Among the great lay Buddhist leaders born in Sri Lanka Sir Cyril indeed commands a unique place, and this, for no other reason but for the invaluable services he rendered to the Sambudddha Sasana and the Sinhala community. His services were not confined to any one single arena. It is my conviction that the reach of the call that steered him from the past to the present and from the present to the future remained equally steady. Among the unsurpassed services he has rendered, his efforts to preserve and conserve the Kalutara Bodhi have earned a very special place.
Sir Cyril who led a purposeful life in the cause of the Sasana and the Buddhist community in Sri Lanka was born on 26th October 1896 in the village of Welitota in the Balapitiya electorate of Bentara Wallalavita Korale in the Galle District. Sir Cyril was a heroic son of the soil, a luminary who lit up not only the District of Galle but the entirety of Sri Lanka, traditionally known as the Thunhelaya. He had his early education at St Thomas’ College, Matara. Soon he left for Richmond College, Galle, continued his studies there for about one year and then entered Royal College, Colombo. He passed the Cambridge Senior Examination and entered the Ceylon Law College to seek a career in law. After successfully completing the course of studies he took leave of Law College and in 1921commenced his practice at the Police Courts, Balapitiya. Fate had it that before long he moved from Welitota to Kalutota (Welitara to Kalutara). Here he soon earned a reputation as an honest and clever lawyer.
During this period when the British reigned supreme, there was no quarter given to any one at all to offer devotions by offering a flower or lighting a clay oil lamp at the Bodhi.The Government Agent of Kalutara had ordained that the Police should instruct the watcher at the Bodhi to chase away Buddhist pilgrims and worshippers who venture to approach the place. When the young lawyer, Cyril de Zoysa, learnt of this, he forcibly built an unauthorised altar before the Bodhi tree to enable devotees to place flowers upon it. This service that he commenced continued unabated. He believed that the development of the precincts of the sacred Bodhi would succeed day by day because he himself received the benign graces of the deity who has chosen this place as his abode. He made the Kalutara Bodhi the centre from where a broad spectrum of his services radiated for the progress of the Buddha Sasana. This place that caught the eye of young Cyril has today turned out to be a beautiful place in a pleasant setting where devotees and others could freely make their offerings and otherwise enjoy its sanctity. Right now, the Kalutara Bodhi has reached the level of a place of Buddhist worship of the prime order.
Young Cyril’s aspirations did not end with a contribution towards Buddhist revival. He also aspired to bring about community development. He realized that social service cannot be performed with the income earned by practising the law alone. He therefore started a bus service called ‘Swarnapali’ bus service, which was later transformed into the ‘South Western Bus Company’. Buses of this company plied right up to the Southern end of the Western Province and back. This saw nothing but success day by day. He appealed to the passengers in his buses to drop a coin at the Kalutara Bodhi. By this means he hoped he could instil a sense of piety and devotion in their minds and also perhaps to command community support for the maintenance and preservation of the Bodhi. He provided a prime service to the community and ploughed back the income towards the progress of the Buddha Sasana and towards community service.
As with the Buddha’s exhortation ‘Dhammo bawe rakhathi dhamma chari’ (those who live by the Dhamma are protected by the Dhamma), before long, governing authorities of the land, the Sangha and various leaders of the business world were impressed by him. All that he touched turned to gold was the adage that came to be associated with him. Many were those that saw him and continued to see him as a rare being with a golden heart full of the twin qualities of human kindness and benevolence – karuna and metta. He at no time sought after honor, respect or high office but embodiments of these concepts sought him out.
Sir Cyril was a Buddha-aspirant or Bodhisattva as it were, who dedicated his life, his wealth, his time, labors and wisdom to the cause of the nation, governance and the Sasana.
His services were invaluable when he worked as a member, office bearer or chairman or president of organisations such as the Scout Movement, Sinhala Sports Club, Kalutara Town Club, Ceylon National Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (CNAPT), National Council of the Blind and the Deaf, Child Protection Association, Law Society, Mahabodhi Society, Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA), Colombo and other such organizations.
Sir Cyril de Zoysa’s prime resolution was to ensure that every program initiated by him was developed and sustained, thereby providing a broad service to society. This, he achieved to the last letter. Among the many memorable services rendered by him, two that may be cited as examples are the leadership taken to construct a hall for the Young Men’s Buddhist Association in Colombo Fort and for the Bar Association.
He founded Kalutara Vidyalaya and Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya to help meet the educational needs of the children of the nation. The benefits that accrued to the region are immeasurable. Centred round these schools many children received their education and reached the highest echelons of society. It is an undisputed fact that this was the result of Sir Cyril’s foresight.
He made a vast contribution towards the restoration of the Kiri Vehera in Kataragama by taking the leadership in this matter as well.
So has it been in the matter of the development of Buddhist temples such as the Bellanvila Raja Maha Viharaya, Kuppiyawatta Jayasekhararamaya, Bamabalapitiya Vajiraramaya and the Kaluvamodera Kadarada Viharaya.
When Prime Minister Bandaranaike’s Government came into power in 1956 bus services were nationalized by the year 1958. On this occasion he was magnanimous enough to replace worn-out tyres of the buses belonging to the South Western Bus Company with new ones, just before the take-over. This act too is an example of his intentions of rendering service to the community. Thus, Sir Cyril de Zoysa may be seen as one who prized selflessness over selfishness.
His foresight was laced with wisdom. This is evident in his act of setting up a Trust Fund with the initial contribution of Rs.200 million. His vision was the commitment of the interest accruing from this Fund towards the furtherance of the Buddha Sasana.
Many of Sir Cyril’s aspirations were fulfilled during his lifetime. It is praiseworthy that the Kalutara Bodhi Trust continues to fulfill all these in a number of fields, all calculated towards the progress of the community and the sustenance of the Buddha Sasana.
Contribution towards the restoration of the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth) when it was destroyed by a Tamil terrorist attack, inauguration of the Bodhignana Library, the grant of scholarships to Bhikkus who follow courses of study in Oriental Languages, provision of shelter for those displaced in the tsunami, setting up a Fund to release cattle from slaughter, the construction and maintenance of an Aramaya or residence, near the Kalutara Urban Council, for Buddhist nuns, the construction and maintenance of a Ward dedicated to Bhikkhus, in the Nagoda Hospital, conduct of English Language Teaching (ELT) programmes, free of charge, in Dhamma schools, provision of alms food and other facilities to those who observe the eight or ten precepts on scheduled days are among such services that the Kalutara Bodh Trust provides.
The name of Sir Cyril de Zoysa who provided such noble service remains immortal.
May Sir Cyril de Zoysa attain the peace of Nibbana!
Ven. Dr. Ittepane Dhammalankara Mahanayake Thera
Mahanayake Thera of the Kotte Sri Kalyani Samagree Dhamma Maha Sanga Sabha and the Chief Incumbent of Sri Dharma Vijayaloka Maha Viharaya, Rukmalgama, Pannipitiya