Home Culture The Exemplary Life of Denmark Gnanadeepa Thero, truly a Human being…

The Exemplary Life of Denmark Gnanadeepa Thero, truly a Human being…


● The Venerable could be considered one of the most dedicated Bhikkus, having the most secluded doctrinal life in recent history.
● He spent his ascetic life in the secluded forest of Sri Lanka and became an inspiration for many Bhikkus For half of a century.
● Born in Denmark, being a 24-year-old left all of his comforts in 1967 and came to Sri Lanka to quench the thirst for Dhamma.
● He chose forest-based ascetic life to practice the doctrine.
● Unbelievable determination to make the path cleared even amidst the territories of untamed wild animals.
● Physical obstacles were failed towards the Ven. Gnanadeepa Thero.
● An expert in Pali.
● An exemplary life to mankind.

This writing is dedicated to the Bhikku, who passed away in early September 2020 after having lived a disciplined ascetic life till the very end, which was better locally known as the Most Ven. Gnanadeepa Thero of Denmark. It was not often that the Bhikkus, who mostly live in the Laggala, Pallegama area of Knuckles Forest Reserve, socialised with others. Born in Denmark, The Venerable came to Sri Lanka searching for the Doctrine(Dhamma) at a very early and energetic stage of life and was ordained as a Bhikkhu in our country for over fifty years. Sharing information about the deceased is helpful as not each and every person in the community knows who the Venerable was.

Lions are not found in the forests of Sri Lanka. But only one lion lived there for decades. He was none other than the Most Ven. Denmark Gnanadeepa Thero. He is the pioneer, role model, and strength of the present generation of forest Bhikkhus. Other foreign monks were accustomed to refer to Venerable thero as “Gnanadeepa Bhante,” with extreme respect, humility, intimacy, and love. Thero became well-known and famous because he lived in obscurity with extraordinary principles that could not be seen in an ordinary monk at that time.

Ascetic living in the woods.

Venerable Thero’s forest-dwelling (Kuti) was only a fundamental level one with no front wall. The Thero was devoted to living the forest life to the whole. He followed the doctrinal discipline he chose, and he was not concerned if it was pleasing or distasteful to others. Nothing could stop him. He continued to dig deeper into the restraints and evils of his mind, fear and anger, endeavouring for the final realisation, The “Nibbana” of the Lord Buddha’s Teaching. Despite the physical discomforts and illnesses he confronted, he moved forward along the lonely path with many hindrances and obstacles, such as malaria and attacks from wild elephants and other wild creatures. And despite getting a close call to death many more times, he endured gradually, nearing and setting foot into elderhood, detached to others, who tend to praise or insult. Through all these, he always walked the straight path, never abandoning his inner resolve.

The Thero, who admired extreme isolation, lived not in forests but in deep woods, and elephants, bears, and other venomous snakes came to the site often. It is still a mystery whether the Thero rises from such places for Pindapatha on foot or another way. But it is a well-known secret that in the case of Pindapatha, it is not possible to travel an average distance and find a way out.

Painful experiences in wild territories.

One day, Thero was on the way back to Pindapatha; a baby elephant ran away from the herd in a hurry and accidentally hit Ven. Gnanadeepa Thero, trampling his left foot severely. The Pindapatha was also scattered around, and Thero’s Attempts to crawl into a nearby tree canopy were unsuccessful as the injury was quite serious. Just before sunrise, Thero picked up scattered Pindapatha as much as he could without any disgust. The very next day, the people who had gathered for the almsgiving, the Pindapatha, were curious by Ven. Gnanadeepa Thero’s delay. When some of them entered the jungle and walked a short distance, they saw the Gnanadeepa Thera stretching out in the middle of a herd of wandering elephants. Unbelievably, He had spent the night at the scene of the accident the day before. The pack of elephants had also provided security to Gnanadeepa Thera at night, showing their apology for the mistake made by their stubborn teeny tiny baby elephant. The wound was covered with infected blood, and the ants were enjoying it. He was hurried to the hospital and underwent immediate surgery. The leg was slightly shorter, about 1.5 inches therein. After the recovery of the wounded foot, many Bhikkus requested the Thero not to go back to the forest, promising to take care of him throughout his lifetime. But the Venerable rejected, knowing that all their requests were full of honour. He left with a cane and a pair of specially made rubber slippers and returned to the old battlefield. It takes him a few days to make any wild maze his home.

Simplicity was admired.

Gnanadeepa Thera had only a few essential “Pirikaras”. It was easy to go anywhere. When a water bottle is offered, it is not accepted. Only the required amount of water is taken to a cup. He is not usually a busy monk. But sleep is a short time, and eat only once a day.
Fasting once a week is habitual. No other monk is as busy as Gnanadeepa Thero’s War against Defilements. This is the nature of a monk with ascetic practices. Only when he was sick, he spent that time in a forest monastery. Even when he was hospitalised, he did not give up meditation. He did meditation in a room in a forest most of the time. When he woke up from his meditation, he had seen some mess done by wild animals around him. But Gnanadeepa Thero had no clue about the outer world within a few feet of him because of the depth and power of the growing concentration.
Some laymen tend to refer to Thero as Arahant, and some even as an atheist. Venerable Thero introduced himself as a disciple of the Supreme Buddha. The contemplation received, the path results and the extraordinary knowledge beyond human nature were never stated. When someone had asked it, that question was avoided.
Many local and foreign monks had ordained the state of Bhikkuon on behalf of Gnanadeepa Thera. He also had all the qualifications to become a teachers’ teacher, but none of the disciples was ordained by Thero himself. But for many, he was a scholar. Basic knowledge of the Pali language was compiled by Late Ven. Katukurunde Gnanananda Thero. Later, his knowledge of Pali, which he developed through self-studies, was not limited to doctoral and professorial levels. In fact, it is doubtful whether there was a Pali linguist on earth in recent history as Venerable Gnanadeepa Thero.

Doctrinal explorations being a true friend to other Bhikkus and laymen.

He did not accept or directly reject the views of the Buddhist traditions followed by the present-day country laymen. Gnanadeepa Thero explored the History of Tripitaka. And Doctrine(Dhamma) and the Doctrinal literature were separated by himself for mind exploration.
His speciality is to explain the meanings of the Suttas(formulas) in other Suttas themselves without going into different interpretations. Ven. Gnanadeepa Thero had written the Sutta Dharma and the Vinaya Pitaka in his own unique system. He also recollects the Vinaya Pitaka, the entire Majjhima Nikaya, many other sutras and all the stanzas of the sutras. The sutras were also recited frequently.
Ven. Gnanadeepa Thero speaks only English when he speaks English. When he talks Sinhala, that is in only Sinhala. The two languages ​​were never mixed by Thero during his discussions with others. When a Dhamma question is asked, the answer is a Sutta. Its meaning is highlighted by another Sutta and sometimes even with a brief description. In fact, someone who listens to Thero could be curious whether Venerable Thero’s mother tongue is English or Pali. Ven. Gnanadeepa Thera did not practice the Dhamma to create a particular group of followers. What he wanted was to make a person self-supportive in Dhamma. That is the nature of a true Kalyana Mitta or, in English, A genuinely supportive friend.

He had visited his home country, Denmark, only once after his ordainment. Ven. Gnanadeepa Thera had not renewed his visa for many years. He had a privilege that no foreigner could enjoy. A special written approval to stay in the country at any time was received during a former President’s tenure.

He dedicated his life to the great Arahantship. Isolated and strenuous way of following the path of Enlightenment was reemerged to Sri Lanka by Ven. Ganadeepa Thero. Because of the Thero, the Laggala forest was dedicated to the monks after that. Later on, several places were adjusted accordingly.

The reality of Sansaric Life.

In 2016, Ven. Gnanadeepa Thera fell seriously ill, and the whole body underwent a complete medical examination. Then several diseases were identified, but at that time, he was about 73 years old, and his internal organs were just like a middle-aged person. From then onwards, Thero associated with the Sangha, receiving care and honour. But he did not change the daily norm irrespective of age. At the dawn of 12 September 2020, with great devotion, listening to the chanting of the Suttas with worshipping hands, Ven. Gnanadeepa Thero passed away consciously. Thero was diagnosed with cancer. Thero of Denmark spent over 50 years of ascetic life and resided at Ethdalagala Aranya Senasana in Meegalewa, Anuradhapura, in his later life. The ashes of late Most Ven. Gnanadeepa Thero of Denmark was deposited a Stupa built at Ethdalagala Aranya Senasana in Meegalewa, Anuradhapura, enshrining for the veneration of Buddhist devotees. The Stupa was constructed by the Sri Lanka Navy and, on 26 December 2020, at a spiritual event, the Commander of the Navy, Vice Admiral Nishantha Ulugetenne, offered the shrine for the nation.

We are truly grateful with honour to him for being born in a faraway country, such as Denmark and being at a younger age, having a quench for the Dhamma to discover the ultimate truth. Likewise, we pay our utmost respect for choosing this tiny, isolated island as the ideal place for his sacred aspiration. The Most Venerable Denmark Gnanadeepa Thero, a colossal unique figure in attaining the knowledge of Dhamma being an exemplary ascetic life to other devotees of our motherland, May The Venerable Gnanadeepa Thero attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!!!

By Dushan Madu (DM)

Picture source: Bhante Ñāṇadīpa Memorial FB Page


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