This year marked the birth anniversary of a revered monk who played an invaluable role in the development of Buddhism in the West. One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Venerable Dr. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahanayaka Thera Aggamaha Pandita Abhidhaja Maharatthaguru DLitt DLitt was born on 24 August 1896. He died in Sri Lanka on 18 July 1998 at the age of 101 and the government accorded him a state funeral.
Ven. Ananda Maitreya was ordained as a novice in 1911 and his upasampada (Pali. higher ordination) was conducted in 1916. He was mahanayaka (Pali. head) of the Amarapura Nikaya monastic sangha in Sri Lanka, and is perhaps most widely known as a participant of the historic sixth Sangayama (Buddhist Council) for monks from Theravada Buddhist countries, held in Burma (now Myanmar) from 1954–56. This was held to coincide with the Buddha Jayanthi marking the 2,500th anniversary of the parinibbana of the Buddha. Ven. Ananda Maitreya was the Sri Lankan representative on the final editing committee of an authorized version of the Tipitaka. In 1956, he also served as chairman of the council for a few weeks. The Burmese government subsequently conferred on him the honorific title Agga Mahapandita (Chief Great Scholar). He received Burma’s highest religious title, Abhidhaja Maharatthagura (His Eminence, the Great Spiritual Teacher of the Nation) after his 100th birthday.
Ven. Ananda Maitreya became well known in the West in the 1970s through Ronald Eyre’s 1977 BBC TV series The Long Search. He appeared in the episode “Buddhism: Footprint of the Buddha,” filmed in Sri Lanka. The book of the series includes a photograph of Ven. Ananda Maitreya.
In 1981, Ven. Ananda Maitreya stayed at Cittaviveka Chithurst Monastery in the UK, affiliated with the Forest Sangha tradition. He convened the assembly that authorized the abbot of Cittaviveka, Ven. Sumedho, to conduct bhikkhu ordinations and to be a preceptor. Ordinations have to be conducted on a Sima, a bounded area of consecrated ground; consequently, Ven. Ananda Maitreya conducted the ceremony to establish a Sima at Cittaviveka, which was named the Ananda Maitreya Sima.
Ven. Ananda Maitreya approved the Bodhicari Precepts when these were developed at the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles in 1991. He was the preceptor when I was the first person to receive the Bodhicari Precepts outside of the US in 1994. Bodhicaris can be defined as “practitioners of the Buddhadhamma who have attainment of enlightenment as their goal.” In Pali, the feminine form is bodhicarini.
The community at the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles were pioneers in developing the use of precepts for upasakas and upasikas in the West. They offer three sets of precepts: first, formally taking the Pancasila or five precepts to become an upasaka or upasika; dhammacaris follow nine precepts, and bodhicaris follow 12 precepts. The dhammacari and bodhicari precepts are an expansion of the Ajivatthamaka Sila (Eight Precepts, with Right Livelihood as the Eighth). Ven. Ananda Maitreya wrote:
The perfect moral conduct or character can be categorized under the Eight Precepts called Ajivatthamaka Sila. These are refraining from eight unwholesome ways, namely, killing, taking what is not given; a life devoted to sensuality; falsehood, slandering, backbiting, harsh speech, gossip; and wrong livelihood. All the good conduct and keeping Precepts or Patimokkha rules of Buddhist monks are included in these eight Precepts.
I will always remember Ven. Ananda Maitreya with gratitude for his inspiration and indefatigable efforts to develop Theravada Buddhism in the West. I met Ven. Ananda Maitreya at the London Buddhist Vihara, where he authorized me to become a Sangha Authorized Dhamma Teacher in 1983.
The Buddhist Group of Kendal (Theravada) is fortunate to have as its founder spiritual advisors Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya and Bhante Henepola Gunaratana Maha Thera. The Buddhist Group of Kendal was founded in 1991 and celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021.