By Jude Fernando –
“The value of a man should be seen in what he gives and not in what he is able to receive.” – Albert Einstein
There would be no great leaders without great crises. If such leaders had lived in times of peace, no one would have known their names. The same is true of the Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha.
Our nation is bereaved. The entire country seems helpless because of our loss of him. But we are in a better situation today because Ven. Sobitha passed our way, because he provided leadership to democratic forces at a crucial time in Sri Lanka’s political history. His vision, character, and perseverance enabled him to carve out for us a democratic space within the shoals of treacherous seas that encompassed the country’s political culture during the UPFA regime. He provided leadership for citizen movements at a time when many thought democracy was dead and buried and change would not be possible through peaceful means. Unfortunately for us Sri Lankans, we lost the reverend at a critical moment, when we needed his services to prevent the current regime from abusing the democratic space he helped carve out and from allowing that space to be colonized by the political culture of the previous regime.
With Ven. Sobitha’s death, Sri Lanka lost one of its great religious leaders. He was a rare visionary. His vision was a moral one driven by his convictions of Dhamma. What motivated him in his valiant efforts to advocate for political reforms was the belief that one day Sri Lanka would be a better place. With absolute faith in the power of the citizens to bring about reforms based on moral principles, he allowed no political party to proselytize to him. Inflexible in his principles, he allowed no party to use him. Content with the support of concerned citizens of all religious and racial groups, he did not seek political patronage in ways that would contradict his quest for democratic reforms.
In the death of Ven. Sobitha, we behold a great life ended, a great purpose achieved, an exemplary life lived, and a great model of commitment for social justice nobly established. For our own good and the good of those who come after us, we cannot let Ven. Sobitha’s example disappear from memory. Rev. Sobitha did not bewail his hardships, exult over his triumphs, or become discouraged by setbacks. His singular purpose was to mobilize citizen support for political reforms, at a time when the other prominent religious leaders, intellectuals, and politicians were complicit with abuses of state power. Until his death Ven. Sobitha stayed focused on his mission for democratic reforms. He did not allow the disappointments to distract him from that mission.
Now that Ven. Sobitha has departed this earth, as we all will, let us guard the memory of his contribution to Sri Lankan society as a precious inheritance, let us continue to teach our children the story of his life, let us try to imitate his steadfastness for social justice, and let us endeavor as he did to leave the world freer and more just than we found it.
While Ven. Sobitha’s death is an occasion of deep sorrow, it should also be one of celebration and dedication. We must possess the resolve to unite and continue to work, as Ven. Sobitha did, for a more just, equal, and peaceful Sri Lanka. The best way we can honor Ven. Sobitha is to be active citizens to ensure that his vision for a just society will not be abused by the leaders of this country. We must not allow unscrupulous politicians to make political capital by shedding crocodile tears and eulogizing Ven. Sobitha’s death!
Perhaps, people must send a strong message to the government by allowing only the colleagues of Ven. Sobitha, and the members of his family and Citizens Movement for Social Justice to lead the final rites of his funeral.