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British monk committed suicide 55 years ago, suffered from Satyriasis

21 December 2020 03:34 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Reading Ravi Nagahawatte’s well crafted description [December 17] titled, “Was Ven. Jinawamsa ready for lessons on impermanence?”, prompted me to recollect memories of Ven. Nanavira of Bundala, Hambantota, who committed suicide in 1965.


What is Satyriasis?

Medical dictionaries define Satyriasis as a most acute, disgusting and indecent disease characterized by an irrepressible state of continuous painful erection and a persistent drive for sex. Psychologists consider satyriasis as a neurotic condition in men in which the symptoms are a compulsion to have sexual intercourse with as many women as possible and an inability to have lasting relationships with them, which compares with nymphomania in females.
 Unlike the unexplained passing away of the Dutch monk Ven. Jinawamsa, the British monk made ample evidence to conclude his taking his own life. 

Ven Nanavira Committed Suicide 55 yrs Ago

Born at a military barracks at Aldershot in UK, Harold Edward Musson was the only son of Edward Musson, a Captain in the Manchester Regiment. He spent a few years in India  while his father served on his forces assignments.


In 1939, soon after the outbreak of war, he enrolled in the Royal Artillery, and was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant In 1941. In October 1942, he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and in 1944, a Captain and served in Italy from 1943 to 1946. He obtained a B.A. degree in Medieval Languages from Cambridge. He spent his youth in a Greystone mansion, in the vicinity of Alton, a restful English small town in Hampshire. The young Musson’s life was influenced by the nearby site of the military academy. According to—perhaps not wholly reliable— an interview published by the journalist, Robin Maugham, a nephew of Somerset Maugham in a newspaper in 1965, Musson had been extensively affected by a Buddha statue which he had observed during his father’s assignment in Burma. He agreed with the categorization of intellect into three classes, “human, animal, and military”.


Poetry, he once wrote, only “delighted” him. Alongside this fondness, was an enormous love of music, especially Beethoven, Bartok and Mozart. The first public signal of an attachment to Buddhist thought was during his wartime assignment in Italy; his paraphrase of an Italian revision, written by J. Evola, under the title, The Doctrine of Awakening—In his letter written in 1964. As his friend Ven. Ñānasumana, an American monk who had met Ñānavīra Thera in 1963, observes who began learning regular lessons under him. 


When the war ended Musson was very dissatisfied. Sharing a flat with friend and former fellow-officer, Osbert Moore, who felt dissatisfied with life too, and both decided to settle their affairs in England and travel  to Sri Lanka in 1949 to become Buddhist monks. Received their Ordination at the Island Hermitage, Dodanduwa under Ven. Ñanatiloka, and Higher Ordination in 1950 at the Vajirārāma Colombo. Musson and  Moore were given the names Ñāṇavīra and  Ñāṇamoli respectively, by Ven. Ñanatiloka, himself a German occupied an abandoned island in a lagoon at the village of Dodanduva. He  named it Island Hermitage and taught our Nikaya chiefs a lesson in Buddhism by accepting the son of the Rodiya chieftain ordained as Ñaṇaloka. He started a mission for the “outcastes”  beginning in the area west of Kandy. After the death of Nyanatiloka in 1957, Ñaṇaloka became the Nayake of the Hermitage. Nyantiloka wrote that there were criticism because of the caste equality at the  Hermitage. In the 1930s there were many ordinations mostly of Germans. Nyanaponika [Sigmund Feniger], and Nyanakhetta [Peter Schönfeldt], became well known Buddhist scholars.

"Edward Musson with friend and former fellow-officer, Osbert Moore, felt dissatisfied, decided to settle their affairs in England and travel  to Sri Lanka in 1949 to become Buddhist monks"

Ñāṇavīra Thera disposed to lonely life and after few years at Island Hermitage. Then he found a remote area in deep south, where he lived by himself for the rest of his life.  A wattle and daub [kuti] hut with a tile roof, close to the village of Bundala, on the far end of a massive  bird sanctuary. The prelate contracted a rigorous case of amoebiasis which sustained for the rest of his life. 


 However Ven Ñāṇavīra Thera wrote lengthily and cautiously on Dhamma, his health issues, and suicide, especially in his regular correspondence with friends, which divulged the truth, the real reason for his decision. It was not the severity of the amoebiasis; but a very unusual and extremely rare physical discomfort called  satyriasis.


The earliest work by Ven. Ñānavīra on the Dhamma is created in his ‘Translator’s Foreword’ to ‘The Doctrine of Awakening’—A Study on the Buddhist Ascesi, a translation of the Italian autjhor J. Evol’s ‘La Dottrina Del Risveglio :Luzac -1951. The prelate discusses with his lay friends that included his two medical specialists, a judge, a British diplomat, a leading businessman, a lawyer, and a British citizen the illness that plagued his fate, about his own existence. Ven. Nanavira was corresponding with Ven. Kheminda Thera,, Ven. Ñānamoli, Sister Vajirā, . N. Q. Dias, Dr. M. R. de Silva, R. G. de S. Wettimuny [father of national cricketers Sunil, Siddhath and Mithra].
Most of Ñāṇavīra Thera’s writings were edited by Robert Smith [Samanera Bodhesako] who founded Path Press which published Clearing the Path; Selected Letters of Ñánavíra Thera, 150 letters by Ñāṇavīra Thera from his kuti in the Bundala Forest Reserve to local and foreign readers who requested explanation and clarification.


In one of his letters dated 11/12/1962, to Dr. M R de Silva, he makes his intention clear, he says, “…I first got this affliction, [Satyriasis?] last June….with an effort I can ignore it for a few days, but remains in the background ready to come forward on the slightest encouragement…I’m oscillating between two poles…my thought turns towards a layman; if I resist, thought towards suicide. ‘Wife or Knife’.  – then on 21/12/62 he says,  “… I have no further use of this life… idea of suicide first occurred to me two years ago…excuse for putting the idea in to practice.. return to lay life would be pure weakness…”—‘Clearing the Path’  pp:215/6/7
 Bikkhu’s suicide— the general view, is that it is better for him to disrobe rather than kill himself. There was at least one monk in Buddha’s day—Ven Channa Thera, who killed himself as an arhant owing to incurable decease; and many other examples in the suttas, that bikkhus taking their lives. Ven Godhikka and Ven Vakkali, who even attained arhantship in doing so. Ven Sappadasa thera suffered from lustful thoughts for 25 years and cut his throat with razor saying, “Kattam va aharissami….” Meaning, I shall use the knife, what use is life to me? How can one meet his death having put aside the training [disrobed]?”


The Ven. Ñānavīra Thera passed away on July 5, 1965 by inhaling Ether; he had offered a real truth an exposition of the Dhamma, the circumstances wherein a being decisively faces life which every reasoned individual, man or animal must ultimately face: sex and significance of continuing the race.
[Ideas noted here should not be compared with some racist monks who attempted ‘fasts unto death’ under the watchful eyes of medical men who were ready to rush them to hospital.]

Writer can be contacted at -  kksperera1@gmail.com

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  • Nidahas Freeman Monday, 21 December 2020 09:57 AM

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, the editor must pick which opinion is worthy of publishing. This article is ill timed and has no value at all. And that is my opinion and I am entitled to that!


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