Ven Amatha Gavesi Maha Thero (1918-2003)
Venerable Amatha Gavesi Thera was born on December 19, 1918 at Walana, Panadura. His father was a Chief Headman and his mother a house wife was a devoted Buddhist. The late Venerable thero’s religious inspiration began thus from his birth into this very religious Buddhist family. He passed his Senior School Certificate and was an English Teacher in a school in Matara. While teaching he saw a gazette notification for the recruitment of sub-inspectors and he sent his application. He was selected and thus started his carrier in 1943 as a Police Inspector in the Sri Lanka Police Department. His very impressive physical stature and his understanding of human nature, kindness a and polite approach to deal with the “ miscreants” won a special place in the police force. He introduced a Buddhist way of life for those police officers who served under him. He was soon a popular police officer and promotions came to him easily. He ended up as the Director of the Police Training School in Kalutara. He married the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Jayanetti of Matale and was blessed with a son and a daughter. They were a devoted couple faithful to each other and treading the Dhamma way. Their comprehension of the Dhamma became so profound that they mutually agreed to remain celibate for the rest of their lives and concentrate in pursuing the noble Eight-fold Path for the attainment of Nibbana bliss in this very life. One by one they let go of their mundane attachments and led a simple life.
He was an erudite scholar in Sinhala, English, Pali and Sanskrit and even during his service tenure he practised the Dhamma and deeply meditated whenever possible. He did not spare a single moment in discursive thinking, and while serving as a Director he had a human skeleton in a glass cage installed in his room for him to meditate on the impurities of the human body. This type of meditating only for a couple of hours a day was inadequate to achieve any level of samadhi or tranquility. He concluded that it is impossible to find liberation as a lay person and retired from the service and immediately entered the Order of the Sangha, at the Kanduboda Vipassana Bhawana Center. After a couple of years in the Kanduboda centre he realised that the practice instructions to everybody is like factory made and not individually tailored for the character of individual. he found the traditional instructions are not in accordance with the teaching of Buddha. He left the Kanduboda Meditation Centre and went on his own way to organise a Meditation group at Daham Medura in Nugegoda. Thereafter he established a Meditation Centre in his own land at Horana. By this time his fame as a Dhamma scholar and practising one spread far and wide beyond the shores of Sri Lanka, and he was invited to deliver sermons in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and USA. The offerings he received were in cash, but he never touched them and left it to the two Devotees who followed him. All this money he distributed to several Buddhist Meditation Centres where many foreigners undergo intensive meditation.
He was a vegetarian and his living was indeed very simple. He always used the begging bowl and never a plate and accepted nothing more than his bare requirements to sustain life as a monk. Later he sojourned in a few Meditation Centers and finally came to the abandoned Gam Udava land at Pallekele, and the late President Premadasa on hearing of this came and offered the whole land which was about 30 acres in extent for the establishment of a Meditation Center. Before he could organise the deed of transfer, the President tragically passed away and with the change of the government, this land was reduced to 15 acres.
By this time the Thera with the assistance of a society called “Daham Madura’ he worked hard to revive the Order of the Nuns. It was an uphill task and long was his suffering. But the ladies who came to enter the Order were carefully selected and they had a probationary period as “Dasa Sil Mathas’. When some of them attained the first grade (sotappana, stream entry) the Order of the Nuns was automatically established. Then he created a fund for the maintenance of the Center and diverted his own well earned pension to the fund. Monies poured in from pious donors and on every Poya (full moon) Day thousands flocked into observe dasa Sil or Ata Sil’ (8 or 10 precepts). A two-week intensive training course too followed, not only for locals, but also for foreigners. All were provided with free meals. One can imagine the enormity of this task when in some Poya days those who observe “Ata Sil’ exceeded five thousand! Philanthropists constructed 100 kutis’ (sleeping quarters), tanks, toilets, steps and railings and a Dagaba and a Dhathu Mandiraya to house the two holy tooth relics. When the Bamian statue in Afghanistan was blasted by the savage barbaric Taliban Muslims, all the Arahath relics that had been enshrined there poured into this Mandiraya and they have been enshrined in a number of small caskets.
Ven. Amatha Gavesi Thera delivered his sermons in lucid form and simple language, and all of them were faithfully recorded by the Kurunegala Daham Medura Society.
He had telepathic powers abhignaa and vividly recalled numerous past lives. He passed away peacefully at the Suwa Sevana’ Hospital in Kandy at 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday June 11 2003, at the age of 85 while Seth Pirith’ was being chanted by a group of members of the Order of Nuns, from the Nunnery he established..
The cremation was simple and inexpensive as wished by this great saint. There was no embalming but the body remained quite serene throughout the 27 hours. There were no pandals or costly towering cremation pyre. It was just a six feet square space covered with a five feet wide cheap red robe with a tiny flag. The pile was made up of cinnamon and sandalwood. A tape recording of the Satipatthana sutta (Foundations of mindfulness) which the Thera had chanted when alive was played throughout the day and well over five thousand devotees, all of whom observed Sil, maintained absolute silence. As the coffin was carried the police top brass with personnel paid the highest homage to the chant of “Anicchchawatha Sankara’ “ (All formations are impermanent’) by all monks, the nuns and all the devotees who were present. All are agreed that at the final hour of the Venerable Thera’s passing away, he had attained Nibbana.