By Mass L. Usuf –
“Death is inevitable….” (Sutta Nipata. vss 574-93).
“Death is certain for the one who is born…” (Bhagawad Gita 2:27).
“Death is certain and appointed for every man” (Hebrews 9:27) of the Bible.
“Every soul will taste death and you will only be given your [full] compensation on the Day of Resurrection. So he who is drawn away from the Fire and admitted to Paradise has attained. And what is the life of this world except the enjoyment of delusion.” (Chapter 3 Verse 185) of the Quran.
These are noble sayings and messages delivered to mankind by great religious reformers which stand good up to date despite the passage of eons.
The Most Ven. Aggamahapanditha Udugama Sri Buddharakkitha Rathanapala Mahanayake Thero, the chief incumbent of the Asgiriya chapter, of the Shamopalika Maha Nikaya would have spoken about, contemplated and, in fact, prepared himself for this inevitability. Being in the fold of the Dhamma, he would have very well known what Gautama Buddha said to the monks while at the Brick Hall at Naadika.
“Mindfulness of death, monks, if cultivated and frequently practiced, brings great fruit, great benefit; it merges in the Deathless, ends in the Deathless. Therefore, monks, you should cultivate mindfulness of death.” (Anguttara Nikaya 8 : 37)
In contrast to death, the dhamma teaches in relation to life, to subdue craving (tanha). This creates attachment in life and that is the beginning of everything which ultimately determines one’s khamma. Little wonder, the outspoken late Mahanayake Thero once made a statement reflecting this principle at a function where the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa opened a refurbished monastery last year. He warned state officials that unless they serve the public to the best of their ability now they will have to pay for those lapses in the next birth. This is the type of guidance and directions that this country is going to lose by the demise of this great Elder.
He was born to a humble family in 1930, in Udugama in the district of Kurunegala. He was ordained in 1944 and has since, as a Buddhist prelate, been of great service to the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka and also in foreign lands.
As a prelate he had to walk the thin line that divides worldly life and the dhamma. He knew that his voice in national issues was significant but, also, was cognizant of the principles of the dhamma that he had chosen to live upon. His life is thus punctuated with many instances where it depicts how cleverly he handled matters of importance to the sangha or the country.
When the Supreme Court in 2008, remanded Ven. Pannala Gnanaloka Thero of Welikadawaththa Buddhist temple for 14 days for failure to appear in Courts for the hearing of fundamental rights violation case pertaining to noise pollution, the late Mahanayaka Thero commenting on the incident which took place at the Supreme Courts of Sri Lanka, said that all civilians including the clergy of all religions as well as the citizens should respect the law of the country and the traditions.
He did not reserve his feelings when asked by the former US ambassador Michele J. Sison, who paid a courtesy call on the Prelate, about a statement on the impeachment of the 43rd Chief Justice of Sri Lanka, Shirani Bandaranayake. The late Mahanayaka Thera said that they had issued the statement to the effect that all were equal before the law of the land, but it had become apparent now that some were using it for their own agendas.
He said, “When politicians find it difficult to achieve their personal agendas they try to bring disrepute to those who abide by the law. We observed that some were bent on creating a situation to embarrass those who uphold the laws of the country,” the Mahanayake Thera said.
With regard to monks in politics, he was reported in the dailies to have said, “I am not for or against monks doing politics and we can’t ask them to refrain from doing so. It is much better for political leaders to discourage the monks from entering the political arena”. His position was crystal clear and an eye opener to all those in robes who clamour and claim to be of service to the dhamma while dabbling in the realm of politics.
The subtle bhikkhu diplomacy is seen in his statement when the U.S. Ambassador paid a courtesy visit to the late Chief Incumbent of the Asgiriya Chapter. It was a time soon after President Barrack Obama was re-elected to the Office of the President. The late Mahanayake commended the assistance rendered to Sri Lanka by the US government and extended his blessings and good wishes to President Barack Obama who had been re-elected for a second term. “The US government has helped our country in the past and does so in the present. We hope it will continue it in the future as well,” he said.
Towards ensuring the continuation of moral standards of this country and protecting it from waning, the late Mahanayake was in the forefront. Addressing the media at the temple premises, he voiced his opinion vehemently against the proposed casino resort saying, “If the government, another entity or person is about to start a Casino business in this country, I would be the first to take to the streets. This country does not need such games. The entire Sangha will take to the streets if this continues”
The late Mahanayake Thero had the honour of functioning as the Anunayake Thero of Asgiriya Chapter from 1998 and the Thero had been inducted as the Mahanayake Thero in the year 1999. The Mahanayake Thero who had been In charge of Maligawa Thewawa services for over 14 Years had been greatly honored and revered by both the Sangha and the general public for the selfless service rendered to uplift the dhamma.
This rare personality, great teacher, exemplary monk and upholder of the dhamma shall be remembered for years to come with much respect and honour.