By Siri Gamage –
I am saddened to hear about the demise of this heroic and courageous monk who was the pulse of the nation during a turbulant period of Sri Lanka’s recent history. Where others felt fear to speak up, he stood up. When others were hesitant to criticise the existing arrangements of governance, he did not hesitate. When others were lost for words to articulate the sufferings of people and what’s wrong in the path our leaders were taking the country forward, he found relevant words in a way that others could understand to explain it. In doing so, on one hand he was informed by the message of Buddha. On the other hand, he could explain way forward for a Yahapalanaya in a way that everybody could understand.
Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha was a rare individual blessed with a pleasing personality and display of authority. He was a homegrown sociologist and a credible social critique that displayed animosity to none. During my young-middle years, he was a renowned Dhamma preacher whose words of wisdom and the unique style of preaching drew pious masses like a line of ants wherever he went. With the expansion of television, his Dhamma talks grew in popularity. Venerable Sobitha had an aura of simplicity and authority unparalleled among colleagues.
He related Dhamma concepts and stories linking them with the predicament of people and society so that the listeners could make sense of both better. He was not one for promoting blind faith even about Dhamma. He was a fearless, heroic monk in every sense and showed the right way for the leader and the follower alike. Generations of us benefitted from his Dhamma talks, social critique and explanations about many ills that afflict the body politic on one hand and the society on the other. The campaign for socially just society that he led against many odds during not so distant past yielded some results but there is a long way to go to achieve its objectives.
The last interview that he gave to Rupavahini and made available in the Infolanka website is eye opening in many ways. In it he responds to the questions posed in a simple, methodical, and convincing manner. When there was no credible and forceful opposition in the parliament, the movement he led provided an effective oppositional force as a civil society organisation in association with others. When the society was being turned into a one party, one family rule under the label of a coalition, he provided moral leadership for an alternative. Quite apart from the behind the scenes political machinations of the opposition forces then, the leadership and space that Venerable Sobita provided became a necessary beacon for the unconvinced.
He was a leading light when the sky was dark. His was a leading voice when the other voices were muted. He was a leading force when the other forces were weak. He was a leading figure when the other figures evaporated in the face of material benefits and rewards received in abundance. He was a visionary when the others lost their way.
Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha was a towering figure in the contemporary history of the country that was not swayed by material benefits but stuck to the message of Buddha to interpret society and its ills, the decadent society and its institutions, as well as the many ways that people –in particular youths- were resorting to non-ethical behavior.
As other writers have pointed out already, it is important to follow his guiding words for the betterment of society and its governance structures. Though his radiant presence is no more, he will remain in the minds of Sri Lankans for eternity. May he achieve nibbana!