A bridge between the 20th and 21st centuries | Sunday Observer

A bridge between the 20th and 21st centuries

The passing away of the Most Ven. Agga Maha Panditha Davuldena Gnanissara Maha Nayake Thera of the Amarapura Chapter (since 2002) last week leaves a void that cannot be filled easily. One of the most erudite Bhikkus of our time, the Most. Ven. Gnanissara Thera was known for his vast knowledge of the Dhamma and his yeoman service to the Buddha Sasana.

Born in 1915 in Davuldena, Uva Province, to a family of 11 children, and aged 102 at the time of his passing away, he was a prolific preacher of the Dhamma, here and abroad. He dedicated his life to the Sasana ever since being ordained on March 28, 1928.

The Most Ven. Thera was fluent in at least eight Eastern and Western languages which enabled him to travel far and wide spreading the Dhamma. He was a true Dhamma Dhuta (Envoy of the Dhamma) who disseminated the words of the Buddha through his Dhamma sermons and books. He was an advocate for multi-culturism in a diverse world.

Simple language

He had the ability to explain even the deepest concepts of the Buddha Dhamma in simple language that any layman could understand. The Maha Nayake Thera was equally revered in predominantly Buddhist Thailand and Myanmar, which conferred him the Agga Maha Panditha title. Just a month ago, the Ven. Thera was present at the opening of the new seven storied building at the Makutaramaya Myanmar Temple in Dematagoda by President Maithripala Sirisena.

This building was constructed with the donations of charitable institutions and donors from Myanmar on the advice of the Nayaka Theras of the Committee of Management of the Temple. The people of Myanmar held the Ven. Thera in very high esteem and many Myanmar donors have helped temples in Sri Lanka.

Both, Buddhist and non Buddhist countries, including China and the US, expressed condolences on the passing away of the Maha Nayake Thera.

High demand

“Sri Lankans and Americans who knew the late Mahanayake respected his ceaseless efforts to improve the lives of all Sri Lankans through his advocacy for peace and reconciliation based upon the teachings of Lord Buddha,” said US Ambassador Atul Keshap.

The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China said that the Most Ven. Aggamaha Pandita Davuldena Gnanissara with many attainments, is a Buddhist scholar proficient in many languages, including Chinese.

“He is highly respected by the world Buddhist community. As a good friend of the Chinese Buddhist community, he visited China a number of times, and has played an important role in promoting the Buddhist exchange and cooperation between China and Sri Lanka.

The Most Ven. Aggamaha Panditha Davuldena Gnanissara’s demise is a great loss not only to Sri Lanka, but also to the world,’” the Embassy said.

He was one of the world’s foremost experts on Sanskrit, the mother language of Sinhala, and in most other South Asian languages. He was one of the few authors who could write entire books in Sanskrit.

Among his Sanskrit books are, “Yashodara Charitham” and “Dharma Chintha Wairagya Chintha”. Some of these have been subsequently translated to living languages. He received the titles, “Sanskrit Chakrawarthi” and “Sanskrit Literature Saraswathi” for expertise in this ancient language.

He also wrote numerous other books and newspaper articles on the Dhamma in various languages. His books are in high demand among Buddhist scholars around the world.

Erudite Bhikku

Among the other honourary titles he received for his service and commitment to the Buddha Sasana are, Grantha Visharada, Bhasanthara Visaharada, Jana Sasana Keerthi, Rajakeeya Panditha and Sri Saddarma Jothika.

The Most Ven. Thera was equally at home in temples in remote areas with little or no facilities, and those in the city replete with all facilities. He led a simple life, shunning luxury Likewise, he moved with Presidents and Prime Ministers, but never lost the common touch.

A devotee who visited his temple in Pagoda told me that even at 102, the Ven. Thera personally took him on a tour of the temple despite younger Bhikkus coming forward to undertake that task. His temple was always open to everyone from all walks of life. From Presidents to ordinary men and women, all flocked to seek advice from this erudite Bhikku.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya, who was very closely associated with the Maha Nayake Thera, alluded to this fact in his condolence message.

The Ven. Maha Nayake Thera was instrumental in establishing a good number of temples and Buddhist centres of learning islandwide. Once they became successful, he conferred the responsibility of maintaining them to his disciples, and moved on.

Wherever he went, there was no shortage of devotees who flocked to meet him and seek his blessings. Even a casual meeting with the Thera could lead to gaining a treasure trove of knowledge.

Peace and reconciliation

A film producer who I met at the Pagoda temple (Sri Vidya Vijayarama Viharaya on Davuldena Gnanissara Maha Nahimi Mawatha in Nugegoda) where his remains were lying, told me how he visited the temple to see the Maha Nayake Thera on another matter, and ended up with a script for a film based on a Buddhist theme, after a 90 minute discussion.

That was a rare gift – every word he uttered had a meaning and a purpose. Even a five minute conversation with the Thera could change one’s life, for the better. As the Sri Lanka Mahabodhi Society stated in their condolence message, the Maha Nayake Thera was a bridge between the 20th and 21st centuries.

When he began his Dhamma dutha service, it was extremely difficult to travel and communicate. Today, one can privately broadcast an entire Dhamma sermon to the world, free of cost. Things may have changed on the technology front, but his message was always the same, regardless of the medium – live by the Dhamma.

Quality of equality

He always advocated the value of peace and reconciliation. Issuing a message on Independence Day, he called on Buddhists to perform their obligations for the prosperity and independence of the country united with fraternal nationalities and religious communities, emphasizing the importance of the quality of equality.

He believed that in the eyes of the Buddha, all beings are equal and have the right to life. He noted that ancient Kings have expressed their kindness even to animals.

The modern society should learn from these historical facts, he said. He believed that reconciliation was a priority for Sri Lanka, emerging from a 30-year-old protracted conflict that scarred many minds.

Delivering a eulogy at the State Funeral held on Thursday, at Independence Square, President Sirisena described the Maha Nayake Thera as a colossus among the Bhikkus.

New course

He was an exemplary Bhikku whose services to the Buddha Sasana cannot be forgotten by Buddhists, the President said. All Sri Lankans, not just Buddhists, will feel this loss, he added.

Unity among Sri Lankans was indeed the goal of the Maha Nayake Thera. He wanted to bring Sri Lankans together, irrespective of their ethnicity and religion, and in the Buddha Dhamma he found an ideal medium to deliver this message.

The Buddha’s message of peace is timeless - and timely for a country such as Sri Lanka, which is chartering a new course after years of conflict. The Ven. Davuldena Gnanissara Maha Nayake Thera was in the forefront of taking this message to the people. May He attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana. 

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