Ven. Rerukane Chandawimala Thera’s 118th birth anniversary falls on July 19
At the dawn of the 20th Century, the Sangha community in Sri Lanka had become corrupted due to embracing of unsuitable influences. The community was divided along caste lines, and the establishment of different Nikayas based on caste had largely disillusioned lay Buddhists. They were keen to see a return to the values enshrined in the Sangha community that existed in the time of the Lord Buddha.
In 1901, a Buddhist Monk from Burma, Ven. Vinayanlankara Thera, visited Sri Lanka on a pilgrimage. The lay Buddhists who met this foreign monk were struck by his behavior that ran counter to the corrupt ways of the local monks that they encountered on a daily basis. The people of Pokunuvita were so taken in by this monk that they invited him to stay.
It was Burma’s Shvejin Nikaya that changed the corrupt nature of Burma’s own Sangha community. Ven. Vinayalankara Thera established the Shvejin Nikaya in Sri Lanka by ordaining 27 novice monks. Ven. Rerukane Chandawimala Thera was one of these monks. The Thera helped reintroduce the true essence of Buddhism, meditation techniques and other aspects of the Dhamma to the country’s Sangha community.
Ven. Rerukane Thera returned to Sri Lanka after studying the Tripitaka in Burma and receiving Upsampada (Higher Ordination). Thereafter, the Thera led a ‘Dhamma-leaflet campaign’ among the people in an effort to minimize misunderstandings about the Dhamma. These leaflets became so popular among the Buddhists that they were later turned into books such as Chathurarya Sathya (Four Noble Truths) and ‘Handbook for Buddhists’. This was in 1947. The Thera also planned to publish several more books aimed at the 2500th birth anniversary of the Lord Buddha, which was 10 years away, and had published eight books by 1957. Writing in the Lankadeepa in 1957, Chandraratne Manawasinghe praised the campaign as being the most important one conducted aimed at the Buddha Jayanthi campaign ‘all the while making a lot less noise than other campaigns’.
Ven. Rerukane Thera wrote books with two key aims. One was to dispel any confusion he himself had about the Dhamma. The second was to bring together key elements of the Tripitaka so as to make it easier for Buddhists to enlighten themselves on the Dhamma, thereby ensuring its continued existence. While there were other monks who wrote books on the Dhamma, many were not as skillful in use of language and their books lacked coherence. It is due to Rerukane Thera’s skills in both these departments that his books have a wide audience even to this day. Such was his skill that one of his illustrious contemporaries, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maithriya Thera, addressing a seminar on Buddhism in 1993, proclaimed “One can gain ample knowledge of the Tripitaka by reading the books written by Ven. Rerukane Thera”. Ven. Rerukane Thera has been described as the most knowledgeable monk regarding the Tripitaka since the great Buddhagosha Thera who lived during the Anuradhapura era. Many of Ven. Rerukane Thera’s books were used as references by other authors who later wrote their own books on the Dhamma.
However, the Thera also had his detractors. Some, motivated by petty jealousies, tried to pick holes in his Dhamma books. But they simply ended up embarrassed by their own ignorance. There were others who dismissed his meditation techniques as ‘useless Burmese techniques’ but it is these techniques that are used today to bring serenity to so many thousands of Sri Lankan Buddhists.
Ven. Rerukane Thera was a true Theravada Monk in every sense of the word. He was a firm believer that the Tripitaka and other Atuwa Tika (commentaries) that had come down from the time of the Lord Buddha were in accordance with the Buddha’s teachings. He lived by every word of this Dhamma and was a very humble monk. As such, he treated everyone, from government ministers to beggars, the same way. He also believed in doing meritorious deeds, even setting aside his birthday to perform many such meritorious acts.
He was a great believer of meditation, and was frequently seen meditating if he was not engaged in any other work. He often spoke of his aim to end his journey through Sansara.
However, Ven. Rerukane Thera did not simply dismiss other pursuits in favor of meditation. He read the newspapers, was interested about world events, even spoke about political changes that will lead to the betterment of society. Even after he lost his eyesight, the Thera made it a point to have someone read the newspapers to him every day. He was not shy of making jokes either, though they were always geared as part of teaching something to his audience. While he did all this, the Thera was also able to explain the Dhamma with more clarity than any other contemporary.
The Thera lived a life of service. He went by the motto ‘asking is reason enough to give’ and gave whatever he had to others. He would often describe himself as ‘both the richest and poorest man in the world’.
As the chief prelate of his Nikaya and the Vihara, one has heard that Ven. Rerukane Thera would easily resolve any issues that were brought to him. Since he was always fair, no one challenged his rulings as he ensured that both sides would be given a fair hearing. It is said that he also resolved issues in such a way that the same issue never arose again.
The present temple in Pokunuvita, established by Ven. Kirioruwe Dhammananda Thera, who arrived in the village on behalf of Ven. Rerukane Thera, continues these noble traditions.
In order to commemorate the inspirational life of Ven. Rerukane Thera, thousands of devotees will flock to this temple to take part in a mass offering of flowers on the occasion of the Thera’s 118th birth anniversary on July 19, 2015.
May all of us follow the path to Nibbana that the Thera saw so clearly!
(The writer is Sri Chandrawimala Dhamma Pusthaka Conservation Board, Deputy Secretary.)