Helping others, my mission – Ven. Prof. K. L. Dhammajoti | Daily News

Helping others, my mission – Ven. Prof. K. L. Dhammajoti

“There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path”
Ven. Prof. K. L. Dhammajoti. Pictures b Sudath Malaweera
Ven. Prof. K. L. Dhammajoti. Pictures b Sudath Malaweera


The Dhamma is his life. It is what gives his life meaning. It is his motivation. Having studied the Dhamma, he has understood that his mission in life is to help others or be of service to others. He is Chairman, The Buddha Dharma Center of Hong Kong, Abbot, Aloka Vihara Foundation, Venerable Prof. K. L. Dhammajoti. In this interview with the Daily News, he spoke about his work, that is aimed at spreading knowledge about Buddhism. Venerable Prof. K. L. Dhammajoti was born in Malaysia. He is Malaysian Chinese.

Listening to Ven. Prof. K. L. Dhammajoti, one instantly realizes that you can learn about Buddhism, but imbibing the Dhamma, is something else. You can know the path, but you need to walk the path.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your work?


A: Firstly, I wish to say that ever since I became a monk, I have always wanted to help people. That is what I want to convey through this interview. The importance of helping others. It is not to blow my own trumpet. That is what the Dhamma has taught me.

I was a Professor attached to the University of Kelaniya. I also worked at the Post Graduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies as a Professor. There I served first as a senior lecturer from 1982. Then I left for the University of Hong Kong, which is one of the top most universities in Asia. There I became a Professor of Buddhist Studies. I went there in the capacity of a visiting lecturer and I was then asked to stay back, and they gave me the appointment as Endowed Professor. After that I retired in 2015 and then I started my own centre called the Buddha-Dharma Centre of Hong Kong. I am the Director and Chairman there. My courses are affiliated with the University of Kelaniya, where I initially came from. I had a temple in Balapitiya. When I discovered the place, it was quite dilapidated. So I slowly repaired it. I liked the place because it is historically supposed to be the birthplace of Mohottiwatte Gunananda Thera. That really inspired me. While teaching at Kelaniya, I also did some social work in my own simple way in a village. I started the Compassion Buddhist Home, which was an orphanage for destitute children, and I gave them education. I also started, at that time, the only free computer training centre to train young people. These students were very intelligent but very poor. I gave them the opportunity to get that kind of training. We gave them basic computer training for many years. That was the beginning of my work inspired by my learning of the Dhamma.


Q: You say you follow the Dhamma. You also wanted to educate the youth through Buddhist studies. How did your plans come to fruition?


A: As I said before, I have a long association with the University of Kelaniya. There I met the Vice-Chancellor University of Kelaniya, Prof. Sunanda Madduma Bandara. He went to Hong Kong together with the Senior Professor, Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya, Ven. Nabirittankadawara Gnanaratana Thera. There, we started the Diploma of Buddhist Studies affiliated with the University of Kelaniya by signing a contract.

Now do you see how I directed my energies towards teaching Buddhist studies? Prof. Sunanda Madduma Bandara and Ven. Gnanaratana Theras seemed very interested and impressed by all of what we were doing. Since then we have all had a close relationship. That is how I came to know Professor Bandara.


Q: Why have you chosen this path in life? The path of a Buddhist monk?


A: I think my karma has a lot to do with this. From my younger days I have been attracted to this path. I came to the University of Kelaniya as a young man. I was slowly becoming the man that I am now. My path in life started to unfold before me. All the titles that I have received in my lifetime have enabled me to guide others and help them discover themselves. That is how the Buddha Dharma Center of Hong Kong really came into existence.


Q: Tell me a little bit about the Buddha Dharma Center in Hong Kong?


A: I have had many pupils. I was told by many of them to start a higher research institute of Buddhist Studies. I said that I wanted to call it the Buddha Dharma Center. I wanted to teach them Buddhism, but I wanted them to imbibe the Dhamma. I knew I could teach them the principles of Buddhism. But they need to walk the path. There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. The Dhamma is very important to me. It means a lot to me. That is how it all started. Buddhism is not academic studies. It is not about exams. It is a way of life that was taught by the Buddha.

I also must say that I established the MA courses affiliated to the University of Kelaniya. This is through the Post Graduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, where I came from. Where I taught. As I have said before, later on I was asked to consider establishing the Diploma of Buddhist Studies. Which I did. Prof. Sunanda Madduma Bandara and Ven. Gnanaratana Thera, were also instrumental in all of this. My purpose and goal in life was to spread Buddhism among all segments of society. The teachings of the Buddha have shaped my life and trained my mind. I wanted to spread the Dhamma and be of service to my fellow man. We are running these courses in both English and Chinese.


Q: Did you encounter many difficulties and obstacles along the way?


A: Yes. It was not easy for me. I am in no way a rich man. But one thing I must say – I had the support of my students. There is a saying that when the student is ready the master will appear. As a teacher I am fortunate to have had my students with me. For that reason, I call myself lucky, if there is something called luck! But eventually I did get some sponsors. So today, we are one of the most successful institutions in Hong Kong, running Post Graduate courses in Buddhist Studies. I have no hesitation in saying that we have great teachers. My colleagues from the University of Hong Kong, some were my students, they came over to Sri Lanka as scholars, and they studied under me, at Kelaniya. When I started my centre, I knew I would have the support of these brilliant minds. That is how I started. Many students who have already finished their MA at the University of Hong Kong wanted to further their studies under me.


Q: What is the standard of education at the Buddha Dharma Center in Hong Kong? How do you assess yourself as a teacher and your institute?


A: We are also the only institution where we offer Pali, Sanskrit studies. There are some Pali courses at the University of Hong Kong. But I believe that ours is the most appreciated. We are very dedicated. We produce textbooks. I myself have written many books. We produce textbooks for Pali and also for Sanskrit. Ours are completely dedicated towards Buddhist Sutras. I have produced books on Abhidharma. Today these books have been translated into Chinese. And they are used as textbooks in many universities, including some in the West. Also in China, Taiwan and other places. Even in Sri Lanka I understand that in the University of Kelaniya and other places they are already using my books, as one of the important textbooks.

We are a sort of centre of excellence for Buddhist languages. I want to emphasize that because those who are interested in Buddhism, can study Buddhism and get into the original sources directly. Not just depending on English and Chinese translations.

Some of them did not know what Pali was, for example. Some knew about Sanskrit but they were frightened of Sanskrit! I have trained young teachers. Every year, I gave a chance for students to go to the University of Hong Kong. In the past I was able to get scholarships for them, because in the University of Hong Kong I served as a Chairman of the Master of Buddhist Studies Program and also Chairman of the Research Committee. I was able to get scholarships for these deserving individuals. Some of them were very poor. Now it is more difficult to get scholarships. I am no more the Chairman! And there are more and more students from all over the world now. There is more competition. So for those who do not get scholarships from the University of Hong Kong, we offer them now. Now we are in a position to give the scholarships from my Buddha Dharma Center, every year.


Q: How do you foresee the future taking shape?


A: In the past several years, we have had over 30 or 40 young people who had the chance to study for MA from the University of Hong Kong. And also in the last three years, they also got scholarships from us. We are now able to do this. I started with nothing. I was not sure where to get the funds. But I felt a sense of duty in my life. I knew that if I do it sincerely, everything will work out.


Q: This interview is taking place at the Compassion Buddhist Institute. Tell me a little bit about this institute?


A: Once I visited Bangladesh. There were some Bangladesh monks at the University of Kelaniya who invited me to go to Bangladesh. I knew it was a Muslim country, but I did not know anything else. I knew historically it was connected with Buddhism. So I went there, more or less by chance. I realized that Buddhists were suffering there. But at the same time they seemed to be deserving and intelligent, and some of the monks asked me, to give them a chance for education in Sri Lanka. I told them that there were so many Bangladesh monks in Sri Lanka. But I said that I could sponsor around 5 -10 students in the Pirivenas. But the senior monks told me that they want the young monks to be trained in a modern way in English for the future of Buddhism in Bangladesh.

As I said earlier, the Compassion Buddhist Home was an orphanage for destitute children at the beginning. So I decided to send the orphans of the Compassion Buddhist Home to other orphanages, and I started the Compassion Buddhist Institute in Balapitiya. It became like a Pirivena for novices. Then we moved to the present premises in Angoda.


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