31 July 2023

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

My friend Senaka Seneviratne, whenever he calls me, addresses me as ‘Captain Seneviratne.’ I have duly appointed him to a higher rank, Admiral Seneviratne. We’ve known each other for more than 40 years now, but back then he was just a junior scout and I was, so he says, his instructor.

Time passes. Acquaintances become friends and friends become brothers. My brother, Admiral Seneviratne, called me a few days ago. He had a proposition.

Now Admiral Seneviratne’s propositions are all about giving. Sometimes he proposes gifts; most times he just gifts. He loves his school and country. He loves his friends. He will do anything to help them, he will do anything to make them shine. In this instance it was ‘an experience’ that was being proposed. It involved traveling through beautiful country to a place I hadn’t known of before, the ‘Bhavana Society,’ a Buddhist monastery in the backwoods of West Virginia established some 40 years ago by the Ven Henepola Gunaratana Thero.

The Admiral knows the ‘Loku Hamuduruwo.’ He knows the monastery. He’s been going there annually for over 15 years along with his family and several other families. A clan, you might say. So, during the four hour drive to the Bhavana Society he told me all about the monastery and the scholarship of Ven Gunaratana Thero, affectionately referred to as Bhante G by those who have visited the place, either to offer alms, as the Admiral and his clan do, or to participate in the numerous residential meditation programs conducted at this remote, idyllic and absolutely calming facility.
Bhante G is widely known and respected for the many insightful and easy-to-read books on meditation that he has authored. ‘Mindfulness in plain English,’ first published in 2011, has been read by hundreds of thousands and is considered ‘the bible of mindfulness,’ especially for those who are venturing for the first time into those regions of exploration. Equally acclaimed are ‘The four foundations of mindfulness in plain English,’ ‘Meditation on perception’ and ‘Beyond mindfulness in plain English.’

Obviously, I was ignorant of all this. For me, ‘the introduction’ came in the form of Rev Ethkandawaka Saddhajeewa Thero’s sermon the evening we arrived. The explication of dana, sila and bhavana, to be practiced together and not individually to the exclusion of the other two, as a necessary prerequisite in the pursuit of wisdom was lucid to the point that it compelled me to peruse the books authored by the Loku Hamuduruwo freely available at the monastery.

Now over 90 years of age, the Loku Hamuduruwo elaborated on this same theme the following day. Not a word out of place.

I later discovered that Douglas John Imbrogno, who had first visited the monastery when he was the feature editor of the Charleston Gazette, had compiled and edited a book, ‘gathering up his, Gunaratana Thero’s, responses to the most common questions about meditation, mindfulness, and Buddhist teachings in more than 50 years of teaching,’ a book released by Wisdom Publications a few years ago. It was titled ‘WHAT WHY HOW: Answers to your questions about Buddhism, Meditation and Living Mindfully.’

It is not easy for me to capture ‘Bhavana Society’  in word or image or both. Imbrogno can and has in an article titled ‘Buddhist daily life in backwoods West Virginia’ published in www.westvirginiaville.com in March 2022. Having attended numerous retreats, chopping firewood, cleaning dishes and other chores and serving on the Bhavana board for many years, he has seen the changes, the challenges and triumphs of ‘running a complex spiritual community.’ He has written and promises to write more.

What of the principle thrust? How can it be captured? One way of course is to practice as recommended. There are no shortcuts to such insight. Nevertheless, Imbrogno has offered a glimpse of the spiritual in a less spiritual form. It is a photograph of Bhante Dhammaratana contemplating the rain falling into the pond outside the meditation hall. A koan, I am convinced. I felt it is an entry point to the examination of the four foundations of mindfulness, that of the body, of feelings, of the mind and the Dhamma. One of many, true.

Both Gunaratana Thero and Saddhajeeva Thero contend that these explorations are possible, right and and right now, wherever the practitioner may be. ‘The Word,’ after all, is not containable within four walls, even if it is a meditation hall in a monastery. Wherever and whenever an individual practices, right there is a monastery constructed (to be abandoned eventually, hopefully).  

That said, the Bhavana Society does offer an environment conducive to the uninitiated, the less disciplined and ignorants such as I. There was no rain to watch. There was sunlight. Moonlight. And light that surpassed both in the matter of illumination. Admiral Seneviratne recommended that I spend a few days there. At the right time, perhaps. 


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is 187th article in the new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below] 

Other articles in this series: 

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road