses of the Supreme Buddha, and this is the Dhamma which should be
realized; this is the Dhamma which is essential for life.
After that, I translated the Majjhima Nikaya – Parts 2 and 3, Samyutta Nikaya – Parts 1, 2, 3, and
4, Khuddaka Nikaya – Part 1, Petavatthu and Vimana Vatthu (the stories of the ghost world and
heavenly worlds), Thera and Theri Gathas (the poems of Arahant bhikkus and bhikkunis),
Anguttara Nikaya – Part 1, Deegha Nikaya – Part 1, and many more books.
As time passes, everything passes; everything becomes impermanent.” I too have faced the
world which is eventually subject to aging. By reading this autobiography, if you can identify me
as an honest and sincere disciple, who seeks the ultimate liberation in this Gautama Samma
Sambuddha’s Dispensation, that would be enough for me. ”
Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!