Ven Piyadassi Maha Swaminwahanse
Born on the 8th of July 1914 at Kotahena in Colombo, he had his early education at Nalanda College, Colombo. He entered the Order in 1934 under the erudite scholar monk Venerable Pelene Siri Vajiragnana Nayaka Thera, founder of the Vajirarama. Six months later he received his higher ordination.
In robes Ven. Piyadassi underwent the transformation required to be a good Buddha-putra. In addition to his teacher Ven. Vajiragnana, the young and assiduous Piyadassi made full use of the opportunity he had of meeting the contemporary national leaders like Sir Baron Jayatilaka, Professor Gunapala Malalasekera, Kumaratunga Munidasa etc. who frequented the Vajiraramaya to discuss national problems of the day with Ven. Vajiragnana. He also had the opportunity of closely associating with Ven. Narada Maha Thera, the senior most pupil of Ven. Vajiragnana. Dedicating himself for the service of the Sasana with determination, he indefatigably continued with his studies and the building up of his character with the help of these favourable influences. He spent his days at Vajirarama quite frugally, studying by candlelight, obtaining his meals by Pindapatha, sleeping on a mat on the floor etc.
Although he had no traditional Pirivena education, it did not in any way detract from his attainment of academic eminence. He passed the qualifying examination for the diploma course in Oriental studies called Vidya-visarada of the University of Ceylon with distinction. However, this course did not continue. In 1964 he went through a one-year course in comparative religion at the Harvard University in USA with the help of an Asia Foundation scholarship. This stay in the States served as a kind of cutting his teeth for his future role as a great preacher because he gave lectures there on Buddhism at various educational institutions and universities.
As a resident monk at the Vajirarama, Ven. Piyadassi before long became a popular preacher at and around the temple. Invitations for sermons began to pour in from all over the country resulting in his name becoming a household word among the Sri Lankan Buddhists. No nook or corner of the country could be found where he had not delivered a sermon. His places of preaching ranged from the Queen’s House to the poorest hut in a remote corner of the country. His innumerable discourses, first through the SLBC and later through the television media, both in Sinhala and in English, constitute a complete chapter in itself.
His round the world Buddhist dhammaduta sojourns were fourteen in number. Starting in 1952 with a Far-Eastern tour, major world tours were subsequently undertaken at regular intervals. In these trips he took the Buddha’s message to very remote corners of the globe like Ghana, Brazil, Iceland, Finland, Trinidad, Peru, Venezuela, Jamaica, Hungary, Fiji Islands, Zambia, Canadian, Newfoundland etc. In this field alone his services to the Sasana are unique.
Venerable Maha thero passed away after a brief illness at the Cardiology Unit of the Colombo National Hospital on the 18th of August, 1998.
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