The 8th International Conference Buddhism & Australia
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Island Hermitage on (Polgasduwa) Dodanduwa Island, Galle District, Sri Lanka is a famous Buddhist forest Monastery founded by Ven. Nyanatiloka Mahathera in 1911. It has an excellent English and German library. It is a secluded place for Buddhist Monks to study and meditate in the Buddhist tradition.
The Island Hermitage was the first centre of Theravāda Buddhist study and practice set up by and for Westerners. Its many prominent residents, Monks and laymen, studied Theravada Buddhism and the Pali Language, made translations of Pali scriptures, wrote Books on Theravada Buddhism and practised Meditation. The Island Hermitage once formed an essential link with Theravāda Buddhism in the West.
The Hermitage is located in Ratgama Lake, a salt-water lagoon about two kilometers from the coast near Dodanduwa. It is 105 kilometers south of Sir Lanka's principal city, Colombo, and about 12 kilometers north of the provincial capital, Galle.
The hermitage consists of two islands: Polgasduwa and Metiduwa (or Meddeduwa). It is characterised by rich jungle vegetation and abundant bird, animal and reptile Life. It is a peaceful place on an island on the large Bolgoda Lake (which is about two-and-a-half miles across and brackish as it connects with the sea). The terrain of the island is mostly flat or slightly undulating. The highest point is about 5 meters above sea level. On Metiduwa the vegetation consists of scrubs and small Trees such as cinnamon and bombu, with mangrove and palm Trees growing along the water's edge. On the higher ground at Parapaduwa there are larger Trees such as mahagoney, mango and jak. There is a noisy breeding colony of egrets, night herons and cormorants and also a colony of flying foxes. There are many mongoose and monitor lizards on the islands.
Being situated an island in a lagoon, the climate is quite hot and humid.
Among the early Western residents were the Venerables Vappo, Mahanama, Assaji and Bhaddiya. The founder dāyaka (lay supporter) was William Mendis Wijesekera. He and other lay supporters from around Dodanduwa conveyed alms Food and other requisites to the hermitage by boat every morning. In 1913 a dānasāLa (refectory) was constructed.
It was not until 1914 that the Island Polgasduwa actually came into the legal possession of The Sangha, having been bought and donated from Ven. Nyanatiloka's Swiss supporter, Monsieur Bergier. Since that Time, though interrupted by two World wars, Western as well as Sinhalese Monks and laymen have lived, studied, practiced, and spread the Dhamma from the Island Hermitage. On the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Monks were first permitted to stay at the Island Hermitage under surveillance. However, after four months, they were taken into civil internment in Sri Lanka and then sent to Australia. When Ven. Nyanatiloka was finally able to return to Sri Lanka in 1926, he found his beloved Island Hermitage in utter ruin and had to rebuild it all anew.
As soon as the restoration was completed and it was making rapid progress the Second World War broke out in 1939. Ven. Nyanatiloka and his German disciples were again interned in camps first in Sri Lanka and then in India. They were allowed to return in 1946. This Time the Hermitage remained in a well preserved and even improved condition and now included the adjacent small island of Metiduwa which had already been used for some Time, but was now donated by Lady Evadne de Silva, a longtime supporter of Ven. Nyanatiloka.
A detailed account of the history of the Island Hermitage and the Monks who lived on it can be found in The Life of Nyanatiloka Thera: The Biography of a Western Buddhist Pioneer, Bhikkhu Nyanatusita & Hellmuth Hecker, Kandy 2008.
Tourists and short term visitors are not allowed to visit the hermitage. Long term visitors, i.e. those who like to stay at least two or three weeks, need to write in advance.
Well-known Monastic Residents
- Venerable Mahinda (Tibetan) — a famous poet in the Sinhalese Language, with his poems still included in Sinhalese school Books.
- Venerable Nyanadhara (German).
- Venerable Nyanaponika (German) — closest Disciple of Ven. Nyanatiloka, the editor of his works, and his literary heir. He ::wrote Heart of Buddhist Meditation and established the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy.
- Venerable Nyanasatta (Czechoslovakian) — had several publications in Esperanto as well as English to his credit.
- Venerable Soma (Sri Lankan) — known for his scholarly works, in his later years the his thoughts turned more to Poetry.
- Venerable Ñāṇamoli (English) — a great scholar and translator of some of the most difficult Pali texts of Theravada ::Buddhism.
- Venerable Ñāṇavīra (English) — known as the author of Notes on Dhamma.
- Venerable Nyanavimala (German) — especially known for his walking tour (carika) throughout Sri Lanka for 25 years.
- Bhikkhu Ñāṇajīvako (Serbo-Croatian) — writer and Philosopher.
- Venerable Bodhesako (American) — writer and editor of Ven. Ñāṇavīra's works. He wrote Change and established the Path Press.
- Venerable ÑāṇAnanda (Sri Lankan) — known for his Books such as Concept and Reality.