Tributes | Sunday Observer


5 January, 2020

Alec Robertson: A great proponent of Buddha Dhamma

The 17th death anniversary of Deshabandu Alec Robertson fell on December 31. His passing away was widely lamented by all Sri Lankans as well as his numerous foreign friends and acquaintances who had at some time or other benefited from his guidance, friendship and exemplary life, and more than anything else from his deep understanding and propagation of the Buddha Dhamma.

Sri Lanka has no dearth of Buddhist scholars, among both the Sangha and the lay persons, but not many would claim to have all those and many other attributes that were found in extraordinary abundance in Robertson. The dilemma among many Buddhist scholars is that they are unable or do not make a serious effort, to live up to the expectations of those who listen to them with rapt attention. They are unable to balance their obsessions with the precepts with even a minimum of practice. How many of us, while claiming to be Buddhists, and even highly critical of others for their shortcomings, pay scant attention even to the most basic five precepts.

My association with Robertson at a personal level was very short and would not go beyond his last few years. On the other hand as a long standing Buddhist scholar, I have followed his writings and radio broadcasts. His son Prashantha happened to be a close friend of our eldest son, and it was through this fortuitous circumstance, I was able to establish some personal association with Prashantha’s father. On my few visits to his home, I observed the simple and unostentatious life of the Robertson family. In Robertson, I saw the highest epitome of a life of few worldly attachments nevertheless living a life of contentment, and devoid of loba, dosa and moha.

Looking back on Robertson life, one could assume that he has been fortunate in many ways, in his sojourn as a servant of the Buddha and the Dhamma. His father, a born Christian, was working in Dodanduwa close to the Dodanduwa Island Heritage, which was the reclusive abode of Gnanatiloka and Gnanaponika Maha Theras. They were of German origin. Young Alec had accompanied his father on his occasional visits to the Hermitage, and these encounters had left an indelible impression on the son, perhaps more than on his farther. With that initiation to the Dhamma, while living and working in Colombo, young Alec has continued to seek guidance of other Maha Theras, such as Pelene Vajiragnana, Narada, Piyadassi, Kassyapa and Soma, all from the Vajirarama in Bambalapitiya.

Alec was too young to have known and interacted with Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933), but his adult life seems to suggest that at a later and more mature age, Anagarika may have stirred his feelings and even shaped his mission in raising the level of understanding and practice of the Dhamma by his fellow men and women. Another person who may have drawn Alec into the dhamma discourse was the late Prof. Gunapala Malalasekera, the doyen of Pali and Buddhist scholarship and Buddhist activist at the time.

Like Anagarika, Alec also had a remarkable ability to expand his knowledge of the Dhamma through the mastery of Pali and a deep understanding of the three pitakas. His remarkable memory was his other forte which adorned him as a shining armour in his many engaging discussions on the Dhamma, often in the company of others, of even greater eminence and erudition.

Practically all those who have penned their appreciations about Alec and assessed his many contributions in the service of the Dhamma have been most emphatic on his dexterity in responding to probing questions and clarifications on the Dhamma and the life of the Buddha. What were most remarkable about Alec was his unhesitating responses, and their clarity in delivery.

This indeed was a rarity among many contemporary Buddhist scholars. Only persons who are steeped deeply in the Dhamma, based solidly on the pitakas in their original Pali rendering, could be in complete control of such situations. Ven. Harispatthuwe Ariyawansalankara Thera was one such person.

Let me end this short appreciation with the following quote by Asoka Jayasinghe (2005) who considered himself as an adult sishya of Alec, “We are left with the memory of this great Buddhist layman whose life was that of an ideal Buddhist; both in erudition and practice.”

Sabbadanam dhammadanam jinati.

Vidyodaya University former Vice Chancellor Prof. W.M.K. Wijetunga


N.S. Adhihetty: a gentleman

Nandana Sunil Adihetty, “Thatha “ to his children, Lalendra and Budhhima, subsequently to the newest member of the family, Maheeka, and “Sunil” to me, left us suddenly almost 1 1/2years. ago. His demise was so unexpected, that we are still trying to come to terms with the abyss his void created in our lives. He would have lived to be 73, on November 14 this year, had he been alive.

Born to a well-known family in Baddegama, he was proud of his Southern roots. Educated at St. Aloysius College and later at Mahinda College, Galle, he combined excellence in both studies and sports. After completing his higher education at the University of Kelaniya with an Honours Degree in Economics, he joined NIBM and served the institution for 35 years, which culminated in his appointment as the Acting Director General.

His was a fount of knowledge, being armed with two Masters degrees from two reputed European Universities, and with the gamut of experience he derived from the many short term Training Programs abroad, on Management related topics, he dedicated himself to developing and enhancing the managerial capacities of those who were interested in career development. He was an inspiring ‘Guru’ who encouraged all who came to him, to be committed to continuous professional development. His greatest happiness was in seeing his proteges, achieve greater heights in their chosen fields.

As a close friend once said, “Sunil always engaged in intellectual discourse when in company of others and never gossiped.”Another observed, “He never spoke ill of others and always saw the positive side of human beings,” a rare quality in a human being. Yet, he never hesitated to call a spade a spade.

He was a person who was unfailingly caring and kind. His optimism brought hope and sunshine to those in need, making the world a better and happier place. He always said, “Gratitude is a noble quality,” and never forgot to show it to those who helped him in any way, with a phone call, a thank you card, by sending photocopies of useful documents, or a personal visit when possible, with something from the garden. Such was his thoughtfulness.

His love and respect for his parents, as well as his in-laws, were touching. We faithfully followed his earnest request to “Treat Aarchchi like a VVIP!” to the last. Sunil, you will always be a beacon of hope and a guiding light to the members of your family. You were my “Rock” and I miss you every day.

He was a wonderful human being, with refined and humane qualities.

A humble and simple man of integrity, he found contentment in the simple things of life. Beautiful, fond memories of him, his guidance and counsel are the treasures he bequeathed to us, which help us carry on with our life.

May his journey through samsara be short and joyful! May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!