The First Chancellor from Rajarata
By Sarath Manula Wickrama
Chief Incumbent of the Mirisawetiya Raja Maha Vihara Ven. Ethalawetunawewa Gnanatilake Thera became the first Chancellor to have come from Rajarata. President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has appointed Ven. Gnanatilake Thera as the Chancellor of the university appreciating his three decades of service and the sacrifices made for the betterment of the Sasana.
The highest position one can attain in academia is the post of Chancellor. Since the inception of the university system in the country there have been four Vice Chancellors from Anuradhapura District to date but no Chancellor has emerged from Anuradhapura. Although it is an honorary position this is the first time the post went to Rajarata.
A special welcome ceremony - organised under the guidance of Vice Chancellor of Rajarata University Dr. Ananda Karunaratne - was held at the University premises to welcome Ven. GnanatilakeThera. The event was conducted by Dr. Olagamwatte Chandrasiri Thera of the Faculty of Sociology and Humanities, Rajarata University.
Dr. Karunaratne granted the ‘Sannas Pathra’ after the introduction by Senior Professor Ariya Lagamuwa. The Secretary to the Prime Minister Gamini Senarath officially presented the ‘Vichini Patra’ to Ven GnanatilakeThera. The acting IGP C.D. Wickramaratne and the Commanders of the tri-Forces then paid homage to the Thera. After that, the Chairman of the University Grants Commission Prof. Sampath Amaratunga, Secretary to the Ministry of Education, Technology and Innovation Anura Dissanayake, and the Vice Chancellor made welcome speeches.
The Chancellor who addressed the gathering stated, “Our aim is to make Rajarata University an institution that produces 21st century scholars. According to a survey conducted by the World Economic Forum, the 21st century has four types of intellectual skills. The first is technical skill, the second is intellectual skill, third is management skills and the fourth - business skills.
“Harvard University revealed something interesting; more than 50 per cent of the jobs that humans do in the next 10 years will be snatched away by artificial intelligence, that is, robots. Then all that is left for man to do is analytical thinking, creative abilities and activities that are guided by conscience. Therefore, what we need to do is develop these skills in students that are needed for the future. For that, we have to work with the scientific knowledge of the West, using the universal realities and practical strategies of Buddhism. So, our university must take the lead in introducing the necessary exploration and research to the world in the near future. It is a pleasure to see that this university is of a high standard, though it is still a young university. However, we must think of producing a humane doctor and to produce an engineer with integrity.”
Sanga NayakaTheras from various parts of the country, including Atamasthanadhipathi Ven. Dr. Pallegama Sirinivasa Thera, Ruwanmali Chaityaramadhikari Ven. Pallegama Hemarathana Thera, Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharadhipathi Ven. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Thera, Kelaniya Raja Maha Viharadhipathi Prof. Ven. Kollupitiye Mahinda Sangharakkitha Thera, Chef Incumbent of Sri Padasthana Ven. Bengamuwe Dhammadinna Thera, Chief Incumbent of the Abhayarama Temple in Colombo Ven. Murutthettuwe Ananda Thera, and Prof. Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa Thera also participated the occasion.
The young Gnanathikale was born on 18 April, 1969 at Pirappanmaduwa village in Vavunia as the eldest son to the lucky parents K.B. Sita and N. Gunawardena. Gnanathikale received his primary education from Gamini Maha Vidyalaya, Vavuniya, Pihimbiyagollewa Maha Vidyalaya, and Maha Kumbukwewa Vidyalaya, Anuradhapura before getting ordained on 13 May 1981 in the terrace of historical Ruwanweli Maha Seya.
He was ordained as Ethalawetunuwewa Gnanatilake since it was in Eathalweunuwewa where he grew up as a child. Gnanatilake Samanera Thera received his primary education at the Anuradhapura Maha Vihara Pirivena and the Shastrodaya Maha Pirivina in Sandalankawa. He studied higher education at the Paali and Buddhist University of Sri Lanka. He studied other postgraduate degrees at the University of Kelaniya.
Ven. GnanatilakeThera assumed the post of Chief Incumbent of the Mirisawetiya Raja Maha Vihara, Anuradhapura in 1993. He was able to fulfil many responsibilities including the conservation work of the Mirisawetiya Maha Seya and the monument complex which was being renovated at that time. The reconstruction work which was started in the ‘90s by Dr. Pallegama Sirinivasa Thera - the present Chief Incumbent of the Atamasthana - was successfully continued by Ven. GnanatilakeThera as the Chief Incumbent of the Mirisawetiya Vihara. Ven. GnanatilakeThera’s efforts were instrumental in the renovations of Mirisawetiya Maha Seya. Suffice to say that without his efforts the Stupa wouldn’t have shone in the glimmering white this soon. He was also able to make a huge infrastructure development and provide facilities as well as perform a religious service for the current needs of the sacred place. Currently, many social service activities are being carried out at the Mirisawetiya Raja Maha Vihara under the leadership of Ven. GnanatilakeThera.
Supporting thousands of farming families every year, providing scholarships to thousands of school children, providing ample material aid to thousands of pregnant mothers for a number of years, supplying educational equipment and offerings to thousands of novice monks, as well as facilitating temples in rural areas are some of the most notable social service activities carried out under the leadership and guidance of Ven. GnanatilakeThera. Apart from these activities the Thera also provides relief to the destitute in times of crisis such as natural disasters. Conducting welfare medical camps throughout the District in a manner that provides relief to all, maintaining several high quality orphanages with adequate facilities, and organising religious programmes for the national interest are also some of the services carried out by Ven. GnanatilakeThera.
Apart from his social services, the Thera’s service towards the betterment of Buddha Sasana too is significant. He was able to create a great Buddhist revival by creating opportunities for a large number of devotees from all over the country and the world to perform meritorious deeds. Ven. Gnanatilake Thera also holds the post of Secretary of the Atamasthana Sangha Sabha and is engaged in religious propaganda - both in Sri Lanka and abroad.
He has authored a number of books on Mirisawetiya Raja Maha Vihara and the Atamasthana, as well as guiding the academic work of other writers.