Most Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithreya thera - Sri Lanka Guardian

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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Most Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithreya thera

by Walter Wijenayake

(July 17, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)
The Most Venerable Balangoda Ananda Maithreya Nayake Thera, a truly great and most saintly monk, who was veritably the light of Sri Lanka’s Sangha which illumined the whole country during the second half of the last century, passed away on July 18, 1998, at the age of 102 years, exactly 12 years ago

William Arachchige, also known as Punchi Mahatthaya, was born on August 23, 1896, in the village of Kirindigala in Balangoda in the Sabaragamuwa Province to the family of Narangoda Arachchige Methias Appuhamy, alias Maddemahamy, and Bentara Arachchige Heen Menika.

This Buddha aspirant child’s mother breathed her last two weeks after his birth. He entered the Order of Sangha as a Samanera on March 2, 1911, at the age of just 15 years and was given the ecclesiastical name, Sarana Gavesi. However, later he came to be known as Bhikku Balangoda Ananda Maitreya. Within a short period he learnt the Dhamma, Vinaya, the doctrine and discipline from his teacher Ven. Abhidhammacharya Denihene Silananda Thera, who was also the Viharadhipathi of Sri Mandarama Viharaya of Udumulla in Bulathgama.

He acquired a high proficiency in Sinhala, Pali and Sanskrit languages. He entered Ananda College, Colombo to master the English language. He showed an enormous interest in oriental languages and studies, was later admitted to the higher form at Ananda College where he passed the London Matriculation Examination with distinction. Later he joined the staff of Ananda College as a teacher.

It is said that he, during his stay at Ananda College, began to turn a new leaf in his life to coincide with the revival of Buddhism that was taking place under the guidance of Anagarika Dharmapala at that point of time Venerable Ananda Maitreya, to his credit, turned out to be the most popular teacher of Pali, Sanskrit and Sinhala at the College later. When Ananda College was full to the brim, an alternative to this institute had to be discovered as the number of students seeking the knowledge of Sinhala, Pali, Sanskrit and Buddhism swelled.

The result was the birth of Nalanda College. He taught at Nalanda College as well, gave Nalanda its motto Aapadana Sobhini Panna (Wisdom illumines character).

He received higher ordination under the tutelage of Ven. Denihene Silananda Thera at the Simamalaka Balangoda in the rivulet of Olu. His preceptor at his higher ordination was Damharra Dhammananda Thera.

After his career at Ananda and Nalanda Colleges, Ven. Ananda returned to his home town Balangoda in the hope of establishing a Pirivena to meet the growing needs of the people and produce erudite Bhikku scholars for the uplift of the Sasana. His efforts, assisted by his teacher, gave birth to the opening of Sri Dhammananda Pirivena in Balangoda. As the Pirivenadhipathi (Principal) he rendered a yeoman service to the Pirivena educational sphere, by highlighting the grievances of both the Sangha community and Buddhist laity.

He stood firmly by the rights of the Buddhists who had been deprived of the rightful position they had enjoyed for generations. He was very much instrumental in founding the Buddhist Commission of Inquiry of 1954 and was an ardent supporter of the Buddhist cause. The findings of this Report were not printed in Colombo due to a number of unforeseen circumstances. However, he had the courage to take the manuscript of the Report to Balangoda where the Commission Report, comprising over 40 pages, was printed in time for release to the people on February 4, 1956, at a public meeting held at Ananda College, Colombo. He was a personality endowed with very rare qualities and weathered all rough storms.

He as a missionary, was well known all over the world because of his erudition. He was invited to deliver guest lectures, conduct meditation retreats etc. in many European destinations. The government of Burma conferred the honour of Agga Maha Panditha on the Maha Nayake Thera in recognition of his invaluable services to the Sasana and the laity alike. The Burmese government once again honoured him with the title ‘Maharattaguru’, the most prestigious and highest accolade that can be bestowed upon any Buddhist monk.

This unique personality’s guidance and advice was sought by people from all walks of life in all matters, whether it was political, religious or apolitical. He was an embodiment of compassion and honesty, through which qualities he developed his extraordinary extra-sensory perceptions.

The sixth Sangha Council held in Burma in 1954-1956 was a high point in his life. Just before leaving for Burma he was appointed Head of the Saddhamma Vansa sect of the Amarapura Nikaya. While in Burma, the Sangaraja of the great council suddenly died and it was Ven. Ananda Maithreya to whom the huge assembly of bhikkus from everywhere turned. He was elected to be in-charge of this memorable event.

The Maha Nayake Thera next turned his hand to university life in 1959. He began to teach Mahayana Buddhism. Later he became the Head of the faculty at Vidyodaya University in 1963. After completing various degrees and receiving some honourary ones he became the Vice-Chancellor of the University in 1966.

Although he continued his life long involvement in university teaching and was pivotal to the functioning of the Government Translation Committee, he next turned to a more concrete international life.

He spent long periods abroad, but he never wanted to neglect his abode in Balangoda. It was the place of his self-satisfaction and tranquillity of mind. This Maha Nayake Thera never went after any designations or any other honourary titles. Instead, such honours followed him and various dignitaries in all parts of the world wanted to honour him, by giving him the most suitable and fitting gestures of veneration.

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