I originally came to the U.S. to visit my father and sister. But for twenty-five years I have been afflicted with a chronic headache condition, which has resisted every type of treatment I have tried to date. My father suggested I arrange a consultation at The Headache Institute of New York, a clinic in Manhattan. Thus for the past few months I have been taking treatment at this clinic.
Is it true that you have decided to re-settle in this country?
I originally intended to stay in the U.S. only as long as necessary to treat the headache and then return to Sri Lanka. Over the past few months, however, two thoughts grew increasingly compelling in my mind: first, that I should be closer to my father in his old age; and second, that I might be able to contribute more to the Dhamma here in America than in Sri Lanka. At the beginning of this year I formally retired as editor for the Buddhist Publication Society, and thus I no longer felt obliged to reside in Sri Lanka.
During my first six weeks in the U.S. I had been staying in the crowded and bustling New York Buddhist Vihara. In July I met by chance an old Chinese Dharma master and his translator, a young Chinese-Canadian monk, who invited me to visit their monastery in New Jersey. I expected it to be a busy devotional temple in a run-down urban ghetto, but to my pleasant surprise it turned out to be a serious study monastery located on quiet and spacious grounds in rural New Jersey, with wooded hills all around and herds of deer grazing on the lawns. Master Jen Chun and I took an immediate liking to each other, and he invited me to stay as long as I wish.
So you will live as a Theravada monk in a Chinese Mahayana monastery?
In ancient India it was not rare for monks of different Buddhist schools to dwell peacefully in the same monastery. I have found Master Jen Chun to be one of the most admirable monks I have ever known: vastly learned, with profound understanding of Buddhism, yet utterly simple, humble, and selfless; strict in discipline yet always bubbling with laughter and loving kindness. He is, moreover, an authority on the Agamas, a body of literature in the Chinese Tripitaka that corresponds to the Pali Nikayas. Thus I find his approach quite congruent with my own. He has asked me to give teachings at the monastery on the Pali suttas and the Pali language, and the resident monks and many lay followers are keen to attend both courses. We hope to make the monastery a place where well-disciplined monks of any authentic Vinaya tradition can reside and live together harmoniously. The place, incidentally, is named Bodhi Monastery, but it is sheer coincidence that I wound up at a monastery that bears my name.