21st June 1998
Ven. Madihe Pannasiha has worked long years towards creating a better society- by developing the human mind to resist vice, terrorism and gun culture.
Walking along the corridors of the Vajiraramaya in the mid fifties as a reporter of the Dinamina, I had the rare privilege of meeting a number of erudite monks who were all pupils of the Venerable Pelene Sri Vajiranana Maha Nayaka Thera. Venerable Narada was then the Head of Vajiraramaya.
He would invariably sit on his easy chair at the entrance to the Library. Behind in the same building was Venerable Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayake Thera occupying the room, which previously was Pelene Maha Nayaka Thera's room. In the rear building were a host of other monks including Ven. Piyadassi, Ven. Ampitiye Rahula, Ven. Mahanama, Ven. Kheminda, Ven. Weligama Gnanaratana, Ven. Kapugama Sumanawansa and Ven. Gunasiri.
Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera had by then become the Head of the Siri Dhammarakshita Nikaya of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Sect, succeeding his 'guru hamuduruwo, the illustrious Pelene Maha Nayaka Thera.
When he was elected to this post on 27th November 1955, he was only 42 years old, one of the youngest to be a chief of an order of monks. This high honour did not affect his simple ways.
As Maha Nayaka, he worked tirelessly to unify the 22 different divisions in the Amarapura Nikaya.
His mission was a success when the Maha Nayaka Theras of the 22 divisions decided to elect one of them as President to represent the Nikaya in all official matters.
The first to serve in this capacity was Venerable Ananda Maitriya Maha Nayaka Thera after whom Ven. Kosgoda Dhammawansa Maha Nayaka Thera held the post.
Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera was elected to this post in 1985 and when it was time for him to step down, the Maha Nayaka Theras decided to create an even higher post of 'Uttaritara Maha Nayaka' in recognition of his immense service to the Buddha Sasana and the Nikaya.
Writing to the Felicitation Volume released to mark Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera's 70th birthday (1983), close associate Olcott Gunasekera wrote: "It is said that the Buddha Sasana is illumined by monks who are distinguished (vyatta), disciplined (vinita), profound (visarada), upholders of the Dhamma (dhammadara) and disciplined accordingly (dhammanudhamma patipanna). If one wishes to meet in the present day society a living example of a Buddhist monk who is well possessed of these six qualities, one need not go further from the Ven. Mahanayaka Thera". No one will disagree.
Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera is a firm believer of the need to develop the individual before we try to develop the society. For the society to develop there has to be a qualitative development of the human being. He has strived hard to see that this is achieved but the situation seems to be worsening.
He pinpoints the dangers of the alarming speed at which vice is spreading right through the country and urges the country's leadership to do something about it without delay.
He founded the Dharmavijaya Foundation in 1979 to promote the total development of man, both spiritually and physically with the application of Buddhist principles to economic development and thereby establish a Dharmavijaya Samajaya - a righteous society.
Having realised the need to build up a community of well educated monks in the traditional way of learning the Dhamma, Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera set up the Sri Vajiranana Dharmayatanaya in April 1958.
Ampitiye Rahula Maha Thera joined him in this task and it is with a sense of satisfaction that they look back at the fruits of their labour. At least fifty student monks from various parts of the country are resident at the Bhikkhu training centre at any given time.
Well planned programmes are regularly organised with the aim of training the younger generation. The sil programme of Poya days initiated at Maharagama has become a standard practice in many other temples today.
Separate programmes to suit the needs of the children, teenagers and adults are held at three different locations throughout the Poya day. These programmes are not confined to Dhamma sermons, discussions and meditation.
A social service project is a regular feature. The Maha Nayaka Thera makes it a point to be present at this session when spectacles, wheel chairs and other such items are distributed among the needy.
Recently a batch of Veddha children was brought all the way from distant Dambana to spend a weekend at the centre.
The Maha Nayaka Thera is extremely conscious of the need to alleviate poverty among our people. He has just launched a programme to create an environment in which the poorest of the poor in Sri Lanka will be able to live in dignity.
They will be identified with the assistance of temples and other religious places in the village and each family is to be given provisions (through the co-operative stores) worth Rs. 500 every month. Rs. l00 will be deposited in a savings account.
The Maha Nayaka Thera is confident that the scheme will succeed and apart from seeking assistance locally, he is appealing to Sri Lankans abroad to set aside ten dollars a month for this worthy cause.
Through newspaper columns and the airwaves, Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera has, over the years, highlighted the country's problems and suggested practical solutions. He is forthright in his views and fearlessly expresses them in public.
Over the four decades I have associated the Maha Nayaka Thera, I have yet to come across a single occasion when he had spoken ill of anyone or comments on someone else's doings. Even when we blame his critics, he merely smiles. Neither have I found him ever losing his temper. His gentle and simple ways are a lesson to us all.
Many are the honours and titles conferred on the Maha Nayaka Thera in recognition of his services to the Buddha Sasana and human society.
Among them are: the title of 'Sri Vajirgnana Dharmakirthi Sri' by the Sri Dharmarakshita Nikaya of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Sect, Vidya Visharada by the University of Colombo, Mahopadya by the Buddhasravaka Dhamma Peetaya (Buddhist University), Pandit title by the Sri Lanka Oriental Studies Society, and Doctor of Letters (Sahitya Visharada) by the University of Peradeniya. Two years ago the Government of Myanmar (Burma) conferred on him the title of Aggamaha Pandita.
Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera turns 86 years today. June is an eventful month in his life. He was ordained on 24th June 1926. He received his higher ordination on 9th June 1933.
His service over the past seven decades is immeasurable. His publications and articles written by him are a treasured collection for any student of the Dhamma or a researcher on national issues.
The Sri Sugata Shishya Sansadaya, the pupil monks at the Dharmayatanaya periodically publishes a volume comprising some of these. May the Maha Nayaka Thera gain more and more strength to continue the good work in the years to come!
- D.C. Ranatunga
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