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Sir Cyril - great Buddhist and exemplary philanthropist

by Ven. Weligama Gnanaratana Maha Nayake Thera - DN Wed Oct 22 2003

Anthropologist Leakey, once said that, man really became man, when he learnt the art of helping his fellow-men. This is very much an echo of the eternal teachings of the Supremely Enlightened Buddha, long centuries ago. The purpose of human life is to help others, proclaimed the Supreme Buddha.

Devotees of the Buddha, hold the doctrine in the highest esteem. In our day too, outstanding Buddhist devotees, make it their lives' primary aim to extend assistance to the generality of people.

Sir Cyril de Zoysa

Sir Cyril de Zoysa, whose 107th birth anniversary we commemorate on the 26th of October, is an embodiment of the Buddhist ideal of helping people. The essence of his life was service to others.

He followed in the footsteps of numerous Buddhist devotees, promoting the welfare of people and substantially contributing towards the advancement of the Teachings of the Supreme Buddha.

Without any doubt whatsoever, Sir Cyril is one of the most distinguished sons of Sri Lanka, who, as a Buddhist leader, as a patriot and as a philanthropist of high eminence, elevated the contemporary Sri Lankan society in a variety of ways. He made it his life's mission, to ensure, utilising every resource he possessed, that Buddhist culture flourished uninterrupted, in this noble land, overcoming whatever obstacle that had to be surmounted, to achieve that praiseworthy aim.

One could very well construe, that it had been pre-ordained as it were, that, he should pioneer a Buddhist revival in this country in the twentieth century.

Cyril de Zoysa was born at the dawn of the twentieth century, in the historical city of Galle. Initially he received his education in Matara, a southern city, renowned for its contribution to learning, at a time when Sinhala was being enthusiastically resuscitated.

His father was a Notary Public. In consequence, young Cyril had to change his educational venues, in terms of his father's professional shifts. Back in Galle, he studied at Richmond College, from where he came over to Colombo to study at Royal College.

He was just twenty, when he entered the Law College, for his training in the profession, which he opted for. Even in those early years, he exhibited a personality suffused by a pervading sense of human kindness. An anecdote from those youthful days of his life illustrates this deep feeling for others. His father, went about in a hired buggy-cart, as he was not able to afford one of his own at that time. Young Cyril, assiduously saved his hard-earned pocket money, worked as a private tutor while still at the Law College, and bought his father a brand new buggy-cart and a bull.

It goes without saying, that the doting father was immensely touched by his dear son's gesture.

From childhood on, the Buddhist way of life, was a built-in facet in his personality. He was raised in a family background, where Buddhist values where highly esteemed.

Eventually, a historical meeting occurred, that determined the course of his life and the story of Buddhist worship in Sri Lanka. He started practising law in Kalutara. Here Sir Cyril met the sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara.

This spiritual meeting was the beginning of a new chapter in Buddhism in Sri Lanka.

This Bodhi Tree, has a history dating back to about 2200 years. When the sacred branch of the Bodhi tree was brought to Sri Lanka in the days of King Devanampiyatissa, 32 seedlings from that holy tree were planted at selected sites in the country. The Bodhi tree at Kalutara is one of those thirty-two.

But when Sir Cyril came over to Kalutara, the Sacred Bodhi Tree at that site, was in a dire state of neglect and disregard. Devotees who visited the site to worship the Sacred Bodhi Tree, were driven away in an undignified manner by the security personnel appointed by the Government Agent.

There was an earlier attempt to cut down this Sacred Tree. It is in such a background, that Sir Cyril initiated his historic move to make this spot a holy site.

His interest was roused, when he visited this place once to take a dip in the river. There he met a dedicated devotee, who had attended upon the sacred Bodhi all by himself, over a considerably long period of time. The young lawyer impressed by the religious fervour of this devotee, opted to help him to continue his service to the Sacred Bodhi Tree. On the 7th of September 1951, Sir Cyril established a committee to protect this sacred site. Investing his own personal funds, he transformed this holy site, into one of the most adored religious places in this country.

Millions pay homage to this Sacred Bodhi Tree, each year. The sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara, has now assumed the stature of a Sri Lankan spiritual shrine, adored by the masses, without considerations of religious differences.

Vehicles that pass, ritually stop at this holy spot as a blessed segment of their journey. There is hardly any other wayside holy site in Sri Lanka, that receives the adoration of travellers as this Bodhi Tree does. With the passage of time, a whole variety of religious adjuncts grew up around the Sacred Bodhi Tree. Sir Cyril went on continuing his magnificent service to the Sasana, to the development of the country and towards the promotion of Sri Lankan entrepreneurship.

When his business enterprises continued to escalate, he utilised a good part of his income for religious, cultural and educational activities. Sir Cyril launched a bus service as a precursor to the multiplicity of business enterprises, he would eventually initiate. In his tireless efforts to pursue social and religious services, his progress was punctuated at times, by some colourful episodes.

One such is related to Colombo YMBA, which incidentally, is a glittering monument to Sir Cyril's extensive service to the cause of Buddhism. When financial constraints retarded the building effort, he turned to Sir Ernest - a Buddhist philanthropist - for assistance. Sir Ernest gave him a stamp, saying, "Cyril take this stamp to a particular stamp-dealer. He will give you one hundred thousand rupees for it." Sir Cyril's odyssey in the cause of his service to Buddhism is studded with that kind of intriguing episode.

In Sir Cyril's glorious record of service towards the advancement of the dispensation of the supremely Enlightened One, the crest-gem, without even the shadow of a doubt is the Kalutara Bodhi Tree.

Although Sir Cyril's name is associated very much with the Bodhi Tree at Kalutara, his service to the cause of Buddhism has been multifarious. The detail or his activities is well-high beyond recording.

Many a Buddhist shrine, site and institution, has flourished through his generosity. He was the foremost force in the restoration of Kiri Vehera, at Kataragama.

Education was yet another field that received his concerned attention. He donated his land for school buildings. An inevitable outcome of his involvement in social welfare, was his entry into active politics. There too, he was able to achieve a marked success.

He was the Vice-President of the Senate for six years. Then again, he was the President of the Senate for eight years. He was conferred the British Imperial Honour of a Knighthood. Though kept exceptionally busy, Sir Cyril never neglected to observe the due Buddhist rituals. Each morning he would start the day, by making offerings to the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara from 6 o'clock. He led a Buddhist way of life. In the late evening of his life, as the lengthening shadows merged into the darkening dusk he had attained a state of deep spiritual serenity. His words at this late stage of his life, seemed to sum up the quintessence of Buddhism.

This is what he said:

"Now I am free. The state of your wealth does not really matter. These are all illusion. I was born without any wealth. I will die just as I was born - without any wealth. As I reach the end of my days, Buddhism is my sole consolation, my happiness and my strength."

He cherished the Buddhist ideal of cantonment. He said farewell to life, with words that could only stem from the depths of a truly Buddhist mind. Sir Cyril de Zoysa passed away, on the second of January 1978, at the ripe age of 82.

To millions who pass the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara, each year, his memory is ever fresh.

May he attain Nibbana.

(The writer is Maha Nayake Thera of Amarapura Sri Dharma Rakshitha Maha Nikahya, Director of Sri Dharma Raskshitha Thripitika Dharma Ayathaneya, Mallikaramaya, Ratmalana.)

Sir Cyril de Zoysa — Buddhist devotee and philanthropist

The culture and history of any given land, are adorned by exceptional personalities who, being born in that particular country, contribute substantially to the well-being and progress of that land, in a variety of fields.

The Sinhala Buddhist culture of Sri Lanka, that spans several long centuries, has achieved the status of a great tradition, due to those outstanding men and women, whose lives were lived for the benefit of the country of their birth.

The ancient kings and rulers of Sri Lanka upheld the dispensation of the supreme Buddha, assigning it high priority. We, inhabiting this great country today, are the proud inheritors of that glorious tradition of Buddhist culture.

Even in our own day, men of great stature appear from time to time, who continue the high tradition of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist, culture

Sir Cyril De Zoysa, is without any doubt, one of those dedicated devotees, born to ensure that Buddhist culture flourishes uninterrupted in this noble country, whatever may be the challenges that have to be faced.

Cyril de Zoysa was born, at the dawn of the twentieth century, on the 26th of October 1896. In historical hindsight, it is quite evident, that he was born to bring about a Buddhist revival in this country, in the twentieth century.

He was born in the historical city of Galle, and had his early education at Matara, an equally historical city in the deep south. Eventually, he joined Richmond College,, Galle. The next phase of his education took place at Royal College, Colombo, from where he entered Law College at the relatively young age of twenty.

Even in those early years, his personality was suffused by a pervading sense of humanity. As a student at Law College, he earned additional pocket-money by giving tuition. While in this process, he saved enough money to buy a brand new buggy-cart and a bull for his father, who was being driven at that time in a rickety old buggy-cart he hired. His father experienced an exquisite pleasure, when he received this gift from his son.

Buddhist behaviour was a built-in facet in his life, from childhood on. This was primarily because he was raised in a family background that esteemed and lived the Buddhist way of life.

In the course of his professional practice of law, he came over to Kalutara. As destiny would have it, this paved the way for his life-long service to the cause of Buddhism.

At this time, the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara had become a controversial spot. Security personnel appointed by the Government Agent drove off devotees, who visited the place to worship.

Defying the decrees of the Government Agent, young Cyril de Zoysa, took charge of the shrine. Investing his personal funds, he upgraded the shrine, enabling the worshippers to visit the place unobstructed.

Kalutara Bodhi Tree became the crest-gem of his glorious service towards the cause of Buddhism.

Today, millions make offerings to this shrine and the sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara has become a Sri Lankan landmark attracting men and women of all faiths.

When his business enterprises continued to escalate, he utilized a good part of his income for religious, cultural and educational activities. Sir Cyril started his business career with the launching of a bus service. With the passage of time, his enterprises expanded, making him a pioneering entrepreneur in some fields of business.

Colombo YMBA, is a glittering monument to Sir Cyril’s extensive service to the cause of Buddhism. When financial constraints retarted the building effort, he turned to Sir Ernest a Buddhist philanthropist for assistance.

Sir Ernest gave him a stamp, saying; "Cyril take this to that particular stamp dealer. He will give you Rupees One-hundred thousand for it."

Sir Cyril’s odyssey in the cause of his service to Buddhism, is studded with that kind of intriguing episode.

The detail of Sri Cyril’s service to Sri Lanka, is well-nigh beyond recording as his activities have been multifarious.

He was the foremost force in the restoration of Kiri Vehera at Kataragama. Those Buddhist shrines, sites, institutions that received his generous assistance are beyond count.

He focused considerable attention on the development of education as well. He donated his land to enable the building of schools.

He was deeply concerned with the need to provide avenues of employment to rural folk.

In the field of politics too he achieved a marked success. He was the vice-president of the Senate for six years. He was President of the Senate for eight years. He was conferred the British imperial honour of a knighthood.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of his extremely busy life, he never neglected to observe the due Buddhist rituals. Each morning he started the day’s work by making offerings to the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara, at 4.00 in the morning. He lived a Buddhist way of life.

Towards the end of his chequered life he attained a state of deep spiritual serenity.

This is evident from some statements he made when the shadows were lengthening in the late evening of his life.

His words seem to convey the quintessence of the Buddhist way of life. This is what he said:

"Now I am free. How rich you are does not matter. These are all delusive. I was born without any wealth. I will die without any wealth. Buddhism is my consolation, my happiness and my strength."

Though he was affluent, he cherished the Buddhist ideal of contentment. He said farewell to life with words, that could only stem from the depths of a truly Buddhist mind.

He passed away at 82 on the 2nd of January 1978.

May he attain Nibbana.

The Right Venerable Dr. Udugama Saddharmakeerthi Sri Dhammadassi Ratanapala Buddharakkithabhidhana Thero

The Mahanayaka Thero of the Asgiriya Chapter