By Nirmala Kannangara
Following the story under the caption “Residents Furious Over Bossy Monk” in the July 11 issue of The Sunday Leader, more revelations have surfaced as to how Ven. Pitaduwe Siri Dhamma Thero of the Siri Sadhaham Ashramaya in Bellantara continues to harass and disturb the lives of innocent people in and around the temple.
Allegations have been leveled against Pitiduwe Thero for using the names of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brothers Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa and their spouses in order to get all his unlawful work done through state departments and to frighten the neighbourhood into silence, preventing them from reacting against all his unauthorised work.
“Not only the Boralesgamuwa police but also Dehiwala and Mt. Lavinia police have got caught to the monk’s ploy and he was even given police protection without Defence Ministry approval. But as soon as this fact was highlighted in the newspaper the police post in the temple and the police protection given to the monk were withdrawn. The residents of the area questioned why the Monk kept repeatedly using the names of the first family in order to get work done by the government departments.
Meanwhile the residents at Bellantara Lane where the Ashramaya is located told The Sunday Leader that the entire road and the houses go under water even during light rainy seasons due to the closure of drains along the lane by the monk in question. The residents also expressed concern of a possible dengue threat due to water stagnation in the area.
“We have been forced to live in a hell on rainy days. It was the good old days that people welcomed rain but now since Pitiduwe Thero closed our waste water and rain water outlets and the main drains lifting the road by a further one foot to prevent the Ashramaya from being flooded the mosquito menace in the area too has become an issue now,” a resident who wished to remain unidentified told The Sunday Leader.
Exasperated with the situation, the residents in Bellantara Lane, Kurundugahawatte Lane and Colonel Avenue voluntarily revealed Pitiduwe Thero’s harassment, on condition that they remained unnamed because they feared for their lives.
“We are more concerned about our children’s lives more than ours as we know how malicious this monk is. He is not using the polite and pleasing words what he uses at Buddhist sermons but an absolute different vocabulary which is totally against Lord Buddha’s teachings. Whenever we go out we carry pepper spray with us to defend ourselves from a possible attack,” the residents alleged.
The residents were very concerned and suspicious as to how this monk has accumulated such an amount of wealth within a small period of time and queried whether it is suitable for a Buddha’s disciple to demand from the devotees frequent cash contributions towards the Ashramaya.
“Once he requested all his devotees to purchase one square foot each from the temple land for a price of Rs.1500 and to offer it back to the sasanaya. Then again he sold some gold colour painted coins priced at Rs.2500 to the devotees during the 2550 Buddha Jayanthi celebrations and demanded them to offer it back to the sasanaya. Further he asked all his followers to donate their wealth to the temple before his forecasted 2012 Loka Winasaya (end of the world) which is hilarious. All these show that he is a good marketer and he should have pursued that field without becoming a Buddhist monk,” they said.
Meanwhile the residents also complained of sound pollution by the Ashramaya and added that even the sick and the school children in the neighbourhood are disturbed due to continuous sermons over loudspeakers especially during the weekends.
“We are staunch Buddhists and have lived in this area for over five decades or so. This monk has brought shame to our religion. In Buddhism Lord Buddha has asked His disciples and the followers not to become a nuisance to others but to live a peaceful life. Although there are more than four temples right round Bellantara including the famous Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya, the Sunethra Devi Pirivena and the Anderson Road temple widely known as Kele Pansala non of them disturb the people in the vicinity but only Pitiduwe Thero is harassing the people,” an old resident who has found it difficult to cope with the disturbing sound told The Sunday Leader.
Harassment and extortion never seem to end as the devotees said that even gold had been demanded from them by the Ashramaya when they came to the temple to fulfill their vows.
“There are many instances where the Ashramaya has requested the devotees to bring selected varieties of expensive fruits when they bring trays to fulfill vows. Once the monk has told a neighbour who had just returned from abroad that she cannot offer common fruits to ‘Maithree Bodhisathwa’ but only selected, expensive varieties of fruits. Since it is the usual practice of Buddhists to keep some panduru (money) in the fruit trays this lady too has kept some money but interestingly the monk has told her that she cannot keep money but only gold as panduru. So she has immediately removed her ear rings and has offered it to Maithree Bodhisathwa statue,” they further claimed.
Meanwhile the residents have written to the Urban Development Authority, the Road Development Authority, Central Environmental Authority, Boralesgamuwa Pradeshiya Sabhawa and the Dehiwala-Mt. Lavinia Municipal Council to mediate and solve the problems created by the monk, but to no avail.
“The monk got the drains closed in order to widen the road further and now there is no place for the rain water to recede. The monk uses private parapet walls to mount shoe racks, to support flag posts and even to hang posters without the consent of owners. In addition he has got a pandal erected at the entrance to the Bellantara Lane narrowing the 20 foot road by six feet and blocking the main road with a name board. The relevant authorities up to now have failed to take action against Pitiduwe Thero,” they added.
The residents were aghast at the methods used by the Thero to collect money in order to celebrate his birthday in grand style.
“Once he asked all the students in his Sunday school not to have parties for their birthdays but to collect that money for a worthy cause. Then he asked the children to bring all their savings to rescue the life of a cow and all of us sent more money towards this worthy cause. Then again he collected Rs.500 each from his devotees and gave us food on his birthday and his birthday tamashas go on for 10 days or more,” they claimed.
Even more shocking, it was reported that Sadhaham Ashramaya workers who are all young males, use the adjoining “Mith Sevana” which is a home for mentally handicapped young girls, to prepare meals for the devotees who come to the temple during its functions. The safety of these young girls is obviously of no concern to the Thero.
“We were surprised to note as to how young men go during the day and night time too, to this ‘home’ where young mentally challenged girls are housed, to prepare meals for the temple devotees. Who has given authority for the monk to send men to this home? Who will take responsibility for these innocent children in the event they were sexually abused by these men? We do not think that the Social Service Department has authorised the monk to use the ‘home’ premises for his personal use but the Thero might have once again used the names of the ‘first family’ to use this premises. In addition the Thero is using the home’s premises as a VIP car park for his ‘distinguished’ devotees,” they claimed.
The Administrative Officer (AO) of the Social Services Department of the Western Provincial Council told The Sunday Leader that they have not given authority to the Mith Sevana – home for the mentally handicapped in Bellantara to allow Pitiduwe Thero to use the premises for the temple needs.
“We were surprised to hear about this and neither have we allowed any outsider to use this premises for their needs nor have we given permission to use this as a car park. It is the sole responsibility of its matron A. A. K. Hemachandra to give protection to the innocent young girls in the home and we will hold an inquiry into this issue immediately,” the AO said.
When contacted by The Sunday Leader Pitiduwe Thero refused to make any comment concerning the allegations leveled against him, and wanted the newspaper ‘to write a one sided story.’
“In your previous article The Sunday Leader tagged me as a ‘thug’. So why should I make a comment to such a paper,” the monk said.