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London Buddhist Vihara Sunday Dhamma School

Ven.Tawalama Bandula-Principal Dhamma school

One of the important services that London Buddhist Vihara renders to the Sri Lankan Buddhist Community in London is the Sunday school for children. Buddhism, the Buddhistway of life and the Sinhala language are covered at various levels from very young children right up to teenagers. The history of London Buddhist Vihāra Dhamma School goes back 55 years to when Most Ven. Dr. M. Vajiragñāna formed the Youth League in 1969. It has developed gradually and it is a leading dhamma school, which is well attended.

On Sundays, children between 4-16 years old, wearing white clothing, enter the Vihara with their parents. In the main hall and the sermon hall tables and chairs are arranged by the parents with the help of some teachers. Children enter their respective classes at 1.45pm. Classes start at 2.00pm. The venerable monks and the lay teachers explain the dhamma to the children. At 3.00pm a bell is rung for a break. Parents take turns to arrange refreshments which include cake/sandwich, biscuits and a drink.

At 3.15pm the Jayamangala gātha CD is played to let the children know the time to make a line towards shrine room. A few female Dhamma teachers and some parents help a group of students to arrange candles, incense, flowers, and beverages to be offered to the Buddha. Other teachers, parents, and students form a line standing side-by-side facing the shrine of the Buddha. The students who arranged the puja form a line one after another, each holding one of the puja items in both hands with devotion and care. Everyone in the shrine room touches the puja items with respect. One after another all puja items are respectfully placed on the table in front of the icon. All bow to the Buddha and sit on the floor in a line. They then take refuge in the Triple Gem and observe the Five Precepts in Pāli by repeating after the monk. Then all together, including the monk, recite the Pāli verses referring to the puja items and the virtues of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. Then the monk conducts the meditation on loving kindness for a few minutes in which everyone participates in silence. At the end of the puja, respects are offered to the parents reciting Pāli stanzas. After receiving advice on different matters relevant to the classes, students and teachers move to their own classrooms for an hour to learn the Sinhala language. At 4.15pm again a bell is rung to indicate the finish of the classes, and the children assemble in the main hall to sing the dhamma school song and national anthemto complete the day.

This is a typical Sunday afternoon at the London Buddhist Vihara. The Dhamma School (Sunday school) is an attempt to provide an opportunity for our children in their search for a ‘right way’ of living. We understand the importance of Buddhist values in our lives. Our sincere wish is for the children to find happiness in their lives and for them to be free from suffering. To this end, the Dhamma school provides a solid foundation to develop wholesomethoughts that will take them on the ‘right way’. In the spirit of Buddhist tradition, Dhamma School class sessions are offered free of charge to anybody who is committed to learn the Buddhist way of living. Every year children sit for the examination held by YMBA Sri Lankaand achieve high grades.

Although, when Anagārika Dharmapāla established the London Buddhist Vihāra in 1926 to give the teachings of the Buddha to the West, there were very few expatriate Sri Lankans living in England, today there are many thousands. Since European Buddhist children are growing up in an environment of two extremes, materialism and Christian faith, we must explain to them the difference between Buddhism and Christianity in particular, and Buddhism and any other kind of philosophy in general. We must point out the singularity of the teaching of the Buddha as the middle way between the two extremes, and so make our children immune to outside influences. It is the well-conceived desire of every Buddhist parent to bring up their children in a Buddhist environment and its inherent discipline. The Dhamma School offers the best opportunity to fulfil those desires and to keep the second generation of Sri Lankan Buddhist children in touch with Buddhist teachings, customs and culture.