20th February 2000

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Men of compassion and simplicity

By Upali Salgado

A monk should be content with his robes to protect his body, with alms, food to sustain the belly, so that wherever he goes he takes everything with him, just as when a winged bird flies, it flies using its own wings. Possessing this noble store of virtue he feels in himself a bliss that is blameless.

Yesterday was Navam Poya

Buddhist Jataka stories extol the virtues of the Bodhisattva, Prince Siddhartha. All of them project a message of what the Buddha preached, referring to compassion or kindness to all living beings, including animal life (Sasa Jataka) the way to end craving by sacrificing wealth or belongings. i.e.,to Dana paramitha (Vessantara Jataka, and the Sivi Jataka).

The Buddha also referred to humility and simplicity in life. He spoke of the oneness of man (Vasetta Sutta), and the quality of determination. In recent times too we have had examples of these virtues of certain men.


Around 1885, when Paritta (pirith) was chanted at the Doluwe Vihare (near Gampola), a boy of twelve whose daily chore was to tend cattle on the temple grounds was so fascinated with the words and sound of Paritta that he memorised the Maha Mangala, Karaneiyametta and Ratana Suttas. He was able to recite these Pali stanzas with clarity and in a mellifluous voice.

The chief monk of the Doluwe Vihare took a liking to this youth, and had him ordained a Samanera monk at his temple. After a few years this monk - Ven. Naranvita Sumanasara moved to a temple at Patha-Dumbara, near Hunnasgiriya. A month before Vesak Poya, villagers of Patha-Dumbara made preparations to go on pilgrimage to Anuradhapura and Ven. Naranvita Sumanasara was given a seat in a bullock cart convoy of 15 vehicles that slowly traversed through jungle roads via Matale, Kaikawela, Dambulla and Kekirawa to the sacred city.

On reaching the Maha Seya he saw to his dismay that it was a huge mound of dry earth, clothed with dense vegetation. He resolved he could not return to the temple until the dense vegetation was cleared and restoration work of the great stupa, built by the warrior King Duttagamini were begun.

Whilst his fellow pilgrims moved on their journey, Ven. Naranvita Sumanasara remained by the stupa, taking shelter in an abandoned broken bullock cart.

He lived there for years, reciting the three Suttas each night as loudly as he could. He had for company a lone mongrel. Whenever a train of bullock carts arrived at the site, he persuaded the devotees to remain there for a week or so, and perform shramadhana work to clear the stupa of its vegetation. They all did this chore with great devotion. At that time there was no earth moving equipment. It was the hand axe, a long-handle knife (or "katty") and perhaps a mammoty that was available.

The clearing up and excavation work done by this monk was appreciated by H.C.P Bell, the first Archaeological Commissioner, who personally visited the site.

This pioneer worker blazed the trail for others to follow, and after his demise, the Ruwanweli Seya Restoration Society was founded to work in collaboration with the Archaeological Department. The Maha Seya restoration was finally completed on June 17, 1940 with a pinnacle laying ceremony. The "Sein-bu" (Chuda Manikya) the Crystal Pinnacle were a gift from Burma (Myanmar) and a large contingent of Burmese monks were present. It took sixty seven long years for the restoration work to be completed. The determination, fortitude and piety of Ven. Naranvita Sumanasara are noble qualities the Buddha has referred to, necessary for righteous living.


Of the many stories about that legendary figure, the most Ven. Heenetiyane Dhammaloka Tissa Mahanayake Thera, this one is worth re-telling.

Ven Dhammaloka Tissa Mahanayake Thera often visited the prisons at Welikada. He believed that all wrong-doers must first be understood, and then corrected. He often delivered short sermons to train commuters on the Slave Island Station platform.

On one such occasion, a man bent on stabbing his enemy arrived at the station rather early and was awaiting the arrival of his enemy. Then he heard Ven. Dhammaloka Tissa Thera preaching.

As he listened to the mellifluous voice of the Bhikku he forgot his evil mission. After the next train arrived and departed there were only two people left on the platform - the Bhikku and the man who had murder on his mind. The man, then confessed to the Bhikku what his mission that evening was.

The knife he had concealed on his person, he surrendered to the Bhikku. Thereafter, Ven. Heenetiyane Dhammaloka Tissa Thera advised him kindly and again reminded him of "Karma and Karma Vipaka".

A leader's humility

Ven. Vijayananda Thera came to Ceylon from Assam to participate in the Buddha Jayanthi celebrations and lived at the Polwatta Temple, Kollupitiya.

Along with other monks he was invited for a dhana at "Temple Trees". Whilst the alms-giving was taking place, a well-built man of about 55, clad in the simple white dress of an upasaka, had himself carried a large spitoon, to enable this monk to wash his mouth and hand. This Bhikku who was a foreigner knew it was the official residence of our Prime Minister, but had not identified the P.M.

Later, when he casually asked another monk as to who the Prime Minister was, he had been surprised to learn that it was none other than the person who had carried the spitoon. This spontaneous act of devotion and piety spelled out the humility of Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake.

Ven . Vijayananda Thera - popularly known as "Assam hamuduruwo" lived at the Polwatte Temple for 27 long years, until he left for Thailand.

Discipline in the Temple

In the early 1950s there resided at the Vidyaraja Pirivena, Panadura a Pali scholar monk, the Ven.Pandit Warakapola Seelaratana Maha Thera. Although he had his own beautiful temple at Molpe, Moratuwa, when invited to be the Head of the Panadura Pirivena, he resided there for many years.

It so happened one day that a certain bhikku, had thrown a plantain skin across the path Ven. Seelaratana was using. When this first happened, Ven. Seelaratana ignored it but when a second plantain skin was thrown in his path, the teacher took serious note of it. The message he felt, was that the time was ripe for him to leave the temple.

He, therefore, decided to leave that Pirivena. But it was customary and necessary to inform the chief Dayakaya of his intention. Therefore, a message was sent to Gate Mudaliyar Edmund Peiris, a strict disciplinarian schooled in the British colonial tradition. The Gate Mudaliyar arrived at the Pirivena and rang the temple bell. The entire village gathered within minutes, thinking an unfortunate situation had arisen.

The chief dayakaya, appointed himself as Judge of the situation and called upon the teacher monk to briefly state why he intended to quit the temple suddenly. Then with a stern voice he turned to the Sangha and asked that the errant monk step forward and with clasped hands kneel before his teacher and ask for forgiveness by reciting a certain stanza in Pali three times . When this was done, stamping his heavy walking stick on the ground, he dismissed all present. There was no 'ecclesiastic court' in session that day - but discipline was restored in the temple!

Simplicity is best

The Buddha asked his disciples to lead simple lives. This story refers to the simplicity there was even in death. Monks are required to have no material wealth but only the three robes, an alms bowl, a needle and thread, a razor and a handkerchief to strain water. Bhikkus who are required to be an "island unto themselves" in life, like all other humans take nothing with them in death except whatever Kusala or Akusala Karma they acquire.

Recently a pious scholar monk, the most Venerable Rerukane Chandawimala Mahanayake Thera of the Swejin Nikaya who lived in a village temple, had given definite instructions to his pupils that there be no state funeral, no publicity in the press or over the radio, no banners, no ringing of his Temple bell. All that he had wanted was for his body be cremated within the temple premises, with no coffin.

He was to be dressed in a new robe and be cremated lying on the bed he used. The cremation had to take place within 24 hours on a simple makeshift pyre, any day of the week.

This simple funeral was to be in keeping with the Buddha's teaching and an eye opener for wealthy people who lavishly spend on funerals by keeping their departed beloved ones over several days. The message is to value SIMPLICITY and have no fuss even in death.

In the Majjima Nikaya it is stated:

A monk is content with his robes to protect his body, with alms to sustain the belly, so that wherever he goes he takes everything with him, just as when a winged bird flies, it flies using its own wings. Possessing this noble store of virtue he feels in himself a bliss that is blameless.

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