“Bhikkhus, when virtuous renunciant dwell in dependence on a village or a town, there people generate much merit in three ways.
What are the three? By body, speech and mind.
When virtuous renunciant dwell in dependence on a village or a town, there people generate much merit in these three ways.”
This is the impeccable statement made by the great Master, the Gauthama Buddha about his true disciples 26 centuries ago. The pearl of Indian Ocean and the beautiful island Sri Lanka was very fortunate to inherit a worthy personage at the dawn of the 20th century.
The Rajapaksha family was highly regarded, wealthy and respected Buddhists in Ampitiya, Kandy which is profoundly gifted with the blessings of the sacred tooth relic. They were very well educated and equipped with vast amount knowledge in English language. That capacity and competency led them to be in reputable positions in numerous places in the government.
Very fortunate and a blessed child was born to Rajapaksha family at 10 pm on December 24, 1914. Simon and Karuna Rajapaksha were so delighted. As a tradition and customary, according to the time of the birth he was given a Buddhist name as Dharmadasa Rajapaksha unlike other brothers, such as Henry, Elias, John, Peter, Richard, Kenny and Francis.
Under the guidance of Ven. Pelene Mahanayaka Thera, the young Dharmadasa excelled the needful knowledge of Dhamma and discipline and then he was ordained on May 6, 1936 under the name “Ven. Ampitiye Rahula”
After, the completion of his secondary education with an extensive knowledge of English young Dharmadasa joined the government service as a clerk at the Nawalapitiya Municipal Council.
Since Dharmadasa was against issuing licences for slaughter houses by the Municipal Council he was reluctant to continue his contribution. He was a very compassionate person and would never encourage anyone to hurt or harm any living being. This cruel act of the Municipal Council led him to resign from that service. Then he was offered a teaching job at the school where his elder brother was the principal. He was delighted to share his knowledge with young students and worked as an English teacher.
However at that time, the idea of becoming a Buddhist monk was firmly crystallized and gradually solidified in his mind. This profound conclusion led him to resign from his teaching career and with the help of his elder brother he won the hearts of all the other members of the Rajapaksha family to become a monk.
Even though his family members wanted him to be ordained in a prestigious and affluent monastery where he could have easily become a superior and a mighty, specially because of his English education, young Dharmadasa was reluctant to do so.
By the time he was so ardent to become a monk and was looking for a suitable teacher, the incumbent of Vajiraramaya in Bambalapitiya, Ven. Pelene Siri Vajiragnana Maha Nayaka Thera was a leading and outstanding character in the country. He had a widespread reputation as a scholar and as a well versed personality. Young Dharmadasa had listened to his sermons on radio and had read his newspaper articles and that paramount impression guided him to meet this eminent character and decided to take ordination under him.
Under the guidance of Ven. Pelene Mahanayaka Thera young Dharmadasa excelled the needful knowledge of Dhamma and discipline and then he was ordained on May 6, 1936 under the name “Ven. Ampitiye Rahula”. After the completion of compulsory eligibilities, his higher ordination took place on July 30, 1936 in Kelaniya with five other Chinese novices.
Ven. Ampitiye Maha Thera was a very loyal and an obedient disciple of his compassionate teacher. When his teacher Most Ven. Pelene Mahanayaka Thera became unwell and physically weak Ven. Ampitiye Maha Thera wholeheartedly devoted himself towards fulfilling all the requirements of his venerable teacher and as an immediate result of the wholesome kamma accumulated by Ven. Ampitiye Maha Thera is now being very well looked after by his own pupil Ven. Deepaloka Thera with great respect.
As a mark of gratitude towards his teacher he established the Bhikkhu Training Centre at Maharagama in 1958 with the guidance of late Most Ven. Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera. It was named as Siri Vajiragnana Dharmayathanaya by dedicating it to his most respectable teacher. He has also ordained hundreds of youth to become highly educated and well trained monks who are now serving the humanity by spreading the teachings of the Buddha all over the world.
We are extremely proud of our precious teacher and delighted to pronounce that our compassionate teacher Ven. Ampitiye Maha Thera is one of the uppermost personalities in the community of Maha Sangha that embodied his eminent character as a well-disciplined and well-mannered personality who respects and lives up the Doctrine and Discipline (Dhamma and Vinaya).
When I was studying under the guidance of Maha Thera, I remember how he used to advise me. In numerous times he compassionately pointed out my mistakes and minor lapses and has always kindly encouraged me to correct and rectify them by quoting Buddha’s words such as
“One who associate with inferior person declines
One who associate with an equal does not decline
Attending on a superior person one develops quickly
Therefore you should follow one superior to yourself.”
Not only he advised us but also he was an extraordinary exemplary person. He himself was abiding by all the rules and encouraged us to do the same. He was a unique living example to all his students. He is the embodiment of purity and virtue. Not only in words and instructions but also in deeds, his well-organized life is unimpeachable. The places and surroundings where he lived were spotless, well arranged and tidy. I am yet to see such highly organized character and surroundings anywhere else.
“The purpose of monkhood is giving up; not accumulating any material possession”
This is also another frequently used phrase of my teacher. Not only in Pali language but also in English he beautifully implanted numerous worthy factors in our hearts for the benefit of our lives. He also has established many monasteries and meditation centres, for the benefit of many.
In 1984, Prof. R.G. Panabokke and his University associates invited my teacher to reside for rainy retreat at one of the university premises in Peradeniya. While he was residing there he delivered numerous Dhamma talks and conducted meditation sessions especially for foreign students in English. Most fascinating and impressive incident was the daily routine of alms around of my teacher, Ven. Ampitiye Maha Thera. Many scholars and students were highly impressed to see that rare incident in the vicinity of such a prestigious academic environment.
“Plain living and high thinking” is another familiar expression of his daily advises. Simplicity, clarity, purity and morality are the paramount qualities that our teacher always encouraged us to cultivate and develop within us.
He was never desirous to have titles, designations, appellations or any other epithet. He is a very simple and extremely humble teacher. He has always stated that these titles are impediments and hindrances for the path of purification. This is also one of the classic examples of my great teacher Ven. Ampitiye Maha Thera.
In this era in which the respect and unity are drastically eroding and gradually disappearing from our Sangha Community Ven. Ampitiye Rahula Maha Thera and late Ven. Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera maintained an amicable relationship with each other with great respect and without any single disagreement. This is the utmost rare and unprecedented cooperation and association I have seen in my whole life up to this day. Each and every single occasion when Ven. Ampitiye Maha Thera paid his respect to Ven. Madihe Nayaka Thera he never turned his back towards the elder but moved backwards with joint palms on his forehead. Very rare and treasured incidence like this has brought tears to our eyes many a times in the past.
Ven. Ampitiye Sri Rahula Maha Thera is full of great innermost qualities and profound virtues which can be written to fill many volumes of books. For me it is a difficult task to vividly explicate in words since my vocabulary is very limited.
My humble effort was to write about the greatness of Ven. Ampitiye Rahula Thera at least in few words to pay my wholehearted respects to my teacher who compassionately ordained me and trained me well as a bhikkhu in this dispensation of the Gautama Buddha.
His 104th birthday is on December 24, 2017.
May Ven. Ampitiye Sri Rahula Maha Thera be well and happy and may he accomplish all his aspirations with ease and comfort.