Buddhist revivalist's unfulfilled dream
Ananda Mivanapalana
Fifty years ago, in April 1953, a dream dissolved into nothingness when Ananda Mivanapalana breathed his last with tragic suddenness. His last murmured words, "Peace, Peace," both harked back to his unfulfilled vision of the Shanti Valley School and signalled the Buddhist equanimity with which he faced the inevitable.

To understand the man and his vision, we must go back to his roots and the fervour of Buddhist consciousness that century. H.D. Albert (as he was originally named) was an exceptionally bright schoolboy, of humble origins, from a village off Horana. He found a place in Ananda College where he was supported by his older brother Surveyor, H. Don David, a truly self-sacrificing man who never married as he spent his youth supporting his younger brothers and sisters till they stood on their own feet.

Young Albert fulfilled all his expectations. As a schoolboy, intoxicated with the nationalist ferment of Ananda, he boldly discarded his English name and re-named himself, Ananda (after his beloved school) Mivanapalana (after his village). His life-long friend Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekera had similarly jettisoned the colonial label of George Pieris.

Mivanapalana was a brilliant student and carried away so many prizes that, one year, he had to hire a rickshaw to carry the load home to his proud brother. He was an avid reader all his life. His well-thumbed prize books, carrying Ananda's proud crest, now adorn the bookshelves of his children.

When Mivanapalana completed his schooling he continued at Ananda as a teacher. He belonged to an enthusiastic band of young teachers and students, overwhelmed by the charismatic Kularatne, who unstintingly gave their all to build Ananda into a national monument imbued with Buddhist values and Sinhala traditions.

Mivanapalana and his friends, inspired by Kularatne, renounced western clothes and proudly adopted Arya Sinhala dress. In this group were G.P. Malalasekera, D.T. Devendra. W.E. Fernando and D.C. Lawris.

While yet a teacher, Mivanapalana qualified as a lawyer. The law was his chosen vocation as he relished the cut and thrust of debate - in the classroom, in friendly conversation and the courts of law. Early on he battled the hide-bound, black-coated legal establishment and won the right to appear before the bench in Arya Sinhala dress - the very first lawyer to do so.

Mivanapalana was a successful lawyer who developed an unrivalled expertise and a wide practice in transport and insurance law. He pioneered the establishment of the General Insurance Co., among the first wholly Ceylonese-owned insurance firms. Many successful insurance executives and entrepreneurs began their careers under his tutelage. Characteristically, his company head office was in the Olcott building of the Buddhist Theosophical Society.

Mivanapalana was closely associated with Malalasekera in founding the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress (ACBC). This was the first Buddhist organisation in colonial Ceylon with an all-island scope. Its annual conferences held in provincial centres were important public occasions which focused on vital issues that concerned the entire Buddhist community and provided a forum for grassroots level participation.

In 1952, the ACBC took the initiative to call the very first major international gathering of Buddhists which established the World Fellowship of Buddhists. Mivanapalana was one of its founding fathers.

Buddhist philosophy was the motive force in Mivanapalana's life. He read widely and discussed what he read tirelessly with his friends and scholars. In the early 1940s the course of his life was changed by Henri Van Zeyst, an intensely spiritual young Dutchman, who had left a Jesuit monastery and come to Ceylon in his search for Buddhism.

Van Zeyst entered the Sangha as Bhikku Dhammapala and many yet remember his tall, noble figure in dark brown robes. Mivanapalana became his foremost acolyte. The partnership of Dhammapala and Mivanapalana made a tremendous impression on Buddhist schoolchildren in the mid- 1940s. Dhammapala spoke to them in simple English, brilliant with human cameos and an impish humour that made Buddhism real and meaningful to the young.

Dhammapala would have achieved nothing without Mivanapalana's organizational genius and unflagging generosity.

Their partnership and the fervent enthusiasm they inspired among their following of schoolchildren inspired the formation of the All Ceylon Buddhist Students’ Union (ACBSU) run by the students themselves. For many years it was a lively, vital and vocal organisation with its own journal (BEES) and enthusiastic conventions, playing an activist role in Buddhist schools.

All philosophies and psychology were of absorbing interest to Mivanapalana. His immense library had books on Hindu, Greek and Christian philosophy and psychology with copious marginal notes made in his characteristic spiky handwriting as he read deep into the night. He was an active member of Dr. Ratnavale's Rotherfield Psychological Society which he frequently addressed.

Dhammapala, however, gradually began to feel that life in the Sangha was not his path to salvation. Convinced Buddhist though he was, Mivanapalana stood by his friend in this traumatic period of spiritual striving. This path led to various Indian teachers, among them Krishnamurthi, and finally back to a finer more mature understanding of the Buddha Dhamma.

Education was Mivanapalana's other great love. He was an exponent of both mental and physical education. He was an enthusiast of physical culture, devoted to "pumping iron" decades before it became today's fad, and even found the time to head the All Ceylon Weight Lifters' Association and organize Indo-Ceylon championships.

Mivanapalana's personal generosity knew no bounds. It was as widespread as it was unobtrusive as he never sought personal glory or titles. Coming from a village, Mivanapalana was deeply egalitarian in his convictions. He firmly opposed snobbery and exclusiveness of every kind and envisioned education as the path of success, as it had been for him and many friends.

He became, thus, a natural ally of Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara in the struggle for free and equal education for all children in this country. He travelled far and wide in the countryside addressing meetings in this cause. Fortunately, he lived to see the fruition of this vision and the establishment of the first Central Schools.

While in India, Mivanapalana was impressed with the non-formal and holistic education imparted in the Theosophical Schools at Adyar and the beautiful mountains of Rishi Valley. They aimed to develop the child's personality without compulsion and to impart knowledge without the sharp spur of competitiveness.

He returned to Ceylon determined to replicate these institutions in an inspiring location. He purchased a vast extent of wooded hills and valleys in Rangala, remote from urban centres and established the foundation of a self-sustaining education community. It was staffed by idealistic youths serving both village children and others bold enough to hike the hills to awaken their consciousness and latent abilities within the community of ‘Shanti Valley’, as Mivanapalana named it.

This wonderful dream was never to be fulfilled. The wheel of karma turned too fast and Mivanapalana never lived to see the fulfilment of his grand vision. He died in the prime of life, at age 53. Neither the ACBSU nor the Shanti Valley School could survive the loss of their moving spirit.

Our country became poorer with the loss of Ananda Mivanapalana, a free and wondrous spirit. Fifty years on, it is timely that we remember him while there are yet men and women who can recall his bright passage through our firmament.
- A Friend

Only memories remain
Kithsiri Nimalshantha
Time has flown away in days and months.
It's still hard to believe
You've gone forever.
Whenever I pass your new home
Where you rest peacefully
I try not to look at it
'Cause I believe your soul lives with us.
I go down memory lane
Thinking of the good old days
Getting strength to bear the pain
Life is not the same without you
The vacuum created by your loss
Cannot be filled.
Only memories remain
- Thilina

We miss you, Ruvani
Five years ago - you went away
Yet we miss you - everyday
We think of you, whate'er we do
We yearn for you where'er we go
You were the centre of our lives
Joined us in our joy and strife
We talked, laughed and prayed together
Enjoying the company of each other
It is sad to think those days are gone
Without you - life drags on
Wounds heal as time goes by
But scars remain all the while
Thoughts of you still crowd our minds
Memories last for all time
We love, miss you and you'll always be
Fondly treasured in our memory
We'll meet again in heaven above
United in God's infinite love
- Chrissie Aloysius

Happy birthday, my son
Maurice Paul
I wish I could kiss you and say Happy Birthday darling son, but it hurts to think you are no longer with me.

We long to see your loving smile and hear your soft words of love and laughter.

Not even for a moment did I think I will lose you so soon. Sweet memories and dreams are all I have of you. May the good Lord keep you safe in His arms and may your soul rest in peace till we meet.
Darling son I love you very much.
Fond Mum

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.