23rd August 1998
By D.C. Ranatunga
History has proved again and again, and will continue to prove, that nothing in this world is lasting. Nations and civilizations rise, flourish and die away as waves upon the ocean yielding place to new, and thus the scrolls of time record the passing pageant, the baseless vision and the fading flow that is human history.
Therefore, said the sages of yore:
This short quotation from one of Venerable Piyadassi's varied writings illustrates the simple, clear manner he presented the Dhamma. Having lived the life of a monk for 64 years and spread the Dhamma the world over for three decades doing 14 global tours, Venerable Piyadassi passed away last Tuesday. His wish was that he be cremated in three days.
Venerable Piyadassi had been in and out of the ICU of the Cardiology Unit of the National Hospital during the past few months. But whenever he was out of hospital he continued to plan and participate in many a meritorious deed at the Sambodhi Vihara at Wijerama Mawatha. That had been his lifestyle for many decades. Illness never bothered him. He continued to preach the Dhamma. He rarely refused an invitation for a sermon. And he continued to write. A little typewriter was his constant companion.
"With bounded Metta for your well-being, from Piyadassi. November 28 2536/1992". These words in his handwriting appear in the back inside cover of a copy of The Spectrum of Buddhism' Venerable Piyadassi gave me. It is a much-treasured gift. The book is a collection of essays showing us Buddhism not as an ancient doctrine or a narrow sect, but as a living and universal path to human liberation. It is written in a most readable style, which never tires the reader even when he explains the Abhidhamma. That was Venerable Piyadassi's forte.
Discussing the psychological aspect of Buddhism, Venerable Piyadassi writes in 'The Spectrum of Buddhism': Is Buddhism related to modern psychology, one may ask. Yes, but with some difference. Buddhism is more concerned with the curative than the analytic. Buddhism helps us to get beyond the intellect to the actual experience of life itself.
"Through meditation the Buddha had discovered the deeper universal maladies of the human heart and mind. The remarkable insight into the workings of the mind makes the Buddha a psychologist and scientist of the highest eminence. Admittedly His way of arriving at these truths of mental life is not that of an experimentalist, yet what the Buddha had discovered remains true, and in fact has been corroborated by the experimentalist. But the purpose in engaging these inquiries is quite different from that of the scientist.
"The statements of the Buddha about the nature of the mind and matter are directed towards specific needs. They are simply the deliverance of the individual, supreme security from bondage."
His skill in writing (or preaching) is captured in the Foreword to 'The Spectrum of Buddhism' by Bhikkhu Bodhi (with whom Venerable Piyadassi worked closely in Buddhist Publication Society work). "Venerable Piyadassi combines a thorough grounding in the Pali texts and commentaries with an open receptivity to contemporary developments in thought coming from the West, which he sees as confirming in many respects the original teachings of the Buddha. A popular preacher in Sri Lanka and a seasoned traveller in the West, Venerable Piyadassi presents a picture of Buddhism, which is simultaneously faithful to its scriptural sources and extraordinarily modern. The Buddhism he portrays offers a profound philosophy of existence based on the Four Noble Truths; a detailed analysis of the human mind which anticipates some of the discoveries of modern psychology; a lofty ethics free from theistic presuppositions, characterized by boundless love and compassion; an approach to knowledge marked by the experimental method, individual investigation, and freedom from dogmatism; and methods of mind training leading to the highest liberation".
'The Buddha's Ancient Path' is considered his Magnum Opus. In 'The Book of Protection', Venerable Piyadassi presented 'pirith' in a meaningful way. This anthology of selected discourses were originally meant as a handbook for the newly ordained novice. His 'Buddhist Meditation' (The way to inner calm and clarity) is a practical guide to the meditator. 'The Virgin's Eye' is a collection of fascinating stories of women in Buddhist literature. 'Buddhism - A Living Message' (BALM) is one of Venerable Piyadassi's most popular publications which has gone into several editions. There are many more books and articles written by him. Rarely did a Poya day pass without an article in the newspapers by him.
Paying a tribute to Venerable Piyadassi in 'Priyadarshana', a commemorative volume released in 1991, Professor Ralph Buultjens saw three attributes which are the hallmark of his success in the field of religious propagation. First, being a profound scholar. "In today's environment, religious teachers need to know their doctrine in depth. The days of well-meaning, but doctrinally shallow, religious missionaries are now gone. The mouthing of benevolent platitudes will no longer impress those interested in religion. Venerable Piyadassi's scholarship is not only distinguished, it embraces other religions. This enables the kind of comparative analysis that engages intelligent and mature people everywhere", Buultjens wrote.
Second, extraordinary skill at communications. "This is a natural talent enhanced by his experience and intellect. Almost by instinct, Venerable Piyadassi is able to evaluate the sensitivity of his audience. His presentation is then fine-tuned to the level which makes the most significant impact".
Third, a charisma of personality that cements scholarship to communication skills. "Charisma is a karmic gift. Few people have this compelling quality which draws others to them. Many do not. Why, we cannot tell. Venerable Piyadassi has this element of character that excites and stimulates those who contact him. He has the ability to replenish the well-springs of the human soul - a quality possessed by only the most unusual personalities".
Venerable Piyadassi led a simple life. The two rooms he occupied at Vajirarama (in front of each other) were full of books. He never sent anyone who came to see him without giving him or her a book on the Dhamma. He would rest on a little sofa on a 'pedura' occupying minimum space because the bed was also full of books and papers.
He enjoyed shuttling between Vajirarama and F.R. Senanayake Forest Hermitage in Kandy. His trips from Colombo to Kandy and back were always by train. "The train journey gives me time to relax, think and sometimes write," he used to say.
He was always with a pleasant smile. And he always found time to spend time with whoever dropped in to see him. His sermons were most interesting because he drew from his experiences during his extensive trips abroad linking them always to the Dhamma.
He took over the global Dhammaduta activity from where Venerable Narada left. "I have tried to do my best in propagating the Dhamma. Now I feel tired and there will be no more global tours," he told me after his 14th tour. Thereafter he concentrated on religious and social service activities here making Sambodhi Vihara the focal point. He visited the war torn areas and preached to the soldiers. He took the initiative in building a 'cetiya' in the army camp at Palali for the benefit of soldiers.
Venerable Piyadassi was ever so mindful of the need for peace and harmony and carried the message of the Buddha both at home and abroad in a bid to achieve peace.
His service to Buddhism was recognised by the Great Assembly of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Sangha Sabha by conferring him the title 'Visvakirti Sri Sasanasobhana'.
At the end of his sermons or talks Venerable Piyadassi would say, "May you be well. May no harm come to you. May all beings be well and happy". Although he is no more, these words will continue to echo and re-echo in our hearts. We will never forget his compassionate looks and bright smiles, which adorned his face right to the very last.
More Plus *Green and compact? * 'Public - Private sector partnerships the key'
Please send your comments and suggestions on this web site to