Ven. Henpitagedara Gnanasiha thera

The 21st death anniversary of the late Right. Ven Rajakeeya Panditha Henpitagedara Gnanasiha thera, Sri Lanka Ramanna Maha Nikaya — Adhikarana Nayaka fell on August 1, 2002.

The late Mahanayake thera was the Chief incumbent of the Mudduwa Vihara and the founder of the Mudduwa Maha Pirivena and the Pathakada Sarvodaya Bikkhu-training Institute, in Sabaragamuwa.

He was one of the greatest Buddhist prelates and an educationist of rare calibre. His services and contributions for the development of the Buddhist education, both lay and clergy in Sabaragamuwa in particular and the entire island in general were immense, to say the least.

It should be noted, in honour of the thera, that his sincerity of purpose and his dynamic personality, devotion and dedication to the cause, made everything he touched, blossom into success. Ratnapura Sumana Balika Vidyalaya, one of the primier Girls Schools in Sabaragamuwa and Siri Sumana Maha Vidyalaya, at Mudduwa, handi-works of the Nayaka thera, remain live-monuments to his perseverance and effort.

Ven. Gnanasiha Nayaka thera started his career as a teacher in Buddha-Dhamma, at the Seevali Vidyalaya, the only Buddhist school in Ratnapura, in 1936, rendering an honorary service management of the renowned philanthropist, A. C. Attygalle, a mainstay of the Buddhist education, in Ratnapura. Under the tutelage of the thera, I had the good fortune to learn my ABC of Buddhism and Sinhala from the kindergarten, in a national, cultural setting which stood me, in good stead, in my later education and life. The teacher-pupil bond that was created between as, with the growing intellectual strength, during my primary school days, remained intact to the last day of his life.

During the life time of the Ven. thera, his intellectual prowess grew stonger. He became not only an eminent scholar of Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhism, but also an able teacher and a preacher of distinction and wide recognition. He had, indeed, no peer as a self-made scholar or an exponent of the Buddhist doctrine and Philosophy, in his life time. His deep comprehension of the Buddhist doctrine knew no bounds and he remained until his demise, an authoritative exponent of the doctrine so much so, that he was much sought after even by the ‘sages’ of the Religion, for the final clarification and resolution of a ‘moot-point’ or a doctrinaire-problem, which baffled them.

Ven. Gnanasiha thera was outspoken to a fault. He was a fearless speaker and an orator no less. He made no distinction, in his address, between the highest and the lowest in the land. He had his say, however unpleasant or displeasing it may have been to others.

He had a commanding presence, and personality to match. His speech and tone commanded attention and discipline, in an audience, sans the sound of a pin-drop in his presence. His erudition was immensely wide extensive and deep. As a close disciple of the venerable-teacher from whom I learnt, my rudiments of Sinhala and Buddhism, I even now wonder, in the words of Goldsmith "How such a small head, had carried all he knew" to the minutest detail.

As a teacher he was an adept, at the exposition, in simple terms, easily understood by his pupils, ideas which appeared, at first-sight, incomprehensible, but at the end, surprisingly simple. I still remember the principles of grammar from the ‘Sidath-Sangara’ the classic manual of Sinhala grammar for the erudite, he taught us in the junior form, deeply etched in my memory.

He was a prolific author and a writer. His published books and unpublished manuscripts could fit into a library of World-Class books. He wrote in Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit, with the same ease and produced many books in Sanskrit, the best of which he wrote, while lingering, in the ‘cell ‘of the magazine-prison in the later years of his eventful life and chequered career.

During the four-years of incarceration Gnanasiha thera had produced 24 books, all hailed as masterpieces, written in both Sanskrit, Pali and Sinhala, taking the prison term in his strides and turning the prison-cell into an author’s paradise.

He had also won prestigious awards for literature produced in Sanskrit and Pali. Two of his books, entitled, Abidharma Samuchchaya, and Abidarmamruthaya, printed and published by the Sarvodaya Vishvakala Printers recently are due to be launched and presented, to the Ven. Veveldeniye Sri Medalankara thera, Maha Nayake of the Ramanya Nikaya on August 3, 2002 by the Sarvodaya leader Dr. A. t. Ariyaratna, at the Mudduwa Sri Sumana Maha Pirivena, in memory of the great-prelate.

Ven. Henpitagedara Gnanasiha thera was a redoubtable exponent of the Buddhist doctrine, in its fullness, an excellent linguist, a prolific author, a good preacher, speaker, lecturer, a fine orator and a Dharmanusasaka par excellence, whose powerful pen and the firm tone of voice kept his readers and listeners, respectively, spell-bound for hours, on end.

May he attain Nibbana, the eternal bliss for all good Buddhists!

P. D. A. S. Gunasekera