The London Buddhist Vihara


The London Buddhist Vihara was founded in 1926 by Anagarika Dharmapala, who was one of the prominent leaders of the 19th century Sinhala Buddhist revival in Sri Lanka. Although this temple was officially declared open in 1926, the early roots go back to the latter part of the 19th century, especially to the meeting of Anagarika Dharmapala with Edwin Arnold, the author of “Light of Asia”[1] and the editor of the Daily Telegraph in 1893, returning after attending the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.[2] At this time, as London was considered the most important city in the world as the capital of the British empire, Anagarika was determined to share the joy of ‘Dhamma’ with English people and especially with the citizens of London. This happened in the context of the increased interest of Western intellectuals in Buddhism in the 19th century.

At the beginning in 1926 a lady called Mrs. Mary Foster was the main benefactor of the Vihara and she financed the setting up of ‘Foster House’ in Ealing, the first Theravada Monastery to be established outside the Asian continent, the continent of its origin. This Vihara was very soon shifted to a more convenient and central place in Gloucester Road and it remained there until the outbreak of the 2nd World War. Then the monks went back to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and again it was reopened in 1954 at Ovington Square, Knightsbridge, with the help of many Sinhala people. In 1958, when the lease expired, the Anagarika Dharmapala Trust, the custodians of the Vihara, bought a property at 5, Heathfield Gardens in Chiswick for the functions of the Vihara. The Vihara was opened at these new premises on April 24th, 1964. On May 21st, 1994 the Vihara shifted to its present location, The Avenue, Chiswick, with more space and convenience. [3] 

Presently the temple is open daily to the public from 9.00 am to 9.00 pm and there is a monk or layperson available to guide newcomers with information about the temple. This gives the opportunity to anybody who wishes to meditate or to be involved in an act of worship personally in the serene atmosphere of the temple. For the usage of students and other interested people, the temple maintains a library in the lecture hall. The library consists of the Buddhist Canon in English and Asian languages, ola-leaf manuscripts (the ancient form of Sri Lankan books, like papyrus), bound periodicals, books on Buddhism and related subjects.[4] The temple has a bookstall with books and pamphlets regarding Buddhism and related subjects. Often the visitors are welcomed with Sri Lankan hospitality by being offered a cup of tea or coffee and with a friendly chat even if it is the first visit of the group or an individual.

Voluntary membership with lay leadership

From the 19th century up to date there are many Westerners who have been associated with this temple. Since Buddhism is a religious philosophy that does not have religious rituals such as baptism or confirmation which make people members of the religious congregation, it is difficult to give an exact figure for membership of the temple as can be done for many Christian churches. The types of association by Western people vary from that of an integral member of the temple community to one who practises Buddhist philosophy in his/her day-to-day life in a very personal manner. Even if the participation of devotees in the activities of the temple varies from a few days a week to once or twice a year, all of them are considered as the disciples of the Buddha. According to a residential monk of the temple there are about 1000 Sri Lankan families and 200 British individuals who regularly take part in the activities of the temple. [5]

As this temple is a direct result of the transformation of lay Buddhist leadership in Sri Lanka, lay leaders have been playing a prominent role from the very beginning of its inception in the UK. The founder of this temple, Anagarika Dharmapala, was one of the main leaders who took upon himself a new role Anagarika, a lay celibate between “lay” and “monk” in Buddhism.  He emphasised the role of lay people in protecting and propagating Dhamma or the Gospel of Buddhism. In a way this temple was able to pioneer the new role to be played by the lay people in European Theravada Buddhism in the context of extensive lay participation in the protestant Christian churches in the UK.

Among lay people in this temple, women have a prominent role and take part in many activities. Many women get involved in the traditional Sri Lankan duties of women such as preparing and serving food and decoration of the temple with flowers. There are some other women who serve in various committees of the temple and work hand in hand with men. Apart from the above activities some women deliver speeches, especially on the issues of women in Buddhism. In these speeches they often highlight the contribution of women in the past and encourage contemporary women to go forward by following their example. The climax of the activities of women is the annual “Sanghamitta day” in December, the day when Sri Lankan Buddhists celebrate the introduction of women’s ordination to Sri Lanka by Sanghamitta, the daughter of Emperor Ashoka of India, in the 3rd century BC. [6]

Defined more by the people who form it than by the territory they inherit.

Since this is the first Buddhist monastery in Europe, and the first to be established outside the continent of its origin, it has forged many links and associations with many prominent Buddhist individuals and organisations all over the world. Often other Buddhist immigrants look up to this temple for guidance and inspiration in their endeavours in the UK and other European countries. The respect that this institution gained throughout the years has been increased by its harmonious integration into British society. This temple is often defined as the basic model for Buddhism in the UK and Europe. In some scholarly expositions the basic model adopted by this temple, the “London Vihara Model,” is used to analyse other Buddhist establishments in Western countries. [7] In the above context this temple is defined as an institution of Universal Buddhism with associations to British and Sri Lankan persons who contributed to the establishment of this temple.

However, the majority of the members who regularly take part in the activities of the temple live in and around London, and mainly around the Chiswick area.  For special occasions people come from many parts of the UK, as this temple exists as the symbol of the existence of Sri Lankan Buddhism in the West. It is evident that this temple is often associated with the founder Anagarika Dharmapala and the Buddhist revival of the latter part of the 19th century in Sri Lanka by the Sinhala Buddhists living in the UK. This has happened through their association of regaining Buddhist power by Sri Lankans through the work of Dharmapala and the Buddhists revivalists of the 19th century in Sri Lanka.  Therefore this temple exists as a local temple in the Chiswick area but with a global emphasis due to its association with many people all over the globe.

Systematic fund raising and system of trustees

This temple is managed by the Dharmapala Trust based in Sri Lanka, and the activities of the temple are carried out by lay devotees headed by the chief monk, assisted by other residential monks of the temple. The main custodians of this temple live in Sri Lanka with a representative in the UK. However there is a group of people who see to the day to day running of the temple without official appointments as office bearers.

There is a registered charity called the Rahula Trust, which is handled by a group of trustees comprising 4 lay people and 2 monks of this temple. Although this is not under the direct management of the Dharmapala Trust the enthusiastic monks and lay people of the London Vihara started this charity with the intention of helping unprivileged people all over the world. This charity sponsors poor children in countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka and assists an African country through a Jesuit priest. The charity gets donations from people belonging to many socio-religious contexts and through various means. Funds are raised through such activities as sponsored marathons and cultural shows put on by some young university students in the UK.  Scholarships of this charity are given only considering the poverty and academic capabilities of children regardless of their faith, race, sex or nationality [8]


All the clergy in the temple are celibate monks and do not work for a salary or a regular personal income. Lay people meet the material needs of the monks through alms called Pirikara and once they are offered they belong to Sangha or the order of monks. Throughout the year, according to a roster, the lay devotees offer daily meals to the monks, which is an integral part of the relationship between the lay people and the monks.

The activities of the temple include wedding blessings and pastoral care such as visiting the sick and needy at homes or in hospitals and officiating at funerals of the devotees. Often people come to the temple to offer Dhana or food to monks in memory of their dead loved ones. The structure of the way in which these ministries are performed is very similar to a Christian minister looking after a parish in the UK. By prior arrangement schools and educational groups can visit the temple to have an exposure to the temple and Buddhism. On request the temple administration is prepared to be involved in activities such as interfaith groups, which bring various ethno-religious people together. 

Although lay participation is very prominent, the monks, headed by the chief monk, have the final authority on all matters of this Vihara apart from their authority on spiritual and doctrinal matters. Monks are looked upon as mentors and gurus who are considered as vehicles of Dharma proclaimed by the Lord Buddha.  The monks are expected to be unblemished, living in an ideal community where they share everything in common. The fulfilment of the above factors by the monks functions as guidelines for lay people in their day-to-day life. All the monks of this Vihara are professionals with various qualifications and experiences who have lived and worked in the UK, Sri Lanka and some other countries, serving various communities.

Ethnic tendencies

Although the main aim of the founder of this temple was to share the joy of Dhamma with Western people, today it has become one of the main responsibilities of the temple to cater to the cultural and religious needs and wants of the Sinhala Buddhists in and around London. This has mainly happened since the mid 70s with the increased number of Sri Lankan immigrants settling in and around London who have been educated in Sinhala and brought up in the typical Sri Lankan Sinhala culture. Up to a certain extent this group has changed the whole outlook, which was philosophically centred and dominated by Sri Lankan and white British people whose first language was English right from the inception of this Temple in 1926.

However the temple still makes many efforts to accommodate white British people and some other Buddhists from other countries as well. All the activities of the temple are held in both Sinhala and English. In this temple English is often used as the main language as the vast majority of participants are fluent in English whether they are of Sri Lankan origin or otherwise. The temple is always conscious of keeping the tension and balance between universality and particularity of Buddhism and it organises its activities accordingly. The temple has taken measures not to organise exclusive inward-looking Sinhala ethnic activities, which may exclude other Buddhists other than Sinhala Buddhists. For instance this temple does not have an exclusive Sinhala New Year festival in April, which is a common feature in other Sri Lankan temples in and around London. Instead of having a Sinhala New Year festival they have the prize-giving of the “Dhamma school” in April which includes some aspects of the Sinhala New Year. [9]

Multi-functional activities with religious and cultural reproduction

It is a matter of interest to observe the pattern of the activities of this temple in London. On Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7.00pm there are classes on Buddhism with an introduction to Buddhism for beginners, an advanced Buddhist doctrine class and a course on Theravada Buddhism respectively. These courses are affiliated to the University of London. On every Wednesday at 7.00pm there is a session on meditation (Bhavana) with instructions and practices, and these meditation classes are conducted for both beginners and more experienced people. Monthly retreats are held on the last Saturday of every month from 2.00pm to 8.00pm except in August and December. The usual programme for these retreats is as follows.

2.00-2.15 Introductory talk

2.15-3.30 Sitting meditation practice

3.30-4.00 Walking meditation practice

4.00-4.10 Tea

4.10-5.00 Sitting meditation practice

5.00-5.30 Walking meditation practice

5.30-6.00 Dhamma talk

6.00-6.30 Tea & refreshment

6.30-7.30 Metta Bhavana (loving-kindness)

7.30-8.00 Questions and answers: Discussion [10]

Annually the following festivals are organised by the temple with the emphasis being on their religious significance over and above Sri Lankan cultural aspects, thus allowing any Buddhists to take part in the celebrations.

April             - Rahula Dhamma day (children's day)

May              - Vesak celebration – Buddha day

June              - Poson celebration 

July               - Esala celebration  - dhammacakka day

September     - Founder's day

November     - Kathina celebrations

December     - Sanghamitta day celebration  [11]

In April a festival is organised for Buddhist children living in the UK. This festival is named after Rahula, the son of Gauthama who later became the Buddha, the enlightened one. This festival gives the opportunity for the temple community to reflect on and contemplate the future of Buddhist children. Hence this annual festival addresses the anxieties and aspiration of these children with guidance in order to face the challenges of their day-to-day life. Also this festival is used to think about children throughout the world and remind the devotees of their responsibility towards them. 

Vesak, the celebration of the birth, enlightenment and passing away of Lord Buddha, is celebrated as the Buddha day. By celebrating this festival the birth stories, the sermons of the Lord Buddha with his main teachings and the important aspect of his ministry are remembered through talks, sermons and meditations in a festive atmosphere as a festival of light.

The introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC by Arahat Mahinda, the son of Emperor Ashoka of India, is celebrated in June as Poson, with an emphasis on the development of the Sinhala culture with Buddhist philosophy.  This introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka became significant with the decline of Buddhism in India where gradually Sri Lanka became one of the main countries to be considered as a protector and preserver of Buddhism in its original form. This festival also has become important in the context of Sri Lanka as the seat of Theravada Buddhism where Theravada scripture was later written in Pali. With the above emphasis this festival is celebrated at the London Vihara, reminding the devotees that they have a responsibility not only to enjoy the joy of Dhamma but also to preserve it and proclaim it for the benefit of many people through out the world. [12]

The founder of this Vihara, Anagarika Dharmapala, is commemorated with gratitude in September every year, reminding the present generation of their responsibility to carry out the work started by him. At this festival two main aspects of the life and work of Dharmapala are remembered. Firstly, his contribution to the revival of Buddhism in Sri Lanka is analysed by showing the steps that he took to make Buddhism meaningful in the colonial era in Sri Lanka. Secondly, his courageous efforts with Westerners who had been fascinated with   Buddhism in proclaiming Buddhism to the Western world at a time when the majority of Christians believed that ultimate truth lies in Christianity and tried to Christianise the rest of the world, is critically evaluated in order to learn lessons from the past to face the future with courage and determination. 

The Kathina celebration is a traditional rain retreat in Asia, and at the end of this retreat gifts are offered to monks, especially the robes, which are usually rendered by lay people and usually never bought by the monks.  As in Buddhism lay people are expected to look after the material needs of the monks, this celebration has become important in order to fulfil one of the main needs of the monks, the provision of robes, which symbolise that they are the vehicle of Dhamma. This is highlighted in a Sinhala saying where people say that they venerate the robe as they venerate monks. This festival is also significant as the Buddhist monks are not allowed to wear any other dress other than the robes after their ordination as a monk. Considering the above important factors, the annual Kathina celebrations are held at the London Vihara, giving the opportunity for lay people to offer gifts to monks to strengthen the relationship between lay people and monks which is very necessary for the survival of Buddhism in this European land.

In the 3rd century BC Sanghamitta, the daughter of Emperor Ashoka of India, introduced the ordination of women to Sri Lanka. When she came to Sri Lanka, she brought with her a sapling of the Bo tree under which the Lord Buddha was enlightened. This was planted in Mahamevna Uyana in Anuradhapura, then capital of Sri Lanka. After 2300 years this tree is still alive in the same place it was planted. Buddhists all over the world show their respect to this tree and they have venerated this holy tree for 23 centuries.  By celebrating this festival the devotees at the London Vihara show their respect for this tree, which is the oldest tree with a recorded history in the world. Although women’s ordination introduced by Sanghamitta gradually disappeared from Sri Lanka, with the current increased interest in women’s activities, this old festival has become more meaningful to highlight the importance of women’s rights, which were there right from the beginning of Buddhism.

This temple is always sensitive not to have any ritualistic activity, which could hinder the Buddhist philosophy and deviate from the main teachings of Buddhist thought as expounded by the Buddha and recorded in the “Tripitaka,”[13] the holy scripture of Buddhism.

The temple publishes a journal called “Samadhi” covering sociological, doctrinal and cultural issues of Buddhism. However the name of the temple’s original journal, “The British Buddhist,” became “The Wheel” in 1935, and when the journal was enlarged in 1968 it was renamed as the “Buddhist Quarterly”. Once again in 1970, the journal was published under a new name, “Buddhist Forum”.[14]

Every Sunday a service is held from 5.00pm to 6.00pm. Those who attend the Sunday service are provided with a sheet giving a transliteration of Pali verses in Roman script and a paraphrased translation of Pali verses in English.  Every Sunday in the afternoon at 3.00pm, before the service, a Sunday school is conducted, and children aged 4-16 years are encouraged to attend that. Those children in the Sunday school are prepared to sit for the examinations conducted by the organisation called Y.M.B.A. (Young Men’s Buddhist Association). These examinations are held in both the English and Sinhala medium.[15] The increased interest in getting through this examination in English, even in Sri Lanka, has encouraged the British-born Sinhala Buddhists to prepare themselves for this examination. Sri Lankan papers, published both in London and Sri Lanka, often praise the students who successfully pass this examination, as a great achievement. Through this examination British-born Sinhala Buddhists have a sense of belonging to the Sinhala and Buddhist communities although they live thousands of miles away from Sri Lanka. As a result of getting through this examination they improve their knowledge of Buddhism, which directly affects their philosophy of life in the UK. On Sundays at 2.00pm a Sinhala class is also held to enable the children to be more conversant in Sinhala, as the 2nd and 3rd generations of the immigrant could easily drift away from their mother tongue.

Place of worship and denied honour in the host country

All these above activities clearly show the shift in the functions of traditional Sinhala Buddhism in order to address the issues faced by Sinhala Buddhists and other Buddhists in and around London. As this Vihara was a direct result of the Buddhist revival of the 19th century, which challenged the monopoly of Christians as having the one true religion, this temple has become a place of hope to preserve their honour as both Sinhala people and Buddhists. Also this temple exists as a symbol of Sri Lankan pride because of the role played by these Buddhist revivalists in the independence movement in Sri Lanka. In the above set up when Sinhala people and Buddhists do not get the honour that they expect in this host country, this temple has been acting as a place of consolation for over 75 years to have a glimpse of the honour that they would get in their home country. [16]

The monks who have been associated with this temple have founded all the other Sri Lankan temples in and around London. Therefore this temple functions as the mother temple, whose basic structure has been used with some changes and transformations by all the other Sri Lanka Buddhist temples and some other Buddhist temples in and around London. This factor has given Sri Lankans a unique honour as the inventors of the basic model of the Western Buddhist temples in Europe. [17]

The devotees of this temple are proud of the fact that they believe in a rational religion that does not necessary ask the believers to depend on a supernatural being for help, guidance and blessings. It is their view that Buddhism is the most suitable religion for modern society, which entirely places the redemption on the preview of the potential of human beings and teaches effectively the protection of the environment with the necessity to preserve all kinds of life including that of animals. In the above set up and with the increased interest of the educated white British people towards philosophical Buddhism, the devotees of this temple consider it an honour to pronounce Buddhism as their religion.

Second generation of immigrants and religious activities.

Although this temple has existed in London for more than 75 years, today the active Sinhala members of this temple belong to the first generation of immigrants from Sri Lanka. Their children, who were either born in the UK or emigrated to this country when they were small, take active part in the temple and enjoy their Dhamma School and Sinhala classes with occasional cultural activities such as Sri Lanka dance and drama preformed on special occasions of the temple. It is evident that these young children enjoy the company of the members of this temple belonging to Sri Lankan and European origin. Generally these children are not familiar with the popular ritualistic aspects of Buddhism such as Bhodi puja, the offering made to the tree under which the Lord Buddha was   enlightened. Where this second generation of immigrants are concerned the fact that most of the activities are done in English has become a “pull” factor in attracting them to the Vihara. The fact that this temple is able to explain the origin of their forefathers with their socio-cultural background has become useful for these second generation immigrants as they have to come to terms with the differences they experience in the host country, especially in their schools or among their colleagues.  [18]

[1]Light of Asia” is a long Victorian Poem written by Edwin Arnold on the Life of the Lord Buddha.

[2] 75th Anniversary Magazine (2001), London Buddhist Vihara.

[3] London Buddhist Vihara Website - <> >

[4] London Buddhist Vihara Website - <> > and Observation.

[5] From a discussion with a residential monk of the London Vihara. 

[6] From Participant Observation.

[7] Gunasekara, V.A. (1994), An Examination of the Institutional Forms of Buddhism in the West  with Special Reference to Ethnic and Meditational Buddhism, The Buddhist Society of Queensland, PO Box 536, Toowong Qld 4066, Australia. 

<> >

[8] The Rahula Trust  Report 2001-2002.

[9] From a discussion with a residential monk of the London Vihara.

[10] London Buddhist Vihara Website - <> >

[11] London Buddhist Vihara Website - >

[12] London Buddhist Vihara Website - <> >

[13] Tripitaka means Three Baskets – 1: Sutta  (Sermons) Pitaka 2: Vinaya (Discipline) Pitaka 3: Abhidharma (Philosophy) Pitaka

[14] 75th Anniversary magazine (2001), London Buddhist Vihara .

[15] London Buddhist Vihara Website – <> >

[16] Observation.

[17] Observation.

[18] From a discussion with a residential monk of the London Vihara.


Thames Buddhist Vihara


This Buddhist Vihara was started by a group of Sinhala Buddhists in 1978 in order to cater to the cultural and religious needs of Buddhists from Sri Lanka without excluding other Buddhists who have been willing to take part in the activities of this place of worship. Activities of this Vihara are carried out under a registered charity called the Thames Mediation society in the UK. This charity and all the other religious performances of this Vihara are carried out under the leadership of its head, Venerable Pahalagama Somaratana, the Chief Sanganayaka Thera (the Sinhala title of the head of a temple or Vihara).   The temple also exists as a Buddhist monastery sheltering residential monks. As a monastery, monks, mainly from Sri Lanka, reside in this Vihara, performing their daily rituals according to the Theravada tradition of Sri Lanka.  The Vihara consists of a shrine room, a library and a preaching hall. Monks and lay devotees perform rituals such as the offering of food to Buddha in the shrine room in front of a Buddha statue where there is a small Bo tree in a glass case.  This temple has some wall paintings depicting important events of the life of Buddha, which are very common in Viharas in Sri Lanka.   Preaching of Dharma deshana, or sermons, is done in the preaching hall; people remove their footwear and sit on the floor to listen to sermons preached by Buddhist monks. The library is open to people interested in learning more about Buddhism in general and Theravada Buddhism in particular, with special reference to the form of Theravada Buddhism from Sri Lanka.   

Voluntary membership associations with lay leadership 

The “members” or “Dayakas” (meaning “contributors”) of this religious organisation are mainly Sinhala Buddhists from Sri Lanka.  This voluntary membership is sealed by an important religious act derived out of the gift economy in Sri Lanka. That is to offer daily food to monks who reside in the temple. In Sri Lanka this is one of the most important and basic acts performed by lay people to feel that they are part and parcel of the temple that they belong to. This temple has a membership of more than 350 families who take part in the activities regularly.  

The lay leadership of this temple is being strengthened due to a number of other reasons. Devotees of this temple living in various geographical areas have got their own respective fellowships and come together for domestic and social events. These undocumented fellowships have facilitated organising activities of this temple in a smoother manner on the strength of their friendships and fellowships. The relationships between devotees in the same profession such as doctors also have contributed to the healthier leadership performances, as they are able to function in the similar psychological and social levels.   

This temple has come into being mainly because of the leadership of enthusiastic Sinhala Buddhist lay people from Sri Lanka.  All the activities of this temple heavily depend on the leadership of lay people who worship in this temple. In organising and conducting activities such as dancing and Sinhala classes lay people take a prominent role. Events such as Vesak and Poson are annually organised by lay people taking turns as leaders of the programme. However in all these activities the monks headed by the chief monks have the final authority. 

Defined more by the people who form it than by the territory they inherit

Sinhala Buddhist People who live in and around Surrey and some parts of Kent mainly take part in the activities of this temple. But as with traditional Sri Lankan temples, members who live close to the Temple are more closely associated with the temple than others who live in more distant places. Therefore this temple is defined in two ways, combining the Western congregational type of religious organisation where people come to the temple from many geographical areas, and the Sri Lankan traditional temples defined by the territory they inherit. 

Systematic fund raising and a system of trustees

All the activities of the temple are carried out through a board of trustees headed by the chief monk assisted by other resident monks. The board of trustees is comprised of Sinhala Buddhist people who are active members of the temple. All the accounts are carefully recorded by the treasurer and audited by a qualified person. 

Most of the regular participants contribute monthly towards the maintenance, while others support the temple as and when they able to do so. Apart from these contributions the temple gets gifts in kind and cash from well-wishers in the UK and abroad. Regular sales and fairs enable the trustees to get involved in many charitable activities according to the wishes of the devotees and the monks of the temple. 

The clergy  

At the moment all the monks in this temple are Sinhala persons from Sri Lanka who have had their basic formation in Sri Lanka. This formation has basically trained them to be monks to attend to the Buddhist religious and cultural activities in Sri Lanka. Therefore they get their basic exposure to English conditions only after arriving in the UK. 

The monks in the temple are voluntary workers and do not work for a salary or a steady income from the temple. Lay people look after the needs and wants of the monks in the temple. When monks officiate at important family functions such as funerals, lay devotees offer things needed by the monks in the temple. When one monk receives something it becomes the property of the temple and it is used according to the requirements of the temple. 

The monks headed by the chief monk have taken many measures to keep the devotees in the fold, to get their wholehearted material and psychological support. Monks, to invite devotees for special occasions such as laying foundations for a new extension of the temple, visit them in their own homes, at times travelling 30 or 40 miles. These kind of steps launched by the monks have even drawn some lay people who were not that interested in the activities of the temples in Sri Lanka. When the residential monks get the news that some people known to some of their brother monks in Sri Lanka have migrated to places close to this temple, through those brother monks, the residential monks encourage them to take part in the activities of the temple by welcoming the newcomers warmly into the temple. The newcomers, often in search of fellowship, delightedly accept this invitation to become part of the temple, and get the treasured atmosphere that they have left behind in Sri Lanka. This has happened in the context of the fact that these immigrants migrate to the UK for better economic gains and not out of cultural or religious frustration.  

Ethnic tendencies

This temple mainly exists for Sinhala Buddhist people, and the activities are geared to cater to this community. This is integrally connected to the origin of this temple with a group of Sinhala people in 1978. Perhaps the fact that most of the Sinhala Buddhist monks have been trained and nurtured mainly in Sinhala functions as a contributory factor to this emphasis on a kind of an ethnic exclusiveness of this temple. The activities of this temple create an atmosphere very much like of a semi-urban temple in Sri Lanka. In most of the sermons the monks take examples from the Sri Lankan context, using Sinhala mythology, legends and stories which are fully meaningful only to Sinhala Buddhists from Sri Lanka. Here monks generally preach all the sermons in Sinhala, and when there is a necessity, the chief monk, who is conversant in English, gives a summary of the sermon in English.

Although this temple does not encourage popular customs of Sri Lankan Buddhism such as the worshipping of deities, neither does it stress the pure philosophical Buddhism, which makes an effort to remove most of the cultural activities of Sri Lankan Buddhists. Wherever and whenever they think it is appropriate they have taken measures to revive Sri Lankan cultural activities such as Sri Lankan dancing and festivals like the Sinhala New Year. 

Multi-functional activities with religious and cultural reproduction 

During the week the following programmes are held covering a variety of religious, educational and spiritual activities. These programmes keep the temple busy throughout the week and bring in many people

Mondays 3.00 to 5.00 pm 

7.00 to 8.30 pm Meditation Class 

Religious Services

Tuesdays 7.00 to 8.30 pm Pirith Chanting and Religious Services

Wednesdays 3.00 to 5.00 pm 

7.00 to 9.00 pm Meditation Class 

Religious Services

Thursdays 7.00 to 8.00 pm Pirith Chanting & Religious Services

Fridays 3.00 to 5.00 pm Meditation Class

Saturdays 3.00 to 5.00 pm 

6.00 to 8.00 pm Meditation, Pirith Chanting & Religious Services 

Wisdom Dialogue(Only on first Saturday of the month)                 

Cultural reproduction is done through the main festivals important for Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Some of these festivals are religious festivals with cultural features while the other festival, the Sinhala New Year, is a secular one, which has been coloured with religious features.  

On the full moon day in May or a convenient day close to that day the Vesak, which is a festival of light, is held to commemorate the birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha with the observance of the Eight Precepts. In June, on the full moon day or a day close to it, the Poson or the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC is commemorated in as Dhamma Vijaya Festival. Here the first exposition of the Dhamma to Sri Lanka is remembered with the Observance of Eight Precepts. The other festival, held in December, remembers the arrival of Bukkuni Sangamitta in Sri Lanka with a branch of the Bo tree under which Buddha was enlightened. Although with her arrival women were ordained later that order ceased to exist. These three festivals are held with both cultural and religious significance, being the three most important ethno-religious festivals of Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka. 

The main cultural festival of Sinhala people in Sri Lanka is the New Year, celebrated in April. This cultural festival is celebrated with traditional activities such as Sri Lankan games and ceremonies with the participation of Sinhala families from Sri Lanka. 

Apart from the above festivals three more programmes are held in July, August and November. In July an annual pirith chanting ceremony is held on Dhammachakka day. Two festivals in August and November mark the beginning and end of the rain retreats of Sri Lanka.  The November Katina puja ceremony has become important, as it is the occasion when robes are offered to the monks, an important responsibility of the lay Buddhists devotees. On 31st December whole night Pirith chanting is held to usher in the Western New Year. Although January 1st has no significance in Buddhism, since the devotees begin their secular life on this day, this ceremony is held to begin the New Year with the blessing of the Triple Gem   of Buddhism. 

Although Buddhist festivals are derived out of the lunar calendar, during the latter part of the 19th century, in the British colonial era, Buddhists began to use Sunday for many religious activities. According to the above tradition this temple conducts the following activities on every Sunday:  

3.00 to 4.00 pm Sinhala classes for Sunday school children 

4.00 to 5.00 pm Buddhism classes for the Sunday school children

5.00 to 6.00 pm Dancing classes

6.00 to 7.30 pm Buddha puja, meditation, Dhamma sermon and Pirith chanting

This way of providing a number of activities on Sunday has attracted people with families to come to the temple to take part in the activities according to their choice. 

Place of worship and denied honour in the host country

The Sri Lankans who take active roles are proud of their participation in the activities of the temple. They often enjoy the honour that they gain by fulfilling their tasks in the temple successfully. They are activities such as organising a sale to collect funds for an extension of the temple. It is evident that within the temple community the professionals such as medical doctors get the Sri Lankan style of honour, which creates a sense of belonging to each other with respect to the professions performed by people in the community. On the other hand the other people who do not have social responsibilities in the host country get the opportunity to hold office, and so feel important within the community. The others who take active roles in the temple gain knowledge about the way things work in the UK, which in turn assists them to be effective in their places of employment and domestic affairs. 

Second generation of immigrants and religious activities. 

In this temple in all the activities the participation of children of devotees is a visible reality. Perhaps one of the main reasons for this is the close relationship between parents and children that has resulted in them participating in many activities as a family. In the temple these children enjoy their Sinhala classes and Dhamma classes held in English. When the other activities such as sermons and other religious rituals are conducted in Sinhala these children find it difficult to participate as their knowledge of Sinhala is not sufficient to understand the high-flown Sinhala used by Buddhist monks who are well-versed in this language. Yet the fact that the temple is able to help these children to explain the differences that they have between them and other white British children make them closer to the temple in the process of their identity-making in the UK.  


  Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre


This temple was founded on the vision of the Most Ven. Dr. Hammalawa Saddhatissa, who worked tirelessly to quench the thirst for Buddhism of various people, especially those living in the Western countries. This scholarly monk was also the head of the first Buddhist Vihara in Europe, the London Vihara, from 1958 to 1984.  With the broader vision of catering to the religious and cultural needs of growing immigrants from Sri Lanka and of training more monks to promote Buddhism in the Western world, a Buddhist centre was established on 3rd September 1989 at No. 10, Denzil Road, Willesden, London, with the advice of the Most Ven. Dr. Hammalawa Saddhatissa and the patronage of a few enthusiastic lay devotees. With the increase of numerical and financial strength, as it became necessary for more space, the centre was temporary shifted to No. 373, Kenton Road, Harrow on 1st January 1990. After the unexpected passing away of the Most Ven. Dr. Hammalawa Saddhatissa on 13th February 1990, the centre was moved to the present site at No. 311, Kingsbury, London NW9, with more space and facilities.  In 1992 on January 1st, the adjoining premises of No. 309 were annexed to the temple, providing more facilities including a shrine to the deities, a refractory, the main hall, a toilet complex and an office.  After the demise of Ven. Dr. Saddhatissa in 1990 this Vihara was renamed as Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre as a mark of respect to the first patron of the Vihara. [1]

The temple is usually open daily from 9.00am to 9.00pm to the public for worship and educational activities. In the temple there is a library with lending and reference facilities for people who are interested in learning about Buddhism.  Generally a monk is available at the temple for those who need guidance to know more about Buddhism and the activities of the temple. The temple maintains a bookstall with their publications and other useful books for the people who are interested in buying books to improve the knowledge on Buddhism.  Although it is not a formality, the people who visit the temple are usually welcomed with a cup of tea or coffee and at times with other food as well. [2]

Voluntary membership associations with lay leadership

The voluntary membership of this temple can be divided into at least 4 categories.  There is a group of people who contribute continuously and form the Dayaka sabha or the congregation of contributors who look after the day-to-day activities of the temple including Dhana or the meals of the monks in the temple. They regularly attend the temple for fellowship and worship. Most of these people bring their children to Dhamma School and are keen to teach their children their mother tongue, Sinhala. The second is a multicultural and ethnic group of people who come to the temple for educational activities and meditation. Thirdly there is a group of Sri Lankan immigrants who attend the temple from time to time to perform certain religious activities such as offering alms in memory of their loved ones. The fourth group is the local and foreign visitors who come once in a way and keep in touch with the temple. 

Apart from these four groups there is another small group of people who are not necessarily Buddhists, but who help the Vihara in activities such as organising interreligious programmes, publishing and editing literature on the intellectual capacity. These intellectual ventures have been able to bring together many lay people from a variety of religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds. In this group there are some individuals of very high academic and intellectual capabilities with doctoral studies on topics such as the 19th century Buddhist revival and the Sri Lankan Buddhist inscriptions from the 3rd century BC. This group has immensely contributed to the reputation of this temple by promoting their studies through this temple all over the world.  Through the work of these academics, this temple has been able to promote harmony between various religions and cultures, creating opportunities for more activities in the multireligious and multicultural UK.[3]

Defined more by the people who form it than by the territory they inherit.

Due to convenience there are many people living in the geographical area of the temple who attend this place of worship regularly. Since the members of the temple take part actively in the immediate community, up to a certain extent this temple is identified as a temple of the community. Yet this temple is not entirely defined by the geographical area of its location. There are many people who take an active part of the temple, but live in various areas of the UK.  Therefore it is evident that this temple has been able to function as both community-centred and congregational type according to the situations and type of activities.  

Systematic fund raising and a system of trustees

This temple is maintained and managed by the chief monk assisted by other monks and lay people. They have a system of trustees headed by the chief monk who are responsible to the Charity Commission of the UK. Many regular participants contribute monthly from their accounts by giving standing orders to their respective banks. Others who come to the temple once in a way make their contributions especially in memory of their deceased loved ones. From time to time individuals have been contributing fairly big sums at decisive moments of the history of this temple. For instance, when the temple was moved to No. 311, Kingsbury Road, a certain person from Sri Lanka, living in the UK, made a substantial amount to buy this site with more space and facilities.


All the clergy in the temple are Theravada Buddhist monks and do not work for a permanent salary or a payment. These monks depend on lay devotees for their food and material needs. Although the monks of this temple do not work as employees they are professionals with degrees from recognised universities in Asia and Europe. Apart from Sri Lankan monks Theravada monks from other countries such as Nepal, Burma and Australia occasionally come to reside and organise programmes for Sri Lankans, white British and people from other Asian countries such as India and Malaysia. 

Due to the variety of gifts possessed by the residential monks (such as academic, linguistic, aesthetic and computer skills), the monks are able to venture out into many programmes drawing a cross-section of society, and even breaking ethnic and religious barriers.  The smooth running of the temple with its various activities is facilitated by the clear understanding of the residential monks of the roles that are expected of them. They are clearly defined as in an effective business establishment, creating a good picture for lay people to decide the areas that they wish to be involved with in the activities of the temple.

The monks render an effective pastoral ministry for the devotees of the temple. On their visits to the temple a monk often blesses the devotees by the chanting of pirith and the tying of a pirith thread around the wrist. When the devotees of the temple are sick and infirm either at home or in hospital the monks visit them and bless them with the chanting of pirith and the tying of a pirith thread around the wrist. The monks of this temple consider this as one of their main functions and give priority to fulfil this service in spite of their busy schedules with other activities.

Ethnic tendencies

This temple mainly functions as a temple of Sinhala Buddhists with an atmosphere of allowing space for others from different cultures, nationalities and ethnic groups. Although Sinhala people mainly do their usual rituals, for meditation and education people gather from many ethnic groups and nationalities. Apart from the activities of Sri Lankan origin, as this temple often takes measures to keep the universality of Buddhism alive by facilitating many events within the walls of the temple, the temple has become popular among many Buddhists and others who are interested in Buddhism and other cultural activities. For example in 2002 September the temple made arrangements to conduct Sutta classes (classes on the sermons of Buddha) by a Buddhist monk from Australia. The subjects covered by these classes included ethics, logic, practical psychology and human nature.[4]  Activities of this nature have enabled the Sri Lankan Buddhists and others interested to widen their knowledge on Buddhism with a universal perspective.   

Although this is not officially organised as a service sometimes people from Sri Lanka on their arrival in the UK stay in the temple until they find a suitable dwelling place. People who are offered this kind of security on their arrival in the UK often become very faithful to the temple, serving the temple with their talents and means. [5]

The facility of a Devala with a “priest” (Kapu mahattaya) to make offerings to “gods” is a unique feature of this Sri Lankan Vihara, not found in other Sri Lankan Buddhist Viharas in and around London. Although these Devalas are not found in other Sri Lankan Buddhist Viharas in London this is a common feature in almost all the Buddhist Viharas in Sri Lanka. As most of these deities are either from popular religions of Sri Lanka or the Sinhala version of Hindu gods, many Sri Lankan immigrants from Sri Lanka make offerings to these deities through the mediation of the priest [6].

Multi-functional activities with religious and cultural reproduction

The temple exists as a multi-functional institution, bringing a variety of activities together. All the activities of the temple are organised by the World Buddhist Foundation, which has a branch at Sravasti, India. This foundation is a registered charity, and it has two divisions, namely the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre and the Sri Lanka Educational, Cultural and Welfare Foundation. Although these three organisations are complementary they have different emphases, which have enabled this centre to widen its horizons to keep people with variety of needs and wants in the fold.

The Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, the principal organisation, conducts Buddhist activities with an international emphasis, making it possible for Buddhists from various countries to participate in an inclusive atmosphere.  The meditation classes and celebration of important Buddhist festivals – Vesak, Poson, Esala, Kathina and Sanghamitta day - are regularly carried out, giving prominence to philosophical understanding over ritualistic performances. Keeping one of the main features of a Theravada Buddhist monastery, daily religious services – Buddha Puja – take place in the shrine room of the Vihara; these can be attended by the public.

Over the past six years they have been organising the annual United Kingdom Buddhist Day, commemorating the arrival of the first English Buddhist monk after his formation and higher ordination from Sri Lanka and Burma respectively. This arrival marked the establishment of the order of monk or Buddha Sangha in the UK, although prior to this there were people studying Buddhism and translating Pali scriptures into English [7].

Since 1990 this organisation has been publishing a quarterly journal in English and edited by a Sinhala person living in the UK.  Although originally this journal was called “Nirodha,” now it is published as “Budumaga.” This journal is circulated to interested people throughout the world. It consists of the happenings and the future programmes of the temple, scholarly articles and articles for the general public to promote enthusiasm for and interest in Buddhism in everyday life [8].

Although this temple was started through the vision of Ven. Saddhatissa to widen the international horizons of Buddhism, with the increased number of Sinhala Buddhists taking part in the temple activities they have started a branch called the Educational, Cultural and Welfare Foundation to attend to the needs and wants of Sri Lankan Buddhists living in and around this temple.  This organisation, which is an umbrella organisation of the Sri Saddhatissa International Centre at Kingsbury was formed to create an atmosphere for Sri Lankans in the UK to appreciate their cultural heritage in harmony with other cultural and religious groups in the UK. It organises many cultural and charitable activities bringing Sinhala immigrants together with the blessings of the monks at the temple. Through the activities of this organisation efforts are made to promote peace, friendship and understanding in the multicultural society of the UK.

Among the cultural activities the annual Sinhala/Hindu New Year festival has become a popular event for the Sinhala people residing in North West London [9].  The main reason behind this is the fact that this is the main festival that brings the villages together in Sri Lanka and makes the roads deserted throughout the whole country for about one week.  For this festival people who are dispersed in various parts of the island of Sri Lanka go to their native villages and enjoy the fellowship of the extended village family with traditional food, games and religious activities. In the above background mainly the Sinhala people in the area of this temple come together for this festival with their past memories of the villages in Sri Lanka. Parents and elders make it a point to get their children to take part in the activities of this festival to give them a glimpse of the Sri Lankan Sinhala/Hindu New year. 

For cultural revival, artists are invited from Sri Lanka for programmes to make Sri Lankans in the UK more interested in those activities. This is done through art exhibitions and dancing classes, creating opportunities for performances in the UK. For instance in 1998 to mark the golden jubilee of Sri Lankan independence from the British, an art exhibition, a dance exhibition, a photographic competition were held, including a BBC television programme with the dance performances of the dance troupe of the temple.

The main charitable activity of this organisation is called the Muditha Trust, which is responsible for running an orphanage in Kurunegala, one of the main towns in Sri Lanka.  This trust is the only Buddhist institution in Sri Lanka, which exists for the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders, and it is managed by lay people under the patronage of the incumbent at the Sri Saddhatissa International Centre, Kingsbury.  The orphanage is situated on an ancient Buddhist site built by the kings. Apart from this orphanage the charity also grants scholarships to poor children in Sri Lanka and has supplied agricultural instruments to children whose parents have died in the recent war in the North and the East in Sri Lanka.

The World Buddhist Foundation, founded by Ven. Dr. Hammalawa Saddhatissa in 1989, has continued with a view to achieving the objectives of its founder. This foundation promotes the universality of Buddhism with educational and intellectual emphases, allowing people from many religious and ethnic backgrounds to get involved in its activities. With the contributions of many Asian and British scholars this organisation has produced a number of publications for the promotion and understanding of Buddhism. [10] The Foundation conducts classes for the Buddhist Education Diploma of the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka and teaching is done by a group of dedicated visiting scholarly lay people and monks who have been residing in the Vihara from time to time. In order to promote harmony between various cultures, religions and ethnic groups, this Foundation organises public lectures and conferences with the participation of a cross section of British society. Religious exhibitions, including the exhibiting of a relic of the Buddha, have been organised by this institution in order to promote Buddhism and to strengthen the faith of Buddhist devotees especially living in and around London.

Perhaps the most important programme of this foundation is the Sri Saddhatissa Memorial Day, Memorial Meeting & All-Night Chanting Ceremony on the day before Poya (Full moon day) usually held in February to commemorate the patron of this organisation. On this day, year after year, the vision and the philosophy of the temple are reiterated with reforms and transformation to face the future with courage and determination.

Weekly events that keep the temple busy and active are as follows:

Daily                7.00pm                        Buddha puja and Paritta chanting


Tuesdays         7.30pm - 9.00pm         Meditation classes


Thursdays        7.00pm - 9.00pm         Diploma Studies in Buddhism






& Fridays         7.00pm                       Sinhala classes for adults


Saturdays         3.00pm - 5.30pm         Dhamma and Sinhala classes for children [11]

Although they are not the sacred days of Buddhists, this temple organises many activities on Saturdays and Sundays. Among these activities Dhamma School and Sinhala classes for children have taken a prominent place. There are over 150 children on the roll, and every Saturday about 100 children attend these classes. At times parents who come with children make arrangements to take part in some programme such as flower arrangement sessions until their children finish their classes. Also many parents take this opportunity to meet their friends on Saturdays in the temple.  This socialising opportunity for parents has given them a sense of belongings to each other. [12]

Place of worship and denied honour in the host country

The Sri Lanka Educational, Cultural and Welfare Foundation, the branch that exists for the promotion of Sri Lankan-ness of the Sinhala immigrants in the UK, functions as a source of strength by making these immigrants proud of the culture from their mother land. The activities of this foundation have given these immigrants a sense of satisfaction in the context of denied honour in the host country. Their participation in these activities gives them the opportunity not only to enjoy cultural reproduction but also to reclaim denied traditional cultural honour within their group.

The members of the temple are proud to send their representatives to some local programmes such as neighbourhood council activities. Here the members enjoy their collective identity of the temple and feel secure in getting involved in those happenings in society. Also the representation of the temple in those collective ventures has given the members a forum to raise common issues faced by immigrants generally and Buddhists specifically. In all those proceedings the temple has been functioning as a source of strength that they could rely on in all their endeavours.  [13]

This temple has gained the honour of the neighbouring community for its participation in the Youth and Community service of the area, which has over 300 affiliated voluntary organisations. Monks of this temple have worked on the Executive Committee of this service, which contributes towards the formation of young people, an important concern of the present society of the UK. This activity has given the members of this temple joy and satisfaction through the reputation they have received from people in the surrounding areas.

Mainly as a result of the involvement of this temple in the wider society of the UK, in the year 2003, the Chief monk of this temple was conferred with an MBE (Member of the order of the British Empire).  Many Sinhala people considered this as a rare honour given to a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, for the first time in the history of the UK.

The greetings that the temple received for its 10th anniversary in 2000 from Queen Elizabeth II, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Tony Blair, and some other important ministers, and from the President of Sri Lanka, Ms. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, and other prominent ministers and various religious dignitaries from various religions in the UK and abroad, show the reputation that the temple has built up within ten years through its activities and relationships. In those greetings most have praised the contribution that the temple has made towards inter-religious harmony in the UK and have indicated the hope they have in the temple for more activities of this nature. [14]

Second generation of immigrants and religious activities.

In this temple the children of the second generation learn the Buddhist Dhamma and Sinhala language enthusiastically. These have enabled the children to understand the differences that they face with their white British friends in society. The special place given to children in the temple and the concern and appreciation of their elders of their achievements and efforts have attracted them to the temple with a special bond. [15]

The fact that this temple organises many opportunities for children has drawn them closer to this centre. Many cultural activities performed by the centre have given the children the opportunity to exhibit their talents and to improve them in the host country.  In the context of the multireligious and multicultural nature of London, the Sri Lankan children who take part in the activities of this religious organisation get an opportunity to create their own identity in and around London. This has become really important for those children as they realise that although they live in the UK, they are different in various ways with regards to white British children.




[1] The Tenth Anniversary Magazine (2000),  Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, pp 49-52.

[2] From the Participation Observation. 

[3] From Participant Observation.

[4] News - Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre,

 <>  >

[5] From the discussions with some devotees of the Temple.

[6] The Tenth Anniversary Magazine  (2000), Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, p.53.

[7] News - Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre,

 <>  >

[8] Magazine of the 50th Anniversary of independence of Sri Lanka (1998), Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, pp.149-152.

[9] Sinhala Avurudu in London <> > 

[10] Appendix Three 

[11] Budumaga – The Journal of the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre, October 2002. p12.

[12] From the Participant Observation.

[13] Magazine of the 50th Anniversary of independence of Sri Lanka (1997), Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre. p.150 & Observation. 

[14] The Tenth Anniversary Magazine (2000),  Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre.

[15] From the Participant Observation.



Redbridge Buddhist Centre – Ilford


In the early 1990s, as there was no Buddhist temple in the area, a group of women from Sri Lanka, living in and around Redbridge, came together and conducted some religious activities in their own homes. This group, while getting involved in these religious activities, enjoyed each other’s fellowship, strengthening their bond of friendship as immigrants from the same country. In the original group there were 14 women and they were able to organise Buddha Pujas, discussions and talks by eminent persons to promote and nourish Buddhist activities in the Redbridge area. Gradually with the growing interest, more people were added to the group, resulting in a dream for a permanent building for their activities. This dream kept them optimistic with a number of unofficial discussions among the group for the necessity for a permanent building for their activities. Eventually to get this dream of a permanent building realised, on 9th November 1998 the first  organised official meeting was held. Subsequently a constitution was drafted for an organisation called the Redbridge Buddhist Cultural Centre, and it was registered with the Charity Commission in the UK. Then the building was bought through a mortgage, members being responsible for finding ways and means to pay the instalments. After much hard work on the part of interested people, the present Centre at No. 9, Balfour Road, was declared open on 9th November 1999 for the religious and cultural activities of Buddhists in the area. [1]

Since the temple is situated close to Ilford railway station and shopping complexes, many people have found it easy to attend the activities of this religious institution. The temple consists of a shrine room with a life-size statue of the Lord Buddha. In the same room in a glass show case there are small statues of some local Sri Lankan gods who are related to Hinduism in Sri Lanka. This gives the indication that although this temple has not taken steps to start a devala or shrine for traditional Sri Lanka folk deities, it has not resisted the influence of them without distorting the Dhamma preached by the Buddha. This soft corner provided for the traditional Sri Lankan deities proves that this temple does not represent the tradition of exclusive philosophical Buddhism emphasised by some Theravada Buddhists in the West. [2]

Voluntary membership associations and lay leadership

The management of the temple emphasises the collective ownership of the place of worship by lay people and is proud in proclaiming that the institution and the building are not the sole property of one Buddhist monk. From time to time the lay people of the temple give opportunities for Sri Lankan monks to come and reside in the temple and offer services to the community. It is the belief of the management of this temple that this exposure given to Sri Lankan monks helps those monks to widen their horizons for their evangelistic activities both in the UK, Sri Lanka and other countries in an effective manner, understanding the present realities of the world. In this regard the introduction to the Western world and the mastering of the English language are considered important. [3]

It is estimated that there are about 200 families who take part in the activities of this temple. Of these 200 families about 40 families regularly take part in the activities and contribute systematically to the maintenance of the temple. [4] Others come to the temple for special festivals such as Vesak and Poson and to perform the family rituals connected with the special events of their lives. Among these rituals the invocation of merits on their deceased loved ones has become prominent as in many other communities of Theravada Buddhists in Asia and the Western world.

In the management of this temple lay leadership is more prominent than in other Sri Lankan Buddhist temples in and around London. Lay trustees carry out the entire management of the temple and it is their duty to get monks to administer the religious services of the temple. In the above context the final authority of decision-making lies with the lay trustees rather than with the monks who reside in the temple. Although in this temple lay leadership and authority is emphasised, the traditional respect for Buddhist monks is preserved with the veneration of the monks by lay people as the disciples of the Lord Buddha and the vehicles of Dhamma.

Lay people use the temple as the initial point to promote their talents by taking the leadership in the areas of their interest and in turn they get some training to venture out into the secular world in those areas that they are interested in. These leadership roles include aspects such as administration, teaching, writing articles, which are decisive for the smooth running of this religious institution. As a result of the above relationship between the lay people and the temple lay people have increased their attachment towards the temple with the feeling that it is part and parcel of their lives.

Defined more by the people who form it than by the territory they inherit

The people who have founded and form it rather than the territory it inherits define this temple. However, where the participation of the people are concerned they mainly come from the area in and around Ilford, the geographical area of the temple. For this reason, among Sri Lankan Buddhists this temple is commonly know as the Ilford temple. As there are four other temples of Sri Lankan origin in and around London this is another reason for not getting many people from other parts of this capital city of England.  Therefore this temple has the mixture of the community centred and congregational religious place of worship.

Systematic fund raising and a system of trustees

The temple is managed by a trust comprising 4 lay people who are responsible to the Charity Commission in the UK. Apart from this there is another subcommittee for the Bangladesh Buddhist community in the area who also take part in the activities of the temple.  According to the temple authorities the bulk of the income comes from the monthly contribution of permanent members of the temple who regularly take part in the activities of the temple.  The leadership, with the support of interested and capable people, organises activities such as fairs and raffles to collect the money necessary for the maintenance of the temple. Some people with means come forward at times of need to do some work for the temple. For instance, some people have done the refurbishing of toilets while some others have been responsible for repainting the premises. [5] Apart from these the temple authority has allowed a few trusted people to reside in the temple for a nominal rent in order to pay the mortgage of the building.


The lay leaders of this temple make the arrangements to get monks who reside in the temple. Those resident monks are responsible for performing religious and some educational duties of the temple. Although the lay people have invited the monks they are not hired as employees for a regular salary or income. All the monks live according to the basic rules of Theravada Buddhism and depend on the lay leadership for their material needs. Presently there is an English monk ordained according to Burmese Theravada tradition, residing in the temple. Both the English monk and the Sinhala monks wear a saffron robe as their attire and do not use any other dress at any time. Usually the majority of the English activities are handled by the British monk while the Sinhala monks get involved in the Sinhala proceedings of the temple. In his sermons and teachings the English monk brings in his natural British upbringing, while the Sinhala monks, as in the majority of traditional temples in Sri Lanka, refer to typical stories of Sri Lanka.

Ethnic activities

The temple mainly exists as a temple for Sinhala Buddhists, bringing them together. This is directly connected to the roots of this temple. Although generally all the activities of the temple are carried out in both Sinhala and English, the emphasis on Sinhala has become prominent in gatherings comprising of Sinhala devotees from Sri Lanka.

Apart from them there are a few white British and Theravada Buddhists from some Asian counties such as Malaysia and Bangladesh who are involved in the activities on a regular basis.  Apart from the ethno-religious activities of the Sinhala Buddhists, the Bangladeshi Buddhists have made an effort to revive their national religious identity as a minority religious group from Bangladesh. [6]

Multi-functional activities with religious and cultural reproduction

The English monk in the temple organises many activities in English, attracting many people from various backgrounds.  He maintains a website giving information of his activities in the temple. Among his programmes the meditation classes have become prominent. These classes are conducted at two levels, one for beginners and the other for the experienced, comprising sitting and walking meditations followed by a questions and answers session. This monk has been able to give some British children studying religious studies at school to have an introduction to Buddhism. [7] Perhaps the fact that he is English is an advantage in relating to these children.

In this temple cultural reproduction is done mainly through the religious and cultural festivals important for Sinhala Buddhists in Sri Lanka. Among these festivals Vesak, commemorating the Birth, Enlightenment and the Passing away of the Buddha in May; Poson, which commemorate the introduction of Buddhism to Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BC, and the Kathina Ceremony in November, which includes the offering of robes to the Buddhist monks have become prominent as they are the principal festivals of Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

On Sundays there are four important programmes, which bring many devotees to the temple on a regular basis. In the afternoon from 2.30 to 4.30 classes are held for children to learn Buddhism and the Sinhala language. In these classes children learn Buddhism in English and improve their knowledge of Sinhala with the skills of writing and reading. Sunday pooja or rituals are conducted at 6.30pm followed by a sermon at 7.00 pm which usually lasts for one hour. [8] When people gather for these activities they enjoy each other’s fellowship apart from getting involved in the religious activities. Often the regular participants look forward to meet on Sundays to get news and to have a Sri Lankan style chat before and after the religious activities.

For the purposes of the teaching and the proclamation of Dhamma, the temple has produced the following publications. These publications have mainly helped them to introduce Buddhism to interested people in the UK.

The Buddha - Incomparable Teacher and Sublime Teachings – Ven. B. Seelawimala


Training the Mind through Mindfulness – Ven. Dhammasami


Netam Mama Ne So Hamasmi Ne So Me Atta – Ven. Subodhi


Metta Bhavana – ( Meditation on Loving Kindness) – Mrs. Q.T. Dissanayake


Put an End to Suffering – Ven. Bhikku Pesala


The Significance of Vesak – Ven. Bhikku Pesala [9]

A newsletter called “Maithri” is also published with information for the benefit of the devotees and well-wishers who are interested in the progress of the temple.

Place of worship and denied honour in the host country

In many ways this temple has facilitated the Buddhists to reclaim the denied honour in the UK. In fact the main reason of the origin of this temple was the effort made by some Sri Lankan Buddhist women to reclaim the denied honour as Buddhists in the Ilford area. The founders are proud of their contribution towards the establishment of this Vihara and enjoy the honour that they receive by getting involved in the activities. The people who take leading roles either as trustees or otherwise often come to the temple to look into the welfare of the temple. These people, while fulfilling the necessities of the temple, get the satisfaction of spending their spare time on the promotion of Buddhism in the UK.

Furthermore, through the temple, leaders get opportunities to venture out into certain projects such as inter-religious activities and charitable work which in turn given them exposure to organisational proceedings in the UK helpful to be effective in their employments.  This sort of indirect influence of the temple enables the leaders to be faithful to the temple continuously and in gratitude they work towards the further development of their place of worship.

Second generation of immigrants and religious activities.

Where the second generation of immigrants is concerned, since the main introduction of their parent culture is done through the temple, they remain loyal to this institution. This institution has especially become important to them with the necessity to show who they are in this host country. In this regards the explanations, teachings and experiences that they receive from the temple have become vital to come to terms with the social, cultural and religious differences that they experience in their daily life, especially in the schools. Enthusiastic participation of this generation shows that this temple has become an integral part of their identity making, which they desire to develop and continue. 

The learning of Buddhism and the Sinhala language has given this generation a sense of belonging to this temple and Sri Lanka. When most of these children go to Sri Lanka for vacations at least once a year, the knowledge that they gain in the temple has become useful for them to relate to their relations and friends in Sri Lanka.

[1] Maithri , Winter 2003 . Issue 1, p3 – Redbridge Buddhist Cultural Centre, 9, Balfour Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4HP, UK.  &  From a discussion with one of the prominent founders of the Redbridge Buddhist Vihara. 

[2] Observations at the Redbridge Buddhist Centre.

[3] From a discussion with one of the lay leaders of the Redbridge Buddhist Centre. 

[4] From a discussion with one of the prominent founders of the Redbridge Buddhist Vihara. 

[5] Maithri , Winter 2003, Issue 1, p26 – Redbridge Buddhist Centre, 9, Balfour Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4HP, UK. 

[6] From a discussion with a residential monk in the Redbridge Buddhist Vihara.

[7] The Redbridge Buddhist Cultural Centre Website - <> >

[8] The Redbridge Buddhist Cultural Centre Website - <> >

[9] The Redbridge Buddhist Cultural Centre Website - <> >



East London Buddhist Vihara                   



This Vihara, the 5th Sri Lankan Buddhist temple in the Greater London area, was officially opened in the spring of 2002. The early roots of this temple go back to the late 1970s where there was a gathering called the Buddhists Cultural Group in East London. Although in the early 90s this group rented a house and got the services of a Buddhist monk, due to financial difficulties and lack of enthusiasm of the members the centre was closed in a few years and the residential monk returned to Sri Lanka. About 10 years ago a young monk who resided in a rented flat in the East Ham area began to reunite the old Buddhist cultural group. Prior to this, this monk had had experience with other Sri Lanka-origin Buddhist temples in and around London. Within a few years, with the tireless efforts of this monk, assisted by many lay people, he was able to bring many Buddhists of the area together and persuaded them to purchase the abandoned old Health Centre, which was available for sale at that time.[1]  

Although this temple is still in the process of being renovated and rebuilt, it functions as an integral part of the social life of many Sri Lankans and a few Theravada Buddhists from some Asian countries such as Malaysia. The temple comprises of a shrine room where the rituals are conducted. It has got two life-size Buddha statues and other basic equipment such as an altar to offer flowers.

The opening hours of the temple have not been specified officially. But the temple is generally open from morning till evening to devotees and others interested. This temple has created a very friendly and hospitable atmosphere in an informal surrounding welcoming people to the temple. 

Voluntary membership associations with lay leadership

The voluntary membership of this temple can be divided into a number of categories.  There is a group of people who have become part and parcel of this temple. Most of these people offer Dhana or meals to the monks regularly. Although this temple was established in the present place recently, now the lay devotees supply all the main meals, which is an important mark of a well-established Buddhist temple. [2] Most of these meals are prepared according to traditional Sri Lankan way and brought to the temple for the consumption of the residential monks in the temple. Although none of the devotees are involved in agricultural farming, the food served depicts the Sri Lankan agricultural meals eaten by average Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka. This has easily become possible for the devotees with the existence of many Sri Lankan shops in the East London area with traditional Sri Lankan commodities.

In this temple lay people take an active part under the leadership of the monks. Among lay people there is a group of students who enthusiastically get involved in the day-to-day running of the temple. This group of students worked tirelessly to renovate the temple before its official opening in Spring 2002. Therefore where lay participation is concerned, the contribution of students can be highlighted as important.

One of the main features of this temple is that it has been able attract some practising Sinhala Christians for its activities. This became quite evident when the chief Monk of this temple thanked and praised the assistance given by a young Christian person to renovate the temple. [3] This young person has even created some patterns to decorate the interior of the temple. [4]

In this temple it is common to see young people renovating, cleaning and decorating the temple along with the chief monk and some other monks who have got some experience in carpentry and masonry. 

Defined more by the people who form it than by the territory they inherit.

The people of the East London area have mainly formed this temple although some people from Kent also consider themselves as members of the temple. Where the membership is concerned this temple gives the closest resemblance to a village temple in Sri Lanka. The majority of the members of this temple are very fluent in Sinhala and consider Sinhala as their first language. Perhaps the main reason for this is that they are Sinhala-educated and hail from Sinhala-speaking families in Sri Lanka.

This temple is closely associated with another group of people living in various areas in and around London. This group of people, on their arrival in the UK, lived in the East London area but due to many reasons such as employment and the education of children moved to other places. Yet due to their association with the earlier Buddhist cultural group and the friendships and fellowship with other Sri Lankans of the area they often travel long distances to attend the activities of the temple. They are very proud in pronouncing their close association with the temple.

Systematic fund raising and a system of trustees

The temple has a committee of trustees comprising members from the old Buddhists Cultural Group and the members who came to the fellowship more recently. This committee works hard to organise many fundraising programmes to complete the renovation of the building.

The main steady source of income of this temple is the monthly contribution of some members through their bank accounts by a standing order given to the bank. The financial matters of this temple are managed by a board of incorporated trustees who are responsible to the Charity Commission in the UK. The chief monk of the temple chairs this board of trustees with the assistance of the other residential monks. [5]


In this temple the clergy reside in the temple and live as monks, depending on lay people for their material needs; they do not work for a salary. All the monks in the temple are from Sri Lanka and belong to the Theravada [6] tradition. According to their discipline they wear a yellow saffron robe all the time and do not wear any other dress. They have their solid meals before 12.00 noon and after that they only take liquids as permitted in their discipline. On special occasions, they invite other monks from other countries who also belong to the same tradition.

All the monks in the temple from Sri Lanka have had their basic formation in Sinhala with Pali, the language of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures. Although these monks have studied English as a second or international language the knowledge given in this manner has proved inadequate to work in English in a Western land. These monks have improved their knowledge of English after arriving in England, building on the basic knowledge that they brought from Sri Lanka.

The monks officiate with rituals at the funerals of their devotees in the same way as is done in Sri Lanka. This is one of the most important rituals of the Sinhala Buddhists, if not the most important ritual, which is performed even if the deceased person and his relations are not practising Buddhists. On many occasions, through the services rendered by the monks at the time of funerals, some people have been brought closer to the temple as they realise the values of the monks living in the UK. Although it is not a traditional function of the monks to bless weddings, the monks bless the wedded couples according to the requests of couples, parents and elders. Monks visit the sick and infirm in their home and in hospital, blessing them with traditional chanting of pirith and the tying of pirith threads around the wrists. [7]

In this temple most of the sermons are preached with more examples from Sri Lanka than from the context of the UK. Although the worship and other activities are done both in Sinhala and English often Sinhala becomes dominant, as there is a greater demand for that language. However, when Buddhists from other countries are present for worship, the officiating monks at least give a summary of proceedings in English.

As this temple has many devotees with rural influences the traditional services of the monks have become more important than considering them as mentors in their day-to-day life. [8]

Ethnic tendencies

This temple functions very much like a typical Sinhala Buddhist temple in a traditional area in Sri Lanka.   The membership is very much limited to Sinhala people although theoretically other people are not excluded. The temple makes many efforts to bring Sri Lankans on a national level by organising Sri Lankan cultural activities. It is the opinion of the chief monk that the temple is not yet equipped to accommodate white British people as it is still in the process of renovation. This Vihara does not have special programmes or arrangements for the few members from other Asian countries and so they worship with the majority Sri Lankans. As these other Asians belong to Theravada Buddhism they understand all the important formulas narrated in Pali, the religious language of Theravada Buddhists.

Almost all the meals offered to this temple are prepared according to the dominant methods of the preparation of food of the Sinhala ethnic group in Sri Lanka. As in Sri Lanka, the people come to temple wearing simple dresses and enter the temple by removing their foot wear. The typical Sri Lankan Buddhist simplicity of traditional Buddhist temples is very visible in this temple. Multi-

functional activities with religious and cultural reproduction

The temple functions as a multi purpose centre in the context of being the symbol of Sinhala identity in the area of its geographical location. This temple has become a cultural centre for many Sri Lankans living in the area. Although most of these Sri Lankans are Sinhala Buddhists, there are a few people who are Christians and Muslims and also some Tamils who are connected to Sinhala people through marriage.  These people come to the temple for various reasons, which have become integral aspects of their cultural reproduction. The temple distributes three Sri Lankan papers in English and one Sinhala paper published in the UK, and it gets some popular Sinhala Sri Lankan papers published in Sri Lanka for the benefit of Sri Lankans in the area. The videotapes of the popular tele-dramas are available in the temple and can be borrowed for £1 each. People come to the temple to get advice from the chief monk not only on religious matters but also on other day-to-day issues.

This temple has created an effective public space for the Sinhala people living in and around the East London area. The very fact that people can just drop in at this temple gives them the feeling of the home country that they have left behind. The fact that the temple doors are always open for them gives them a sense of happiness which cannot be experienced in other places in Britain.

Every Sunday, apart from weekly religious activities, this temple conducts a Sunday Dhamma School and a Sinhala class for the benefit of children in the area. These classes are gradually becoming more popular and at the moment there are about 15 children who attend these classes. As the temple has close connections with other Sri Lankan-origin temples in and around London and other parts of the United Kingdom it is gradually implementing programmes by imitating, reforming and transforming the activities done by them to suit the demands of devotees.

Place of worship and denied honour 

This temple has proved that it is the pride of Buddhists and especially of Sri Lankan people in the area where it is located. The people who take leadership roles get honour and authority in the temple, making them important in society. This has given many people the opportunities to use their talents and skills to improve the quality of the temple spiritually and materially.

For young people this temple has become a place of socialising with dignity and honour, which is not possible, according to their taste, in other places in the UK. The mental satisfaction that they gain by achieving certain challenging tasks has given them courage to launch out with other projects in the UK for their livelihood. In this regard this temple has become a place of social hope for these young people to reclaim denied honour and to go into society with self-determination.



Second generation of immigrants and religious activities.

Although it is too early to analyse the state of second generation of immigrants of this temple, presently these young people play a vital role in the functioning of the temple. The fact that the old health centre which houses this temple was mainly renovated by the second generation of immigrant students who live in the area shows the commitment of these young people towards the temple. The integral association of these young people with this new temple right from its inception has made them part and parcel of this place. Young people often can be seen at this place attending to the needs and wants of the temple and the monks.

The children of the Sunday school and Sinhala classes attend them enthusiastically, proud of their Sinhala identity. These classes have helped them to understand the differences that they face especially among their friends at school. The temple often helps the parents and elders to answer the questions asked by children which are very important for them in their identity making. 

[1] Daily News”- Sri Lankan news paper – Lake house - Friday, March 8, 2002. 

[2] From an interview with the Chief monk of this Vihara. 

[3]Daily News”- Sri Lankan news paper – Lake house - Friday, March 8, 2002.

[4] From an interview with the chief monk of this Vihara.

[5] From an interview with the Chief monk of this Vihara.

[6]  Tradition of the Elders.

[7] From an interview with the Chief monk of this Vihara.

[8] Through participant observation with some devotees of this Temple.