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Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha TherA An ambassador of unity

2013 Jun 22

By Prasantha Lal De Alwis,  President’s Counsel

Centenary Birth Anniversary

Valiant soldiers united the territory of Sri Lanka in May 2009. Now Sri Lanka is at a crossroads, trying to find a way to permanent peace. The civil society has failed to consolidate a united country. The debate revolving around the 13th Amendment indicates that we are sitting on a volcano which may erupt anytime, yet we are complacent and divided.

A statement of the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Thera leads us to a strategy to overcome the predicament we are facing now. “Unity of Bhikkus will lead to the unity of Sinhala Buddhists - unity of Sinhalese will cause the unity of all Sri Lankans” –This process will lead to a united Sri Lanka. ( Lankadeepa 30-08-1986)
Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera was born on June 21, 1913, in the village hamlet of Madhihe, Matara to a devout Buddhist mother and a Christian father. He was named Wilmot Pujitha Gunawardena. Young Wilmot while studying at St. Thomas’s College, Matara, decided to ordain himself as a Buddhist monk at the tender age of 13. He was ordained by Ven. Weragampitiye Sri Rewatha  Thera as a student of the Most Venerable Palane Sri Vajiragnana Thera of Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya. The Thera’s life was enriched with rich, strong and cultural traditions of the Vajiraramaya. He obtained ‘Upasampada’ in 1933. He then obtained his Vidya ‘Visharada’ degree from the University of Ceylon (Colombo).

At the demise of Ven. Palane Sri Vajiragnana Thera in 1955, Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera was made the Mahanayake of the Amarapura Sri Dhammarakkita Nikaya at the young age of 42. Though the Nikaya decided to get the then Prime Minister to present the ‘Akktha Pathra’ to the thera, he politely declined and decided to accept it from the most senior prelate, Ven. Ahangama Wimalasara Thera. This was a clear indicator of the policy and the way of life of the Ven. Thera. During his life he had no direct affiliation to any political party; thus expressed his views on any matter without fear or expecting any favour. The Thera was accessible to all without any discrimination. Such a strong, forthright yet simple and humble personality naturally commanded respect from people of all walks of life. This made everyone seek advice from the Thera on any national or religious issues in the country.

The duty of Sangha is to propagate the Dhamma and alleviate beings from suffering. This mission requires the methodical and constant training of Buddhist priests. In his farsightedness Ven. Pannaseeha Thero in 1957, established the Maharagama Sri Vajiragnana Dharmayathanaya which not only trains Bhikkus for the purpose but also has programmes for children, youth and elders to experience the bliss of the Dhamma. These thought provoking programmes are being held to date moulding the characters of many. The Ven.  Thirikunamale Ananda Anu Nayaka Thera,  Ven.  Sedawatte Dhammaruchi Thera, Ven. Maharagama Dhammasiri Thera,  Ven.  Hingurakgoda Vibhavi Thera, Ven. Thallale Dhammakitti Thera and the late Ven.  Gangodawila Soma Thera are some of the Buddhist Disciples the Ven. Thera had gifted to the Buddhasasana.

Branches of the Dharmayathanaya were established in Matara, Kurunegala, Kandy, Trincomalee and Anuradhapura. The Ven. Thera took the initiative in establishing Theravada Buddhist traditions in the United States and Australia. Washington Viharaya remains as the foundation of Buddhism in the US. According to the travel guide ‘Lonely Planet’ the most growing religion in Australia today is ‘Buddhism’. It is said the Ven. Thera’s activities in propagating Buddhism may be second only to the Dalai Laima and Ven. Ajan Cha.

The Ven. Thero was instrumental in uniting all 22 sects of the Amarapura Nikaya. Many recommendations were proposed by  a fact finding commission appointed by the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress in 1954 and the Buddha Sasana Commission was appointed by the Governor in 1957. Ven. Pannaseeha Thera took the leadership in getting the respective governments to implement the recommendations such as the declaration of Poya day as a public holiday and the takeover of aided schools by the government.

As to the ethnic issue, Ven. Thera’s contribution was clear, specific and progressive. Whilst disclaiming the ‘homeland’ concept of the Eelamists, the Ven. Thera proposed many a suggestion where all Sri Lankans would live with equality, honour and integrity at the deliberation of the All Party Conference. The book ’The Facts’ written in English by the Thera has exposed the truth of the issues with facts and figures.  

This learned monk was also fluent in the Tamil Language which clearly demonstrates the intention and purpose of solving the ethnic conflict. He wanted a solution based on open discussion and when news of the Dudley- Chelvanayagam pact came to light, the Thera wrote a strong letter requesting the conditions of the Agreement to be made public. Implementation of the Agreement was subsequently aborted.

Ven. Pannaseeha Thera’s popular theme was “Develop the Human - which will result in the country’s development”. After arriving from the USA, he inaugurated the ‘Thurunu Saviya; to develop the character of the youth and assisted in rehabilitating the youth of the 1971 insurrection. As the president of the Temperance Movement, ‘Amadhapa Sabha’, The Thero led many preventive programmes on intoxicants. An organisation called ‘Dharma Vijaya Foundation’ was established in 1979, to create a Dharmishta society (a just society) based on the foundations of Buddhist values. It continues to date, serving mankind.

On the 100th Birth Anniversary of the Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka Thero in veneration, the utmost respect we can bestow on him is to be united and develop human beings not only on economic values but also with virtues. This would create everlasting peace and enhance the image of Sri Lanka amongst other nations.

After travelling extensively on ‘Dhammadutha’ work propagating Buddhism, the Thera publicly claimed that ‘being born a human in Sri Lanka probably would be the second best to attaining Nirvana’.    May the Maha Nayaka Thero be born again and again in Sri Lanka till he attains Nirvana.

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