“Charitha Bikkaway Charithan” – “Bahujana Hithaya, Bahujana Sukaya”
In keeping with the saying of Lord Buddha, I was privileged to associate with a Ven. Prelate who devoted his life to work for the wellbeing of the people. At a time when parents are finding it very difficult to care for two children, he cared for over 5,000 children during the last 40 years and still continues to do so.
During the past 80 years I had associated many monks, who were Academics, in the calibre of Professors, Pandits, and the Prelate I am writing about had no ulterior motive of gain. He was one of the cleverest of the clever. Many were working for their own gain. But Ven. Vajira Sri Thera committed himself to the wellbeing of the needy persons. He was a selfless person devoted to service. He is none other than Ven. Dr. Hunupolagama Vajira Sri Nayake Thera, who celebrates his 81st Birthday.
If we look back at the lives of some of the people, we see they worked for personal gain. Ven. Dr. Vajira Sri Thera committed his whole life to the wellbeing of others who were less fortunate. I thought it right to pay homage to the Prelate by writing about the services he had been committed to. I find it of no benefit to talk of where he was born, about his parents, about the places he had his religious education or about his private life. It will not benefit society. There were many who survived because of him. I think I should talk about some of the services he had done.
Although there were over 1,000 temples, Lord Buddha lived in the Jethawanarama temple in the town of Savath. Although the teachers of Ven. Vajira Sri Thera had many temples, he found solace in a small plot of muddy land, in Ananda Balika Mawatha, Pitakotte. A young Prelate at that time, together with the youth in the village, made a small cadjan hut, which ultimately became a Buddhist centre because of the untiring efforts of the young priest.
While devoting his precious time to promoting Buddhism he never forgot to look at what he could do for the poor villagers. Many of the people who lived in this area were very poor and found it very difficult to get even a meal. Most of the hunger-stricken children of the village fell prey to many who sought to convert them for their benefit.
Realising this problem, he looked at ways to protect them. He visited most of these poor homes, he brought them to the temple, bathed them clothed them and fed them. He invited his friends’ families to provide clothing for the children, and got rid of the rags the children were wearing. He spent his time teaching the children. The dana he got was shared among the poor children. Because the children got food and clothing they started to visit the temple regularly. He spent most of his valuable time looking for ways to fill their empty stomachs.
After getting people to help he sent them many a time to collect food. Some of them walked 20 to 30 miles daily looking for food to feed the hungry children. The lone service the prelate was doing caught the eye of some like-minded people who came to help him. By word of mouth many people who had similar motives rallied round to help him.
In the 1970s when Sri Lanka was facing many difficulties in finding food, he understood that it would be very difficult to find food for the many children who came to him. He knew that the villagers could not give a dana when they found it difficult to even cook a meal. Realising this he visited Gal Oya where he found a plot of crown land and started growing paddy, which helped feed the children.
His highest service started in 1983 when the ethnic troubles began. Many people in the North and East died as a result. Children, who were orphaned, due to the death of their parents, were found abandoned. Morawewa, in the North-Central Province, was one area where many parents in one of the villages had been killed and children were orphaned. Many of the children were very frightened and hid in the jungle. The troops who were combing the area found these children, brought them to Morawewa and handed them over to the Governor.
Ukku Banda Wijekoon, the Assistant Government Agent, was one of Ven. Vajira Thera’s brothers, who later succumbed to an injury received during a landmine explosion. There was no way that they could provide protection to these children. Knowing the services that were done by his brother, the Ven. Thera, he wrote to him about the plight of the children. Ven. Thera brought 101 children to Colombo. He was not able to leave any child after seeing their sad faces. Although there was no space in the temple he still brought the children because he had the strength of mind to help them. In the early stages the children were fed milk by the prelate himself.
Not only Buddhist children there were also children of other religions, namely Christian, Hindu and Muslim. The Christian children were sent to the church for their religious observances, while Hindu and Muslim teachers visited the centre to teach the children. At that time there was a lot of publicity in the papers about the services done by the Prelate. As a result, social activists and foreign donors came to support the centre. Then the centre gradually became a Children’s Development Centre providing care and protection for the children.
When I visited the centre a few years back, I saw 376 children receiving care and protection there. There were children from the age of one to 18 years. Children of all ethnic groups lived in this centre in harmony. Ven. Vajira Thera has provided shelter for over 5,000 children from 1983 to 2022. The children were provided with nutrition. Timely interventions were taken to provide the children with Vocational Education. There are many children in high ranks of service in the country who were provided care and protection by the prelate. Lawyers, Engineers, Doctors adorn the list of the children who were once inmates of the centre.
He was an exemplary tutor and care giver. The High Priest who ordained him in 1953, on a Poya Day, was Ven. Ambagaswewe Rathanajothi, who was the Maha Nayake of the Asgiri Chapter. Senior Karaka Sangasabika Nawinne Sumana, his student bhikku of that Nikaye, Senior Karaka Sanga Sabika Ambagasweve Rathanapala Thera and Raswehera Katugampolag Dammarathana Thera were his gurus.
While pursuing his education in Colombo he learnt that his teacher, Nawinne Sumana, was sick. He nursed him for four years in the temple in Kandy until he passed away. Not having a proper meal, not having proper sleep he nursed his guru until he passed away
Even when the Chief Incumbent of Raswehera Raja Maha Vihara Ven. Wanni Hathpathuwe Katugampala Dhammarathana Thera fell ill, he admitted him to Nawaloka Hospital and treated him at the hospital for weeks, spending lakhs of rupees and provided him the necessary care.
He took exemplary care of his mother. He cared for his mother, Punchi Manike Dissanayake, who spent a life span of over 100 years. While his sisters protested, he brought her to Colombo and provided her the very best treatment.
There is no way that I can spell out all the work he has done.
He built a community centre for the people in Wanathamulla with his private funds.
He provided water service to the Midellawa Temple, gave land in Kotte and Panadura to three poor families and built houses for them, provided a three-wheeler to a poor person in Kotte and provided all the gifts to the children of the Daham Pasal at the Galnewa Sasana Bala Mandala Daham School for a number of years.
Here, I must mention that he had the privilege of becoming the Priest in charge of the service at the Kandy Dalada Maligawa, which many priests do not get a chance to perform.
He had been a President of the Kotte Sasana Bala Mandalaya and a Past President of the Lanka Jathika Bhikkshu Peramuna. He had been the past Secretary of the International Bauddaloka Foundation, and was the Assistant Secretary of the World Peace Sanga Society.
I am pleased to present to you some of the credentials given by eminent Buddhist Monks:
“Very few Buddhist monks provide social service. It is so in Sri Lanka too. The only Buddhist monk who provides such service is Ven. Dr. Hunupolagama Vajira Sri Nayake Thera,” stated Ven. Palipana Chandananda Thera – Maha Mayake Thera of the Asgiri Chapter.
“It is important to keep an identity and doing social service is the present need of the country. Understanding this concept the Ven. Hunupolagama Vajira Sri Nayake Thera made it his vocation to provide care and protection to children. I am happy to honour his services,” stated President of Sri Lanka Amarapura Chapter Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayake Thera, adding “We wish Ven Dr. Hunupolagama Vajira Sri Nayake Thera long life filled with good health and the ability to provide more services for the needy.
By Ravindra Dissanayake (B.Ed)