CPA Condoles on the Death of the Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero
The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) expresses its condolences on the death of the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero.
Ven. Sobitha Thero was a key civil society figure in the defeat of populist authoritarianism. Through his dynamic leadership and personality, the Movement for Social Justice reached out to and helped galvanize mainstream opinion against corruption and authoritarianism. CPA salutes a civil society champion, whose continued, coherent and cogent advocacy will be sorely missed, particularly at this critical juncture in the reform process.
As a respected member of the clergy and of civil society, the Ven. Sobitha Thero was able to articulate the views of those who wanted change and more recently, have been concerned about the pace and quality of the change achieved so far. He understood better than most and expressed in no uncertain terms the primary duty of civil society in a functioning democracy – that of eternal vigilance through constant pro-active stake-holdership in public affairs for governance.
May he attain Nibbana.
Struggle Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thera did in recent past for a democratic society is unparalleled – President
President Maithripala Sirisena has expressed shock and sadness over the untimely demise of the Most Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha Thera.
In a condolence message, the President said that the people of Sri Lanka will never forget Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha Thera and his commitment for the development of social and religious affairs in the country, building religious reconciliation among different communities and his efforts to restore democracy throughout the country.
The whole nation is deeply saddened to hear of the demise of the Most Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha Thera.
He was well respected by not only Buddhist community, but also every citizen of this country those belonged to different communities and religions. The people of Sri Lanka will never forget Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha Thera and his commitment for the development of social and religious affairs in the country, building religious reconciliation among different communities and his efforts to restore democracy throughout the country.
His determination to bring negative political forces that existed in the country to the right path was a great guidance and stimulation for the public commitment to strengthen democracy in Sri Lanka. That inspiration gave us an immense courage to form a good governance government under my leadership to take the country towards the right path.
The guidance and advices received by me from the Sobitha Thera regarding my political career during the past few decades, gave me the strength to stand on behalf of the betterment of the country. I strongly believe that guidance and advices given by the Thera has become a beacon for us to continue the social justice within the country in the future too, which he had desired.
Most Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha Thera’s commitment for the political, religious and cultural transformation in the society is a long process which dates backs to four decades.
While rendering a great service to the Sri Lanka Amadapya Viyaparaya, he also taken steps to initiate a social dialogue in coordination with Professor Sarathchandra against the then emerging cultural and economic erosion.
He left an indelible mark in the Sri Lankan society as a religious leader who pioneered to open up a dialogue regarding the new political culture and as a prominent leader who stood up for religious and national reconciliation in the country. I believe the struggle he did in the recent past for a democratic society is unparalleled.
I believe it is our responsibility to fulfill Most Venerable Maduluwave Sobitha Thera’s wishes to develop Sri Lanka that ensures social justice. I pledge totally to commit myself to work in accordance with the guidance and advices given by the late Nayaka Thera and together with my fellow citizens of Sri Lanka I wish the Nayaka Thera may attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.
Maithripala Sirisena, President
Ven. Sobhitha Thera: The Light of Lanka.
By Udeni Saman Kumara
Ven. Maduluwave Sobitha Thera is like a lighthouse to the nation who shows the path to people without giving up the struggle for a better world following the footsteps of the Buddha.
He was critically ill recently and underwent a heart surgery. Now he is recovering in a hospital in Singapore.
This is the best time to trace the place of Ven. Maduluwave Sobhitha Thera in the history of politics and religion in this country. The Bhikkhus such as Ven. Udakendawala Saranankara Thera, Ven Yakkaduwe Pragnarama Thera, Ven. Kotahene Pannakiththi Thera and Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera were the prominent Bhikkhus who led the freedom struggle in early times.
The politicians who were embarrassed due to their struggles said Bhikkhus should keep away from politics. However, this ideology was defeated by Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera who showed the importance of social engagement of Bhikkhus.
Ven. Prof. Walpola Rahula Thera highlighted that a programme that causes good to the people of the country without harming the character of the noble bhikkuhood, it was apt for Bhikkhus, regardless of the fact that they are named as political.
Ven. Sobhitha Thera followed in the footsteps of Bhikkhus such as Ven. Walpola Rahula Thera and Ven. Udakendawala Saranankara Thera. He was struggling for good causes residing in Naga Vihara of Kotte for almost four decades.
He did not give importance to his own life in his struggles against injustice. He was manhandled, arrested and put in jail. He narrowly escaped gunfire. Once his opponents tried to knock his car and kill him.
He is the only Bhikkhu leader who faced tear gas and baton charges. Once, a group of thugs sent by politicos brutally assaulted him and Prof. Ediriweera Sarachchandra in a meeting at the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress Hall in Colombo. While lying on the floor, Ven. Sobhitha Thera raised his head and asked Prof. Sarachchandra if he was all right.
None of such attacks could discourage Ven. Sobhitha Thera. He never betrayed his conscience and always fought for justice.
He is such an active Bhikkhu that his diary was full of social activities. He was under surveillance very often. Defeated politicians consulted him for regaining political power. But when they come to power, they did not visit Naga Vihara or had a word of gratitude. This was never a new phenomenon to Ven. Sobhitha Thera.
He relentlessly struggled against the Executive Presidency created by J.R. Jayewardene in 1978 although politicians from time to time took different stands on this crucial issue.
“The President appoints the Chief Justice and all the Judges of the Supreme Court. He took over the Attorney General’s Department also. How can we expect independence in this context? What happened to the cases? When some accused are about to be punished, the Attorney General suddenly withdraws the cases. While those who are loyal to the government are acquitted, the opponents are penalized. Thus the law is denigrated,” Ven. Sobhitha Thera said.
He signalled the Opposition to make use of the opportunity to bring about change. The change was made but the wrongdoers were not punished. Then he said he would re-start the struggle.
Entire Sri Lanka knows Ven. Sobhitha Thera. However, many people do not know where Maduluwava is. It is a small village in Padukka. Pathirage Don Peiris Appuhami is the father of Ven. Sobhitha Thera. He was a carpenter. His wife was Balagala Kuruvita Arachchige Karalina Hamine. Ven. Sobhitha Thera who was born on 09 May 1942 was the second son of the family. He was named Rathnasekara. The way Rathnasekara became a Ven. Sobhitha Thera is another interesting story.
Ven. Sobitha Thero protected the dignity of social political life until the end of his life – JVP
(The condolence message of the JVP on the demise of Ven. Madhuluwawe Sobitha Thero)
Our sincere condolences on the passing away of Ven. Madhuluwawe Sobitha Thero who fought for a just society
Ven. Madhuluwawe Sobitha Thero passed away at a hospital in Singapore today (8th). The JVP expresses its sincere condolences on the death of Ven. Madhuluwawe Sobitha Thero, who carried out an unceasing struggle to establish a just society.
Ven. Sobitha Thero is a prelate who gave leadership to various social movements and sacrificed his blood, tears and sweat not for privileges for himself but for the betterment of the society. Specially, how the Thero, without any concern to his life, fought against the Indian invasion that occurred in 1988 from the moment it was forced on our people cannot be forgotten by anyone who is aware of that history. The task fulfilled by Ven. Sobitha Thero as a pioneer Bhikku of ‘Mawbima Surakeeme Vayaparaya (Movement to Protect Motherland) is colossal. All those who are happy that the country remains an independent country without being a colony of another would no doubt be grateful to Ven. Sobitha Thero who is from the generation of the like of Ven Kadahapola Thero, who tempered the independent struggle.
Recently, the whole time of Ven. Sobitha Thero had to dedicate himself for the struggle to abolish the ignoble family rule that continued for nearly a decade and specially the despotic presidential system. He rejected privileges and other benefits he could have had but preferred to struggle for a just society and also did not hesitate to show the wrong path the new administration was taking.
Ven. Sobitha Thero protected the dignity of social political life until the end of his life and his demise takes place at a time when thousands of such prelates are needed to show the society the correct path.
A TRIBUTE TO AN ERUDITE MONK
The demise of Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera at a hospital in Singapore yesterday brings to an end a life spent not only propagating the Dhamma but also fearlessly battling political giants without fear or favour across four decades.
The seventy three-year-old monk, despite his vociferous advocacy of causes that he believed in, retained the respect of even his adversaries because he was widely perceived as man of proven integrity in what were tumultuous times in Sri Lanka’s recent political history.
Ven. Sobhitha Thera was born Pathirage Don Rathnasekara as the second child of Pathirage Don Peiris Appuhamy, a carpenter by profession, and his wife, Balagala Kuruvita Arachchige Karalina Haminey hailing from the sleepy village of Maduluwawa near Padukka in the Avissawella electorate.
Ordained as a monk at the age of thirteen, Ven. Sobhitha Thera received higher ordination seven years later. Initially he attracted the attention of the masses with his Dhamma sermons with his characteristically mellifluous style of preaching which came to be followed by many other monks of his generation.
The Dhamma sermons of Ven. Sobhitha Thera and another contemporary Buddhist monk, Panadurey Ariyadhamma Thera was to spark a Buddhist revival of sorts in the early eighties. They both advocated Sinhala nationalism to some degree but Ven. Sobhitha Thera was more politically minded.
Ven. Sobhitha Thera was not a scholar monk with doctorates before his name. Nevertheless, his sermons commanded an enthusiastic following at a time when exposure through electronic media was still in its infancy because he preached a brand of Buddhism that advocated common sense and practicality.
The Thera was among the first to agitate against the Executive Presidency when its architect, President J. R. Jayewardene was at the height of his powers – and the full extent perils of such a presidency were yet to be known. It was to become a recurring theme in his political philosophy.
For his efforts, Ven. Sobhitha Thera, along with the doyen of the Sinhala theatre Ediriweera Sarachchandra, was infamously attacked by goons hired by the United National Party (UNP) in 1979 at the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress. Rather than being deterred, it spurred the monk to continue his struggles.
In the years that terrorism flourished under the command of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Ven. Sobhitha Thera stood steadfastly against them. However, he was never accused of being racist because he was able to make the distinction between the Tamil community in general and the LTTE.
Ven. Sobhitha Thera rose to national prominence in 1995 when he headed the Jathika Sangha Sabhava. In this role he mentored many a Buddhist monk and the result was that monks became a force to be reckoned with for successive governments trying to deal with the menace that was the LTTE.
Buddhist monk of unimpeachable character
This was to evolve in to a trend that saw the emergence of Buddhist monks seeking representation in Parliament which became a reality in 2004, under the aegis of the Jathika Hela Urumaya. However, Ven. Sobhitha Thera preferred to watch from the side-lines, eschewing a role in active politics.
Through all these years in the limelight, Ven. Sobhitha Thera’s disdain for the Executive Presidency remained. He agitated for this time and again but his pleas fell on deaf years as the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa gained popularity, especially in the aftermath of the war victory over the LTTE.
However, as the impunity in the Rajapaksa regime grew, Ven. Sobhitha Thera became the driving force behind a new organisation, the National Movement for Social Justice which protested against its excesses. It brought together diverse social, academic and political forces under one umbrella.
Ven. Sobhitha Thera being a respected Buddhist monk of unimpeachable character, Rajapaksa found it difficult to challenge him directly. The Thera’s stature and influence grew as even the UNP stumbled to defeat after defeat in the face of clever political manipulations by the Rajapaksa government.
Those close to the monk say that he was particularly incensed by two actions initiated by the Rajapaksa government: the treatment meted out to former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka and the impeachment of Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake. They convinced him that he should act.
If one person should take the credit for engineering the downfall of the Rajapaksa regime, it would be Ven. Sobhitha Thera. Convinced that the regime did more harm than good, he initiated contacts with political leaders who he thought could be brought together for a common cause – defeating Rajapaksa.
The temple where Ven. Sobhitha Thera was the Chief Incumbent, The Naga Viharaya in Kotte, became a political hub. The Thera actively mediated between erstwhile arch rivals Ranil Wickremesinghe and Chandrika Kumaratunga and mooted the concept of a ‘common’ candidate against Rajapaksa.
The concept gained currency but there were no takers. Had Wickremesinghe announced himself as the candidate, his record of dealing unsuccessfully with the LTTE would have been highlighted. Kumaratunga had shed much of her charisma and popular appeal which propelled her in to office.
These circumstances prompted Ven. Sobhitha Thera to declare that he himself would run against Rajapaksa if the need arose. But being politically savvy, he knew that as a Buddhist monk, it would be difficult to attract the votes in the North and East, a sine qua non for any candidate to defeat Rajapaksa.
What was publicly not known at the time was that negotiations were underway with Maithripala Sirisena, then the Minister of Health in Rajapaksa’s government. The Thera was instrumental in convincing Sirisena to defy Rajapaksa and announce himself as the ‘common’ candidate.
The rest, as they say, is history. However, to his credit, Ven. Sobhitha Thera remained as critical as ever even after President Sirisena formed his government with Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister. Time and again he admonished the new regime for its tardiness in pursuing reforms and fighting corruption.
Ven. Sobhitha Thera was happy that his political dream- pruning the powers of the Executive Presidency- was achieved to some extent. His passing away on Sunday robs the nation of a great reformer of our times, but most of all an activist of unblemished integrity at a time when such men are rare.
May he attain Nibbana!