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Written by Dr C.S.Nanayakkara   

The origin and the start of the East Midlands Buddhist Association (EMBA)

Most of you may be unaware of the origin of the establishment of the East Midlands Buddhist Association (EMBA) and the Leicester Buddhist Vihara and the sustained efforts and the difficulties faced initially. Let me give you some insight which I have collated and compiled from the recollections of some of the past office bearers, resident monks and trustees and from my own personal and official experience.

The EMBA is a well-established Buddhist Association based in Leicester. It caters to a variety of spiritual and religious needs of the members and to a large number of visitors in and around East Midlands.  It also provides basic accommodation for all the resident monks at No 9 Una Avenue Leicester. In addition, the building also provides limited space for group meetings and religious activities including meditation practices and has a Shrine Room and a well-stocked library. Some of the visitors tend to believe (incorrectly) that the EMBA and the Leicester Vihara are synonymous.

The executive committee of the EMBA has the responsibility on behalf of the membership to manage the Vihara and the Association activities and in addition, to support the resident monks to carry out their religious duties effectively. The Board of Trustees (with their own responsibilities in safeguarding the charity status & the funds) work independently but closely with the resident monks and the executive committee.

The EMBA was first established in May 1987 thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of a very small group of Buddhists from East Midlands (mainly from Derby, Nottingham, Leicester). Lots of effort was put in over the years since 1987 by quite a few dedicated members and well wishers to achieve this sustained progress.

The inaugural meeting was held on 5.5.1987 at the residence of Mr Ky Phong Lam in Derby under the guidance of a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Ven. Witharandeniye Kassapa (resident in Birmingham at the time). This group was comprised of members of the Buddhist community living in UK from multi national ethnic groups (Chinese, Sri Lankans, Vietnamese, Burmese, Thai, Tibetans, Indians and English).

At this meeting Ven. V.Kassapa was elected as the Patron and the Spiritual Adviser of the Association. Mr  Ky  Phong Lam was elected as the founder chairman,  Mr Permjit Rattu as vice chairman, Dr. Anjelo Lokubalasuriya as the secretary and Mr Quy  Lam as the treasurer.  Mr Herbert England, Mr Ling, Mr A.Ramanayaka, Mrs M. Kumarasena were elected as the general committee members and Mr Lu was appointed as the auditor.

Selection of Board of Trustees

At the inaugural meeting, a board of trustees was also appointed to hold any property to be purchased by the EMBA and/or in trust for the EMBA and to monitor the smooth running of the Association.  Mrs. N.Lokubalasuriya, Dr. D.Sumathipala, Mrs Rose Lam, Mrs Jenny Lam and Mr Alan MacCormick were selected as the founder Trustees.  For the year 1988, Mr. Alan MacCormick, Mrs. Rose Lam, Mrs Jenny Lam, Mr Kenneth Abeysinghe and Dr Nanda De Silva were selected as Trustees of the Association.

In 1989, Mr G.S Mehay and Mrs Rose Lam replaced Mrs Jenny Lam. In 1991, Mr Jeewa Amandakone was selected to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Mr Mehay. And Mrs Rose Lam. Mr Nimal Wijerathna was appointed as a trustee in 2004 when Mr Amandakone resigned ( Mr Wijeratna  passed away unexpectedly in 2007).  Mr Keneth Abesingha held the post till 2004 and following his untimely death was replaced by Mr Godwin Jayasuriya in 2004. Mr McCormick remained as a valuable and a founder Trustee until his resignation on personal grounds in 2005. Dr Nanda De Silva has continued to serve as the longest standing Trustee at present.

Progress in the early years

After several informal meetings & many discussions amongst the group it was agreed to establish the EMBA, which would act as a common unifying forum to share the religious and spiritual beliefs amongst the members. In addition, the aims and objectives of the association were identified as follows:
a. To advance and propagate the teachings of the Buddha
b. To provide a place of worship and to perform the spiritual and religious activities and
c. To promote and provide Buddhist education to those in need.

Efforts were taken also to enrol more members and collect funds for the establishment of a suitable building to provide accommodation to the resident monks. In the mean time meetings and the religious activities were held at various individual houses and public halls mostly in Derby.

At the 1st annual general meeting held in February 1988, Janaka Abeygunawardena was elected as the President, Mr Ky Phong Lam as the vice chairman, V.K.A.Ramanayaka was elected as the secretary whilst Mr. O. Lam was elected as the treasurer.

In 1989, following Regional contacts were appointed for better net working and raising funds as follows:
Birmingham: Ven V.Kassapa, Leicestershire: Mr. Janaka Abeygunawardena,. Nottinghamshire:  Mr. V.K.A Ramanayaka ,  Mr Alan MacCormick &  Mr Herber England, Derbyshire: Dr. Q.Lam, Dr. P. Lam &  Mr Paramjit Rattu,  Loughborough: Mr Sunil Wickremasingha,  Lincolnshire: Dr. C.S.Nanayakkara.  The Interim Admin. Office was located at 213 Markfield Road, Groby, Leicester (Janaka’s residence).

EMBA Constitution and Charitable status for the EMBA

The executive committee was responsible for all the administrative and fund raising activities. In 1989, a constitution was drawn up to cover the aims and objectives, the membership requirements, elections and voting procedures for the office bearers, the Trustees and their respective roles and responsibilities, accounting & financial records, the maintenance and the disposability of any assets accrued. Efforts were also made to obtain charitable status for the EMBA (was registered as an approved charity with the Charity Commissioner in 1989). Subsequently, the original constitution was amended at the AGM in 1992 and remains operational up to date. Following the amendments, Ven. M.Vagiragnana (Head of London Buddhist Vihara) was appointed as the Patron of the EMBA.

Annual General Meetings (AGM)

Annual general meetings were held regularly to elect an executive committee consists initially of a chairman (this was changed to the post of president subsequently), vice president, secretary, treasurer and a general committee of 5 members. The executive committee takes full responsibility (on behalf of the membership) for all the administrative duties of the EMBA and the maintenance of the Vihara and the resident monks.

The Executive Committee members since 1991

As required by the constitution, elections were held annually to elect a committee for the respective year.

At the AGM held in Jan. 1991: Janaka Abeygunawardena was re elected as president, Ky Phong Lang was elected as the vice president, Nimal Wijeratna replaced V.K.A.Ramanayaka as the secretary whilst Kingsley Fernando replaced  O Lam as the treasurer.

At the AGM held on 23.2 1992:  Dr C.S.Nanayakkara was elected as the president,  Mrs H.Thile as the vice president. Nimal Wijerathna was re-elected as the secretary and Kingsley Fernando re-elected as the treasurer.

At the AGM on 28.2.93: Dr. C.S.Nanayakkara was re-elected as the president, Janaka Abeygunawardena as the vice president, N.C.Wijeratana as secretary, K.Fernando as treasurer.

At the AGM on 27.2.94:  Dr. C.S.Nanayakkara  re elected as president, Lal Wirasingha was elected as the vice president, N.C.Wijeratna  and  K.Fernando re-elected as the secretary and as the  treasurer resp.

At the AGM on 26.2.95: The same committee was re elected for another year.

At the AGM in 2.96:   Nimal Wijeratna was elected as  president, Ranjit Thabrew as secretary, Kingsley Fernando re elected as treasurer,  Dr David Russel as vice president.

At the AGM 16.2.97: Dr  David Russel was elected as the president, Mrs Leela Wirasingha as the secretary, Kingsley Fernando treasurer (re elected). The exec. committee members  resigned in November 1997  due to personal reasons and was replaced by  Dr C.S.Nanayakkara as president,

Mrs Swarna De Silva as secretary,  Samitha Guruge as  the treasurer.

At the AGM in 98, Dr. C.S.Nanayakkara was re elected as  president, Dr Rohan Deheragoda  as Vice President, N.C.Wijeratna as the  secretary, Samitha Guruge re-elected as the treasurer.

This committee was re-elected in the followings years till 2001.

In 2001, Samaitha Guruge and Nimal Wijerathna tendered their resignation on personal grounds and Silvatha Ekanayaka was elected as the Treasurer whilst Lal Rodrigo was elected as Secretary.

The same committee was re-selected in 2002.

In 2003, Dr. Senarath Perera was elected as secretary to replace Lal Rodrigo and Sunil Abeysundera was elected as Vice President. Dr C.S.Nanayakkara and Silvatha Ekanayake were re-elected as president & treasurer resp.

In 2004, Lal Abeysinghe was elected as Vice President whilst the rest of the committee were re-elected.

The same committee was re elected in  2005/06.

At the AGM  in 2006,  Dr. David Russel  was elected as president, Dr Senerath Perera as the secretary, Sarath Fernando as the treasurer.

At the AGM 2007,  Dr David Russell and Sarath Fernando were  re elected and Samanthi Hills elected as  secretary following the resignation of Dr Senarath Perera.

(revised on 29.11.2012)

Groby Scout Headquarters Hall

Continuing efforts were made to purchase a suitable accommodation for the resident monks and other spiritual and religious activities of the EMBA as soon as practical. No permanent accommodation was available for meetings and religious activities initially. Groby Scout Headquarters Hall in Groby, Leicester was hired to hold the religious functions to coincide with the major Events in the Buddhist Calendar. A development Fund was also established to raise funds for the purchase of a suitable accommodation.

Purchase of accommodation at No 9 Una Avenue

After much deliberations and continued effort by the executive  Committee and with the support of members and well wishers, No 9 Una Avenue was purchased through a Bank loan (mortgage) in 1990 and the much needed accommodation for the resident monks was made available since 10.2.1991. This was a 3-bedroom semi detached house with a reasonable garden in the back. The ground floor had a large hall, which was used for meetings and all the religious activities and to accommodate the shrine room and the library. There was a kitchen (temporarily built) and a utility room and a cloakroom. The resident monks used the upstairs rooms. The then president Janaka Abeygunawardena and the committee members along with few supporters from Leicester and surroundings took a leading role in the purchase of the premises.

The premises was purchased in the name of the four trustees (Messrs. Rose Lam, Jeewa Amandakone, G.S.Mehay and Alan MacCormick)  and the legal assistance was provided by Mr Sumal Fernando from Leicester initially.  The monthly mortgage payments were made from the members who contributed through standing orders, donations made by the public and the well-wishers and the funds collected at various religious functions held.

Since 1991 Mrs Jayanthi Wijesinghe from Emmanuel Solicitors in North Wales provided all the legal assistance totally free (She died on 29.12.08).

Resident monks

At the outset, Ven Kassapa agreed to be the religious adviser in addition to his duties performed in his temple in Birmingham. Ven. K. Jinaratana was the founder resident monk along with Ven. D Jinaratana.  Ven V. Kassapa participated in the activities of the EMBA from Birmingham as the Patron.   In 1992, Ven W.Kassapa resigned from EMBA and decided to devote his time and expertise at Birmingham and elsewhere.

Ven. D Ratanajothi came over from London to join as a resident monk in July 1991 and remains the most senior resident monk up to date. Ven. D. Jinarathana left the Vihara in June 1992 and Ven K.U..Jinarathana (who provided all the guidance and the expertise with very limited resources as the most senior resident monk since the start of the Vihara) left for Sri Lanka in September 1993.

Ven. B. Ananda arrived in 1992 and left the Vihara in 1995.  Subsequently, several Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka were recruited as resident monks over the years to replace the departing monks. Initially, visas for resident monks were granted only as a visitor’s visa for 6 months and requests for any further extensions were totally refused by the Home Office in spite of legal representations being made at considerable cost and great effort put in by the respective Committees & the Trustees.

Amongst the various monks who provided valuable religious and spiritual services as resident monks were Ven K Saddhananda(1999), Ven. P. Upali(1999), Ven. M. Sumana(Oct. 1999 till Nov. 2004), and Ven. T. Chandawimala(June 2003 till Nov 2004).

At present, Ven D Rathanajothi is ably assisted by Ven T.Amitha (joined in October 2006) and by Ven H. Pannasara (joined in December  2007). The present team of the resident monks provide the much needed harmony, stability and the religious and spiritual leadership.

EMBA activities and further progress in the early years

A 4-foot tall seated Buddha Statue sculptured by late Ven. Mapalagama Vipulasara (which is placed in the Shrine Room in the Vihara at present) was brought over from Sri Lanka (this was donated by Mrs C.A. Harischandra of Harischandra Mlls, Matara), when the Leicester Vihara was established in 1991.

Annually, special religious events were held in February (Remembrance Day, combined with the annual general meeting), in May (Vesak), in August  (Esala), In November (Sanghamitta Day) and Katina ceremony. Since 1991, spiritual programmes were conducted by the resident monks on a daily basis and as the need arises. Due to the limited space available at the Vihara premises, most of the regular religious events where bigger attendance was expected had to be held in outside alternative accommodation. Since 1999, Braunstone Civic Centre Hall was used for the regular public events as this was found to be much more suitable and quite close to the Vihara.
In 2004, planning permission was granted for improvements to the building with extra space. These improvements at a cost of £9000.00 were met by a very generous donation made by Mr Yasoman & Mrs Malathi Gunawardena of Kettering at the request of the committee. The improvements provided an extra side room and construction of a well-planned kitchen. This was greatly appreciated by everyone.

The mortgage was paid off completely in 2006 and the property remains free hold since then.

Over the years, it was apparent that the majority of the membership was quite reluctant to take an active role of the executive committee. This led to the re-selection of the some of the executive committee repeatedly.

Publication of EMBA Newsletter (The Wisdom)

A ‘newsletter’ was published by the EMBA for the 1st time for the benefit of the members and the public at large in December 1988. The 1st copy was a typed manuscript, which covered the EMBA events from July to December 1988 and highlighted the progress made in the 18 months since the establishment of the EMBA in April 1987.

The 1st printed news paper- ‘The Wisdom’ was published by the EMBA as an annual newsletter in May 1989. The paper in colour was printed in Sri Lanka initially and sent over to UK for distribution as a free journal. The editor of this journal was Mrs. Thusithamala.Weerasena .  The Wisdom in print was published annually in May 1990, Dec. 1991 and then in May 1993 but due to the soaring costs, was replaced by a computer generated quarterly ‘Newsletter’ from 1993 ( still under the same heading). Ven D.Rathanajothi and Ven B Ananda provided the editorial support initially ably assisted by Mr Hobina Rajakaruna with technical assistance. Dr C.S.Nanayakkara took over the editorial role from 1994 supported by the resisdent monks( Ven D. Rathanajothi,  Ven B.Ananda & later by Ven M.Sumana) and Dr Senarath Perera till the end of 2005.  The newsletter was compiled by Mr Ranjit Thabrew for 18 months from 1996 till Feb 1998 when he was the secretary. Since 2005, the newsletter had not been published for want of a dedicated editorial team.

In conclusion

Thanks to the continuing combined efforts made by the venerable monks, the trustees, the executive committee members and the general membership, the activities of the EMBA has continued to flourish uninterrupted since its inception. It is heartening to note that we now have the combined continues services from the 3 resident monks without any disruption. Much more could be done to improve the EMBA especially in finding a more suitable accommodation to provide all the religious events in the Vihara instead of having to find alternative accommodation as at present. The success and the progress made over the years were due to the combined, concerted efforts made by a large number of individuals in various capacities.  I have not mentioned all the names of those who have helped in various ways due to logistics and any such omissions were not done deliberately (I would be pleased to amend/include any other relevant details if furnished) Any inadvertent omission/commission is greatly regretted. I must also emphasise the important role played by all those members and well wishers who continued to support the committee, the trustees and the monks in various ways over the years. Without their encouragement and the support, this association would not have been in existence today.

(Special mention must be made of Ven. D Rathanajothi, Mr Alan MacCormick, Mr V.K.A Ramanayake and Dr Anjelo Lokubalasuriya for providing me with various relevant details in the preparation of this report.  Most of the past copies of The Wisdom Newsletter are still available with the author)

Dr C.S.Nanayakkara  Jan.2009