Bangladesh’s most prominent Buddhist monk, Sanghanayaka Suddhananda Mahathero, a noted peace advocate and social activist, died yesterday morning while receiving medical treatment at a hospital in the capital Dhaka. He was 87 years old.
According to local media reports, the widely respected Buddhist leader and chief abbot of Kamalapur Dharmarajika Buddhist Mahabihar had been suffering from a respiratory obstruction, diabetes, and other age-related health conditions.
Sources at Suddhananda Mahathero’s monastery cited by local media said the monk’s remains would be preserved in a casket and moved to his hermitage at Dharmarajika Buddhist Mahabihar, where followers, students, and well-wishers may pay their respects. A cremation ceremony will be announced at a later date.
In a statement on Tuesday, Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed expressed her deep shock and sorrow at the news, observing that Shuddhananda Mahathero was a pioneer of non-violence as well as a messenger of peace and humanity who dedicated himself to the social services, and describing his passing as an irreparable loss for Bangladesh and the Buddhist community.
“The contributions of Shuddhananda Mahathero to creating bonds of friendship and harmony among the people irrespective of castes, creeds, religions, and communities, as well as strengthening the sense of brotherhood of the Bangalees, will be remembered forever,” she said. (Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha)
Sheikh Hasina offered prayers for Shuddhananda Mahathero and expressed condolences to his family members and followers.
Bangladesh’s president, Mohammad Abdul Hamid, also expressed his sympathies, noting that Suddhananda Mahathero had played a vital role in promoting peace and harmony in Bangladesh and in sharing the Buddhist teachings.
Among expressions of sorrow and condolences shared over social media, the Indian High Commission in Dhaka also recognized the loss of an influential pillar of engaged Buddhism, stating in a Facebook post: “We are deeply saddened to hear about the demise of His Holiness Sanghanayaka Suddhananda Mahathero, President of Bangladesh Bouddha Kristi Prachar Sangha on 3/3/2020. May his soul rest in peace.”
Born in 1933, Suddhananda Mahathero, served as the supreme patriarch of the Bangladesh Bauddha Bhikkhu Mahasabha (the Supreme Sangha Council of Bangladesh). In 2012, he was awarded the prestigious Ekushey Padak for his contribution to social service. Introduced in 1952 and administered by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs, the Ekushey Padak is the second-highest civilian award in Bangladesh, presented in recognition of signifiant contributions in any of ten fields, among them art, culture, education, journalism, and economics.
Among his many socially engaged initiatives, Suddhananda Mahathero operated several charities for underpriviliged people, and worked actively to engender peace and fellowship between Bangladesh’s and Theravada Buddhist and Muslim communities, which have a long history of inter-communal unrest. Each year, Suddhananda Mahathero opened his monastery in Dhaka to provide hundreds of underprivileged Muslim families with their iftar evening meal throughout the holy month of Ramadan. Throughout the holy Muslim festival, hundreds of men, women, and children could be seen queuing to receive free food boxes at Dharmarajika Buddhist Mahabihar, which is also home to more than 700 orphans who study at the free school it operates.
Despite frequent attacks and ill-treatment of Buddhists by the Muslim majority, and receiving personal death threats from extremists, Suddhananda emphasized his commitment to inter-religious harmony, saying: “Why should there be a conflict? We are all Bangladeshis. This land is for all of us. By helping each other, we can make this country great.”*
“We become happy when we can serve people,” he was quoted as saying. “Buddhism taught us that serving humanity is the ultimate religion.”**
* Buddhist Monastery in Bangladesh Feeds Hundreds of Poor Families During Ramadan (Buddhistdoor Global)
** Buddhist Monastery in Bangladesh Serves Iftar to Muslims During Ramadan (Buddhistdoor Global)
Suddhananda Mahathero passes away (The Daily Star)
Suddhananda Mahathero passes away (Bangladesh Post)
PM mourns death of Sangha Nayak Shuddhananda Mahathero (Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha)
President condoles death of Buddhist religious leader (UNB)