Ven. Paññāsīha Mahanayake Thera’s concepts of Dhamma School education

9 September 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Most Venerable Pelene Vajiranana Maha Thera (centre), Ven. Narada Thera (3rd from right), Ven. Kamburugamuwe Mahanama as Samanera (extreme right), standing in the first row is young Dudley Senanayake (2nd from left) and young J.R. Jayewardene (2nd from right). Young Bernard Soysa is also in the picture. The photograph was taken in the early 1920s.  

Coinciding with the 13th death anniversary of the Most Venerable Madihe Paññāsīha Mahanayake Thera, a newly-constructed four-storey building will be dedicated in his memory on September 10, 2016 at the Siri Vajiraramaya temple in Bambalapitiya, on the guidance of the Most Venerable Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanayake Thera, the current incumbent of Sri Vajiraramaya.

 
The building ‘Atipūjya Madihe Pänasiha Mahanāhimi Samaru Sadaham Pahaya’ will be declared open by the Maha Sangha including the Supreme Patriarch of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Mahanikaya the Most Venerable Aggamahapandita Davuldena Gnānissara Mahanayake Thera. It will house the senior section of the Siri Vajiraramaya Dhamma School.   


“Our children are still very good”were the words often uttered by the late Madihe Paññāsīha Mahanayake Thera. He said so in all sincerity because he had faith in our children. He considered the children and youth, if correctly motivated and handled, as assets of the country. Accordingly, the Venerable Thera initiated many programmes to develop them from early childhood.   


He used to always say that training began at home as the parents are referred to as pubbācariya (first teachers). Hence, the concept he developed was that every home should be a pre-school. The notion of a ‘school’ - pāsala brings to mind a formal type of education. He coined the term ladaru- gurusevana, with the teacher playing the role of an akka (sister) or nända or punci-amma (aunt) so that the children always felt pre-schools were mere extensions of their homes’ environment.   


Formal education begins with the admission of a child to a day school, and later a Dhamma School. The Ven. Thera used to remind that when children get admitted to schools, the parents in the olden days do not ask the Principal or Head Master to provide a good education to the child; but, instead, the request was to help mould (hadala denna) the child to be a good person. Character formation was paramount and in this regard, five principles were formulated by the Ven. Thera targeting Dhamma school education. They are - 1. Observe the five precepts always and endeavour to observe the Eight Precepts on Poya (full-moon) days; 2. Encourage to respect the Sangha, parents, teachers and elders; 3. Train to lead a simple lifestyle and promote good-neighbourliness; 4. Develop restraint, good behaviour and a sound knowledge of the Dhamma; 5. Produce a generation of students who are kindled by devotion to the Buddha-Dhamma, inspired by what is indigenous, motivated by national pride and enlivened by a love for one’s language.   


These principles, according to the Thera, should form the core of any Dhamma school education. More than theoretical knowledge, the Dhamma schools, he believed, had the responsibility to nurture saddhā in the minds of the children, especially of those in the primary section. Intense confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, which is saddhā, is referred to as the seed (saddhā bīja) that has to be planted with care and circumspection in order to ensure the healthy growth of a child.   


‘A healthy mind in a healthy body’ is a very old dictum and the Most Venerable Thera was fully appreciative of this. Hence, a scheme was worked out to provide every child attending the Dhamma School at the Maharagama, Siri Vajirañāna Dharmāyatanaya a glass of nutritious herbal porridge – kola-kända. Today, there are over 7,000 children attending this Dhamma School, and one could imagine the magnitude of the operation.   
Turunu Saviya, meaning ‘Youth Strength,’ was another important innovation of the late Mahanayake Thera to harness youth strength for their betterment and that of the country. Even a handbook was prepared and published in this regard. In a way, it is an indigenising of the Boy Scouts movement to cater to and meet the needs of the country’s teenage population. The programme is implemented fully at the Siri Vajirañāna Dharmāyatanaya Dhamma School, and could be followed.   


Both the President and the Prime Minister have emphasized on many occasions the need for a moral-based education to our children. With my long-term association in this regard, I wish to make two recommendations that could be implemented forthwith. First is to appoint a special committee with representatives of the Maha Sangha, the Ministries of Buddha Sasana and Education and chaired by an erudite Maha Thera outside the Sasanarakshaka Mandalaya to harmonise the syllabi of the daily and Dhamma schools for the teaching of Buddha Dhamma. In fact, this was a proposal of the Presidential Buddha Sasana Commission of 2002. The second is to prohibit the conducting of tuition classes until 2.00 p.m. on Sundays and on Poya days. The latter is of symbolic value because such an action by the State will give the right message regarding the concerns of the government and its desire to uplift the moral values of our people.   


It is very timely that a comprehensive programme of work based on the concepts articulated by the late Most Venerable Aggamahapandita Madihe Paññāsīha Mahanayake Thera and mentioned above is implemented for a better Sri Lanka. This would be the most fitting tribute to the towering personality. It is never too late. 

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