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Ayubowan and good afternoon.  I want to thank Venerable Professor Kotapitiye Rahula Anunayake Thero for his lecture.  And I want to recognize the Pathfinder Foundation for organizing this event, as well as the Kelaniya Temple and Professor Kollupitiye Mahinda Sangharakkhitha Thera for hosting us all. 

Before this event began, I had the opportunity to view some of the beautiful historic murals and tour the peaceful grounds of this magnificent temple.  It is truly an inspiring place of faith maintained by dedicated stewards taking excellent care of it.  This month, 144 years ago, the American Colonel Henry Steel Olcott visited this temple and, shortly after, founded the Colombo Theosophical Society to express his deep respect for Buddhism in Sri Lanka.  Drawing upon the religion’s rich roots here, Colonel Olcott focused renewed local and international interest on Buddhist teachings.  Many Sri Lankans laud Olcott for “revitalizing” Buddhism.  I am honored to be here with all of you today to commemorate Colonel Olcott’s contributions here at this historic temple, one which the Lord Buddha himself is said to have visited on his third trip to Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Buddhists are proud to claim the longest unbroken tradition of Buddhism, and I have been fortunate to experience some highlights of Buddhist culture and religious practices here firsthand.  Some of my most memorable experiences here have been my trip to Anuradhapura to pay respects to the Sri Maha Bodhiya, and my hike to the summit of Sri Pada to experience sunrise from the summit.  Most recently, I visited the Nagadeepa Raja Maha Viharaya, another historic temple visited by Lord Buddha.  Sri Lanka’s wealth of religious, linguistic, cultural, culinary, and geographic diversity make this island—once called Serendib– a true jewel here in the heart of the Indian Ocean.  It really is a “happy surprise,” as the English word serendipity means.  Having served here as the Ambassador for two-and-a-half years and had the opportunity to explore this beautiful country, it’s easy to understand why Colonel Olcott loved it and dedicated years of time and effort here.  I tell so many people about the wonders of Sri Lanka and encourage them to visit.

While Colonel Olcott’s path here was unique, his is only one of many stories about the ties between Americans and Sri Lankans.  I know that we are honoring him today by hearing from speakers who bridge our two countries.  We share values.  Our nations are both democracies, supporting our citizens’ freedom of worship, and working to foster the inclusive political and economic environment that enhances peace and prosperity by fostering the diverse talents of all our peoples.  Perhaps after this year’s Cricket World Cup in the United States, we can add love of cricket to our list of shared ideals.

I am confident that the ties between our two countries—rooted in so many years of history—will only continue to flourish, much like the beautiful Boddhi tree I saw in the botanical gardens in Honolulu, Hawaii which was gifted as a sapling from the Sri Maha Bodhiya in Anuradhapura.   We will keep nurturing our relationship—not just through conversations between our governments, but through people-to-people ties, like studying in one another’s countries, partnering in business ventures, and teaching future generations about their heritage.  Earlier this month, I was in Staten Island where I had the opportunity to meet with diverse Sri Lankan Americans, all of whom are a testament to the depth and breadth of our two countries’ partnership.  And new generations are vital to this effort, as well, whether Fulbright scholars or Peace Corps volunteers coming here to work in Sri Lanka and engage with local communities, including visiting the Sri Lankan heritage museum and the Staten Island Buddhist Vihara.  Members of that vihara are busy planning to build a state of the art meditation center and healing garden right on Staten Island to share their spirituality with others.

Colonel Olcott recognized the importance of inspiring young people and investing in their education.  His arrival here 144 years ago took him down a path with lasting dividends even today.  Thank you so very much for joining us in honoring his legacy.

Sources : us embassy Sri Lanka

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