Ven.Dr.Walpola Rahula Thero – the finest make of a visionary academic

Ven.Walpola Rahula Thero

Ven.Dr.Walpola Rahula thero was one of the most celebrated Buddhist monks in Sri Lankan history. Not only he was an excellent academic and keen scholar, but also a visionary leader. His fame travelled across borders which made him an internationally revered figure.

Academic achievements

Rahula thero received his education at Vidyalankara Pirivena and later on earned his degree at University of Ceylon (present University of Colombo). He studied further at University of Culcutta and at Sorbonne University. Following his scholarly achievements, in 1964, he became the first bhikku to hold  a professorial position at a western university, when he joined the Northwestern University in Illinois, USA. His knowledge was well sought after. He visited many other foreign universities to hold lectures.

Years at University of Sri Jayewardenepura

In 1966, Ven.Rahula became the Vice Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayewardenepura. The entire student population rejoiced over his instigation, as it was a triumph on the part of the university to have such an acclaimed academic in its highest administration. Accordingly, he did so much to the improvement of the university though his tenure of office was rather short. Having worked with academics from universities worldwide, Rahula thero succeeded in arranging for foreign professors to visit Sri Jayewardenepura University to conduct lectures for local students. Equally, there were opportunities created for local lecturers to go abroad for training programmes. During his time, he included several diploma and post-graduate diploma courses to the existing study list and many of them were new pathways for students to explore in.

Rahula thero believed that a university must be an autonomous body. He viewed it to be the way that disciplined, efficient and productive academics could be turned out for the society.  He administered the university in par with that belief. His vision and skill were thus showcased, proving him to be the best in the field of university education, in his time. When he resigned from the post in 1969, Ven.Rahula thero had left behind a legend that is reminisced about up to date.

Service to Buddhism

His contribution to the advancement of Buddhism was tremendous. As an accomplished writer, Ven.Rahula had published books on Buddhism in Sinhala, English and French. Not only they took Buddhist doctrines to the world, but they also provided guidelines for monks, explaining how they can do more for the society with Buddhist teachings. He was instrumental in establishing the first Theravada temple in the United States, named the ‘Washington Vihara’. After having left his office at Sri Jayewardenepura University, Rahula thero again rendered his services to foreign universities. In early 1980’s he returned to Sri Lanka and took a key role in setting up the Buddhist and Pali University.

Literary voyage

Walpola Rahula-books

Some of his most famous works among his numerous writings.

History of Buddhism in Ceylon

Heritage of the Bhikkhu

Zen and the Taming of the Bull

Le Compendium and the Super Doctrine

What the Buddha Taught

Out of these works, the most renowned is “What the Buddha Taught”. Many reviews comment that the book connected the reader with Buddha’s teachings unlike ever before. The contents focus on basic realization on what is Buddhism. Rather than concentrating on the person of Buddha, it discusses his actual teachings. In its eight chapters, four are dedicated to the four noble truths, explaining them in vivid detail. He also talks about ‘anatta’ (no-soul) as a principal doctrine in one chapter, while in another clarifies what is meditation, which he titles as ‘mental culture’. The book concludes with a view on the eternal relevance of Buddha’s teachings to daily life. Readers note that it is a kind of a book that compels you to go back to it, re-read, in order to find essence of life again and again.


Ven.Dr.Rahula thero was beyond doubt an invaluable personage, who extended invaluable services to humanity. He took Sri Lanka to the world with his extraordinary knowledge and thus paid his dues to his country. He set a significant example to his students and monks. As a venerable priest, he worked assiduously for the expansion of Buddhism among masses.

For all this and much more he offered, Ven.Dr.Rahula Thero remains an honoured leader in the history of Sri Jayewardenepura University.

Ven.Walpola Rahula Thero

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