Sumathipāla Na Himi was born in Ceylon and was initiated as samanera at the age of seven. He was sent to Burma three years later where he took ordination and met Mahasi Sayadaw, who became his mentor, and where he lived until his sixtieth birthday.
He returned to Ceylon in 1952 and never went back to Burma. He and three other Burmese bhikkhus had been entrusted with a mission to revive the Satipatthana tradition on their Indian Ocean island.
It was decided to launch this effort in concert with the Buddha’s 2,500-year anniversary. After a series of discussions, the Ceylonese government concluded that among all Theravada 14 nations, the strictest and most authentic meditation practices existed only in Burma. Ceylon officially requested Burma to send teachers for the training of monks and laypeople. Mahasi Sayadaw was assigned to help out and sent four of his students to the island.
The founding of the Kanduboda meditation centre was initiated at the highest level. Prime Minister John Kotelawala and his successor, Solomon Bandaranaike, expressed genuine interest in the project and gave it the green light, with the intention of helping spread Mahasi Sayadaw’s interpretation of Satipatthana.
Local residents actively participated in the construction of the one-hundred-acre centre, which was completed in record time. The location was ideal: nestled in the lap of nature, but close to the capital, Colombo. It started accepting yogis in January, 1956. The atmosphere was profoundly ascetic, with minimal amenities. Yogis’ houses resembled small boxes and were made of coconut palm leaves. Adherents’ interest in meditation was so strong that they were ready to put up with any inconvenience, and thousands of yogis eventually went there to practice.
In Burma, a change of government over this period brought down a virtual iron curtain, and monks there were prevented from visiting other countries. At that time, teachers at Kanduboda started training foreigners and going abroad, with the first monk seconded to England in 1958. Thus did Kanduboda start to become known worldwide.
Originally, Sumathipala Na Himi’s plan was to fulfil the mission in Ceylon and return to Burma, but just after he boarded the ship to depart, a crowd of people ran to the harbour and literally did not let the vessel leave the bay!