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Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera is 90 today

by Manjari Peiris - Daily News Fri June 21 2002

Madihe Pannaseeha Nayaka thera was born on 21st June 1913 in a village called Madihe in Matara as the youngest in a family of five and his lay name was Tennison Wilmot. His parents were James Karolis Pujitha Gunawardena and Bela Angeline Deerasekera. His father had become a Christian due to the social situation that prevailed during that time. He held a position of a school Principal and the mother was a Buddhist.

While his father had been very considerate of Christianity his mother had been a devout Buddhist. Although generally children of such family could have followed father's religion, the children of this family of course had practised Buddhism. His mother had facilitated an environment for all the children to follow Buddhism. While many Christian Bishops had visited their home to meet father, mother had met with Buddhist priests. This exposure of living amidst two religious practices had become very important aspect for Ven. Thera's life. Whenever father had to come to Colombo Wilmot too was used to accompanying him. He had been staying the day until father returned at Moratuwa, in a Christian Father's place. Therefore he was much accustomed to a Christian environment too.

His father Pujitha Gunawardena had always supported his mother and the family members in practising their religious activities. But he had never participated in their religious observances. Although father and mother belonged to two different religions they had led a peaceful life and the children were devout Buddhists.

While Wilmot was very small his mother had realized that this son was dedicated and inherited for priesthood. When Wilmot was 3 months his mother had seen a dream. When she was fondling the child on her lap a priest had visited the house, held the child for few minutes and given the child back to mother saying "my name is Deepananda". The following day mother had inquired from the native doctor the meaning of this dream. Later an astrologer had foretold that Wilmot would one day become a priest with honour. Wilmot had his early eduction at St. Thomas mixed school in Matara and later at Mahinda College, Galle. He was a brilliant student and also a good sportsman.

From his childhood Wilmot was interested in becoming a priest. On 24th June in 1926 Wilmot became a priest at Kamburugamuwa Divigalahena vihara at 13 years of age. On seeing his progress within 6 months duration he was sent to Pelane Siri Vajiraganana thera at Vajiraramaya on 26th January 1927. At that time the number of Bhikkhus was 7.

Within this century if there was a temple which rendered an inexplicable service not only in Sri Lanka, but also in the world it was Vajiraramaya. Also, if a single Bhikkhu generation had done a cultural service not only to Sri Lanka, but also to the world, it is the Bhikkhu generation of Pelane Vajiraganana Maha Nayake Thera.

It was in 1936 that Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera had delivered his first sermon on radio. The style of his delivering sermons and the contents of them were different from others. He used to straightforwardly look at his devotees and deliver his sermons. He is one of the few priests who considered sermons not only a meritorious deed but also an educational training. His sermons consisted of varied information. Due to that reason they were well balanced and literati. When Ven. Pelane Vajiragnana Thera was critically ill Ven. Maddihe Pannaseeha Thera had dedicatedly looked after his teacher. While his teacher had gone far away for sermons Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera had kept vigil for days till the return of Ven. Vajiraganana Thera.

Madihe Samanera Thera obtained his Higher Ordination in 1933 at the age of 25 at Pelane Gangarama Vihara under Weragampita Siri Revatha thera. On this day his father who was a Christian had become a Buddhist in front of Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Thera by observing the five precepts. This had been a happy event for his mother and family members.

In 1935 Madihe Pannaseeha Thera passed Pracheena Praramba examination. But his greatest ambition was to be trained in activities pertaining to his monastic life. He spent his first Vas Season in 1939 at Ashokaramaya in Nuwara Eliya. He had spent 3 months there delivering sermons, which had helped him to improve his knowledge in the doctrine and also in delivering sermons.

A vast change relating to his eduction took place in 1941 while a war was going on. In 1941 he received a degree in Science. During the period 1946-47 he had the opportunity to train Chinese Buddhist priests.

In 1951 Ven. Thera visited Nepal where he could become an arbitrator to a problem pertaining to some Nepalese priests and facilitate them to obtain Higher Ordination. This could be called as the first Higher ordination given to priests in the recent history in Nepal and it took place at Katmandu.

He could also convince the Nepalese king of the difficulties that were undergone by the Buddhists there and thereby to obtain their rights and facilities to observe Buddhism. segregation

In this great service of re-establishing Buddhism in Nepal, Ven. Thera could drive away the segregation of priests to different Nikayas in Nepal and to coordinate Buddhist activities as a single Sangha Nikaya. He held a Sangha Sabha at Ananda Vihara in Katmandu in 1951 to convince the Buddhist priests that there was no necessity of taking different Sangha clans belonging to Nikayas, which prevailed in Sri Lanka to Nepal. The Nepalese priests who accepted that advice established an organization called Akeela Nepalese Sangha Sabha. Ven. Thera expresses his satisfaction that even at present there is no segregation of Nikayas in Nepal.

Ven. Madihe Nahimi learnt Hindi on his own efforts and when he visited India in 1952 he addressed the gatherings at Dharmapala commemoration in Hindi language. In the same year he visited India and launched a massive program requesting the Indian government to entrust the rights of Buddhagaya to Buddhists. As a result within a few months then Prime Minister Sri Jawaharlal Nehru entrusted this right to Buddhists. Ven. Thera participated at the Conference of Buddhist Council in 1954 in Burma and he gave his contribution to finalize the Thripitaka.

In 1954 he was appointed as one of the members of the commission selected for perusing the current Buddhist situation in Sri Lanka by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. Some of the important aspects that were taken into consideration in this regard were preventing of non christians converting to Christianity, training of children to become Buddhist priests, training of Buddhist priests for social service after educating in Pirivenas, establishing of centres to train Buddhist priests, etc. In the same year he got the membership in Buddha Jayanthi Translation Board.

The great advice given by this thera to everybody was "Be patient, do not be hasty. Act cautiously having thought very far. "There are ample immodest people in this world. Therefore one may be disgraced anytime. One may come across obstacles when one exists in this world. Try to be patient at each stage. If you act cautiously even at later stage the truth will be revealed. The truth will win one day. If one disgraces another person the former will one day repent. Therefore my advice to you is to be patient."

Another advice that he gives is; "This world cannot be made solely on advice. If those who preach have affection towards the beings, the society, they should set an example; their characters should be exemplary. If one says to do something or develop some quality then that person too should do that. Or else one cannot correct this world without practising it. Therefore my students should be exemplary in their behaviour. They should protect their principles."

"I believe that those who listen to me both laymen and monks would treat those two examples as important. There are ample deliverers and deliveries. But the results according to the number of advices are less. The main reason for that are the attempts to correct the country solely on advice but not on practice."

"Buddhism has given plenty of peace to this world throughout the 2500 years. If Buddhism prevails further more the amount of service that it may do to this world is innumerable. Buddha has expounded that Buddhists should have 6 kinds of virtues to protect Buddhism. They are Vyaktha (erudite), Vineetha (disciplined), Visharada (eminent), Bahushrutha (learned), Dhammadara (well read), Dharmanudharma (observance) Prathipanna (to be known)."

In 1955 Madihe Nahimi became the Nayaka of Sri Lanka Amerapura Maha Sangha Sabha. Ven. Thera participated at the 2500 Buddha Jayanthi Ceremony in 1956, which held in Nepal. In 1957 he became the Chairman of Dhaman Pasel Investigation Board, obtained membership in the Buddha Sasana Commission, visits to Burma, Siam, Camboge, Laow, Vietnam etc. for perusing Buddhist affairs. In the same year he established the Sasana Sevaka Samithiya.

In April 1958 the Maharagama Sri Vajiragnana Dharmayatanaya was established at Maharagama. Buddhist priests are trained at this centre on the guidance of Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera and a Board consisting of Buddhist priests. It has the capacity of training hundred priests at the same centre. Dahama Pasela, Thurunu Saviya, Seela Samadanaya, Meditation, Sermons, Buddhist classes, Grama Sanwardena, Branch services, Amadyapa activities are some of the services that are being extended by this centre.

In 1958 he was appointed as the Chairman of the Board of Janapada Bauddha Environment. In 1964 the Thera visited India, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Britain, France, UK, Japan, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore for peace activities along with Mr. Olcott Gunasekera.

The other services extended by him are establishing of the International Buddhist Information and Research Centre, Washington Buddhist Vihara in 1965, introduction of Poya holiday, In 1966 he was appointed as the Vice Chairman of Sri Lanka Amerapura Maha Sangha Sabha. The Thurunu Saviya was initiated in 1967 and in 1968 the Buddhist Information Centre was set up in Kollupitiya.

The other activities initiated by this Thera were Thripitaka Dharma dictionary in 1970, releasing of Thuru Saviya booklet in 1971, chanting of thripitaka from 1972 onwards, commencement of Pali-Sinhala-English-Sanskrit Dictionary, obtaining of membership of the government Educational Advisory Committee, Tharuna Seela Samadanaya in 1978, membership in the Mahavamsa Compilation Board, membership in Sri Lanka Buddhist and Pali University Educational Administrative Board, membership in All Ceylon Higher Maha Sangha Sabha, commencement of Dharmavijaya Society, became the Vajiraramadikari of Vajiraramaya, membership in All Party Conference, All Member Conference, membership in All Lanka Sinhala Buddhist Conference, Chairman of Sri Lanka Amerapura Maha Sangha Sabha, Doctor of Letters in the Peradeniya University, Aktha Pathra in relation to Sri Lanka Amerapura Maha Sangha Sabha, Award of Pundit for Sri Lanka Pracheena Basha Society.

The Tharuna Seela Samadanaya established by the Maharagama Dharmayatanaya is an attempt to lead youths living according to dharma. On the advice of Maha Nahimi in 1985 a ceremony was held at Maharagama to commemorate 100 years of Buddhist flag.

In 1988 July the Thrainikaya Maha Sangha Sammenalaya was held on the advice of Mahanayaka thera. This enabled Buddhist priests belonging to all 3 nikayas to discuss on common problems pertaining to religion.

Theravada Buddhism

In the 1980 decade Maha thera emphasized the impossibility of re-establishing Bhikkhuni Sasana under Theravada Buddhism. There was much controversy over this issue. Without being involved in supporting any political party Maha Nayaka Thera has attempted to convince the state of his historical commitment towards Buddhism. In eras of national disaster and when the country was at stake and when Buddhism was threatened with external or internal influences this Thera bodly expressed his views while many others kept silent. Maha Nayaka Thera set an example of the bhikkhus in the past that reproved the rulers on political matters but never sought political favours. Maha Nayaka thera delivered religious discourses throughout the world and he is conversant in German and Tamil language too.

In ancient times the temples had been the focal point of activities, religious, social or cultural. All such festivals originated from the village temple enabling a close contact between the bhikkhus and the laymen/women. The temples were the schools for the village children then. Bhikkhus advice was given prominence in case of either physical or mental illness. However these relationships and practices were weakened due to colonial impact and other influences such as commercialization and modernization of the society.

The Maha Nayaka Thera realized the foremost need of the era as training of disciplined and educated bhikkhus to lead a better society. The present Sri Vajiragnana Dharmayatanaya is the result of that realization. The trained Bhikkhus at this centre are at present serving the community in many parts of the island and also in the world. Maha Nayaka thera always says that development does not mean the acquisition of material gain, but the moral, intellectual and physical advancement of the individual.

Along with the individual progress the society progresses and ultimately it progresses all mankind. Having perceived that the future of mankind lies in the youth he has activated a special focus on youth in Sri Lanka. Any observer who visits the temple on Poya days where thousands of children and young people assemble there to seek the refuge of Dhamma by observing higher precepts understands this.

Maha Nayaka thera has rightly understood that no spiritual or intellectual advancement cannot be gained without fulfilling the basic needs of man. Hence in all his religious activities he has taken special effort on economic advancement and physical well being of man. Even the children who attend Daham School are served with Kola Kenda. Maha Nayaka thera being the patron of the Dharmavijaya Foundation is attempting in many ways to relieve the sufferings of innocent villagers displaced by terrorist violence. The olden day bhikkhu-laity relationship confined to almsgiving and funeral ceremonies has been extended to a vast role of the bhikkhu very much socially involved.