Remembering a Buddhist scholar, author and teacher

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September 17, 2023 1:24 am 0 comment 187 views

By T. Colvin De Silva

The third death anniversary of veteran author and Buddhist scholar Wijesiri Wettimuny fell on September 16, 2023. Even though I got to know him towards the latter part of his life, the little time I spent with him was spent quite meaningfully and I gained a lot of knowledge from associating with him.

I called him a few years ago after reading his historical masterpiece, ‘Sarala Sinhala Mahavamsa,’ which, according to my understanding, was the first of its kind in the country. Sarala Sinhala Mahavamsa contains the unbroken legendary narrative of the Sinhalese from the beginning up to the Wanni Humanitarian Operation in 2009. (Wanni Vijayagrahanaya) Today, as The Mahavamsa: The Great Chronicle of Sri Lanka is added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World International Register, 2023, his contributions to the nation must be revisited with gratitude.

The scholarly writer then generously offered me a copy of his other historic book, Mahavamsaya Saha Sinhala Jana Jeewithaya as he was thoroughly convinced of my interest for history and Mahavamsa.

Author Wijesiri Wettimuny

Author Wijesiri Wettimuny

My eyes soon fell on the back cover which featured a blurb from the late Prof. Wimala Wijesooriya (1997) who had described Wettimuny’s Mahavamsaya Saha Sinhala Jana Jeewithaya as “ a masterpiece on the subject written using primary sources -, the original Pali text of Mahavamsa and Mahavamsa-tika.”

“Other than Wilhelm Geiger’s The Culture of Ceylon in Mediaeval Times, this is perhaps the best scholarly work based on the original Pali sources.” the late Professor had mentioned.

I soon understood the value of the book and Mr. Wettimuny’s hard work, high-flown Sinhala, and his knowledge of history held me spellbound. He had written over 20 books and research work altogether.

His last two books Budun Wadala Thama Pasupasa Ena Karma Wipaka and Samma Sambudun Samaga Sanwada are two fantastic works on Buddhism. These two books demonstrate his in-depth understanding of Buddhism and his wonderful application of the Buddha’s teachings to improve human life. During one of our telephone conversations, he told me that he could see Buddha in his mind’s eye when he closed his eyes. That was the extent of his devotion to the Buddha and his teachings. Both books should serve as a guide for all Buddhists. And it is a pity that the books are currently out of stock. The way one’s Kamma pursues a person is so intense that no one who understands the ramifications of one’s negative Kamma would commit harmful activities. They would never break any of the Five Precepts.

The way Samma Sambudun Samaga Sanvada is written is so appealing that I feel as if I am conversing with the Buddha whenever I read it. Again, what makes the book even more unique is the translation of the identical Pali Suttra wordings directly into simple Sinhala. Wettimuny’s proficiency in Pali had been an asset in this endeavour as well.

I have kept my Buddhist collection of books which includes Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera’s What the Buddha Taught, Ven. Rerukaane Chandawimala Thera’s collection of Buddhist books, and Wijesiri Wettimuny’s Samma Sambudun Samaga Sanvada and Budun Wadala Thama Pasu Pasa Ena Karma Vipaka for quick reference and whenever I take a book from the shelf, I bestow merit on the writers for having written such valuable books to guide us on the path of the Buddha.

I later learned that the late Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathna Thera had planned to conduct a ceremony to felicitate Buddhist scholars and writers who had made enormous contributions to uplift Buddhism, and Wettimuny too was among the names. But the Recognition ceremony was never held since Thera died under tragic.

Wettimuny had been offered numerous local literary awards, but what mattered most was the permanent imprint he had left on the hearts of his readers. What he was more interested in was his service to the nation and he once told me that his sheer satisfaction as a Buddhist scholar and writer was having been able to guide so many on the right path through his writings.

Wettimuny had served as a teacher and principal and he had written most of his books while maintaining a superb balance between his work life and literary life. However, after his retirement, he dedicated his entire life to writing.

He was such a modest, straightforward, and honest human being. He was willing to share his knowledge freely, and through our chats, I learned a great deal about Buddhism and history. His closeness to nature and love for all living beings, even the smallest ant, made him stand out as an epitome of compassion.

May Veteran Buddhist Scholar Wijesiri Wettimuny’s journey through Samsara be smooth and I am sure it will be. Achieving the highest status of Nibbana won’t be a difficult task for him given his service to Buddhism and his exemplary virtuous life which, too, must have been a habit from his previous births.

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