Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Illustrious Bhikkhu who illuminated Buddha Sasana

Madihe in Matara produced an illustrious disciple of the Buddha who made an outstanding contribution to the Buddha Sasana of Sri Lanka. He is none other than Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera who passed away on September 8, 2003.

His parents were James Carolis Poojitha Gunawardena and Bella Angolina Dheerasekera of Madihe, a hamlet of Matara.

He was the youngest in a family of two boys and three girls and was named Benson Wilmot. His father was the head teacher of the Methodist Mission School in Matara. He had to embrace Christianity conforming to the requirements of the school. The mother however was a devout Buddhist. His parents had no religious conflict and lived in harmony. Bhikkhus and Christian priests frequently visited their home.

Young Benson Wilmot was educated at St. Thomas’ Girls School in Matara until he was 10 years of age. Thereafter, he was admitted to the St. Thomas’ Boys’ High School in Matara. He was a brilliant student and a good cricketer.

Turning point

A turning point in Benson’s life came at the tender age of 13. The boy wanted to lead a Buddhist way of life. One day he told his parents that he would like to enter the Buddhist Order of Monks. His mother approved his suggestion and visited Ven. Weragampita Revatha Maha Thera of the Devagiri Vihara in Kamburugamuwa and informed him of her son’s intention to enter the Buddhist Order.

Benson Wilmot was duly ordained by the learned monk on June 24, 1926 and was named Madihe Pannasiha. Thereafter, Madihe Pannasiha was in reality very fortunate to come into contact with Ven. Palane Sri Vajiragnana Maha Nayaka Thera who brought him to the Vajirarama in Bambalapitiya.

At Vajirarama, the young monk was fortunate to listen to the Ven. Narada Maha Thera who was competent in English as well, in his Dhamma discourses and discussions, which he had with local and foreign scholar monks who very frequently visited the Vajirarama.

On June 19, 1933 Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Thera received his Higher Ordination (Upasampada) at a ceremony at the Polwatuganga Seema Malaka at the Gangarama under the tutelage of Ven. Palane Sri Vajiragnana Maha Nayaka Thera.

Then on November 27, 1955, with the demise of Ven. Palane Sri Vajiragnana Maha Nayaka Thera, Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Thera was appointed as Maha Nayaka of the Mihiripenne Sri Dharmarakshita Sect. of the Amarapura Nikaya at a special meeting conducted by all the Nikaya Monks at the Vajirarama, Bambalapitiya.

The first United Vinaya Karma of the Untied Amarapura Nikaya after its amalgamation, was held at the Sri Varjiragnana Dharmayatanaya Seema Malaka at Maharagama on July 13, 1969 and it was at this site that Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera was appointed the Head of the United Amarapura Nikaya.

Amidst the many accolades the Maha Nayaka earned from foreign countries, he was awarded the title of Panditha in 1987, the title of “Sahithya Chakrawarthi” in 1991, the title of Agga Maha Panditha by the Burma Sangha Sabha and the Burmese Government in 1996, and the title of Doctorate from the Thailand Government in 1999.

The Maha Nayaka Thera was a very active member of the Buddha Sasana Commission appointed by the then government and also worked hard in the Assisted Schools take over by the Government.

The Maha Nayaka Thera succeeded in getting the four Poya Days declared as holidays in 1960 and 1961.

He was instrumental in composing and publishing a booklet titled “Seela Bhavana” which ran into millions of copies and distributed freely. It was a book that contained a full day’s religious activity program that could be followed by lay persons both young and old who observed Sil on Poya Days. Commencing at Vajirarama and Maharagama Vajiragnana Dharmayathanaya, he designed two Sil campaigns one for the old and the other for the young lay persons in the same temple. Ven. Ampitiye Rahula Maha Thera always assisted the Maha Nayaka Thera in the projects. After the demise of the Ven. Narada Maha Thera Vajiraramadhipathi, Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera became Head of the Vagirarama Temple at Bambalapitiya. He was the founder patron of the Sri Vajirarama Dharmayathanaya at Maharagama, founder patron of the Sasana Sevaka Samithiya, the Buddhist Information Centre in Colombo, and the Dharma Vijaya Foundation respectively as head of the Vajirarama, the Maha Nayaka Thera had

very cordial relations with the Board of tTustees chaired by Dr. P.R. Anthonis, the late V.T. And D.H. Panditha Gunawardena former Supreme Court Judge and District Judge respectively the late B. Winman Soysa and the late G.J. Silva and actively supported by the management working committee comprising the late Willie Fernando D.D.W. Kannangara, the late D.L.F. Pedris, Ananda Pereira eminent lawyer, Olcot Gunasekera and myself. The Maha Nayaka Thera in concurrence with the late Ven. Narada Maha Thera established the publication of a Buddhist Monthly Magazine in Sinhala titled the Baudha Lamaya which was managed by the late Willie Fernando and P.P. Karunaratna. Another English Buddhist Magazine titled the “Bosath” was also a Vajirarama publication, managed by the late J.S. Gomes. The Ven. Maha Nayaka Thera contributed many articles of Buddhist interest, to the two publications. The Ven. Maha Nayaka Thera together with the late Ven. Narada Maha Thera approved the setting up of two sections at the Vajirarama Sunday Dhamma School, one in English and the other in Sinhala, which was managed by Willie Fernando and the late Sirimevan Piyasingha, in the English and Sinhala sections respectively. At a later date, the Ven. Maha Nayaka Thera appointed Ven. Gangodawila Soma Maha Thera as the Principal of the Vajirarama Sunday Dhamma School. He pioneered the establishment of branches and had Vihara not only in the Western countries, but in the cities in Australia.

Being mindful of the immense contribution made by the late Ven. Narada Maha Thera Vajiraramadipathi in dedicating his life to missionary work both locally and internationally, Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera worked hard to establish the Ven. Narada Maha Thera International Buddhist Centre presently called the Narada Centre, situated at the Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 7. It serves not only Buddhists, but non-Buddhists as well who visit the Centre frequently. The Ven. Prof. Dhammavihari Maha Thera currently is Head of the Centre.

I was privileged to associate with the Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera for over 50 years and residing in close proximity to Vajirarama. The Ven. Maha Nayaka Thera together with the Ven. Dhammavihari Maha Thera delivered a series of Dhamma talks at the Amarawathi Buddhist Monastery in London.

The death of the Thera was left a void which is unlikely be filled in the foreseeable future.

May Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera attains the Bliss of Nibbana!

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