Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Anu Nayaka Thera - First Death Anniversary: Pre-eminent spiritual leader | Sunday Observer

Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Anu Nayaka Thera - First Death Anniversary: Pre-eminent spiritual leader

“Sabbattha ve sappurisa cajanti
Nakama kama lapayanti santo
Sukhena phuttha athawa dukhena
Na uccavacam pandita dassayanti”

“Certainly, the nobleones are not attached to anything whatsoever, in the world. The disciplined and wise persons do not talk desiring worldly things, material gains or sensual benefits. Touched either by suffering or happiness, they remain nonfluctuating – not becoming either elated or depressed”. Supremely Enlightened Buddha - “Dhammapada” Pandita Vagga – Verse 83

Over many centuries, a distinguished and uninterrupted line of sacred Buddhist spiritual leaders, adorned the domain of Sri Lanka. Their holy presence in our long and gentle history, made it possible for our land to earn the sobriquet “Dhamma Dvipa” (The Isle of Righterousness).

This indigenous tradition of spiritual leaders, traces its auspicious beginning to the Sri Lanka born Ven. Maha Arittha Maha Thera – the first Sri Lankan Buddhist monk to be ordained by Arahant Mahinda Maha Thera, himself.

I am not too sure whether, there has been any other concourse of priestly leaders at global level, who had to go through such a vast variety of vicissitudes, entirely because of their faith, as the Buddhist Bhikkhu community of this sacred land.

Once when a devastating famine assailed the totality of the land, a group of Buddhist monks, numbering more than ten thousand, decided to depart life together-as the last resort they perceived.

History records the painful ordeal, that, a self-sacrificing monk endured, trekking through thick jungles, with the holy casket containing the sacred Tooth-relic, on his shoulder. His unswerving determination was to protect the sacred casket, from those who were looking for it – even if he had to lay down his life, in that challenging process. The chronicles state, that the burden, that was constantly on his shoulder, made his neck permanently bent.

The bhikkhus of Sri Lanka made an unmatched contribution, broadly to the whole of human culture. They converted the mnemonic tradition of the Buddha’s Teachings into book form. Once they completed their magnificent spiritual task, the resulting ola-leaf books, placed one over the other, formed a stack that was “as tall as nine elephants”.

I made these preliminary observations, as a mere approach to my brief written homage to the revered memory of the late Ven.Prof. Bellanwila Anu Nayaka Maha Thera.

When one takes a broad sweeping look, at a high profile personality, one is quite likely to miss some of the really significant subtle nuances, that substantially contribute towards the greatness of that individual.

It can easily happen in the specific instance of the late Ven. Dr. Bellanwila Anu Nayaka Maha Thera – Chancellor, University of Sri Jayawardhanapura. The public aspects of his revered life, were overwhelmingly popular. The image he projected reached a wide swathe of persons, island-wide.

But, his personality possesses some details, that the multitude would not have known.

He was born on April 14, 1942. This is the Sinhala and Hindu New Year Day. Rejoicing is wide-spread on this occasion. The old year, is linked with some gloomy practices.

The domestic hearth is not kindled. Fasting is ordained. But, when the old year’s rituals are over, people reawaken to initiate a new life, along with the newly risen god of the New Year.

He too was born amidst the rejoicing, along with the newly Risen God of nature. The family would have welcomed him with special rejoicing. As a general statement, we could say that he joined the age-old tradition of Buddhist monks.

Here too, there is an intriguing implication. When he entered the Bhikkhu order, it was not merely a matter of joining the ancient spiritual line of Buddhist monks.

There was a marked line of Bhikkhu tradition in his family as well.

The pioneering prelate, who elevated Bellanwila Rajamaha Vihara, to the stature of a distinguished shrine, was Ven. Bellanwila Somaratana Nayaka Maha Thera. It was this prelate, who brought the widely-reputed Bellanwila Perahara pageant, into being.

And, incidentally, this dedicated, energetic and innovative Bhikkhu Leader – Ven. Somaratana Nayaka Thera, is closely related to Ven. Prof. Wimalaratana Anu Nayaka Maha Thera. Ven. Somaratana Nayaka Thera, was the brother of Mr. Paul Perera – Father of Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Anu Nayaka Maha Thera.

The story possesses several interesting facets to it. Ven. Somaratana Nayaka Thera, was exceptionally far-sighted. He was deeply concerned about the future of the Bellanwila Shrine. He was determined to groom some youthful Bhikkhus who will continue his tradition. The monk turned to his brother’s family. The brother was father to six male children. The pioneering monk, ordained the third son of his brother’s family. His lay name was Herbert. At the ordination he acquired the name Ven. Bellanvila Dhammaratana Thera.

Our sacred protagonist (Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Anu Nayaka Thera) was the fourth son of the family. Eventually, he too was ordained.

His lay-name Gilbert changed into Ven. Bellanvila Buddharatana Thera. With the passage of time, the name took on the world-renowned version - “Wimalaratana”. (To be quite frank, this is the only instance I know, of a Buddhist monk changing his name, mid-way in his spiritual life).

His higher ordination took place in the Buddha Jayanthi year.

A whole series of complex influences, perennial traditions and even surprising coincidences, synthesized to produce this exceptional ‘personality’, known extensively as Ven. Prof.Bellanwila Wimalaratana Anu Nayaka Maha Thera.

From the formative years of his early childhood, the Bellanwila Shrine and the activities associated with it would have undoubtedly shaped his incipient spirituality.

Directed by Ven. Somaratana Nayaka Maha Thera, the young Bhikkhus pursued their studies (both, academic and spiritual) assiduously. The two brothers Ven. Dhammaratana and Ven. Wimalaratana, were guided and duly disciplined by some of the most venerated Buddhist monks of the day.

Ven. Wimalaratana Thera, as a young and knowledge-seeking. Buddhist monk, turned to his studies with rarely paralleled enthusiasm, dedication and fervour. After his initial studies at universities in Sri Lanka, the young scholar travelled to the United Kingdom for his higher studies.

Posts he held as head of Academic and spiritual institutions are many. Buddhist missionary services took him to London and to other venues.

Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana, Anu Nayaka Maha Thera, was appointed Chancellor, Sri Jayawardenepura University, way back in 2005. His exemplary performance in this prestigious academic position, adorned this office giving it a compelling lustre.

Leadership came to him with a natural ease, as it were. He held a multiplicity of responsibilities, simultaneously. He was able to achieve such a distinction entirely because of his clarity of vision. He provided free vocational training facilities, to drop-outs who had only very slim hopes of a worthwhile future.

His non-hyped, largely silent range of social services, benefited a whole multitude of underprivileged persons, especially, the helpless rural-folk who have been the traditional devotees of the shrine. Scholarships were offered to poor students. The earnings from the car park were set aside to finance surgeries of heart-patients.

It is essential to highlight, two outstanding achievements of the late Anu Nayaka Maha Thera.

He made a substantial contribution to the field of high art in Sri Lanka, by assigning master Artist Somabandhu Vidyapathi, to paint a series of murals, for the temple walls, communicating the ‘Identity’ of this unique shrine. This series has earned the admiration of art enthusiasts, both local and foreign.

The Ven. Anu Nayaka Maha Thera, had a theatre named ‘Abhina’, created in a location in the vicinity of the shrine, for the benefit of the artists.

The prelate’s erudition and his singular scholarly brilliance are testified to, by the series of works he has created.

Over and above research papers and oral presentations, the late prelate has published works both in Sinhala and English.

The most surprising facet of his venerated lifestyle, to my mind, is his astonishing display of efficiency in time management. In the restless, harried way of life of modern society, he could calmly go through his multiplicity of responsibilities, unperturbed.

In the stanza, quoted at the start of this piece of writing, the Buddha has set down, with supremely Enlightened wisdom, the characteristics of a ‘Great Personality’ (Satpurusha).

“Such a nobleone is not attached whatsoever in the world” (This is the outstanding trait of the late prelate. He gave up offices, material possessions) “such disciplined individuals, do not talk desiring things or favours” (The late prelate, spoke only to do some good to others – or to be harsh about an injustice. He never used words, to ask or to gain).

“Such great men, never fluctuate – whether they are touched by happiness or unhappiness. They are neither elated nor are depressed. Come what may they maintain their unperturbed calmness”. (The late prelate, could remain calm in the face of any challenge or any adversity).

Ven. Prof. Bellanvila Wimalaratana Anu Nayaka Maha Thera, passed away under circumstance, that raised vast waves of sorrow in the masses for whom he was a spiritual icon.

In his last words, he exonerated the pet elephant, saying that the animal was not aggressive towards him. He was keen to see, that no harm came to the animal from anyone who may misconstrue the circumstances of his passing away.

The Ven. Anu Nayaka Maha Thera, lived his life, with the form of serenity possible for a thoughtful person inhabiting this chaotic world. He was always in the vicinity of moksha.