Five years ago Ven. Balangoda Mahanama Thera gave a new lease of life to Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by donating a kidney to him. Today, this monk who knows full well about the impermanence of life sums up his personal grief with the words, “Den ethin monawada kiyanne thiyenne ?” Kumudini Hettiarachchi reports

He couldn’t sleep that night. Though he had finished his day’s meditation and work and was in bed by about 10.30, he just couldn’t sleep. There was a feeling of uneasiness.

Tossing and turning he decided to switch on the radio in his austere environment and heard the news flash. Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar had been grievously wounded while getting out of his swimming pool at his Buller’s Lane home.

What had this young monk in a meditation centre off Thotupalathenne in Balangoda and elder statesman Kadirgamar in common? There was a special affinity between them for Mr. Kadirgamar had one of the monk’s kidneys.
The young monk, Balangoda Mahanama Thera had donated a kidney to Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in 2000.

When The Sunday Times visited the Lenagala Vipassana Bhavana Centre located amidst lush hillsides covered with tea bushes and other thick vegetation off Kirimetithenne near Balangoda town, the 34-year-old Thera was under the Bo-tree near the Budu Ge, looking up at the sky anxiously.

Nestling in the palm of his right hand was a tiny baby squirrel. “Len patiya kuuduwen vetila. Eyage amma enakang pravesam karanna oney nethnam kaputo geneyanne puluwani,” said the Thera explaining that the baby squirrel had fallen from its nest in the bana hall and he would have to keep it safe until its mother returned, otherwise the crows would get it.

Keeping it in his hand, the warmth of which the squirrel seemed to find comfort in for not a sound or struggle did it make, this Thera with a quick smile and ready laugh, agreed to spare some time for an interview.

It was during a visit back in 2000 to their main centre – the International Vipassana Bhavana Centre – down Wijerama Mawatha in Colombo 7, that the Nayake Thera mentioned that a patient was looking for a kidney and requested him to see if he could find a donor. “I did not know for whom it was. I gave it some thought and told the Loku Hamuduruwo that I am willing to give one of my kidneys,” he says. But there was one condition – the young monk did not want the donation publicized, so he told the Nayake Thera, “Kaath ekkawath kiyanne epa”. (“Do not tell anyone.”)

Why? Earlier a monk in the Lenagala Centre had agreed to give a kidney to someone else and there were so many stories doing the rounds, some of which were not even true, he explains. A son of Balangoda itself, the Thera is well-known in the area. His father is a farmer and owns kumuburu and te (paddy and tea). As a young man, just after his Ordinary Level examination he too took to the cultivation of land. “Up to Grade 5, I attended the Kirimetithenne Vidyalaya and then moved on to the Balangoda Jathika Pasela,” he says adding that he has three elder brothers and two younger ones. “Mama hatharaweniya.” (I’m the fourth).

However, once he became a farmer and settled down to what he thought was his future livelihood, life took a different turn. H thought deep and hard, he wracked his brain as to what life was all about. Finally came the decision…… “Sansarika duken midenna weda karanna, hithagaththa,” he says adding that he yearned to be released from the sorrow of this world. “Everywhere I looked there was sadness.” That’s when he donned the robes. He was 21. Thereafter it was a life of meditation, bana preaching and spartan living. There also followed regular visits to the International Vipassana Bhavana Centre.

As soon as he informed his Loku Hamuduruwo that he would like to donate a kidney, a battery of tests followed. The blood group matched. It was B positive. The date for the sethkama (transplant operation) was set. It was March 10, 2000. He flew to the Apollo Hospital in New Delhi ahead of the scheduled day, with Mr. Kadirgamar preceding him. More tests followed. The day before the transplant, however, Mr. Kadirgamar requested that Balangoda Mahanama Thera chant pirith and that’s what he did. “The operation lasted a long time,” says the Thera explaining that when they took him to the theatre it was around 7.30 in the morning and when he regained consciousness it was evening.

He was kept at the hospital for about five days and later moved to a nearby hotel. His trip to India ended with a much looked-forward to pilgrimage to Dambadiva, arranged by Mr. Kadirgamar as a token of appreciation. When he returned to Delhi to catch his return flight to Colombo, he chanted pirith once again and partook in a dane organized at the residence of the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in India.

“Balangoda enna epa maawa balanna,” was his earnest appeal to Mr. Kadirgamar before he left Delhi. He wanted the Foreign Minister to keep mum about his sacrifice and requested him never-ever to visit him in Balangoda. “I feared that people who got to know our connection would make me become a nuisance to him by asking me to get favours such as jobs from him,” says the Thera. But on and off they spoke on the phone because Mr. Kadirgamar was always very concerned about the Thera’s health and grateful for saving his life.

Now that Minister Kadirgamar is no more – felled by an assassin in his own home – Balangoda Mahanama Thera feels powerful emotions. “Death is inevitable, but this is an untimely death that the country cannot bear. When I could save his life I did. One of the best brains in the country is lost. This could have a bearing on peace,” he says. “Den ethin monawada kiyanne thiyenne,” he asks. “What is left to be said.”

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