A MODEL FOR ALL BHIKKHUS
THE LAMP THAT BLEW OUT 36 YEARS AGO
The world's only monk Vice-chancellor who dedicated his whole life to his university, the brightest star in the firmament of Buddhist Lanka, the priceless gem in Mother Lanka's diadem has vanished. He was none other than the Ven. Pandit Welivitiye Sri Soratha Nayaka Thera.(D.Litt. -Ceylon-, D.Litt.- Vidyalankara),Vice chancellor, Vidyodaya University of Sri Lanka.
The Ven. Soratha Nayake thera passed away on 17th of July in 1963. He dedicated his life to the service of man. Learning a lot he taught them to people. He was born in a hamlet on the river Ging in the Galle district. His father was Johanis Kumarasiri, -Ayurvedic Physician- ,and mother was Alice Amarasinghe of Malwatte walauwa, Unawatuna ,Galle. He was born on 23 May 1897, in his mother's home at Kosgoda.
Chandradasa was the name given to him by birth and he received his primary Education at the Vidyawardhana Pirivena, Ranwalagoda, Hinatigala. The great Pandit, and well known Archaeologist Dr. Senerath Paranawithana , was one of his contemporaries at the same Pirivena.
According to his desire, Chandradasa was ordained on 15th of October 1912 by the Ven. Kahawe Pemarathana Maha Thera, the chief Incumbent of Tilakaramaya,Hikkaduwa. At the Ordination the name given to him was "Welivitiye Soratha". Since his novice-hood, he showed some extraordinary characteristics such as memory power. Within a few days he was able to memorize all the verses of the Dhammapada ( 423 Verses). At that time an examination on the Dhammapada was held at Mahinda College Galle. the Ven. Soratha sat for that and topped the list of successful candidates, winning the first prize.
In 1917 ,at the correct age of 20 , the Ven. Soratha obtained his Higher Ordination from the Malwatte Chapter in Kandy. In the same year he entered the Vidyodaya Pirivena Maligakanda Colombo which was established by Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Nayaka Thera in 1873.While he was yet a student , in 1922, the Ven. Soratha was appointed as a teacher of the same Pirivena. It was for the first time in the history of the Pirivena that one who was yet a pupil at the Pirivena was appointed as a teacher at the Pirivena.
In 1923,he passed the final examination in Oriental studies winning the gold medal, and his fame as a scholar spread far and wide. After a short time he became the Vice-Principal of the Pirivena. As a keen student, he proceeded to the University of Calcutta on a Government Scholarship .He did his research in Sanskrit . Amazing at his marvelous grasp of Sanskrit language and literature the Professor had expressed the view that Soratha Thera had hardly anything to learn at the University of Calcutta and that he was fit to be Professor of Sanskrit in any University.
In recognition of his scholarship and wide spread popularity, he was appointed the Nayaka Thera of the Galle District. Setting an excellent example to many monks and the lay people who spend millions for such celebrations today he never had a function to celebrate his appointment .
When it was time to celebrate the Buddha Jayanthi of 2500 years, there arose a need for translating the Tripitaka (The word of the Buddha).So in 1956 , the Government appointed him as the Chairman of the Buddha Jayanthi Tripitaka Translation Committee and also the Editor- in- Chief of the translations. It proved the Government's recognition of his outstanding ability.
After the demise of the Ven. Baddegama Piyaratana Maha Thera, the Principal, the Ven. Soratha was appointed as the Principal of Vidyodaya Pirivena in 1957.We all are aware that the "Sinhala only Bill" was passed in 1958 under the Government of Mr. SWRD Bandaranayake . For this purpose the two ancient seats of Oriental studies, Vidyodaya Pirivena and Vidyalankara Pirivena were raised to University status by way of implementing the legislation. At this time, the Ven. Soratha Nayaka Thera was appointed the first Vice-chancellor of the University of Vidyodaya. Thus the right man was placed in the right position.
For the establishment of a new University the Ven. Soratha had to dedicate himself day and night. He had to make all arrangements such as writing new syllabuses, preparing new courses of studies, administering a University, and erecting new buildings, giving enough facilities to both staff and students .But without any hesitation he did all these things ungrudgingly and he satisfied himself by satisfying both lecturers and the students. With his great wisdom, profound scholarship and deep understanding, the infant soon became a full-fledged University.
Ven.Pandit Palannaruwe Wimaladhamma and Dr. Ananda Guruge together with Mr. D.J .Kumarage (Registrar) assisted him very much in different ways for the success of all these activities. All these things did not go smoothly. He had to face some difficulties but he was never discouraged and disappointed by what ever the obstacles or difficulties. Ven. Soratha Thera once said that the University was his life. For the happy state of many things in the University of Vidyodaya ( Sri Jayawardhanapura - today-), Ven.Welivitiye Sri Soratha Nayaka Thera was responsible.
He was humble and just, and was full of compassion. He mixed with books more than people. His gentlemanliness was transparent. He spent a simple life which suits to a Bhikkhu .Whatever delicious food he was offered by the devotees ,he always shared with his fellow monks.He was satisfied with whatever was offered to him. He did not travel alone in his car. He always found someone to accompany him. On the way he picked up someone or other known to him.
He was a teacher of exceptional ability. He was not just book-learned . However, he could cite examples from various books to elucidate a point .Certainly he had a prodigious memory and could quote chapter and verse with the greatest of ease. He wrote and read a lot. The number of English novels he had read was 780. Every student of Vidyodaya was proud of this great teacher. Although he was a product of the old system of Education ,he possessed all the knowledge that a modern Education could give.
From the day of his entry into the Order up to his death he spent his time,energy,intellect and wealth in the service of his country, his religion and literature. He studied by burning the mid-night oil. During the greater part of his life he studied ,taught,and wrote books. He was never particular about food and clothing. He was one of the few great monks and laymen who spoke a little but did much . He always adhered to the very letter of the law in the Buddha's injunction that if one must speak one should speak on a Dhamma topic or remain silent. Giving examples to many monks today, he rejected luxurious living even in his old age.
He set apart his Vice-Chancellor's Lodge at the University campus for the use of students and the visitors. He drew only a fraction of his salary as Vice-Chancellor, for his needs, and donated to the University a sum of about Rs.50.000 at that time. Almost all the rare books he possessed he donated to the University library. He was ready to listen to the grievances and complaints of students, teachers, officers and other employees. He did not consider it a trouble to him. Nobody kept guard at the entrance to his office. He was always accessible .
He always appreciated the assistance extended to him by others. the Ven. Soratha worked so hard not for hispersonal glory but for the welfare of the rising generation. He led a life that was very simple, and did his service . He spared no pains. He did every thing for us . But only a few of the people knew him in the real sense of the word. Rendering his tremendous service he gained nothing but pleasure. He was never attached to things and he did not grieve for what he has not. Once the Buddha said "He who has no attachment whatsoever to mind and body, who does not grieve for what he has not- he is truly called a monk". He was a monk, a Bhikkhu .
As time elapsed ,wrinkles appeared on his skin which had earlier a shining complexion . He who was young became old. At the age of 66, after a brief illness he was admitted to the General Hospital and while pirith was being recited by his pupils standing on either side of the bed, the Thera, Sri Soratha, passed away, like a lamp blown out , at 2.25 p.m on the 17 of July, 1963.
On the 17th of July 1999, he will be commemorated with lectures and the giving of alms by the Ven. Welivitiye Pannajothi Thera ,the chief Incumbent of the Nagarama Viharaya, Nalagasdeniya ,Hikkaduwa ( the Ven. Soratha's Temple), and the pious devotees of the temple . By the power of all this merit , "May he attain the bliss of Nibbana ! ".
By. Bhikkhu Seelananda , Paramita International Buddhist Centre Kadugannawa