A giant in the cause of Buddhism - Sir Cyril de Zoysa

by A.A. de Silva P.C, Lanka Daily News, October 26, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Henry Ford, the giant automobile manufacturer, the architect of the moving assembly line and mass production, considered the arch enemy of organized trade unions, stunned both the capitalist and the non-capitalist world by reducing the average working week, and introducing the concepts of profit sharing and of minimum wages.

In response to a newspaper reporter, he said he is a diehard capitalist practising extreme socialism. He added that due to this policy, the union bosses had no role to play in the Ford Motor Company. He was the creator of the world's largest philanthrophic trust-the Ford Foundation.

Fifty years later, in this country arose Sir Cyril de Zoysa, who was determined to provide employment to the hundreds seeking employment, which he realized was the most effective way of helping his countrymen.

With this noble end in mind, he embarked on a difficult journey. He set up a large industrial complex at Nagoda, Kalutara, for the production of car batteries, bicycle tyres and tubes and then expanded into the field of tyre retreading on a very large scale. This was followed by ventures into the manufacture of electrical cables and refrigerators.

Thousands found employment in this industrial complex, the headquarters of which was the Associated Motorways Complex in Colombo

Sir Cyril de Zoysa began one industry after another at a time the country was facing severe foreign exchange difficulties. His intention was to make the country self sufficient in as many aspects, as possible, so that the country's wealth need not be drained out elsewhere. The lead given by him was followed by many others, to the great advantage of the country.

Realising the acuteness of the unemployment problem countrywide, he extended his industries to the rural sector. He set up a textile manufacturing centre in his ancestral property at Balapitiya. Thus he paid homage to his parents. Over one thousands five hundred villagers found employment there.

At times when those claiming to safeguard the rights of workers were busy instigating his employees to strike and not work, he retorted that if he did not provide employment, there would not have been workes for others to instigate. He challenged the self proclaimed leaders of the workers to provide employment, for at least a dozen people.

Sir Cyril, who worked sixteen hours a day, was desirous that his employees should be disciplined and should work during the scheduled period of eight hours a day. Sir Cyril prided himself on being a disciplinarian. He believed that without hard work no one would and could succeed in life. He wanted his employees to realize the importance of hard work, for their own benefit.

Sir Cyril abhorred sloth and torpor. He was guided by the Buddha's constant admonition to both the Sangha and the laity to lead disciplined lives and cultivate the virtue of effort (viriya). It is evident that he was conscious of the primary need of the people to be gainfully employed. Towards this end, he devoted much of his time, energy and vast wealth.

He also entertained a strong desire to provide education in a Buddhist environment, to the children of Kalutara. The two Buddhist schools, Kalutara Vidyalaya for boys and Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya for girls, of which he was the founder, are today leading educational institutions in the Kalutara district, fulfilling the need for which they were set up by this distinguished person.

Kalutara was indeed his base. It was here that he began his practice as a lawyer and became a leading proctor of the Criminal Bar. It was here that he started his first industrial and commercial venture, the Swarnapali Bus Company, providing the base for the famous South Western Bus Company. This company was a model transport venture.

He was its Chairman, until he relinquished the position on becoming the President of the Senate, which high office he held for eight years, having been its Vice President for six years.

Service in the field of Buddhist education virtually propelled him into the arena of social service, to meet the unending demand for voluntary social service. The State by itself was unable to shoulder the full responsibility.

As President or Chairman of several organisations such as the National Council for the Deaf and the Blind, the Child Protection Society, the Ceylon Cancer Society, the Ceylon National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (CNAPT), Sir Cyril's leadership and continued munificence sustained the work and activities of these organisations.

Whatever project he led, or cause he espoused, or venture he undertook to execute (and there were many such) he was able to accomplish them, as he had the inborn ability to command the co-operation and interest of those who worked with him. They had utmost confidence in his ability, skill, leadership and above all, with him at the helm, they were certain that the necessary funds would flow in and in the event of a shortfall, it would come from his private funds, which due to his business acumen and foresight were never at a low ebb.

As a professional, he stood tall and the proctors of the country invited him to be the President of the Incorporated Law Society of Ceylon. As President for nine years, he did what others only dreamt of doing, but could not achieve. The storied Law Society building by the Court Complex in Hulftsdop, which he tirelessly helped to build is a standing monument to him.

One of his striking characteristics was that he wanted any project to be executed with honesty and seen to its completion. What he himself undertook he saw to a finish leaving behind no burdens, financial or otherwise, to others.

When Bus Companies were to be nationalized and the buses due to be taken over by the Government, it was said that some bus owners were deliberately not maintaining their buses.

It was Sir Cyril's request to his brother, V.T. de Zoysa, Advocate, who had by then become the Managing Director of the South Western Bus Company, that all the buses should be rendered roadworthy and if the tyres were worn out, new sets of tyres should be fitted before the buses were handed over to the Government, whether compensation would be paid immediately or later.

All this would suffice to portray this great gentleman as a patriot of outstanding, accomplishment and achievement. In the case of Sir Cyril, he had noble dreams and aims. Long before the constitutional command making the State responsible for protecting and fostering the Buddha Sasana was enshrined in the fundamental law of the land, Sir Cyril as a Buddhist leader considered it his moral obligation to foster the Buddha Sasana. For that he did everything at his command.

The Kalutara Bodhi Complex together with the majestic Chaitya is the hallowed and glorious landmark on the main Southern Highway. The thousands who pass along the highway and those devotees who make a special pilgrimage to pay homage to this revered place of worship, can see the life sized statue of Sir Cyril by the highway opposite the Bodhiya. But for Sir Cyril's determination, fearlessness and energy this sacred place of worship would not have become what it is today. The manifold programs carried out throughout, at this highly venerated shrine, are most inspiring and make it a shrine of great splendour.

To ensure the proper administration and maintenance of the venerated Kalutara Bodhi, the Bodhi Trust was created along with several other stalwarts of the time. In fulfilment of Sir Cyril's wishes, work in the service of the Dhamma is undertaken on a very large scale today.

Much support is extended to many Buddhist places of worship and to charitable institutions in many parts of the country. Special mention may be made of the initiative taken to help restore the Sri Dalada Maligawa which was attacked by terrorists, by making a very significant contribution.

The ancient and historic Kirivihara in Kataragama built by the kings of old was in a ruinous state and needing urgent attention. As President of the Kirivihara Restoration Society, he organized the collection of funds for the restoration of this mighty edifice.

This work was done under his personal direction and supervision. The restoration became an accomplished fact. The pinnacle was placed on the Stupa in February 1970 by the then Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake. On this occasion, the Prime Minister was so moved as to comment that Sir Cyril's accomplishment was of the order of the feats of the ancient Sinhala kings.

Sir Cyril considered it necessary for those who came for business and other work to the metropolis to have a place of worship. Accordingly, he undertook the construction of the building of the Young Men's Buddhist Association (YMBA) complex and the Vihara in Fort, Colombo.

Sir Cyril's foresight and business acumen made him realize fully well, that the construction alone of headquarters for any organisation will not be sustainable, unless such headquarters have a source of income for their maintenance. He therefore set up a large shopping complex, the rent from which would go towards its management and maintenance.

In respect of the original YMBA building in Borella, the example set by Sir Cyril was followed by setting up a large shopping complex, to generate income for the maintenance of the organisation of which he was President for seventeen years. It is evident that two of his aspirations in life were to improve the material welfare and the spiritual well-being of his countrymen.

On this, the 108th birth anniversary of Sir Cyril, which falls today, his place and standing in this country should be viewed and measured by his achievements. It is opportune that his stature and his contributions to this country be reviewed and his achievements duly appraised. It may be fitting to state that his record of service both to the country and to the Buddha Sasana cannot be easily surpassed.

Another phase of the Buddhist revival which began in the latter part of the 19th century was thus spearheaded by Sir Cyril during the middle of the 20th century. Sir Cyril de Zoysa anchored the final lap with astounding success.

May Sir Cyril de Zoysa's journey in Sansara be short and happy. May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.
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