Members of the Sangha have been the lifeblood of the long and chequered history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. From time to time, especially at times of urgent need, there appeared such members to render the services necessary to prop up and sustain the Sasana. The great chronicles of Sri Lanka speak eloquently of such [...]

The Sundaytimes Sri Lanka

Self – effacing, affable and erudite monk

Ven. Professor Bellanwila Wimalaratna, Chancellor, Sri Jayawardhanapura University, chronicles the many achievements of Ven. Thirikunamale Ananda Maha Thera

Members of the Sangha have been the lifeblood of the long and chequered history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. From time to time, especially at times of urgent need, there appeared such members to render the services necessary to prop up and sustain the Sasana. The great chronicles of Sri Lanka speak eloquently of such illustrious members whose yeoman service would have otherwise been lost in the sands of time.

This short appreciation is to record the silent service that is being rendered by an illustrious member of the Sangha community to prop up, foster and illuminate the Sasana in modern times. Unless recorded in this manner, only a few will know the services rendered by this eminent member of the Sangha community, for he is so self-effacing. This venerable prelate is none other than Most Venerable Tirikunamale Ananda Maha Thero now Mahanayaka of the Dhammarakshita Maha Nikaya of the Amarapura chapter.

He is comparatively young, but is held high in stature in the Sangha community. He was born on April 20, 1958 to Lanka Geeganage Dias and Nanayakkara Hewa Wellalage Ellensina. He had his early education at the Junior Sinhala School in Trincomalee, presently known as Vidyaloka Royal College.

Being a well disciplined and obedient child with a religious bent, he entered the order on October 25, 1969, under the tutelage of two of the most eminent prelates namely, Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseha Mahanayaka Thera and Most Venerable Ampitiye Sri Rahula Nayaka Thera. Anyone who meets and talks to Most Venerable Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanayaka Thera will not fail to recognise how much his two great teachers have contributed to mould his personality and demeanour.

It was in November 25, 1978, that this Most Venerable Mahanayaka was given higher ordination by the Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera. At the higher ordination he had Most Venerable Weligama Gnanaratana Nayaka Thera, Most Venerable Piyadassi Nayaka Thera and Most Venerable Ampitiye Sri Rahula Thera as his teachers on disciplinary and ecclesiastical matters.

Diligently pursuing his monastic studies he, in 1979, obtained the Royal Pandit degree from the Pracheena Bhashopakara Society. To further his understanding of the Vinaya Pitaka he successfully completed the Vinayacariya course (1977-1978) conducted by the Sri Sumangala Tripitaka Commemorative Society, Vidyodaya Pirivena. Then he obtained the Master of Arts degree from the Buddhist and Pali University, Sri Lanka (1990).

Young Ven. Ananda devoted most of his time to religious and national services. Since 1978 he has been closely associated with the Vajiragnana Dharmayathanaya, at Maharagama. His services as an exemplary teacher at the Vajiragnana Centre brought to light his potential as a teacher, and this was much appreciated by his seniors, peers as well as by his students.

His interest in religious matters made him a much sought after member with regard to religious affairs. This made him take up the secretaryship of the (1989) Buddha Sasana Mandalaya and Buddhist Affairs. For some time he served as a member of the Board of Translators involved in producing an abridged version of Tripitaka–a task undertaken by the Ministry of Buddha Sasana.

He has been working closely with the Buddha Sasana Ministry on several other projects. Then, he served as a Committee Member of a Board appointed in 2003 to plan the teaching of Pali language to the laity. He also served on the Advisory Committee (2004) appointed by the Buddha Sasana Ministry on the issue related to unethical conversion of Buddhists to other faiths. In the same year he served in the Committee of Inquiry appointed by the Ministry of Human Resources Development, Education and Culture to present recommendations to uplift the Bhikkhu University Education and Monastery education system as well as other varying religious issues that cropped up from time to time.

His appointment to the executive committee membership of the Amarapura Sri Dharmarakshita Maha Nikaya is a landmark in his meteorical rise in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. This was in 1998. In 2003 he was elevated to the position of Anunayake of the same Nikaya. His affable nature, pleasant demeanour and insightful handling of ecclesiastical issues seem to have endeared him to almost all members of the Nikaya.

His academic contributions are varied; in 2001 he was appointed as a member of the language academic faculty of the Board of the Buddhist and Pali University. In 2004 he was made a member of Sri Lanka Pracheena Bhashopakara Society. By this time he was recognised as an Oriental scholar with a special penchant for the Sinhala language and editorial work. This resulted in his joining the ‘Hela Havula’ a movement committed to work for the upliftment of the pure Sinhala language.

He devoted a lot of time editing a number of works in Sinhala among them a series called ‘Prajna Prabha’, containing writings of the Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayake Thera. ‘Pragnanajali’ and ‘Panasiha Pabasara’ were two volumes edited to felicitate the Most Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera on his 75th and 80th birthdays. ‘Thuruna udava’ is another series he edited on behalf of the Maharagama Vajiragnana Dharmayatanaya. He served as an advisory Editor of the Pali Dictionary and the Dictionary for Doctrinal Technical Terms of the Tripitaka. Besides, he has co-edited with Cyril Kariyawasam a series of texts dealing with heroic characters.

Most Venerable Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanayake Thera has also written a number of Sinhala texts. Among them are two books on the famous Sinhala scholar, Munidasa Kumarathunga. The Maha Nayaka has also written books on religious topics such as the ‘Four Sublime Abodes’ (Brahma Vihara –Dharma – 2003), ‘Buddhist Noble Path’ (Bauddha Arya Marga 2003). His two books, one on young Ven. Rahula and the other on Ven. Sariputta are meant to generate serene faith in the average Buddhist readers.

There is yet another very little known fact about the Maha Nayaka’s literary talents hidden due to his self-effacing nature. He is the lyricist of a number of commemorative songs dealing with some important Buddhist events and great Buddhist personalities. Among his lyrical compositions are: the UNESCO song: the children’s song about the Sambudhattva Jayanti; Commemorative songs of Ven. Palane Sri Vajiragnana Maha Nayaka Thera, Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera, Ven. Narada Maha Thera, as well as on Professor Malalasekara, K.N. Jayatilaka and so on.

From the above it is seen that the new Mahanayaka Thera is a great prelate of many facets and diverse potential. His religious knowledge, academic abilities, literary talents are further embellished by his exemplary amiable qualities. His self-effacing demeanour that ideally suits a Mahanayaka, while hiding his dynamism, contributes immensely to win the admiration, appreciation and support of many. His appointment to this high ecclesiastical position as the Mahanayaka, I am sure, will rest lightly on him, and the Mahanayaka will be an adornment to the chapter he heads.

A milestone in the Mahanayaka Thera’s life

The newly elected Mahanayaka Thera of the Amarapura Sri Dhammarakshita Maha Nikaya, Venerable Tiricunamale Ananda receives the aktapatra (Letter of Appointment) and the vijinipata (fan symbolising the title) today at a formal ceremony at the Maharagama Dharmayatanaya.

In his 45th year in robes, Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanayaka Thera takes over as the head of the Sri Dhammarakshita Maha Nikaya – the most influential among 23 sub-orders of the Amarapura Nikaya – the Buddhist monastic fraternity set up in Sri Lanka in 1800 named after the then capital of Myanmar. He was just eleven years old when he travelled from Trincomalee, his birthplace, with Venerable Ampitiye Sri Rahula Maha Thera and donned robes at the Dharmayatanaya. That was on October 20, 1969.

His parents – Lanka Geeganage Dias and Nanayakkara Hewa Vellalalage Alansina – named their son Ananda possibly because they were overjoyed with the birth of a son. The name was retained after he became a monk with the name of the birthplace in front, following tradition. His teachers were the Most Venerable Agga Maha Pandita Madihe Pannasiha Mahanayaka Thera and Ampitiye Rahula Maha Thera. The little boy who had his early education at the Sinhala Junior School in Trincomalee was to shine at the Dharmayatanaya classes. It was significant that he obtained his Upasampada (Higher Ordination) on the day commemorating the 100th birth anniversary of the late Pelene Sri Vajranana Mahanayaka Thera, founder of Siri Vajiraramaya, Bambalapitiya. That was on November 25,1978.

Reading for the examinations conducted by the Pracheena Bhashopakara Samitiya –Oriental Studies Society of Sri Lanka, he studied Pali, Sanskrit, Buddhist Studies, Archaeology and other subjects linked to Buddhism. Having obtained the ‘Rajakeeya Pandita’ degree in 1979, he taught at the Dharmayatanaya for two decades passing on the knowledge he gained to young pupil monks. He collected two more degrees – one (‘Vinayacharya’) from the Vidyodaya Pirivena’s Tripitaka Guanusmarana Sabha and the other from the Buddhist and Pali University.
His diligence, erudition and commitment came to be recognised by the State and other academic institutions and over the past few years he has served in almost all the committees set up by the Buddha Sasana Ministry. He was the live wire behind the island-wide programme planned for the 2600th SambuddhatvaJayanthi.

As a senior pupil of Madihe Mahanayaka Thera, he has followed the footsteps of the late Mahanayaka Thera in continuing his concepts giving leadership to numerous religious and social service projects based on the guidelines set by the late Prelate. Just as the late Mahanayaka Thera did, he comments on national issues through articles to newspapers and through public statements.

A follower of the Cumaratunga Munidasa tradition, his writing skills have been demonstrated by his numerous publications. He has been co-editor of the series of ‘Pragna Prabha’ publications containing articles contributed by Madihe Mahanayaka Thera to newspaper and journals. For over a decade he has been editing ‘Bauddha Lamaya’ – the monthly journal of the Siri Vajiraramaya targeted at children.

Since Ananda Mahanayaka Thera’s appointment as head of Siri Vajiraramaya, the temple has gained a totally new look and is once again bustling with religious activities. His efforts to get the temple recognised by the State resulted in the precincts being declared a sacred area. The library which once attracted many a scholar seeking research material has been completely refurbished. The Sunday Daham Pasela now attracts several hundred children and a multi-storey building is under construction to house the increasing numbers. In addition to the Poya day programme, meditation classes and Dhamma sermons are held on a regular basis.

Ananda Mahanayaka Thera proved his organising capabilities during the period when he was the Anunayaka of the Nikaya for nine years. With Weligama Nanratana Mahanayaka Thera advancing in years, he had to play an active role which he did with responsibility and dedication. It was no surprise when he was elected uncontested as Chief Prelate of the Nikaya after the passing way of the Mahanayaka Thera in January this year.

The Mahanayaka Thera’s scholarship and his composed and unruffled demeanour will undoubtedly help him in guiding the affairs of the Sri Dharmarakshita Nikaya in a meaningful manner thereby contributing much towards the advancement of the Buddha Sasana.
Chirang Jayatu!

-D.C. Ranatunga

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