“Reverend Prof. Belanvila Wimalarathana Thero, has passed away”
This is the most unfortunate and the most tragic news I have heard in the year of 2018. The relationship between Reverend Professor Belanvila Wimalarathana Thero and this university is not unlike the relationship between that of a tree to its bark or flower to its scent. I grieve the fact that while I pen his service and his values, he is no more. We as a nation unexpectedly lost this great priest on the 03rd of February 2018. There are many that grieve this great loss; I am one of them that feels it the most.
Reverend Professor Belanvila Wimalarathana Thero was born on the 14th of April 1942 to Omaththage Paul Perera and Pallage Don Buthsilina De Silva at Bandaragama. He was named as Omaththage Gilbert Perera and was the fourth child of this family. He acquired his primary and secondary education from ‘Nikape Madya Maha Vidyalaya’ and ‘Piliyandala Madya Maha Vidyalaya. In February 1956 he left the life of a layperson to take robes. This was the very beginning of his chapter in becoming an extremely influential and powerful Sanga in the Sri Lankan ‘Sanga Samajaya’ and society as a whole.
He was fortunate enough to continue his education as many of the esteemed Sanga of his time did at the ‘Molligoda Pravachanodaya and Rathmalana Parama Dhammachethiya Pirivena. In 1965 he was able to receive his General degree and in 1972 he was able to gain his Special Degree from the then most famous institute for Pali and Buddhist education, Vidyodaya University which is of course known as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura today. At thirty when he received these qualifications, he would not have thought he would be the Chancellor of this great institution in his future.
He was not content with just gaining a first degree he entered Lancaster University in England and received his Master’s degree in 1980. In the next few years that followed he was able to gain his PhD from both the Pali and Buddhist University and the Sabaragamuwa University of Sri Lanka.
Rev. Wimalarathana Thero begins his Life as a teacher from the Rathmalana Parama Dhammachethiya Pirivena. He is soon made the ‘Parivenadhipathi of this famed institute, and later becomes a lecturer at the ‘Bikkkshu Abyasa Vidyalaya’ in Rathmalana in 1976. In 1980 he becomes a Visiting lecturer to the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. His journey from thence on in the University is no secret. He continues to become a lecturer, Assistant Professor and Professor by 2003. He did not limit his skills of lecturing to just local Universities; he contributed as a Visiting lecturer at the University of London, England showing the world that an academic with great character can provide his services to not just the local arena but the world.
Rev. Wimalarathana Thero decided to retire from his position as a professor in the university two years prior completing his full service time with the intention of looking into the religious-social and academic activities that he was conducting outside the university. However, Rev. Wimalarathana Thero was given the position of the Chancellor of the University implying that the University of Sri Jayewardenepura was unable to part with this noble thero.
From then onward Rev. Wimalarathana Thero provided the utmost of his time and sercices for various duties as the Chancellor of the University as well as religious and academic activities. He was present at every Graduation Ceremony where his presence is quintessential irrespective of his health conditions. Thus the amount of students who received their Bachelors or Postgraduate degrees is infinite. According to my best knowledge he is the only Chancellor in the local University system that had the most service time. During his time of service as a chancellor five Vice Chancellors were fortunate enough to work with him. Being the fifth of these Vice Chancellor, I never expected that I would have to pen this note upon this tragic event.
I entered this University in 1983. As a student of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura I first met Rev. Wimalarathana Thero as a Senior Lecturer of the Department of Pali and Buddhist. I sadly but respectfully remember the encounters I had with him; recognizing him as a thero who behaved according to his wisdom not pride and associated with a peaceful heart devoid of evil.
Furthermore, I was able to join the staff of the University as a lecturer during the time Rev. Wimalarathana Thero too was serving in the academic staff. Subsequently I was appointed as the Vice Chancellor during the time he was continuing as the Chancellor of our University and was able to work in unison for a common goal during that historic time which has come to an unfortunate end. As mentioned in Buddhist doctrine loss and gain are woven hand in hand our live’s Dhamma. Making this fact evident Rev. Wimalarathana Thero bid us adieu leaving us with the gain of his loss. This loss is not my own but is a loss for this University, the University system, the country and the world. It is the loss of a great mind and a great person, a loss of supreme wisdom among those with wisdom, a loss of a person who will stand up for what he believes; simply it is a colossal loss.
The knowledge he processed was not limited to a few things. He possessed the knowledge of Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit, English and both Western and Eastern Languages. He was one of the few specialists in Buddhist sculpture in the country. His wisdom and knowledge is evident through the wealth of research conducted and published in both Sinhala and English.
He provided great service to not just Sri Lanka but the world by taking up the ‘anunayaka’ role at the Kalyani Samagri Dharma Maha Sanga Saba, Kotte and as the Registrar of the World Buddhist Sanga Society. This is only in terms of the religious. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that the amount of societies and associations he provided his services for was limitless thus making him an individual that is not in debt to the parents who gave him life or the country who gave him roots.
Rev. Belanvila Wimalarathana Thero possesses many admirable character traits. This short note of mine is insufficient to explain them all, thus we I will provide details of a few qualities that we have keenly felt. “Ujupatipanna’ a term which means direct in nature as mentioned as a quality of the Sanga in the Buddhist doctrine; Rev. Wimalarathana Thero, I believe was the epitome of this quality in this present era. As mentioned earlier he would stand by what he believed was correct in national and religious matters, he would express it openly maintaining transparency. He provided his services to this nation without being a representative of political parties.
He had a firm understanding of who a true Buddhist Bikku was and thus he believed in living in unity. His representation as an advocate of protecting peace among diversified groups and national peace is evident from his research papers done on the following topics: “Budu dahama saha Samaja Sevaya” (Buddhism and Community Service), “Sri Lankawe Bududhama saha Janawargika Arbudaya, Bahutharaye ha Sulutharawala ananyathawa”, “Aagamika Vividathwaya Watahaganima saha Jathika Samagiye Watinakama” (Understanding the difference of diverse religions and the importance of National Peace). Without limiting his ideas and opinions to research papers, he put them into practice by maintaining a close relationship with those of different religions with understanding devoid of conflict.
He was aware that if the great tree of Buddhism was felled, the shade of Buddhism will be lost not just for the Buddhists but to Non-Buddhists as well. Furthermore he was of the understanding that the protection of the era of Buddhism inadvertently meant the protection of other Dhamma as well. The individuals of different religions and nationalities who associated Rev. Wimalarathana Thero viewed him as the embodiment of the true Buddhist. I have no doubt that the uncountable people who visited to pay respects to Rev. Wimalarathana Thero irrespective of religion, nationality or party was because he lived his life showing the value of unity and impartiality. The respect these countless individuals pay is a symbol of his limitless values and qualities. This reminds me of the concept brought forth by the great artist Rathnasri Wijesinghe. Changing one slight phrase I wish to offer a flower of tribute to Rev. Wimalarathana Thero.
”එක මලෙක නම් නොවේ මැ යි
මල් යායක සිරස නැමේ
පිතු සෙනේහයෙන් ලොව කියා දුන්නු
යති පාද පියුම් සුවඳ යි”
Having understood the inheritance of the Bikku, he was a father to the Samaneras who grew at the foot of his shade, through his academic publications he was a teacher to many who have seen him as well as those who have not. As a talented translator of the Thripitaka, he was a specialist of Pali Knowledge; he was a great leader who sent many on the correct path while uplifting the Sasana, He was a ‘Kalyana mithraya’ (a good friend) who sought the development of those around him. He was a ‘Sanga Pithroo’ to his followers (Dayakas), He was a great chanter of Dhamma to his listeners, and he spread the knowledge of Dhamma both locally and internationally. He was a great writer who improved society through newspaper articles and magazine articles. As rain provides nourishment to the crop, he had a keen knowledge acquired for the nourishment of the ‘sasana’. As meant by the Pali term ‘Kin Sathyagaveshi’ he was on the mission for truth. Beyond all of that he was the very definition of a disciplined son of the Buddhist Doctrine.
This is the great individual that not only the country but the world lost. There are some losses that can be fulfilled, yet there are others that will remain vacant. The loss of Rev. Wimalarathana Thero is a gap that will never be filled.
That great tree endowed with fruit and flower is lost to us. We will never again be able to enjoy its pleasant shade. Yet the results of his great services can be reaped by those of the future generations. His name, his qualities, his life, will never be forgotten so long as the University of Sri Jayewardenepura exists. We will never be able to enjoy his physical presence be it at The Belanvila Raja Maha Viharaya, be it Aththidiya Maligawatta Purana viharaya or any other temple, but the memory of his great personality will live forever.
I wish the recently deceased Rev. Wimalarathana Thero will attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!