With immense gratitude for all the people in my life, I present Tara Lanka News for the end of 2020.
As we come to the end of December there is much to reflect upon.
Lockdown accidentally trapped me in Sorrento Australia but it proved to be one of the best times of my life because it gave me space for self-reflection and the opportunity to develop appreciation for my little family and my life.
It was especially enjoyable spending time with my new granddaughter, Mala, who really had the giggles from my mantra recitations as we walked along the deserted stretch from Sorrento to Portsea beach.
Deserted Sorrento Back Beach during lockdown
As covered in the previous Report, with my daughter Anusha’s help, a cabin manifested at the foot of the Great Stupa in Bendigo where it will act as my temporary accommodation.
Meanwhile, I’m still unable to return to Sri Lanka, so from my little cabin, I am working everyday online and over the phone to keep my commitments to the people who rely on me back home.
And now to the news ……
Building a Home for Sri Maha Bodhi Sapling: now at Bendigo
The sacred sapling will grow at Bodhi Dhamma, a Sri Lankan Vihara being built on the Great Stupa grounds
Galigamuwe Gnanadeepa Thero with Venerable Tenzin Lekdron at the Great Stupa
The sapling has finally made it to Bendigo but last year’s grand plans were scuttled by the virus. The Bodhi Dhamma Vihara Committee began their revised awareness campaign in November.
Their first event was held at the Stupa and it featured Galigamuwe Gnanadeepa Thero, a popular Sri Lankan Thero currently in Australia. He explained the unbroken lineage of the Sri Maha Bodhi sapling and the significance of it being in Australia. It was an inspiring presentation enjoyed by people who had braved a cold and wintry day to attend. I was also invited to give an informal explanation about Tibetan icons and I presented it in Sinhala.
Being physically near the Stupa helps me to continue to closely support this project. It is wonderful to provide a bridge between our two traditions, Theravada and Mahayana. A natural connection with the local Sri Lankan community is emerging to our mutual benefit.
The Committee is building a special structure to house the Sri Maha Bodhi sapling close to the Stupa. Through Tara Lanka contacts, a dedicated team of resource experts —a structural engineer, a lathe machinist and a graphic designer/writer— were added to the current team in Bendigo. As a result of these developments, the Committee was able to submit a grant application to the local council.
Ian Green, CEO of the Great Stupa, and Deeptha Wickramaratna, Bodhi Dhamma Secretary, have asked me to attend their meetings; I am able to ‘translate” between the two cultures 🙂
Chatting about Tibetan Buddhism with Sri Lankans at the Great Stupa
Wisdom Wednesday Interfaith Talks
In the dark and very early in the morning in Bendigo, I have been contributing to a new online forum run by female Interfaith activists in Sri Lanka and, via Youtube, watched by other people around the world. There are lively discussions about various topics with Sri Lankan and global relevance.
Being an online event, it is accessible to a large audience and hundreds do watch including high profile women. Some provided feedback that they appreciate hearing alternative view points. It provides another platform for making Tibetan Buddhist tools available to an otherwise hard to reach audience. For this reason I am happy to contribute.
In Sri Lanka — Tara Lanka
Golden Light Sutra Distribution
The Golden Light Sutra is still being recited with fervor. Professor Gunathilaka, whose Sinhala translation we are using, has kept up monthly group recitations with up to seventy people and one very enthusiastic person, Mr Sugathadasa, has recited 108 of these Sutras on 108 consecutive days completing over 300 GLS recitations in two years. Incredibly he brought GLS to Oman which is a strict Islamic country.
There is growing interest in the Golden Light Sutra and many stories of success are being reported. New people continue to ask for copies and Tara Lanka continues to fulfill those requests. It is valuable to rejoice and share in the extraordinary merit created by everyone who contributed to the translation and printing.
Medicine Buddha Puja – online
In 2017 Piyasiri Kularathna flew to Malaysia to attend a Medicine Buddha retreat with Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Showing incredible devotion to LZR, he became a dedicated Mahayana practitioner.
His strong connection to Medicine Buddha prompted him to lead monthly MB pujas in Sri Lanka in the somewhat risky circumstances of a strictly Theravadan country. This year Piyasiri received a donation from Oi Loon Lee so he could continue to make offerings to Medicine Buddha for all the people who are suffering from Covid 19, and to alleviate intensifying problems in Sri Lanka and around the world. I join in the pujas at least once or twice a month via What’s App.
On Rinpoche’s birthday in December and in gratitude for all that he does, a small group of practitioners pledged 1,300,000 Guru Rinpoche Mantras for Rinpoche’s health and long life.
Girls’ Shelter: New Stories Emerge —
Our support is changing lives
It is important for me to tell you that nothing would be possible without Tikiri. She is my eyes, ears and trusted friend in Sri Lanka especially while I cannot be there physically. Not only does she teach at the Shelter but she liaises with the Shelter administrators, visits Anjali and others we support in their homes, works with the Mowbray principal and does a tremendous job supporting the work of Tara Lanka.
Market for Hand Woven Textiles Established in Australia
One of Tara Lanka’s longest running supporters, Maree Fowler, set up an online market for handloom fabrics made by girls at the Shelter. Their confidence and concentration have climbed as a result of the feedback of their success. Maree placed yet another order this year keeping them busy during Covid.
Our chief weaving girl, Maani, turned 18 years and left the Shelter for home. She was unable to stay with her family as old threats and dangers resurfaced and so she returned to the Shelter. By providing these skills we are offering essential hope to girls like Maani who are otherwise facing a hopeless future.
In the main photo, Maani busy weaving
Unfortunately It’s not possible for us to save each and every girl at the Shelter but Anjali is one that Tara Lanka has rescued.
Due to her tragic backstory of family abuse, she has a history of conflict. This lead to her being rejected by the Shelter and becoming homeless. So she was provided with a safe temporary home at Tara Lanka where she was able to recover for a few days. After that, we negotiated a safe home with her extended family and paid her expenses.
Subsequently she married a young man and had a child. She resides with her in-laws where she looks after the baby. Her husband works away from home and can only returns once a month. Anjali was harassed by the mother-in-law for lack of a dowry.
Hani Fernando, a friend of Tara Lanka, gifted Anjali’s baby a Panchayudha: a protective gold pendant worn by new born babies to chase away evil spirits — a popular custom in Sri Lanka. She also pledged Rs. 2500/- a month towards her expenses. Other friends offered dry goods.
A long term plan is in progress to get a cow for Anjali so she can develop a viable income. Doc Wight, a kind supporter in Melbourne, has raised enough money for the cow and various start-up costs. It’s not a simple thing to give a cow to a young mother, so you’ll hear more about it in the next newsletter.
Anjali with her baby at her in-laws’ house where the cow will be raised
Tara Lanka Sends Students to Mowbray College
We have worked hard to be able to send three girls from the Shelter to a private school called Mowbray College.
Unfortunately, due to Covid, the girls have not been able to attend school for many months. Lessons from the College were being delivered online but the Shelter did not have internet access for the girls. They had to be privately tutored or else they would seriously fall behind in their studies. That tutoring was also a responsibility of Tara Lanka.
The extra tutoring has required an enormous effort from Tikiri and Chathurika, a dedicated teacher who has been working with Tara Lanka for three years. We continuously keep in touch via WhatsApp and provide support to each other as best we can.
Fortunately in November an internet connection was set up for the girls and I will be able to reconnect with the girls via Zoom to provide moral support and encouragement.
Mowbray girls studying and cooking outdoors
Sewing Classes, Introduced by Tara Lanka, Expanded
In June we hired Miss Asha, a qualified teacher from Singer Sewing School, to provide a Sewing Diploma programme that empowers the girls with new commercial skills. The classes are designed to give the participants a pathway to self employment and independence.
We have already had one heart warming outcome from this project. A polio victim girl who was unable to travel outside the Shelter is now learning dressmaking and is showing extraordinary talent. This successful example has inspired the Shelter administration to set up their own sewing centre to create an ongoing income for the organisation.
Miss Asha and her students — showing their handiwork
Professional Help with Trauma Counseling — Big Opportunity
There is an obvious and urgent need for trauma counseling at the Shelter. After much disappointment not finding a resource locally, I eventually found a professor in Melbourne who not only specialises in trauma but who is herself a Buddhist. She is Professor Anita Millcevic and she has set a date for TRAUMA & SELF-CARE WORKSHOP – The Journey from Trauma to Flourishing Saturday, February 6, 2021 -to- Sunday, February 7, 2021
Professor Millicevic supports the need for trauma counseling for girls like those at the Shelter. She also understands the difficulty we have had in finding help locally so she has made it possible for Sri Lankan professionals to join the course for just a nominal fee.
In that way, we can offer expert training and attract good trauma counseling to the Shelter. This is a rare opportunity for us to benefit from the latest advances and understandings in the therapeutic world backed by academic research and insights.
If you would like to be involved or have someone who would be interested, please contact me.
As we look to 2021 there are many people to thank. Marie Fowler and Doc Wight for constant support. My landlady Pushpa, Owen Martin, Chris Bohle, Dr Tyagi, Marie Pianne, Rosalie Giffoniello, Sally Dudgeon, Jaala Freeman and many others who support me in all kinds of generous ways… I pray for your long life and every happiness.
May everyone have a wonderful New Year.