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Sunday, 14 September 2003  
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Most Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera

by E. Weerapperuma

The Most Ven.Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka Thera who passed away on September 8th, celebrated his 91st birthday on June 21,2003. He had served for 77 years as a priest in the Buddha Sasana. The government issued a stamp and a first day cover to mark the Ven.Thera's 91st birthday.

The Most Ven. Thera who donned the saffron robe on June 24,1926, at the age of 13, as a podi nama - a novice monk, at Divigalahena, Kamburupitiya, in a village in the deep South, was perhaps the oldest to have such a service record in this country. The Most Ven.Thera served as a member of the Buddhist Commission that was set up to collect and examine data, which ultimately led to the take over of School in 1961 and the subsequent declaration of Poya holidays.

He was a member of the Buddha Sasana Commission and was the President of the Amadyapa Maha Sabhawa. He was also greatly responsible in bringing all groups of Amarapura Nikayas to form the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sanga Sabhawa. He also took a keen interest in the Harijan (low caste in Jaffna) and did much to uplift their status in 1960.

The late priest was an eminent Buddhist scholar and was conferred with an honorary Ph.D from the University of Peradeniya in 1987 and `Aggamaha Panditha', the honorific title by the Burmese Government (1996) in appreciation of his services to the Buddha Sasana.

Among the titles he received included Sri Vajiragnana Dhamma Keerthi and Sri Dhammarakshitha Viharavanshalankara (1955), Uttareethara Mahanayaka (1992) and Agga Maha Panditha Sarvodaya Jatika Sammanaya (1998).

He was an erudite preacher and the steps taken by him to spread the Theravada Buddhism overseas and establish the Buddhist `viharayas' in the West is considered to be the most outstanding contributions to the Buddha Sasana. Today several temples in cities like Washington, Los Angeles, New York and also in Canada and Australia, stand as a tribute to his efforts and dedication.

Being a true disciple of the Lord Buddha, the Most Ven. Thera continued preaching the Dhamma in the country and made several dhamma-charikas to other countries. He also founded the Dharma Vijaya Foundation in 1979 and assisted Monks and Samaneras to receive a sound education. The youngest son of James Carolis Pujitha Gunawardena and Bela Angelina Dhirasekera, he was baptised Benson Wilmot Pujitha and had his early education at the Poramulla Methodist Mixed School where his father, a Methodist was the head master.

He attended St. Thomas' Girls School, Matara, Mahinda Vidyalaya, Galle, before entering the Order of the Monks at the village temple. His mother, a very devoted Buddhist greatly influenced her youngest son to follow the footsteps of the Thathagatha Buddha.

It was said that his father who usually avoided offering alms to the Bhikkus visiting his house, but had joined the others on the day when Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Thera made his first visit to his former house after receiving Upsampada to participate at the Sangeeka Danaya. He studied Buddhism under the tutelage of Ven. Siridhamma Kavidhaja Vinayacharya Weragampita Siri Revatha, who was highly respected as the tutor of Ven. S. Mahinda, the Tibetan monk who became famous for his composition of patriotic poems.

As a Novice monk he came to Colombo on January 27, 1927, to study under the then popular erudite preacher of the Buddha Dhamma, Most Ven. Pelene Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera, at the Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya, and at the age of 20 received his Upasampada on June 09,1933 at Udakukchepa Simamalakaya.

At the time he went to the Vajiraramaya, there was the Dhamma School conducted by Ven. Naradha Thera and he came into contact with personalities like Dudley, Robert and Bernard. As a young monk he showed signs of scholarliness and completed Pracheena in 1935, and obtained a Vidya Visharadha Degree from Colombo University College,in 1941. This was a Degree course initiated by late Prof. Gunapala Malalasekera.

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