Sir Cyril de Zoysa — Buddhist devotee and philanthropist

The culture and history of any given land, are adorned by exceptional personalities who, being born in that particular country, contribute substantially to the well-being and progress of that land, in a variety of fields.

The Sinhala Buddhist culture of Sri Lanka, that spans several long centuries, has achieved the status of a great tradition, due to those outstanding men and women, whose lives were lived for the benefit of the country of their birth.

The ancient kings and rulers of Sri Lanka upheld the dispensation of the supreme Buddha, assigning it high priority. We, inhabiting this great country today, are the proud inheritors of that glorious tradition of Buddhist culture.

Even in our own day, men of great stature appear from time to time, who continue the high tradition of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist, culture

Sir Cyril De Zoysa, is without any doubt, one of those dedicated devotees, born to ensure that Buddhist culture flourishes uninterrupted in this noble country, whatever may be the challenges that have to be faced.

Cyril de Zoysa was born, at the dawn of the twentieth century, on the 26th of October 1896. In historical hindsight, it is quite evident, that he was born to bring about a Buddhist revival in this country, in the twentieth century.

He was born in the historical city of Galle, and had his early education at Matara, an equally historical city in the deep south. Eventually, he joined Richmond College,, Galle. The next phase of his education took place at Royal College, Colombo, from where he entered Law College at the relatively young age of twenty.

Even in those early years, his personality was suffused by a pervading sense of humanity. As a student at Law College, he earned additional pocket-money by giving tuition. While in this process, he saved enough money to buy a brand new buggy-cart and a bull for his father, who was being driven at that time in a rickety old buggy-cart he hired. His father experienced an exquisite pleasure, when he received this gift from his son.

Buddhist behaviour was a built-in facet in his life, from childhood on. This was primarily because he was raised in a family background that esteemed and lived the Buddhist way of life.

In the course of his professional practice of law, he came over to Kalutara. As destiny would have it, this paved the way for his life-long service to the cause of Buddhism.

At this time, the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara had become a controversial spot. Security personnel appointed by the Government Agent drove off devotees, who visited the place to worship.

Defying the decrees of the Government Agent, young Cyril de Zoysa, took charge of the shrine. Investing his personal funds, he upgraded the shrine, enabling the worshippers to visit the place unobstructed.

Kalutara Bodhi Tree became the crest-gem of his glorious service towards the cause of Buddhism.

Today, millions make offerings to this shrine and the sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara has become a Sri Lankan landmark attracting men and women of all faiths.

When his business enterprises continued to escalate, he utilized a good part of his income for religious, cultural and educational activities. Sir Cyril started his business career with the launching of a bus service. With the passage of time, his enterprises expanded, making him a pioneering entrepreneur in some fields of business.

Colombo YMBA, is a glittering monument to Sir Cyril’s extensive service to the cause of Buddhism. When financial constraints retarted the building effort, he turned to Sir Ernest a Buddhist philanthropist for assistance.

Sir Ernest gave him a stamp, saying; "Cyril take this to that particular stamp dealer. He will give you Rupees One-hundred thousand for it."

Sir Cyril’s odyssey in the cause of his service to Buddhism, is studded with that kind of intriguing episode.

The detail of Sri Cyril’s service to Sri Lanka, is well-nigh beyond recording as his activities have been multifarious.

He was the foremost force in the restoration of Kiri Vehera at Kataragama. Those Buddhist shrines, sites, institutions that received his generous assistance are beyond count.

He focused considerable attention on the development of education as well. He donated his land to enable the building of schools.

He was deeply concerned with the need to provide avenues of employment to rural folk.

In the field of politics too he achieved a marked success. He was the vice-president of the Senate for six years. He was President of the Senate for eight years. He was conferred the British imperial honour of a knighthood.

In the midst of the hustle and bustle of his extremely busy life, he never neglected to observe the due Buddhist rituals. Each morning he started the day’s work by making offerings to the Sacred Bodhi Tree at Kalutara, at 4.00 in the morning. He lived a Buddhist way of life.

Towards the end of his chequered life he attained a state of deep spiritual serenity.

This is evident from some statements he made when the shadows were lengthening in the late evening of his life.

His words seem to convey the quintessence of the Buddhist way of life. This is what he said:

"Now I am free. How rich you are does not matter. These are all delusive. I was born without any wealth. I will die without any wealth. Buddhism is my consolation, my happiness and my strength."

Though he was affluent, he cherished the Buddhist ideal of contentment. He said farewell to life with words, that could only stem from the depths of a truly Buddhist mind.

He passed away at 82 on the 2nd of January 1978.

May he attain Nibbana.

The Right Venerable Dr. Udugama Saddharmakeerthi Sri Dhammadassi Ratanapala Buddharakkithabhidhana Thero

The Mahanayaka Thero of the Asgiriya Chapter