Urban Buddhist Monk – Reverend Dr. Bhante Saranapala
By Stephen Perera
Bhante Saranapala, aka Urban Buddhist Monk, Buddhist Chaplain to the University of Toronto is a young Buddhist monk living in the monastic community of the West End Buddhist Temple and Meditation Centre in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. Born in Chittagong, Bangladesh, Bhante Saranapala continued his secular and monastic education in the ancient sacred City of Kandy, the seat of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, joining the Primrose Gardens Branch of the Dharmayatanaya, one the leading Colleges for the Training of Buddhist Monks in Asia where he received his Upasampada or Higher Ordination under the Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thero, the Supreme Patriarch of the Amarapura Sector of Sri Lanka as his preceptor and the Most Venerable Ampitiye Sri Rahula Mahathero as his teacher. Having enrolled for undergraduate studies at the University of Peradeniya he studied Buddhism and Oriental Languages. He obtained a summa cum laude Royal Pundit Degree in Sinhalese, Pali and Sanskrit studies from the island’s hallowed Oriental Languages Institute while studying for his B.A. in Buddhist studies. Abandoning his university studies, Bhante Saranapala moved to Canada in obedience to his religious superiors accepting an assignment as a resident monk at the fledgling West End Buddhist Monastery in Mississauga, Canada. He enrolled at the University of Toronto and obtained his B.A. Honors Degree in Comparative Religions and Western Philosophy in 2000 and was appointed Chaplain to the University the same year. After obtaining a Masters Degree in Religious studies from Hamilton’s McMaster University in 2002, Bhikkhu Saranapala returned to the University of Toronto as a Teaching Assistant, and did his doctoral studies in Religious Studies at the Centre for the Study of Religion.
A veritable dynamo of activity at his Mississauga Buddhist Monastery, he is the Principal of its Sunday Dhamma School and the Director of its Youth Forum that conducts a Soup Kitchen Project, now in its 15th year, in collaboration with the Toronto Downtown’s Good Shepherd Centre.
Acclaimed as a Buddhist monk for the modern times by a growing band of admirers, Bhante Saranapala has earned an enviable reputation as a public speaker and a meditation teacher par excellence. Within a short period of time, his scholarly lectures expounding the Teaching of the Buddha and mindfulness and Vipassana meditation began to attract the attention of the university academic circles and the Inter-faith community of Canada. Bhante Saranapala soon became a popular guest speaker at many a prestigious parley. In 2004, he was invited to address the parliamentarians in Ottawa. In 2005 September, he was accorded the honor of officiating on behalf of all religious denominations at the induction ceremonies connected with the Order of Ontario Awards in the Ontario Legislature. Bhante Saranapala is a recipient of Spirit Award from the Government of Ontario for his humanitarian services. He has conducted meditation retreats to the City Counselors in Mississauga, Brampton, Toronto, the Peel Region and the Toronto District School Board Principals. His inspiring lectures at the Peel Region’s District and Catholic Schools Boards’ Secondary Schools have won him much praise making him one of the most sought after speakers on Buddhism.
During his monastic training in Kandy, Sri Lanka, Bhante Saranapala had taken meditation classes and retreats under some prominent meditation masters: the most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Mahathera, the most Venerable Ampitiye Sri Rahula Mahathera, the most Venerable Mahawatte Pemalankara Mahathera, Venerable Dr. Madawela Punnaji Mahathera, Venerable Brahmanagama Muditha Mahathera, Venerable Mahawatte Kamalasiri Mahathera and Mr. Godwin Samararatne. For two decades, Urban Buddhist Monk, Bhante Saranapala has been teaching mindfulness and Vipassana meditation in the Greater Toronto Area and across North America. He currently conducts meditation classes on Wednesdays and Sundays and conducts mindfulness and Vipassana meditation retreats at the West End Buddhist Temple and Meditation Centre in Mississauga, ON, Canada.
*(Excerpted from “Profile: A Monk in Motion” – by Aloy Perera, “Dhamma Wheel” – West End Buddhist Centre Journal)
The Urban Buddhist Monk
By Troy MacLean
Reverend Dr. Bhante Saranapala, aka Urban Buddhist Monk in Toronto, has been spreading dharma and mindfulness and Vipassana meditation across Canada/United States for over two decades. He has brought the ancient teachings of Buddhism forward but with a contemporary way of helping us better understand the teachings of the Buddha from a western application. Rev. Dr. Bhante Saranapala’s deep knowledge of meditations and the neuroscience have him captivating audiences all over. If you get the chance to meet him you will soon find out how warm and caring he is, very approachable and loves to discuss Buddhism with people who have no previous knowledge of Buddhism or are academia scholar of religion, he is always keen to be meeting new people and having discussions.
One of Bhante’s key successes has been being the founding Principal of the Buddhist Youth Camp at Sunday school program. Bhante believes that building a future for children based on the Buddha’s 5 precepts as well as love and compassion was something that would plant seeds for the future he really wanted to do. Over the years the Youth group has volunteered at soup kitchens for the homeless, visited seniors centres to help the aging population. Classes started out with 15-20 children but has now grown to almost 400 children and youth.
Another very popular program that Bhante runs is the Wednesday night meditation class. Bhante has been sharing his wisdom and insight about meditation through these classes for almost 20 years. The class is well known and popular across Toronto and the GTA.
Bhante has been teaching and developing programs based on the Buddha’s 5 precepts with an emphasis on love and compassion.
Bhante teaches and facilitates as well as lectures, here are some of the Academia to Corporate environments he is active in:
- University guest lectures
- High school lectures
- Public speaking engagements/presentations
- Churches and faith groups
- Corporate wellness programs
Counselling and Pastoral Care
Rev. Dr. Bhante Saranapala has been the Chaplain at the University of Toronto for over a decade now and has been providing supportive counselling and pastoral care to university students, adults, couples and families. Bhante also spends a significant amount of time at the temple providing counselling care to people who choose to visit him while at the West End Buddhist Temple and Meditation centre, he is very accessible by phone or email.
Political and Community Development
Rev. Dr. Bhante Saranapala has been proactive in building bridges with political dignitaries at municipal, provincial and federal levels. As well he heads the Peel Multi-faith group that brings together religious leaders from across Ontario and Canada.
One of Bhante’s most recent accomplishments in community development capacity was his organizing of the 2013 Vesak: Buddha’s Birthday Celebration that was celebrated by people from more than 30 countries at the LAC – political dignitaries included Federal Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenny as well as local Mayor Hazel McCallum.