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A unique person with a unique personality

Late Professor Dhammavihari Maha Thera led the life of a Buddhist monk for twenty years and before his ordination the Venerable Thera, as Professor Jotiya Dhirasekera was a renowned teacher in Pali and Buddhist Civilization at the University of Peradeniya. He later served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism and the head of the Post-Graduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies, University of Kelaniya. His demise is a great loss to everyone and especially to Venerable Mettavihari who was his close associate and companion in his bhikkhu life.

The late Maha Thera was a unique person with a unique personality. I do not know of anyone living today who can surpass his vast knowledge and erudition both of the Dhamma and the Pali language. When he passed away he was 89 years of age and his death occurred a few days after his visit to Nalanda in India on the invitation of the Indian Government to participate in a scholarly event there. This shows his character and determination.

I met this unique personality over 50 years ago when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. He was the sub-warden of the Sir D. B. Jayatilaka Hall, as an assistant to Professor G. P. Malalasekera who was the warden. The teacher-pupil relationship which grew from that time was bonded in a long-lasting friendship that continued until his demise. This is true not only of me but also of all who had sat at his feet even for a day to tap from his vast storehouse of knowledge. Sometimes he has venom in his utterances because he will not brook any incorrect statement but he was never venomous. He was a loving personality and that was why he was endeared by all those who associated with him. He treated everyone alike.

In recent times the late Maha Thera has shown his concern on two matters which I think it is appropriate for me to mention. First is the need for "a SLS standard", to use his own words, for Buddha Dhamma. He was very concerned with some of the books and articles that get published, both in English and Sinhala, which distort the Dhamma and the Vinaya. Some of the distortions are deliberate to confuse the Dhamma followers and students of the Dhamma and others are due to the lack of knowledge of the Dhamma and the Vinaya. If we are to honour the late Maha Thera this is an area of work for the future.

In many of his Dhamma talks he mentions of the need for restraint. The initial training on restraint is when a layperson observes the eight precepts. The path of Buddhism is not open if we do not learn to restrain our five sense doors and the three additions to the five precepts that Buddhists are expected to adhere to in everyday life, is to provide that training. His admonition always has been the observance of the eight precepts for 24 hours and it pained him very much that this was not happening.

Death is inevitable and each one of us has to face that moment some day in life. I am sure that all who are gathered here wish to honour his memory and, if so, his expectation was that we follow the Path diligently so that our Mission in life as followers of the Dhamma is accomplished.

May the late Professor Dhammavihari Maha Thera attain the Bliss of Nibbana according to his own aspirations. Thank you.

(On the occasion of the cremation of the late Venerable Professor Dhammavihari Maha Thera - 15 February 2010 )

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