24 May, 2022


He Renounced ‘Nirvana’ For The Sake Of Others

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

At the time of his passing, Maduluwawe Sobhitha thero was the nation’s embodiment of political morality. To make the rulers righteous was his life’s mission. He was the exceptional Buddhist monk who sacrificed his own nirvana for the sake of others. Professor H.L.Seneviratne is perhaps restrained more than mildly when he says that when he met him in the late 1970s he was still in the mood of mild elation at the nationalist victory of 1956. Ven Sobitha thero was a novice Samanera in 1956. He is not a child of 1956. His generation uncovered 1956.

Following 1956, there emerged a proposition that ‘political morality that regulated state-society relations in post-1956 Sri Lanka was in essence Sinhala nationalism.’ That is only half the story.

Sir Walter Hankinson the first British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka wrote to London a year after independence “There have been no startling changes in the domestic political scene; there have been no disturbances among any section of the population; there have been no sudden or sharp alterations in any of the institutions of Government; there have up to the present been no untoward changes in the economic Situation. Nearly all the public institutions, Governmental and others in Ceylon, are based on English models, laid down often many decades ago by the Colonial administration. The result is that an appearance startlingly familiar to English eyes is presented by the political scene. The Cabinet, the House of Representatives, the manner in which Parliamentary business is transacted and relationship of the Civil Service to the political executive all follow the English model. This combined with good relations prevailing between Europeans and Ceylonese has produced an atmosphere in which an English observer feels almost strangely at home.”

SobithaThat Buddhist monks formed a sizable and significant component of the avant-garde [a stylish contemporary expression] of the movement that brought about the change of 1956 is no accident. Walpola Rahula thero with his classic work the ‘Heritage of the Bhikku‘ sought the space for the monk as a public leader in place of the ‘ascetic recluse’ a role assigned by the indigenous gentry whose fidelity to the systems of the mother country was so eloquently expressed by Sir Walter Haskinson.

What happened in 1956 is best described by Pieter Keuneman in an article written to the Ceylon Daily News souvenir to commemorate the opening of the new parliament at Sri Jayawardenepua April 29th 1982. A little more than one year before the pogrom of 1983. “I doubt whether we will ever witness again so moving a spectacle as the people streaming in to parliament, as they did after the election of 1956, and reverently and affectionately stroking the benches where the members they elect would sit.”

What followed after 1956 was the emergence of the Sangha as a defining political institution. Though eclipsed temporarily following the assassination of the Prime Minister in 1958 it gathered itself as a lever of power when the UNP discovered their utility to defend the freedom of the press.

It is now fashionable to claim that the introduction of the market economy in 1977 was an economic changer that radically changed the direction of the nation. Our support of Great Britain on the invasion of the Malvinas islands and the scant attention paid to the massive social disparities created by cold blooded liberalization indicates that the ideology of the free market economics was a return to the old charming world of Sir Walter Hankinson.

The Sangha institution today is no better and no worse than any of our other public institutions. They have carved a niche as intermediaries in a thriving industry of patronage politics.

That venerable Maduluwawe Sobhitha thero was no part of that grand design. That is what made him the exceptional leader.

In his bid to repeal the 18th amendment and scarp the executive presidency he did not find many backers from among his saffron brotherhood. He was as lonely as was Sir Thomas More the martyr and author of Utopia.

Venerable Sobhitha thero in his role as democratic activist remained a committed Budhaputhra. He saw Buddhism as a creed of service to others. He did by word and deed follow the Mahawagga. For more than two years before 8th January he did wander forth for the good of the many, for the happiness of the many, in compassion for the world, for the welfare, for the good, for the happiness of gods and men.

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Latest comments

  • 8


    “happiness of gods and men”?? What god and where? In Sri Lanka? As a matter of fact I have never seen any gods here but I assure you I see devils aplenty. In every face of my compatriots I see a devil lurking. Compassion, love and universal goodwill is window dressing, just like the saffron robes that mask the monk’s devilish heart.

    It is difficult to surmise in your article of you find the Sangha praiseworthy or blameworthy for seriously muddling into Sri Lankan politics. But one thing is clear, the Sangha are no different when it comes to doing politics in Sri Lanka, they are just as ruthless and compassionless as the mainstream politicians.

    By the way the Sangha must take equal responsibility for the horrors that descended Sri Lanka since independence.

    Sobitha thera did one good thing – helping to oust the MARA mafia. However he must at the same time take the blame for the people he replaced it with – the ‘yahapalanaya’ bunch who are fast becoming equally reprehensible.

    I don’t know about you but I would rather that Buddhist monks are ‘ascetic recluses’. When they get into politics they will have to bury their snouts into the gravy train and come out unclean – no ifs and no buts.

    • 1

      That is the nature of Sarath’s writing (and, I presume, his views). Always neither here nor there, batting for whatever side seems to be the flavour of the month.

  • 2


    [Edited out]

    Is Nirvana that easy.

    Don’t write crap.

  • 1


    “Our support of Great Britain on the invasion of the Malvinas”

    For the benefit of English readers of CT,

    Yes, Malvinas is correct it’s Spanish word for Folk Land Islands of Argentina

  • 1

    In Africa certain tribes have the custom of keeping the body of dead relatives in the house and eating it up. This way they beieve that the dead person has not been lost altogether but has become part of them.

    In this cae too, the political tribe that is in power seems to have the same custom. Well, not eating it up the body per se but something more subtle.

  • 4

    What an exceptional piece of writing.

  • 0

    I thougt Ven Sobitha was going to take Elite to Nirvana together with the Anglicans.with the merits of Yahapalanaya..

    • 7

      KASmallam K.A Sumanasekera

      “I thougt Ven Sobitha was going to take Elite to Nirvana together with the Anglicans.with the merits of Yahapalanaya.. “

      I thought it was Gota and his men who were going to take the the entire country to Nirvana as they did to your much loved VP. Oh in his amude.

  • 1

    Those who gained by corrupt MR being in power,worshipping him as a demi-god and ignorant where the country was lead by him are obviously anti-Rev.Sobhitha for he is the one who constantly campaigned against MR’s wrong governance and orchestrated a change to better times. Yes, the Yahapalanaya is not there! Corrupt practices still go on even at presidential level. In some instances like the large cabinet simply via necessity and in some cases like Arjun’s port jobs clear nepotism. But those MR supporters should also realise that 10 years of corruption are the highest level cannot be erased in three months of new government. Many MR cronies are still in the parliament, cabinet and in responsible posts in the public and private sector.These people will definitely not support cleansing their organizations for the fear of they themselves being apprehended and jailed. In general now we have an police and judiciary not run by MR but independent to a large extent compared to the previous.
    The MP’s in the government can criticise the government and even some resign, like Marapana. Under MR the corrupt MP’s were hugged like MR did to Lansa. One can see that government is functioning better though not 100 yahapalanaya! Cleansing the government apparatus and the mindset of the people, which was twisted during MR regime will take at least a decade.

  • 1

    The Venerable Sobhita Thero was a Karma-Yogi a man of action as opposed to a Bhakhti -Yogi or a being seeking his own Nirvana throgh mere Sathchitta pariyo dhapanam or development of ones higher consciousness.Both methods are equally valid ways of reaching ones spiritual goal.However the effort of the Karma Yogi or Man of Action also benefits the community in which that being lives as it uplifts them at the same time.May those who benefited from his Sadhana or Meritorious Actions or sacrifices remember them with love and emulate his actions to steer the county towards righteousness.Unfortunately those politicians who greatly benefited from his efforts and got into positions of power have very quickly forgotten their promises and are deluding themselves in the beliefthat they reached their heights by their own cunning effort.If the wheels of Karma turn swiftly enough we will see before long the ill effects of their gross ingratitude.Ven Sobhita will be remembered in the same vein as our National Heroes like D S Senanayake,Laxman Kadirgamar,Anagarika Dharmapala and Mahinda Himi of Tibet,May he attain the highest Peace by the merits of the Peace he achieved for his Motherland and fellow citizens through so much sacrifice.

  • 1

    ‘Both methods are equally valid ways of reaching ones spiritual goal’

    Really? And what does ‘Ekayano maggo sati-pattana’ mean? The (cultivation of) steadfast mindfulness is the only path (to liberation).

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