Start studying with a clean slate


Ven Mundawansha Thera

First Buddhist monk to score the highest in any subject stream at the G.C.E Advanced Level Examinations in an exclusive interview with The Island

By Sajitha Prematunge

Little Ishara Madushanka Pathirana was no stranger to the village temple of Parakaduwa Pathberiya. It was one of his favourite haunts. But he didn't just play around in the sand like other boys. This is where Ishara learned to write his first letters. Little did he know that his tutelage under the Loku Hamuduruwo would lay the foundation that would enable him to obtain the highest results in the Arts stream at the G.C.E Advanced Level Examinations with an z score of 2.6541.

Ishara showed signs of academic excellence at an early age, exhibiting an innate talent for subjects such as science and Tamil Language. He received his primary education at the Hangamuwa Sri Rathnodaya Maha Vidyalaya, Hangamuwa and was always placed first or second in class. But he owes his early academic success to the Loku Hamuduruwo at the village temple in Parakaduwa who prepped him for the Scholarship Examination with past papers.

But by age seven Ishara already knew one thing for certain. "I wanted to become a monk," says Ven. Pathberiye Mundawansha Thera, the first Buddhist monk to obtain the highest results in any subject stream at the Advanced Level Examination.

Young Ishara's father worked as a driver, while his mother was a housewife. He was the eldest in a family of two younger brothers, both of whom exhibit clear signs of future academic excellence. "The younger one in particular is bright," says the Thera.

The now 21-year-old Thera says that he was not able to convince his parents to let him get ordained for many years. But after much convincing he was able to receive his ordination at the age of 12.

At the age 13 he entered Sri Siddharthodaya Pirivena, Ginihiriya. "There our lives were modeled according to a time table." He explained that this training of a scheduled lifestyle helped him immensely in his studies. It was no wonder that he aced his final examination at the end of his initial Pririvena education. He sat for the Prachina Prarambha at the Horana Vidyarathana Pirivena in 2015.

He sat for A/Ls at the Saddaramalankara Pirivena, Ratnapura. And the education he received there was influential in preparing him for the exam in just three months, which usually takes students a year and a half. Trained in the ways of detachment Mundawansha Thera says that he is not ecstatic about his achievement.

He studied Buddhism on his own and took tuition on the other two subjects; Sanskrit and History. He says that he made maximum use of the library and spent many hours reading books and educational magazines. In fact, his advise to future A/L students is to refer books. "Even books that are not prescribed reading in the syllabus. After all we have to expand our knowledge."

He suggests that students cultivate a liking for the subjects they study. "If you can't learn to love the subject, studying becomes torture. Prior to studying purify the mind. Clear the mind of all other concerns. Start with a clean slate." He explains that this way, whatever one studies for however short a time will have maximum effect.

"We all have our own methods of studying. Don't go on someone else's model, find the style you find most comfortable following."

Another word of wisdom by the Thera is to cut down a little on the fun. "Don't spend all your time studying. But, spend a little less time on the phone." He reiterated that perseverance, dedication and sacrifice are of utmost importance qualities in achieving great academic heights.

"A Buddhist monk leads a life free of worries," opined Mundawansha Thera when asked if being a Buddhist monk turned out to be advantageous for him in facing the competitive exam. He admits that Buddha Dhamma helped him immensely in reaching his academic goals. He revealed that his ultimate academic goal is to become a lecturer at the university.


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