Sri Lanka, from the time of inception of Buddhism, has been a very fortunate country. One reason for this is that from time to time there appeared ‘epoch making religious leaders’ who succeeded in instilling hope in the minds of Buddhists.
They have also been able to inspire and direct the devotees to follow the right path. In Most Venerable Aggamaha Pandita Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thero- the newly appointed the Supreme Maha Nayaka Thero of Sri Lanka Anarapura Maha Nikaya- we see such a great religious dignitary. With his impeccable and most exemplary conduct he epitomizes what true monkhood is. This great religious personality hails from Kotugoda, a comparatively less-known suburb of the Gampaha District. Kotugoda has now shot into fame due to the fame that the monk now holds.
The well-to-do family of Endavitharanage Haramanis Rodrigo and Selestina Rodrigo happened to live a pious life. The couple had six siblings; four sons and two daughters. A new male sibling joined this family on January 21 in 1933, bringing much joy to this family.
The elated parents named this youngest sibling Endavitharanage Sirimevan Rodrigo. Being the youngest, he was the darling of everyone. In spite of being over-petted, Sirimevan turned out to be an extremely obedient child. He sowed lot of restraint and maturity, traits not normally seen in most other children of his age.
The parents, being devoted Buddhists, had close contact with the village temple. As a result Sirimevan received his first initiation to learn from the chief incumbent of the village temple, Ven. Kotugoda Pemananda Nayaka Thero. His formal primary education commenced with his admission to the Buddhist Mixed School in Kotugoda, which was run by the Buddhist Theosophical Society.
This school is now well-known as Kotugoda Rahula Maha Vidyalaya. This marked a very crucial period in his life. It was in 1948 August 17 that teenager Sirimevan obtained admission to the monk community as a novice. This was as the consequence of the close friendship between Ven. Kotugoda Wimalaratana Thero and Ven.
Unavatune Dhammapala Thero, the chief incumbent of the Sri Dharmapalamaya, Mt. Lavinia. Obtaining discipleship under Ven. Unavatune Dhammapala Thero, the novice monk came to be known as Kotugoda Dhammavasa and came to reside at Sri Dharmapalaramaya, Mt. Lavinia.
While residing in this Viharaya he continued his religious studies at the Paramadhamma Cetiya Pirivena in Ratmalana, which he entered in 1952. Then he joined the Vidyodaya Pirivena, Maligakanda, where he continued his studies in Tripitaka and such oriental languages as Pali and Sanskrit. This gave him the opportunity of meeting and receiving instructions from erudite scholar monks of the time such as Most Ven. Kalukondayawe Pannasekara Nayaka Thero, Most Ven. Welivitiye Sorata Nayaka Thero, Most Ven. Walane Satthissara Nayaka Thero, Most Ven. Parawahera Vajiranana Nayaka Thero and many others. His association with Vijiraramaya Temple and his great admiration for Most Ven. Narada Maha Thero and Ven. Piyadassi Thero made him get involved in Buddhist missionary activities.
Young Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa’s higher ordination took place in 1954, July 10th. On this occasion Most Ven. Beruwala Sri Sumangala Siriniwasa Maha Nayaka Thero functioned as the ‘Upajjhaya’, Most Ven. Ambalangoda Dhammakusala Maha Nayaka Thero, Most Ven. Moratuwe Sasanaratana Anunayaka Thero and Most Ven. Moratuwe Pemaratana Thero served as the ‘Karmacarya’.
With his impeccable and most exemplary conduct he epitomizes what true monkhood is.
With the obtaining of higher ordination a marked change took place in Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thero’s life. He became more scholarly. He started writing articles on relevant Buddhist subjects. These contributions that he made started around 1960s. These efforts made it possible for him to publish much readable articles in Sinhala. These were widely read and appreciated by pious devotees. With the establishment of the Bauddhodaya Association at the Dhammapalaramaya Temple in Dehiwala, he began publishing annually, a Vesak journal, which he got distributed free among the devotees.
He published a fair number of booklets for the purpose of developing faith in the ordinary followers. Among these are: ‘Nivanata Maga’, ‘Ketumati Rajadhāniya’, ‘Kosala Raja Sihina’, ‘Dhammo Have Rakkhati Dhammacari’ etc. His writing greatly appealed to the people because of the serene style in which he presented them. He used lucid language, citing events and insights drawn from the Tripitaka, the Jātaka book etc. Besides, he often contributed very readable and inspiring articles using the Sinhala language to the popular Sinhala newspapers which were eagerly read.
The great impact Ven Narada Nayaka Thero had on him made him earnestly commit himself to missionary activities. Being much influenced by reputed missionary monks from Sri Lanka such as Most Ven. Narade Maha Thero and Ven. Piyadassi Maha Thero, this monk followed in their footsteps. He toured a number of countries like India, Nepal, China, Japan, Germany, America, Pakistan, Thailand and Myanmar to preach and teach the Dharma, spread Buddhism and fill the hearts and minds of the listeners with serene joy. Besides, he even took recovery steps to establish temples in Myanmar, Nepal, thus further bolstering his missionary work.
Most Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thero is admired and appreciated by Local Buddhists as one of the most appealing preachers in the country. He had this potential from his younger days, a talent which he cultivated. This is one factor which has made him a sought after preacher. He used his knowledge of Dhamma and blended it with the discipline he maintained. He could keep the audience spell-bound with his soft, lucid and ear-pleasing speech. He was able to communicate most suitable doctrinal points in a very simple way. Hence his diary was ever-filled with invitations to visit temples, scattered all over the island, to preach the doctrine. The listeners not only appreciated his preaching, but generously made donation to establish temples. One of these temples is named ‘Upali Dharmasramaya’ and is situated in Kataragama. It’s this preaching ability of his that made him win over many. With their generosity he developed the Sri Dhamrmapalaramaya to the state it is at present. He used the electronic media too for proper preaching.
He published a fair number of booklets for the purpose of developing faith in the ordinary followers. Among these are: ‘Nivanata Maga’, ‘Ketumati Rajadhāniya’, ‘Kosala Raja Sihina’, ‘Dhammo Have Rakkhati Dhammacari’ etc
With maturity, especially after his attainment of higher ordination, he showed a growing dedication to work and uplift the Sāsana. Tirelessly he went to every nook and corner of the island preaching and teaching. He dedicated his whole life to serve the Sāsana and foster the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Nikaya. The Most. Ven. Kosgoda Dhammavansa Maha Nayaka Thero, who noticed the commitment of Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa Nayaka Thero, proposed to him to accept this co-secretary-ship of the Sangha Council. This he humbly accepted and discharged all duties expected of him to the best of his ability. In appreciation of his great services his position was elevated to the position of Secretary General. He served in this capacity for many years.
From this position he succeeded to the position of President of the Sangha Council. After many years of service in this position he was made ‘Mahopādhyāya’. Then, when the supreme Maha Nāyaka position fell vacant following the passing away of Most Ven. Davuldena Nānissara, Most Venarable Aggamahapanditha Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thero was unanimously appointed as the Supreme Maha Nāyakaof the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Nikāya. This appointment was made on May 26 this year. This long journey towards success is evidenced by various honorific ecclesiastical titles awarded to him. Among these honorific titles are: Saddharmakirti Sri Tripitaka Visharada, Pravacana Kirti Sri Sāsana Shobhana, Sri Sumangala Vidyavatansaka, Aggamaha Pandita etc.
(The writer is a pupil of the Supreme Mahanayake)