Remembering an ‘undisputed leader of Buddhists in Sri Lanka’

By D.C. Ranatunga, The Sunday Times, Sept 2, 2012

Statue to honour the Most Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera on his 9th death anniversary

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- A statue of the Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera will be unveiled in the heart of Matara by the people of his hometown, to mark the ninth anniversary of his passing away, on September 9, 2003.

<< Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera

The night before the Mahanayaka Thera passed away, listening to the monks from the Maharagama Dharmayatanaya chanting pirith in the Colombo National Hospital room where he spent his final days, he remained calm and composed. The monks visited him every evening for many weeks to bless him, chanting pirith. The hospital staff gave him the best possible care, making him as comfortable as possible.

The passing away of the Mahanayaka Thera was mourned not only by the Buddhists but even those of other religions. Among the most poignant tributes paid to him was the one by Colombo’s former Archbishop Rt. Rev. Oswald Gomis who was a close friend of the Mahanayaka Thera. He recollected how their friendship was cemented during a trip to Germany in 1983.

He appreciated the Mahanayaka Thera’s efforts to bring the nation together, particularly the goodwill and unity he promoted among the religions. “I respect him as an extremely honest person. We may have had different views and ideas but humanity is common to all of us. He led an exemplary life as a monk,” Dr. Gomis said.

The love and respect the people had for the Mahanayaka Thera were also demonstrated by the crowds which flocked to pay their last respects. “Ever since the body was brought to the Siri Vajiranana Dharmayatanaya at Maharagama what is seen is a spectacle: Clad in white, an unbroken chain of people of all ages silently lining up in thousands to pay their last homage to the undisputed leader of all the Buddhists of Sri Lanka,” wrote Prof. Asanga Tikaratane in a tribute published in a newspaper. “The sheer number is staggering. The atmosphere of veneration is extraordinarily serene.

In this act of silent mourning people not only pay respect to a Buddhist monk they valued so much: they also make a clear statement of allegiance to the cause the Venerable Mahanayaka Thera stood for and lament what seems to be an irreparable loss to this cause,” he added.

Summing up the Mahanayaka Thera’s mission, Ven. Dhammavihari said that it has been “a national tragedy, caused often by ill-informed political theorists of mushroom-like origin that the Mahanayaka Thera has been branded at times a racist. The greater tragedy in his own life has been that he had stepped in to play the role of the indispensable Defender of the Faith for Buddhism when the current rules of Sri Lanka failed time and again to possess the necessary vim and vigour for that task. It is indeed a stupid usage of the neo-social scientists of the scandalous word ‘chauvinism’ in association with him. We forgive them, for they know not what they do, not even what they say”.

“Let those of us who are yet living and those who are to be born in this country after us, remember what he strove for – for the restoration and consolidation of the more than 23-century-old culture of this land which is unassailably high by all international standards. Let the living awaken to life from their slumber and keeping this in their forefront, march forward for victory in their unmistaken battle, if there is anything worth saving in this land,” he said.

It is creditable that the Mahanayaka Thera’s pupils at the Dharmayatanaya have meticulously collected all what he wrote on religious, cultural and national issues. These have been published in several volumes and are available for ready reference for any research student.

The two-volume biography – ‘Penasiha Pehersaraniya’ gives a detailed description of the Mahanayaka Thera’s life. The tributes paid to him including editorial comments by the Sinhala newspapers are also documented in ‘Madihe Mahimi Guna Saraniya’. The museum at the Dharmayatanaya is yet another fitting tribute to this illustrious monk whose virtues, wisdom and vision should be admired and followed.

To repeat Ven. Dhammavihari’s words in the tribute:
“Roaring your Lion’s Roar of Wisdom, O Hero
May you soon reach your blissful goal of Nibbana!”

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