It was in the year 1803 that there was a renaissance within the Maha Sangha (the Great Community of Buddhist Monks) in Sri Lanka thereby adding a fresh chapter to the history of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. This was when the Most Ven. Welitara Sri Gnanawimala Thera received the Upasampada or the Higher Ordination in Burma, returned to Sri Lanka and established the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya. (The name of this monk is embellished with traditional appellations such as Bodhisattva Gunopetha or being imbued with the qualities of a Bodhisattva or Buddha-Aspirant, and Preacher to King and Emperor.)
Thus the Amarapura Nakaya, which began with this Most Venerable Thera, later spread itself very rapidly down five generations of the Sangha spanning the entire island. These generations of the Sangha organised themselves into 22 Nikayas. This was with the blessings of each of the Mahanayakas. They also preserved the identity of each such Nikaya.
In Sri Lanka, Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha was formed in 1952 with the concurrence of 15 of these subsidiary Nikayas. Presidents of the Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha have been;
the Most Ven. Prelate Beruwela Siri Nivasa Thera
the Most Ven. Mapalane Pannalankara Maha Nayaka,
the Most Ven. Uddammita Dhammarakhita
the Most Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithri
the Most Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka.
In the year 1962 all 22 Sub-Nikayas came together to form a more organised and properly constituted Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha. It was the Most Ven. Agga Maha Panditha Balangoda Ananda Maithri Thera who was installed as President and has been succeeded by;
The Most Ven. Dhammavansha Thera,
The Most Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha,
The Most Ven. Ahungalla Wimalanandi,
The Most Ven. Kandegedara Sumanavansha,
The Most Ven. Boyagama Wimalasiri,
The Most Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa and
The Most Ven. Dodampahala Chandrasiri.
The Most Ven. Chief Prelate Ganthune Assaji Thera is the current chair.
In terms of the Constitution approved in 1992, an Office of Supreme Prelate (Uttareethara Mahanayaka) was created, and the first to hold this office was the Most Ven. Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera who was succeeded by Most Ven. Davuldena Gnaneesara Thera. After his demise the Most Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera, who turns eighty-eight today assumed and continues to be the Uttareethara Mahanayaka.
He was born on January 26, 1933 and ordained as a monk with the permission of his parents, on August 17, 1948. He received his Higher Ordination on July 10, 1954 at the Udakkukhepa Seemamalakaya set up on the River named the Kalu Ganga in Kalutara.
He had his training and primary instruction in the Buddha Dhamma from his Venerable Preceptors, later entered the Paramadhamma Chetiya Pirivena for his education. It was at the Maha Pirivena in Maligakanda where he received his Higher Education in three languages, under the shadow and tutelage of the Most Ven. Pandita Baddegama Piyaratana Thera.
With the demise of his preceptor, Dhammavasa Thera became the Prelate of the Dharmapala-arama Viharaya in Mount Lavinia. By this time he had already become very popular by broadcasting and delivering sermons in temples and in private homes, contributing to articles disseminating the Dhamma, and articles on topical subjects through the full-moon day publication entitled ‘Budusarana’, then to daily newspapers, and to the Vesak Annuals published by M D Gunasena & Co., Dinamina etc.
The Thera was also engaged in social welfare activities of the area by setting up Children’s and Young Persons’ Societies within the Vihara.
With the passage of time and the demise of remarkably eloquent monks such as the Most Ven. Narada Thera, Prelate of the Vajira-aramaya, Heenatiyana Dhammaloka, Kotikawatte Saddhatissa, Pitakotte Somananda, Kalukondayawe Pannasekera and other such classic preachers, Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera stands out as a prime orator among those who came to the limelight after the days of the erudite monks of yesteryear.
Owing to the ceaseless invitations to deliver sermons extended to our Venerable Thera he travelled to various regions of the island, yet fulfilling all his duties pertaining to his own Nikaya and to the work of the Sangha Sabha neglecting nothing whatever. With all this he continued to participate in the discharge of the infinite services expected of all erstwhile office bearers of the Sangha Sabha.
Our respected Thera was gradually chosen to hold various posts within the Amarapura Nikaya. Some such are his appointment in 1970 as an ordained member of the Working Committee and to the Post of Honorary Prelate (Maha Nayaka); in 1981 as the Chief Ecclesiastical Sangha Nayaka; and in 1990 as the Deputy Chief (Anunayaka) of the Amarapura Nikaya. At the same time it is because of his quality of being industrious that he was elected the Secretary (Lekhakadhikari).
The Venerable Anunayaka Thera who served the Maha Sangha Sabha of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya with great dedication, in order to ensure its unity and advancement, was in 1980 appointed its Co-Secretary (Sama Lekhakadhikari) and in 1992 as its Chief Secretary (Maha Lekhakadhikari) It is only appropriate to place on record that during this period of about fifteen years he performed a very special quality of service to the Sasana by updating the Amarapura Sangha Sabha; by setting up a Kathikavata (Ecclesiastical Edict) for the Amarapura Nikaya (whereby ‘rules governing the discipline and conduct of Buddhist monks including matters related to the settlement of disputes’ together with a Sanghadhikarana Panatha (i.e. an Ecclesiastical Act) were drafted and approved; and finally by drafting a strong, formal Constitution and obtaining approval for same.
It was on December 17, 2016 that the Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa Anunayaka Thera became the Mahanayaka of the Amarapura Nikaya, and that on a proposal made by none other than the Most Ven. Agga-maha-panditha Ambalangoda Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera who, at the time, was himself the incumbent.
On October 3, 2008 the Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera was appointed to the post of Chairman, and it was on May 26, 2017 that he was elected Uttareethara Maha Nayaka or Supreme Maha Nayaka, which is the highest position within the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya.
He has visited many countries in Asia and Europe disseminating the Dhamma and participating in Conferences thereby earning great international fame. Meanwhile he also serves as the incumbent monk of the Sri Lanka-aramaya in Myanmar and of the Charumathie Viharaya in Nepal.
In the matters of national and religious issues in the country he expresses his views in such a calm and collected manner that he has earned the respect of the Supreme Maha Nayaka Theras of other Nikayas and politicians both in power and in the Opposition and of intellectuals.
He has been honoured with the title of ‘Agga Maha Panditha’ by the Government of Myanmar. Although other honourary awards were conferred upon him by foreign countries and foreign institutions he does not use them, entirely because of his humble disposition.
At the end of and exposition of the Dhamma (a Dharma Desana) at Temple Trees the present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse (who was then the incumbent President of the country) made an offering to him of about 14 perches of land in Wellawatta. Upon this land stands today, the “Office of the Sangha Sabha of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya”, a three-storied building replete with all conceivable facilities. It is a matter of great joy to us that in honour of the Most Ven. Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera it was possible for us to make an offering of this building to the Buddha Sasana, on August 15, 2020.
We offer merit to the present President and Prime Minister who are today attending to each and every need of our Supreme Maha Nayaka Thera in a spirit of extending infinite regard and respect to him, in appreciation of the national and religious service the Maha Thera has rendered.
Let us also gratefully place on record that Sajit Premadasa, Leader of the Opposition, has provided an elevator as an offering to facilitate the caring for our Mahanayaka Thera.
I also wish to thank the Doctors, the Staff of the Navaloka Hospital, Members of the Nikaya-abhivrudhi Dayaka Sabha (Organization for the Advancement of the Nikaya) and the Dayaka Sabha of the Mahanayaka’s Vihara and who are all providing medical care.
Arrangements have been made by the Dayaka Sabha and the student monks to offer alms to the Sangha to mark the birthday of our Thera when he reaches the age of 88, on January 26 (today).
On January 21, 2021 at 7.00 p.m. a Bodhi Pooja was organised by the Amarapura Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha at the historic Kalutara Bodhi to invoke blessings upon our Supreme Maha Thera.
May the Supreme Maha Nayaka Agga Maha Panditha Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nahimi live a life free from sickness and sorrow.
(The writer is the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha)