The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Washington D.C. held an event at the Embassy premises to commemorate an American national, the late Colonel Henry Steel Olcott recalling the service he rendered to the Sri Lankan community through the revival of Buddhist philosophy in the island as well as assisting in its spread throughout the world. This initiative was part of the series of events organized by the Embassy under the leadership of Ambassador Mahinda Samarasinghe to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and the United States.
Ambassador Samarasinghe in his welcoming remarks, extolled the contribution of the late Col. Olcott which had benefitted Sri Lanka and its people in numerous ways by reason of his far-sighted and magnanimous vision and effort, including reviving general education for the people and propagating Buddhism as a philosophy, during British colonial rule.
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Pakistan, US Department of State Elizabeth Horst also graced the event along with officials of the White House and Department of State.
High Commissioner of Sri Lanka to Bangladesh Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne delivered a video-recorded keynote address emphasizing the invaluable service of Col. Olcott that infused a new lease of life to Ceylon, then a colonized nation, establishing Buddhist Sunday schools and other educational institutions, youth organizations such as the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA), aiding in the design of the Buddhist flag, and calling for social reforms including the promotion of women’s rights.
A panel discussion followed, moderated by the President of Tapovanaye International Buddhist Center in California Ven. Tapovanaye Sutadhara. The panelists were President and Chief Prelate of the Buddhist Vihara Society in Washington D.C. Ven. Maharagama Dhammasiri, President and Chief Prelate of the Maryland Buddhist Vihara Ven. Katugastota Uparathana, a recently retired computer scientist researcher and engineer in Silicon Valley and a relative of the late Col. Olcott, Douglas Olcott and the President of the Theosophical Society in America headquartered in Illinois Dr. Douglas Keene. The panel focused on how Col. Olcott began his journey searching for the truth and how his inclusive and timely initiatives enlightened and enthused the Sri Lankan community, particularly the younger generation, during his time on the island. During an interactive session, members of the audience posed questions and expressed their opinions relating to the life and work of the late Col. Olcott.
As a token of appreciation for the Embassy’s initiative, the President of the Theosophical Society in America presented a portrait of Col. Olcott to Ambassador Samarasinghe.
The Maha-Sangha was represented by Chief Sangha Nayake of Canada- Malwatta Chapter – and the resident monks at the Buddhist temples in the greater Washington area. Non-governmental organizations as well as Community Associations comprised of US nationals of Sri Lankan origin, including youth representation, and alumni of boys and girls of schools established by Col. Olcott also attended the event which was streamed live to give those interested, an opportunity to witness the event.