Birth Anniversary: Sir D.B. Jayatilaka - flag bearer of Buddhist education

Sir Don Baron Jayathilaka known as D.B. Jayathilaka was one of the greatest Sri Lankan Educationists, Statesmen, and Diplomat of 20th century who still lives in the hearts of Buddhists around the world.

Since this write up is presented as a tribute to an eminent personality, it is relevant to reproduce an extract from a Speech he delivered in 1927 while presiding over the Annual General Meeting of Pannipitiya Young Men’s Buddhist Association which embodies a cogent view point expressed by him on this occasion. He remarked -

“We observe how the wave of serious crime committed in this country is mounting steadily day by day. You should reflect as to why in a country where the doctrine of Non-Violence and Compassion and Mercy towards animals has been preached and promulgated, the incidence of crime is so rampant. If we need to reduce the incidence of crime it is imperative that we should discipline ourselves initially and take action to discipline our neighbours thereafter. This objective can be achieved by imparting a religion-based education to children from young days. Colombo YMBA has inaugurated a Program for promoting a program of Dhamma School education with this objective. It is the obligation of every Buddhist in this country to give his children the gift of the Dhamma”.

Although this utterance was made by Sir D.B. Jayatilaka who was a well read intellectual at a time as far back as 1927 it embodies a message that is equally relevant for the Sri Lanka society of today. Why it is so is perfectly clear. The Sri Lankan society of today is engulfed in a more ruinous spate of moral degeneration than the time when this exhortation was made. It would certainly be positively beneficial for the Buddhist population of today to institute a realistic investigation into the meaning and significance of Sir Baron’s pronouncements and activities at this time when his 149th Birth Anniversary is commemorated with due veneration.

Since one can observe that all the obligations and duties in the fields of maintenance of Dhamma Schools and the proper organization and planning of Dhamma School education have been influenced by an attitude of indifference.

Sir Don Baron was born on February 13, 1868. He was cultured and polished by the profound influence exercised from his young days by Venerable Ratmalane Sri Dharmaloka Nayaka Thera, Principal of Vidyalankara Pirivena Peliyagoda. Although he commenced his Elementary School education as a pupil of Baptist School, Waragoda and continued at Wesley College, at that time located in the Colombo Pettah, the true foundation of his admirable character and personality as an exemplary Sinhala Buddhist youth was the product of his close association with Venerable Dharmaloka Maha Thera.

We can identify as the turning point of his career the event of his facing the Interview Board of the Department of Land Settlement on his application for the Post of Clerk in the Department.

The Head of the Department who chaired the Interview Board felt that the young applicant had a great future elsewhere and remarked to him.

“Young man, you are too good for this job. You have a great future, strive with endeavour” and encouraged him to continue further studies without seeking employment at the young age.

Jayatilaka, who had by this time passed the Cambridge Senior Examination was appointed as the Principal of Dharmaraja College, in Kandy by the Buddhist Theosophical Society. At the time he was appointed to his prestigious post he was a youth of 22 years. We have reason to believe that it was at this time that Jayatilaka who had already acquired a clear and precise understanding of the state of Buddhist Education, the problems faced by the Buddhist Public and the arbitrary rule of the British Colonial Government initiated his campaign to resurrect the true status of the Buddhist population and to restore to them their due rights. Being convinced that pursuing further studies was a task more important than the activities he was already engaged in, he pursued this objective and secured the B.A., and M.A. degrees at the Calcutta University. The message he communicated to the youth of the country regarding the paramount importance of education and securing their future was magnificent and inspiring. In one of his public addresses he made the following remark.

“My sole expectation is to serve my motherland. Today’s youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Their hearts are free from fear. They do not recoil from problems. My youth is the Secret of my Success.”

Dharmaraja College of Kandy achieved remarkable progress during the period Jayatilaka was Principal. The outcome of this progress was his appointment as the Vice Principal of Ananda College, Colombo by the Buddhist Theosophical Society in 1898.

He was elevated to the Post of Principal in 1900. At Ananda College he not only flowered out as an exceptionally talented Principal but he demonstrated his wisdom and acumen to place Ananda in the proper perspective of School education.

A notable outcome of his success was the emergence of Ananda College as a foremost Buddhist educational institution achieving an outstanding record of success at Public Examinations superseding the Missionary Schools that were by this time dominating the arena of School Education.

Mr. P. de S. Kularatne, who was another eminent Principal of Ananda College of a later date has made the following comment regarding the service record of Jayatilaka:

“D.B. Jayatilaka was the illustrious individual who manifestly demonstrated that Buddhist Schools under Sri Lankan Buddhist Management can impart a comprehensive education in no way inferior in quality to that provided by Missionary Schools under alien Christian Management.”

The Service Jayatilaka rendered to Ananda College provided to the Buddhist Theosophical Society, engaged in the pioneering and stupendous task of opening Buddhist Schools in various parts of the Island, a strong impetus that enabled the Society to accomplish its task successfully.

With the objective of enabling the Sinhala population to use their mother tongue with a scientific finesse he volunteered to accept the task of Editorial Management of the Sinhala Etymological Dictionary. In the field of classical Sinhala literature over which he already possessed an authoritative mastery he produced refined editions of a number of celebrated Sinhala texts such as Dhampiya Atuva Getapadaya, Saddharma Ratnavaliya, and Sikavalana Vinisa, and got them printed and published. Whilsts being engaged in his legal studies in England he promoted the propagation of the Temperance Movement that had been inaugurated in Sri Lanka by patriotic citizens.

By the time of his demise on 29 May, 1944, he had completed serving the Colombo Y.M.B.A. as its President for a continuous period of 46 years since 1898. His services to the Y.M.B.A. during this period were stupendous. Patriotic Buddhists of this country are, duty bound to, eternally, commemorate the exemplary services rendered to them by Sri D.B. Jayatilaka, who excelled in every field he dominated, particularly, in the roles of a profound intellectual, a perceptive politician and a dauntless thinker.

His life was supremely outstanding. He was an intellectual endowed with an inexhaustible fund of courage and a perceptive vision, a noble personage who served the causes of his country with an immaculate perception, and a national hero in no way indebted to his motherland.

Prescribing the Biography of Sir D.B. Jayatilaka as a mandatory reading text for all Sri Lankan students would be a valuable service to the Buddhist Community of Sri Lanka.

Let us resolve on this day of Commemoration of the 149 Birth Anniversary of Sir D.B. Jayatilaka to propagate to, as wide a circles as possible, the record of his magnanimous services to the Sri Lankan Nation as a National Leader of All Time. 

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