A Shining Example for Buddhist Clergy

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By Dr. Ranga Kalansooriya

The basis of the Sinhala-Buddhist tradition and culture, predominantly in Sri Lanka is the village temple. Its incumbent Chief Prelate had been the mentor, teacher and the adviser of village affairs, along with the school headmaster and the Wedamahatthaya or the village traditional doctor. Thus, the Chief Prelate of the village had been a learned, disciplined and exemplary person who commanded respect and gratitude from the masses.

This traditional trend of the Sri Lankan village culture started diminishing, especially in Buddhist temples due to many reasons. One factor was the lack of learned Buddhists Monks at the temple and the other was the trend of commercialising religious places. The average village person distanced himself or herself from the religious place and many feel that this phenomenon contributed to the downfall of the Sri Lankan society. However, it would be interesting to read any social research to academically prove this argument, though we make a strong assumption on these lines. 

But, Doowa, Brahmanagama Raja Maha Viharaya of Kottawa could be one of many exceptions to this logic. As members of the village community, we are proud to claim that we are custodians of the Doowa Temple and followers of its Chief Prelate, Most Venerable Dr. Mambulgoda Sumanarathana Maha Thera, who is tomorrow (2) assuming duties as the Deputy Chief Kolamba Nawa Koralaya and Nawa Thotamuna of Kotte Sri Kalyani Dharma Maha Sangha Sabha, a position he well deserves as a learned and highly disciplined Maha Thera. 

The temple and its Chief Prelate Sumanarathana Maha Thera are jewels, not only to the area, but the entire country as well. Along with a Doctoral degree from Sri Jayewardenepura University, the Maha Thera, who was formerly known as Doowa Podi Hamuduruwo, was the Deputy Director General of National Institute of Education with an extensive knowledge on contemporary religions, not confined to Buddhism. Even his preachings would include teachings from Christianity and Islam, not in a conflicting tone whatsoever – as it had been the normal practice – but on a contemporary and respective note. Thus, his sermons will never undermine or criticise any other religion, a highly commendable endeavour he had been practicing in his 47-year monkhood. 

Sumanarathana Thera would be the first visitor when a member of the village community passes away and practically he takes charge of the emergency protocols of the situation for the betterment of the grieving family. He would advise to make the funeral in a very low profile manner and advise the family to arrange it as soon as possible – if possible within 24 hours – to make it cost-effective and practical. He would be the person to inform the Grama Sevaka, Police, the PHI (during the pandemic) and even the parlour. It is no exaggeration to claim that he is the best and first social service leader in the village. If the family is not adhering to his advice and suggestions, then his help will also vary according to the rigid level of the family. 

Being one of the best Buddhist preachers in the country, he would not demand the villagers to use his services all the time. Sumanarathana Thera would encourage inviting guest preachers to the village and would not stop there. Sometimes, he himself is the first in the row of the audience to listen to the preaching. The doors of the Doowa Temple are always open to visiting Monks irrespective of Nikaya division. “We all belong to the Nikaya of The Buddha,” he would always say. 

One of many things that I learnt from the Maha Thera was his strict commitment to time management. If one agrees to accompany him for an event at 7:00 p.m., the Maha Thera is ready to leave on time and he would not tolerate even a five-minute delay. Knowing his strict time discipline, we the custodians would make it a practice to be at the temple at least 10-15 minutes early. 

Starting his career as a schoolteacher in 1989, Sumanarathana Maha Thera climbed the ladder up to the highest position of his institution, but never utilised the salary for his own benefit. Those funds were diverted to the construction of the road network of the village, building houses for low-income families and community centres and supplying electricity for many areas of the village. Lastly, he dedicated his EPF and ETF funds for the construction of a two-storey MOH office complex building in Kahathuduwa, Homagama at a cost of Rs 22 million. And he has decided not to apply for the State Pension Scheme. 

Even the temple is a classic case study on cleanliness, well management and disciplinary order. 

In my 35-year close friendship with the Maha Thera, we have had many arguments and differences of ideas, but all of those engagements enriched our intellectual discourse and deep understanding. He is a person with deep academic knowledge, high discipline and commitment to the enrichment of Buddhism and, in no uncertain terms, Sumanarathana Maha Thera is a truly exemplary character to the contemporary Buddhist Monks of Sri Lanka.