The Mahanayake of the Amarapura Dharmarakshita Sector, Chief Incumbent of Ratmalana Mallikaramaya temple Agga Maha Panditha Rajakeeya Welgama Gnanaratna Thera passed away in year 2014 at the age of 101 years.
The appointment of the Most Venerable Agga Panditha Rajakeeya Weligama Gnanaratana thera as the Mahanayake Thera of the Dharmarakshita chapter of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya was unanimously announced by the Executive Sanga Committee of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya on 12th September 2003, a position vacated with the demise of the Most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayake Thera. The Mahnayake Thera was until then the Anu Nayaka Mahanayake Thera for 47 long years. The Thera received the 'Aktha Patra', disclosing the origins which elaborate in detail on the Thera's colossal contribution to the Sasana from the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe.
The Thera was conferred with the title ‘AGGA MAHA PANDITHA’ by the Myanmar (Burma) Government in the year2008.
The most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Weligama Gnanaratana Mahanayaka Thera was born on 14th October 1913 to devout Buddhist parents at Welliweledeniya in Weligama , was the youngest in a family consisting of 12 siblings.At the tender age of 12 years was ordained at Ahangama Eluketiye Bimbarama Maha Viharaya.
The Thera completed his primary monastic education in the village temple.In the year 1931 he entered the Vidyodaya Pirivena, Maligakanda, one of the leading monastic centre’s recognized even internationally.
The Thera acquired from the renowned academic centre the required higher education to receive the higher ordination 'Upasampada' in 1933 from the Maha Sanga. He had learnt oriental studies and passed the final examination in traditional studies obtaining a Pandith degree in 1948 mastering Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit languages. This is the highest qualification one can obtain in Sri Lanka to be conferred, as an honorary 'Panditha'. An important milestone in his distinguished career in the Sasana was the invitation he received from the Most Venerable Palene Vajiragnana Thera, who was the foremost of the erudite monks in Sri Lanka, The Chief Incumbent of the Sri Vajiraramaya temple to stay at the temple which was the most famous monastery in the country where many renowned monks viz. the Venerable Narada, the Venerable Piyadassi were pupils of Palene Vajiragnana Mahanayake Thera . The Thera was invited to Vajiraramaya as he was one of the most pious, erudite monks in the Dhamma and Oriental languages to nurture and fathom the young monks at Vajiraramaya.
As a stern disciplinarian, the responsibility bestowed on him was an exercise, he grabbed with pleasure as the opportunity arose for him to impart his wide knowledge in the Sasana.
In the year 1950 the Thera accompanied Mahihe Pannasiha Thera to India on pilgrimage and study for six months During this tour which lasted for six months . This tour gave the opportunity for Thera to acquire the required knowledge about the Indian Buddhist heritage. A very significant milestone in the Prelate’s career in the sasana was his visit to Nepal to during his tenure at Vajiraramaya , the birth place of Buddha in 1951 along with a group of monks.This pioneering effort was aimed to reintroduce the Theravada tradition to Nepal and in conducting the higher ordination the 'Upasampada' ceremony not held in Nepal for centuries. The cultural and religious links built between the two countries exist even up to today.
In year 1955 in a memorable event took place to the Thera in participating in the historic meeting, ‘the Chattha Sangayana’, the sixth council in Myanmar (Burma) along with the Sri Lankan delegation. This tour afforded the unique opportunity for the Thera to study the Burmese Buddhist tradition by travelling widely in Myanmar.
In the same year 1955 the Pelene Vajiragnana Maha Nayaka Thera , passed away when his immediate pupil the Venerable Madihe Pannasiha was appointed as the Maha Nayaka of the Amarapura Dharmarakshita Mahanikaya at which point Gnanaratana Thera was appointed as the Secretary of the Nikaya. In the year 1956 Maha Nayaka Thera visited the city of Kathmandu to participate in the conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists’
D.J Kodituwakku Hewamallika, JP, a Marriage Registrar and a reputed businessman and philanthropist who had made a lot of voluntary work for the Sasana particularly for temples had on several occasions had conveyed to the Thera to request for financial assistance for uplifting the Buddha Sasana.
During the time the Thera although was actively engaged in propagating the Dhamma nationally and internationally while based at the Vajiraramaya , he one day had to leave to another 'Avasaya' as he was not a pupil ordained under the Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera. This was an opportunity for Maha Nayaka Thera to request for a plot of land to be purchased in the suburb of the city from wealthy devotee, D. J. Kodituwakku Hewamallika, JP who immediately had looked for a suitable place.
He had found an ideal 30 perch block suitable for a temple, which was purchased, immediately in early 1958. This place was later described by the Thera as 'a very lucky plot'. The auspicious time was found by Kodituwakku Hewamallika, JP and the foundation stone was laid on 28th May 1958 amidst chanting of pirith.
During early part of 1959 the construction of the temple was completed.A new era dawned in the Thera's Buddhist educational service with the establishment of the Mallikaramaya temple in July 1959. The Thera, a true servant of the Buddha had a vision and a mission who felt deeply the plight of Buddhism, Buddhaputra and the Buddha-sasana.
Concepts such as sin, shame, determination, concentration and right mindedness were common topics chosen for his sermons. His approach towards devotees instigated and motivated the Dayakas and Dayikas to actually take interest in the activities of the temple and its subsequent expansions. Under the guidance of the Thera it did not take long for Mallikaramaya to become a fully fledged religious centre and a monastery in a vastly urbanized area.
The Mallikaramaya temple possesses all components of a complete Buddhist temple .It has a sense of serenity and calm which impresses anyone entering the premises .Although the Thera has been conferred as ‘Agga Maha Panditha’, he continued to reside humbly in the room he occupied since it was originally constructed. He is still accessible to any devotee. His age then had been no barrier to his services to the devotees. He still continued to preach and still visit houses of devotees to render traditional services anticipated from a Buddhist monk.
The philosophy of the Thera is that a Buddhist temple must always be nothing other than a Viharaya and a religious institution. The temple is devoid of a “devalaya” and unaffiliated to any established political party. The Thera always maintains his impartiality but will not hesitate even for a moment to be outspoken on matters concerning the Sasana and society.
The Mahanayaka Thera has been a renowned preacher over the SLBC for over seven decades, recently on television. He has made sermons to audiences in all parts of the island and in several countries abroad. If they were counted the number of sermons would easily exceed over 10,000.
He has the ability to grip the listener and viewer keeping them spell-bound. His sermons had special characteristics and in his own inimitable style in a uncomplicated language. He knew well that it had to be pleasing in the beginning, pleasing in the middle and pleasing at the conclusion. He developed the unique technique as a preacher over the years enticing the listeners of all ages with soothing and informative sermons with his inherited offerings.
The Thera has rendered a memorable contribution to the print media by writing many books on Buddhist theories and practices. He has the habit of donating to Dayakas and Dayikas his books autographed by him wherever he meets them. He has written nearly 100 large and small books on different topics and contributed immensely for Buddhist magazines. The Thera is the author of many scholarly books.
Since 1997 he has been a member of the Council of the Buddha Sravaka Buddhist University of Anuradhapura. In addition the venerable Thera was a member of the advisory council for Buddhist Affairs, a member of the advisory panel of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation and an Executive Council Member of the Oriental Studies Committee. At his old age he has been and was still playing pivotal roles in many scholarly works undertaken by the state.
The Thera has found time to write his own autobiography in the year 1993 to coincide with his 80th birth anniversary and also written fruitfully the autobiographies of nearly 15 loyal Bikkhus who have contributed immensely for the Sasana. The 'author' Maha Nayaka's most lengthy book is named 'Gihi Vinaya' laying emphasis on the discipline for lay Buddhist based on various 'Suttas' related to the Dhamma. He has also translated and edited many books. The Thera has nurtured and brought up over 50 young monks at the Mallikaramaya Monastery and at other Monasteries, out of them about 40 or more have received 'Upasampada'.
The Thera He has travelled widely for Buddhist activities to many countries including India, Burma, Nepal, United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom and Europe. During his visits he had looked into the areas of Buddhism while the shortcomings that existed were rectified..He also had given advice to uplift and improve Buddhist temples that lacked basic facilities.
Even at his old age although he did not deliver sermons attended to Buddhist activities. In December 2011 he attended the funeral of The Mahanayake Thera of the Rohana chapter in Dickwella. Prior to it he visited Singapore to attend to a Katina Pinkama.
After his demise at the age of 101 years in year 2014 all devout Buddhists would no doubt bless our Most Venerable Agga Panditha Maha Nayaka Thera to attain supreme Bliss of Nirvana and be his journey through the sansaric cycle be short and swift.. The yeomen service rendered by him to the Sasana will be engraved in gold.
SUNIL THENABADU via e mail in Brisbane….
The writer is one of the pioneer pupils of the Daham Pasala at Mallikaramaya Temple.