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