|A Story of Struggle and Achievements of the Colombo Y.M.B.A
1898 – 2004
Since the arrival of foreigners on the shores of Ceylon and the conquest of the whole country by the British in 1815, the most epoch-making event in the history of Buddhism in this country was the arrival of Colonel Henry Stele Olcott in 1880. His arrival marked the beginning of the Buddhist revival and the drive towards giving Buddhism its rightful place in the country and the restoration of the legitimate rights of the Buddhist population.
It was a dark era for Buddhism. The Christian churches were firmly entrenched in society in general and in the educational system in particular. The Churches had financial assistance and the ear of the government, apart for the proselytisation. To publicly admit to being a Buddhist in that unpropitious era was itself a liability.
But the time had come for a Buddhist revival and stalwarts like Colonel Olcott, the Ven. Migettuwatte Gunananda and Hikkaduwa Sri Sumangala Thera, Anagarika Dharmapala and many others led the crusade against the wholesale proselytisation by missionaries, the denigration of Buddhism as a religion and disabilities placed on Buddhists.
It was an age of “Christian Buddhists” nominal Christians meeting the demands of the state for jobs and other favours. The Buddhist revivalist movement kindled by these pioneers led to the intense realisation that unless people woke up and spoke up and practised their religion, the precious heritage of the Dhamma was doomed. The ferment was felt everywhere, but the fight was hard, long and discouragingly slow.
Missionary activity had reached a high point, culture colonialism and overtaken educational and the affluent, influential elite had embraced alien life styles. Every padre in every village was knocking on the doors of supposedly “heathen families” to bring the “light of Christ’ into their lives.
The Great Pioneers
On January 8th 1898 a band of enthusiastic Buddhist young men, in comparatively humble occupations, met informally, in a room in the Buddhist Theosophical society’s Headquarters at No. 60 and 61, Maliban Street, Pettah to resolved to form themselves into a Buddhist Society under the designation of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association.
It was in such an environment that twenty Buddhists, whom we would characterise as visionaries, took a far-seeing step, unnoticed, unsung, and seemingly so unimportant as to attract almost no attention. They were not prominent people, mainly clerks working in government, but what they saw around them, was decay in Buddhist culture, learning and ethos.
They saw that the very dignity of what Buddhism stood for was under siege. Buddhists were made to feel inferior and Christian beliefs were extolled as the path to salvation.
Mr. C. S. Dissanayake (Clerk Government Services) became its first Secretary of the Association and held that office from 1898 to 1904. He became the Treasurer in 1907 and was the Vice-President from 1910 to 1912.
Among the others were H. Dharmapala (late Anagarika Dharmapala), D.S.S. Wickremaratne, T.W. Gunewardena (Clerk, later Mudaliyar), C.W. Gunewardena (Clerk, later Mudaliyar), C.F.S. Jayawickrema, G.W. De Fonseka (Clerk, later Mudaliyar), Herod Gunaratne (Clerk, later Mudaliyar), D. D. Weerasinghe, Thomas Rodrigo, H. Don David (Clerk, Department of Public Instruction), Abraham Kuruppu (Clerk, Audit Office, later Kachcheri Mudaliyar), Dr. L.C. Wijesinghe, R. Malalgoda (Clerk, Later Mudaliyar), Robert de Fonseka (Clerk, Government Railway), Peter de Abrew (Clerk, later founder of Musaeus College), W.A. de Silva (later Minister of Health), G.G. Perera (Later Proctor S.C. Panadura), Martinus C. Perera, and J.C. Wirashinha
Those 20 stalwarts who did what would be considered the unpopular and incredibly imprudent thing to do, perhaps jeopardising their careers, was led by Mr. C. S. Dissanayake, a convert from Christianity to Buddhism. He gave his life and time to the YMBA till the end of his days.
Mr. H. Dharmapala (later Anagarika Dharmapala) presided over the first meeting D.B Jayatilaka (Sri Baron Jayatilaka) then Principal of Ananda College, Colombo was invited to be its first President.
Mr. H. Dharmapala at that inaugural session of twenty men who laid one foundation stone for the return to the Dharamadvipa, is reported to have said :”The moves of this new venture has in view the supplying of a want patent among the rising generation of Buddhists viz : the absence of the means of prosecuting studies of Buddhism in a systematic manner”.
It is likely that none of them realised their vision has contributed to the birth of one of Sri Lanka’s best known Buddhist organisation’s with island wide reach, prestige, influence and activity.
Aims of the Association
Its aims were modest and in keeping with the needs of the time, it set out to provide a forum in which interest in Buddhism would be rekindled and the value of this priceless heritage realised and protected. Its stated aims were
1. The study of Buddhism
2. The discussion of subjects related to Buddhism
3. The encouragement of the practice of Buddhism.
By year-end membership had risen to 42. The “Sarasavi Sandaresa” newspaper was being published from the BTS office in which they met. But even this Buddhist patriotic newspaper did not think that the formation of this association was important enough to merit a paragraph in its pages.
But membership climbed to 91 in 1898 and germinal activities, harbinger of the future, started taking shape even in those early days. Bana preaching and religious discussions were introduced almost immediately and scholarly papers were read by erudite persons at the meetings. A learned monk held four days in the week Pali classes. With the inroads made by Christianity it was increasingly found that the study of Pali among laymen was falling away. A circulating library and a reading room were also organised.
D.B. Jayatilaka was the YMBA’s first president and remained so till his death in 1944. Among its most outstanding members at the time were W.A. de Silva, Abraham Kuruppu, Martinus C. Perera, R. Malalgoda, G.G. Perera, G.C. Samaranayake, Dr L.C. Wijesinghe, K.W. Wirasingha, J.E.R. Perera, D.D. Weerasinghe and P. Wimalasuriya.
It was a poor association, always short of funds, a malady, which affected it for many years during the YMBA’s early life. Members’ subscription was only 50 cents a month. In 1900 when the membership was 100, subscription collections amounted to Rs 82 and the balance in hand was Rs 56.57. The association had no home of its own, but working from borrowed offices, the stated purpose of discussion of Buddhist learning was never allowed to fall away. Vigorous discussions, critical analysis, the thrust and parry of heated arguments were the hallmarks of those early years when the membership met every week.
There was much discussion after the reading of papers. Persons of other religions were allowed to participate in the meetings, offer their views, and engage in the discussions and even present the free expression of views in a true atmosphere of freedom of expression.
Meanwhile the indefatigable Mr. C. S. Dissanayake never wearied of visiting the homes of members and reminding them that they should attend meetings. And even though funds were short, members travelled to the outstations to talk to the populace about Buddhism. They were welcomed by the people in the villages and treated with great cordiality.
The lack of funds or even the lack of an office of its own did not deter these courageous Buddhists from undertaking the publication of “The Buddhist” in 1902. The journal had been started by the Colombo Theosophical Society in 1888, but found it difficult to carry on. The brains behind the YMBA like D.B Jayatilaka and A.E. Buultjens realised that the YMBA was not just an Association for being Buddhist discussion, for gatherings of like-minded Buddhists, for bana preaching, but a movement for the revival, and the restoration of Buddhism to its rightful place in this country. Hence the publication of a journal like “the Buddhist” it was realised would be of immense help to put across Buddhist, opinion in the country. It could act as the mouthpiece of Buddhists, as a watchdog for protecting of Buddhist rights and privileges and an instrument for exposures of inroads made towards the subversion or destruction of Buddhism in this country.
The Buddhist Renaissance
Publication of “The Buddhist” was no easy task. There was often conflict of opinion both from a secular angle and from the clergy. Obstacles and handicaps did spring up on the way. But men like A.E. Buultjens, C.W. Leadbeater, C. Jinarajadasa and D.B. Jayatilaka who was Editor did not cave in the face of difficulties. It was at the time the only journal on Buddhism in English.
In those early issues there was much discussion of doctrinal matters. D.B. Jayatilaka was a profound student of the Buddha Dhamma and the journal had the benefit of his erudition and scholarship.
But the history of “The Buddhist” in those early years was chequered. Between 1908 and 1910 the journal could not cope with the problems, financial and otherwise that it faced and it had to cease publication. Valiantly, W.A. De Silva revived it for 12 months in1910, but it lapsed again and was revived only in 1915 as a weekly newspaper.
The Buddhists were in dire need of this journal to spearhead Buddhist thought and opinion, to defend the positions they took in matters of public interest, and answer their critics and opponents who were many. The circumstances of its publication were hostile, but since the country continued to be bombarded by Christian propaganda it was necessary for the Buddhists to have a mouthpiece to express their views.
Besides, “The Buddhist” was an instrument through which funds could be raised for various causes and the assistance of the Buddhist public mobilized. When an Education Fund was launched for Ananda College by P. de S. Kularatne money was raised to finance the appeal to the Privy Council of the Gampola perahera case, “The Buddhist” was very useful in providing for the Woodward Memorial Education Fund and the fund to aid the Ven. Ananda Metteyya.
By 1912 the YMBA had to think in terms of moving to a new location and they did, to what was then known as “Maradana Walauwe” in first division Maradana. Around this time it was felt that the YMBA had to expand the scope of its activities in order to attract more young people to its premises. There seemed to be no harm in the introduction of chess, billiards and draughts.
In 1912 the YMBA lost one of its most dedicated members when C.S. Dissanayake passed away. He has been described as the father of the YMBA and he never tired of devoting the bulk of his time and energy to the association. He was its first Secretary, later its Treasurer, and between 1910-1912 he was the vice president.
He had a dream that the YMBA should some day develop into one of the most respected and prestigious organizations respecting the Buddhists of this country. He wished it to be a beacon of light and guidance. In the decades that followed, that visionary’s dream has been more than realized. The Buddhists of Sri Lanka owe a great debt of gratitude to him for the devotion with which he saw the Association carry on and survive through think and thin. The circumstances were adverse and influential missionaries would have liked to see this fledging organization fold up and die. It nearly did.
In recognition of the deep debt that it owed him the Association erected a marble monument over his grave and handed it over to his relatives at a formal ceremony held at his grave side at the Kanatte Cemetery where several members was present
After this death the YMBA plunged into a most parlous state and this condition was compounded by the riots of 1915. It threw the Buddhist public in to disarray, charged as if they were crimes they did not commit. With the imprisonment of their leaders the Buddhists found themselves completely leaderless and acutely despondent. The reign of terror, which followed the riots, drove many Buddhists in to panic and injustice cowed them down.
In these unfortunate circumstances it looked as if the Association would become extinct. Moreover it faced bankruptcy. Many members had failed to pay their subscriptions and funds were very low.
Sojourn in jail
The biggest names on the Buddhist scene in Ceylon found themselves in prison. Among them was R.A. Miranda, President of Buddhist theosophical Society. He died in prison and it is not known whether it was natural causes.
A star-studded cast of Ceylon’s most reputed Buddhists and its future national leaders found their way to jail. Every prominent Buddhist was a marked man and those sent to jail included F.R. Senanayake, W.A. de Silva, W.H.W. Perera and A.E. Goonasinha.
The times were intensely stirring and turbulent and prominent persons of all faiths took up the causes of their countrymen to whom the most horrendous forms of unjust punishment were being meted out by the colonial government.
It was at this time that D.B. Jayatilaka and E.W. Perera went to Whitehall, UK to plead the cause of their countrymen.
In this period when Buddhist activity was at a low ebb a few staunch members of the YMBA kept the flame of that flickering candle from blowing out completely. Around this time special strategies had to be worked out, to keep the Association afloat. A special fund was started to shore up the sinking financial fortunes of the YMBA and generous Buddhists associated with the YMBA came forward to assist.
Among them were W.A. de Silva, Dr. C.A. Hewavitharana, F.R. Senanayake, D.C. Senanayake, M.F.P. Gunaratne, D.P.A Wijewardena, Wilfred Mendis, M.H. Jayatilaka and D.F. Suraweera. In addition special subscriptions were paid by D.D. Pedris, D.S. Senanayake, J. Munasinghe, A.V. Dias, W.E. Bastian, D.S.W. Samarawickrema, Porolis de Silva, William Dias, L.H. Samarakkody and Carnelius Fernando.
These pioneers had the vision to realize that they should not allow the Association to sink under the weight of circumstances. Panic was followed by the desire for self-preservation in the face of a government onslaught, which frowned on Buddhists and their activities.
This doughty band of men along with their generous contributions to the fund saved the Association from sinking in those dark times. Dr. D.B. Perera was the General Secretary, and there were others like Amadoris Mendis, Timothy de Silva, T.C.S. Jayasinghe and D.Simon de Silva. The president, D.B. Jayatilake was in the UK and these men had to manage on their own without his advice, guidance and the protection of his presence.
In those troubled years of Ceylon’s history Amadoris Mendis as Manager of “The Buddhist” fought a valiant battle to keep the journal afloat. It was an incessant battle to find the cash to pay for its publication, but they were men with a purpose and they did not lose hope. There were several of them who coasted those calamitous and discouraging times by their intransigence and dedication. D.B. Jayatilake the Editor of “The Buddhist” was still in the UK but men like N.E. Weerasooria and S.W. Wijayatilake used their influence in English and their knowledge of public affairs to provide readable material for the paper. Weerasooria wrote delightful pieces under the penname “Fijik”.
There was another lawyer E.A. de Livera who wrote as “Premawathie” and “Chandrawathie.” Then there were other contributors all eminent persons such as M.W.H. de Silva, S.W. Wijayatilake, D.J.A. Nagawatte and P. Givendrasinghe.
The light flicked discouragingly in those years and almost died down. Bust as bad years passed, the beacon gathered strength and glowed and the long road to revival and renaissance started anew. These were indeed crucial years, a testing time when the courage and ingenuity of the members were taxed to the maximum.
Funds were still low and the rent on the premises had to be paid but there was little cash. But despite despondency the YMBA’s small circle of activities continued. In 1916 and 1917 a Literary Club and a Sinhala Debating Club were started; the weekly meetings, bana preaching continued. For the first time in 1917 an English Oratorical Contest was held with multi-ethnic panel of judges. They were the Hon. P.Ramanathan, Leigh Smith, F. Dornhorst and Dr Lucien de Zilwa.
In 1916 the library was enriched by the donation of the Simon Hewavitharana library to the YMBA. This gave the YMBA library the distinction of becoming the best library for Buddhist literature in English in the island. D.B Jayatilaka donated more gifts of books. E.A.L Wijewardena and Dr C.A. Hewavitarana.
As time went on the YMBA’s activities were regularized and expanded and run by various branches under teams of members who took responsibility for the particular activities.
Both recreational and religious activities continued apace. In February 1917 for the first time classes were started for the study of Buddhism. Billiards was popular among the young and with contributions from the members it was now possible to obtain a full-size billiard table for the Association.
When on November 24, 1917 the 19th anniversary celebrations were held with a meeting the membership had risen to 766. At this meeting a portrait of D.B Jayatilaka presented by the members, was unveiled by F.R.Senanayke.
Affairs of the YMBA were deteriorating again and the organization had fallen back on the payment of rent and was several months in arrears. Many members had not paid their subscriptions. This was 1918 and the YMBA had to appeal for the generosity of some of its members again, which included an appeal for special subscriptions. Among those who came to the aid of the Association were Dr. C.A. Hevawitarana, W.A. de Silva, F.R. Senanayake, Arthur V. Dias, D.S. Senanayake and A.E. de Silva.
The appeal had become imperative because in 1919 the Association found that its debts ran to a figure of Rs. 1000, which in those days was a formidable sum. A special tribute must be paid to these pioneers who contributed unstintingly to shore up the organization.
But this did not prevent the YMBA from raising its own funds and coming to the assistance of thousand who were suffering from a severe epidemic of influenza in 1918. The government seemed to be unconscionably indifferent and whole families were huddled together in one room suffering and without help.
The YMBA and several other voluntary organizations stepped in to help those hopeless families. It is said that while the Colombo municipality was quibbling about cutting the margin of profit on disinfections by 10 cents. The YMBA helped 573 families in Welikada, Rajagiriya, Yakbadde, Borella, Maradana etc. with urgent relief.
In these troubled years the Sinhala branch did bring some sunshine on the scene by staging “Walagambahu” at the Tower Hall.
By January 1920 the YMBA had 882 members.
The Press Fund
The press fund had a long and chequered history, going back in fact to 1915 when M.F.P. Gunaratne of Kalutara made the first donation of Rs. 37.75 towards the purchase of a press. This became the nucleus of the fund but it was in January 1918 that the fund was actually launched. Its target was Rs. 6000, which would have been the cost of a printing press. When the fund closed one year later with the final donation from A.V. Dias it had Rs. 6434.70 in it. But it was a long time before a printing press was bought for the Association.
It is interesting that around this time a non-Buddhist sent a contribution to the Press Fund with the following statement “I am not a Buddhist, but the little interest I have taken has been due to my sense of appreciation of your good work to the country’s good and the sensible way in which you conducted ‘The Buddhist’ without being in the least aggressive or intolerant towards followers of other religions.”
It was indeed a great tribute.
By the time the first type was on a printing machine by Sir Ernest de Silva it was October 1948.
But in the intervening period the Press Fund doubled due to an unexpected windfall. For various reasons the purchase of a press was deferred. Later the money was sent to the UK for the purchase of a press. But then again, the press was not purchased and the money was sent back. In the process due to exchange fluctuations the money doubled and in 1918 it stood at Rs. 12,406. These moneys were lent to the building fund the Association and eventually thirty years later the YMBA was able to buy a press for Rs. 25,000.
The Dhamma examinations
The year 1920 was an important year in the history of the YMBA. In this year the YMBA started the Dhamma examinations which it carried on for 50 years until compelled to hand them over in 1971 to the Government. However YMBA was once again given the opportunity to revive Dhamma school examinations in 1979.
It was D.B. Jayatilaka’s idea that much greater interest in the learning of the Dhamma would be created once the system of examinations was started. It stimulated the interest of the young and their parents and had a most solitary effect on the Sunday schools. Teachers in these schools were keen candidates at the examinations and the fillip it gave towards Buddhist studies, among young people was island wide and inestimable.
Several volunteers ran the Examinations Section at the time by Charles Dias and after him. There was a great need of textbooks on Buddhism and the members of the Sangha who offered their services filled this lacuna. They not only helped to compile the textbooks, they were examiners as well. Apart from new compilations, the Sangha also edited and revised Pali textbooks and incorporated explanations. The publications were much sought after by students and members of the public alike, and served a wide circle of readers.
In 1920 when the examinations were first started schools sent 374 candidates. By the 1970’s there were over three lakhs of students sitting for these examinations. When the idea was first discussed there was some doubt as to whether the examinations would be of interest to students. It was with some hesitation that the examinations were launched but in very short time it was evident that they gained great favour. The texts helped to standardize religious education and Sunday school teachers drew considerable knowledge on the Dhamma and inspiration from the texts.
The Sunday schools, which Colonel Olcott started in 1880, were growing in numbers rapidly and for the young it became the centre of Buddhist learning. Young persons who would be the future leaders and opinion makers in the country were receiving their grounding in the Dhamma in these institutions. The examinations, according to Charles Dias, with their regularized textbooks helped to stimulate the opening of more Sunday schools.
The examinations were held in seven stages for candidates between the ages of 11 and 23. By 1948 the numbers had grown to 30,000 candidates from 500 schools.
A team of volunteers carried on the work of the Examinations Branch with efficiency YMBA members were employed as honorary supervisors and invigilators. In the team were J.E. Gunarsekara, D.N. Hapugalle, E. de S.Wijeratne, A.Jayasinghe and Abraham Kuruppu.
In 1926 the Teachers Examination was introduced and D.P. Wijewardene paid the expenses of that first examination and prize money. The most coveted among the prizes was the Gold Medal for the highest marks. It is interesting that often girls won the medal.
The examinations continued through the years and even during the war. In April 1942 when the Japanese dropped bombs on Colombo on a Sunday, a Teachers Examination was being held. Out of 60 candidates only nine completed the examination and of these seven were women. All passed with honours as they deserved to, for having braved the circumstances.
In the 1940s help came from Buddhists to conduct the examinations. In 1944 a trust amounting to Rs10,000 from the Adeline Gomes Trust was created for the prizes. In 1944 Gate Mudaliyar Edmond Peiris deposited Rs1000 with the Public Trustee, to meet the cost of prizes. In 1946 Justice Basnayake offered a challenge shield to the school with the best results.
In 1948 a Dhamma Examination in English was started and that year 356 candidates sat the examination. Singapore was one of the centres.
Fire destroys Records.
Membership in 1921 was around 1043. 1922 was a bad year; it was bad enough not having a home of its own, in addition a portion of the library were destroyed in a fire in December 1922 along with YMBA’s records up to 1922. When the horse drawn fire wagon arrived it was too late, all the documents had gone up in smoke. It was never known whether it was by an act of God or by the hand of man.
The Association was back again in a most distressing condition. It had gone into arrears in rent and the landlady was suing for ejectment. Pathetic appeals for time fell on deaf ears.
It was around this time in August that the YMBA moved into “ The Walauwe” in Third Division Maradana. It was possible because of a loan of Rs.150 from Dr. C.A. Hewavitarana.
Shortly before the move a minor sensation was created within the Association when 12 members of the committee resigned over controversy as to whether the YMBA should allow the playing of bridge within its premises. Among those who resigned objecting to the playing of cards within a Buddhist organization were the general secretary, Charles Dias and Religious Examinations Secretary D.C. Wijesinghe. Fortunately it was decided to await the return of the President D.B. Jayatilaka. Card playing was disallowed and harmony was restored and everybody continued to serve as before.
In 1921 Baptist de Silva Abeyratne donated a property in Kurunegala worth Rs. 4000. This was the YMBA’s first endowment.
Its monthly income was the handsome sum of Rs. 12.50! While the endowment was for educational activities, in these lean years some of it had to be used for other purposes. As times improved these monies were used to offer scholarships to needy students. Later Mr. Abeyratne donated two acres of bare land in Maho to the Association.
A New Home of Its Own
It had been a struggle over the years for the very existence of the YMBA. The keepers of its coffers often found it empty. There were no funds to pay the rent and ejectment had stared the Association in the face. They were not quite settled in the new office “The Walauwe” and at best the future still seemed very uncertain as far as permanent premises were concerned.
But D.B. Jayatilake had his band of stalwarts were never defeated by circumstances. They had the intellectual flexibility and wisdom, not to mention the confidence in them to overcome the most adverse circumstances. A building fund had been started under N.E. Weerasooria some years earlier, but it had not made much headway. It stood at Rs. 5000 in 1924. But for D.B. Jayatilaka who was determined to find a permanent home for the YMBA this was no deterrent.
There was “Mahanil” at Kanatte Road, Borella going for Rs. 79,000, a prohibitive amount the YMBA could not hope to raise in a hurry. All YMBA had was Rs. 5000 in the fund. But D.B. Jayatilake used his negotiating skills to get over this “small” difficulty of Rs. 74000, which YMBA was short of to buy the premises. He arranged for the YMBA to pay the Rs. 5000 it had the balance as a loan, which the Association had to pay with interest.
The valuable property was mortgaged to the seller; but what was most ingenious and self-sacrificing of F.R. Senanayake was along with “Mahanil” he mortgaged a valuable property belonging to him in order to secure the loan.
It worked. So when on May 1st 1924 the YMBA moved in to “Mahanil”, it had the first home of it’s very own – and a massive debt hanging over its roof and the collective heads of its Committee.
Unfazed, D.B. Jayatilaka and his determined team pressed ahead with a Building Fund campaign and were able to collect Rs. 37,000. The Sri Chandrasekara Trust donated Rs. 5000 and there was a grant of Rs. 30,000 from the government. The collection also included Rs. 13,000 lent to the building fund by the press fund, and being businesslike even in these internal matters, the building fund had to pay 5% interest to the Press Fund. After all, the Press Fund had to find the monies for a printing press and prices were going up.
But with this fund raising effort the debt on the building was wiped out.
The entry in to a permanent home was marked by all night pirith and a sangika dana the next day. It was the beginning of a better period in the history of the YMBA. Unburdened of the fear of ejectment and the travails of being a tenant, the Association entered upon a period of intense and gainful activity.
The YMBA did have a hostel in a small way since 1913 and around these years it was developed in to a regular institution with special rules governing its administration. Sports activities were always popular and a tennis court was added to the facilities available. Billiard players were happy with the addition of another table gifted by A.E. de Silva.
The bana preaching on Sunday had fallen off for some time and it was restarted. The Sunday sermons were very popular and on some Sundays as many as 200 persons attended them. As usual ata sil was observed on Vesak day and Poya days and dana was provided for the observers of ata sil.
Incorporation of the Association
Steady progress followed the incorporation of the Association in October 1927. The Gazette of October 7, 1927 published the bill of Incorporation under the title:
“The young Men’s Buddhist Association Colombo, Ordinance No.11 of 1927”.
The organisation thus obtained legal status and a legal personality.
This meant that there could be no threat to its existence gave it a new dignity and inspired it towards greater service. This achievement is to the credit of a selfless band of courageous Buddhist who worked indefatigably towards this end. But for them the YMBA perhaps would not have reached this status for several more years, if it did last.
The President, D.B. Jayathilake said on the occasion of incorporation ‘This is not the occasion to recount the story of progress, yet we cannot but recall, the birth almost in obscurity thirty years ago of the tiny little society which now occupies an assured position as the YMBA, Colombo. This achievement is due to no miracle. It is the result of laborious work, continued all these years often under the most discouraging and depressing circumstances, but with a steadfastness of purpose that overcome all obstacles.
“The Association when it was founded in 1898, was composed of a very small number of members, about 20, the majority of whom were young clerks employed in government offices in the Fort. Few of them were in a position to give much financial support to the Association but, in compensation, they had a vision. So they laid the foundations deep, broad and secure: upon them a noble edifice is being raised, which may be regarded as making satisfactory progress, towards completion, though the final stage yet be far off.”
November 25, 1927 was an important day when the YMBA received Mahatma Gandhi who was accompanied by C. Rajagopalachairar. At this reception the Association was able to present the visitors with a purse for Rs 615/= for their Kahdi Fund.
These were years rich in religious and cultural activities, meetings with eminent persons from abroad and developments in the literary and recreational branches. ‘The Light of Asia” Elocution Contests started in 1925 by D.N.W. de Silva were held again. The Lyceum or debating club was formed and flourished unfortunately for about two and a half years only. Vesak 1927 was celebrated on a much more lavish scale than usual since the Association was in its own building. The whole building was illuminated and the efforts of them members were rewarded when the YMBA won the gold medal donated by D.D. Jayakody for the best illuminations in Colombo.
Then in 1925 the Registrar of Marriages Muhandiram D.A.G. Jayatilake opened an office for the registration of marriages in the headquarters building. That year 13,000 marriages were registered at that office. Among them was a man condemned to death. The doomed man’s marriage was registered in the office at the YMBA as prison officials watched.
The hall at “Mahanil” became quite popular for weddings and became a means of earning income.
By this time the Association has begun to fulfil its role as a voluntary organisation which came to the relief of people in distress. The floods of 1930 took their toll and many persons lost their homes and some were marooned for several days. Members went to their rescue, took them food, clothes etc. and helped in many ways. The YMBA also collected Rs 4000 and built eleven cottages for persons who had been flooded out. They had an iron framework and concrete bars and stood the test of time when a massive flood hit the area in 1947.
In the mid thirties when Rajah Hewavitarana was Secretary two important projects were undertaken by the Y.M.B.A. The Vihara at the Kandana sanatorium was rebuilt and on the request of the inmates of the Leper Colony at Mantive a shrine room was built at the cost of Rs1404. The shrine housed a marble image of the Buddha and it was declared open by Sir D.B Jayatilake in 1936.
In these years the membership was honoured by the visit of many distinguished persons. Receptions or public meetings were held in their honour and members found themselves in the presence of repute persons. These included Jawaharlal Nehru, Kamaladevi Chattopadayaya, C.F. Andrews, Annie Besant, Krishnamurthi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Prince Prithivi Bahadur Singh of Nepal, Revs. Ogatha and Kawano of Japan, Pandit Sheo Na Narain and Sir Hari Singh Gour. The YMBA also hosted an exhibition of Chinese paintings by the artiest Kan Chen Foo.
All these activities led to a resurgence of interest in the Association and confidence in the purpose for its existence.
The Fort Branch
There were thousands of Buddhists working in offices in the Fort and by 1934 it was decided that the YMBA should open a branch in the Fort for their religious and recreational activities. Money was of course the problem. W. W. Jayasinghe was one of the prime fundraisers for the Fort project. He was helped by a band of enthusiastic women such as Mrs P.B. Fernando, Mrs H. S Gunasekera, Mrs A. E. de Silva and Mrs G.F Perera.
They were able to collect Rs 18,000 and they used a system of tills placed in homes, a carnival and fair held in 1935 netted in Rs7000 and another carnival in 1937 swelled the fund by Rs 10,000. In January 1938 the fund stood at Rs 21,000 and by 1942 it climbed to Rs 41, 892. The money was held in a separate account. There was a contribution of Rs1000 from the Sri Chandrasekera Trust.
But there were many hurdles before the Association could think of building the Fort branch the foremost being suitable land, which had to be obtained from the government. In 1942 the government did agree to release a block of land near the Fort Railway Station, but unfortunately the war intensified and negotiations had to be put on hold till the war was over.
After the war was over there were rumours that the government planned to move some offices from the Fort and evacuate in partially. So the question arose as to the scale and extent of the Fort branch. It was however decided to name the new library and main hall after Sir D.B. Jayatilaka. The enthusiasm to build the branch never flagged and fund raising continued. The British government said that the land would be transferred after the war.
Because of rumours about the partial evacuation from the Fort the YMBA adopted a wait and see policy. In any case the government had stipulated that building operations could start only after the war. Oliver Weerasinghe, Government Town Planner and a member of the YMBA agreed to draw up the plans and supervise the work of building.
Meanwhile, it was decided to get expert advice on the suitability of the site that had been offered. Oliver Weerasinghe after investigation advised that the site was unsuitable because of its proximity to the railway station and the canal. It was marshy land a large sum of money would have to be sunk into the foundation in order to fill it.
The committee of Management decided to delay action for a time and watch how events developed in regard to plans for the Fort. There was uncertainty on several issues. Could the Association build and maintain such a large complex? Besides, costs were going up every day. The effort to rent premises to begin the Fort branch was also a failure because to unsuitability of buildings or rents being too high.
The government offer to lease this particular site of 37 perches for 99 years did not seem to be too attractive. The YMBA management was dissatisfied and made representations to the government. The Association said that the Buddhists of Ceylon deserved a better and more central spot than the one offered. The government was told that in the name of justice and fair play the Buddhists deserved better treatment than this.
In addition the government had laid down that the YMBA should take possession of the land by July 01 1948 and within two years it had to put up the building costing no less then Rs 50,000.
Sir Cyril de Zoysa, then a Vice- President, was not deterred by the attitude of the government or the hurdles ahead, He worked ceaselessly to enlist support among politicians and Ministers. Finally a valuable site consisting of 23.7 perches was allocated to the YMBA, at Lotus road, Main Street and Duke Street bordering it.
Long Delays Over Land Issue
A committee was established headed by Oliver Weerasinghe to go ahead with the building plan. A.B. Gomes, a philanthropist and benefactor promised RS 1000,000. Sir Ernest de Silva had donated a stamp worth 5000 sterling pounds for the building fund earlier.
A competition was launched here and abroad for plans and designs for the building complex, but progress on actually acquiring the site had stalled because government was delaying the moving of offices on the site and giving the YMBA vacant possession. By 1949 the fund had risen to Rs 185,865, but the estimated cots of the complex was around Rs 8000,000. It was now 1953 and the Land Commissioner had yet to release the land, which had been allocated in 1948. The Annual General Meeting of the YMBA in 1953 expressed its disappointment at the delay,
Communications continued to pass between the YMBA Committee of Management and the government. Promises were made, assurances given but for five years the government could not move the offices on the site to an alternate location.
But plans went ahead and a subcommittee of the country’s best architects formed. It included Oliver Wijesinghe, T. N. Wynne-Jones, and H. F. Billimoria. The plans submitted by the competitors had to be rejected because they did not conform to specifications. Eventually a local firm did the design of the building.
On April 30 1955 the site was formally handed over to the YMBA. Sir Cyril de Zoysa headed the building committee and became in time the most dynamic and energetic driving force behind the building project. The President Sir Ernest de Silva drove the first pile on July 20 1956. Sir Cyril’s determination to get the building completed never flagged. He faced and overcame whatever vicissitudes, financial and otherwise, which might have delayed the operation.
H.F. Billimoria died soon after and Oliver Weerasinghe took on a UN assignment and had to leave the country. Justin Samarasekara and Neville Gunaratne replaced them.
The building was to have a shrine room on the top floor in which was to be placed bronze statue of the Buddha sculpted by Mani a well known Indian sculptor. The accommodation included 70 bedrooms a restaurant and kitchens, a salon and common- rooms, three club rooms, a lecture hall, office rooms, staff quarters, dormitory for employees, a co-operative, sick room and baths and toilets.
Contributions were incredibly generous. Sir Ernest de Silva had contributed in all Rs55,000 plus a stamp worth 5000 pound sterling. Sir Cyril made contributions of large sums in addition to providing enough steel for the whole building.
The side of the main building changed the Vihara, plans for which to place it cost Rs 252,481 and was declared open on July 14 1958. But then money for the rest of the building was running out and some means had to be devised to complete it. Then Sir Cyril ingeniously thought out a plan and worked it. The ground floor was to house shops and would be tenants were requested to pay three years’ rent in advance. The Association was able to collect Rs 589,442 and complete the ground floor in the early sixties. The same method of raising money was employed for floors 1,2,3 and 4.
To finish the rest of the building no more monies could be raised in advance and a loan of Rs 5000,000 was taken from the Bank of Ceylon. By December 31 1967 with very regular repayments the debt was reduced to Rs 5000 and by the following year the whole debt was paid off.
It was a most credible performance by the Management of the YMBA, which started off, with very little money in the kitty to put up the Fort building. Sir Cyril de Zoysa deserves to be remembered as the untiring spirit behind the building of the Fort branch. Nothing, not even health problems, sun and rain stopped him in his indefatigable determination to see the operation through. It was a magnificent instance of leadership and devotion.
It was only after pile driving was begun that it was found that the site was a marsh and filling had to be done at the enormous expense of Rs 550,000. Piles had to be driven 80 feet under-ground stream washed off the concrete, which was laid and it had to be sealed off.
Sir Cyril was never discouraged. He found the needed steel, teak, cement by the shipload for the building and when bricks were in short supply he set up a factory to produce the bricks. At the same time he was engaged in other projects such as the Krirvehera restoration project, the Kataragama Pilgrim’s Rest, the Kalutara Bodhiya vatadage. His energy was boundless, as was his generosity. It was never quite possible to calculate how much exactly he contributed in cash for the fort branch building.
Thus between 1958 and 1968 the main activity of the YMBA was the construction of the Fort building.
By December 1971 all the work was over and the total cost had been Rs3,692,898.
Change in the Committee
By 1943 there were changes in the committee when D.N.W. de Silva succeeded H. S Goonasekera who had been Secretary for eight years and L. Piyasena succeeded V. S. Nanayakkara who had been Treasurer for 15 years. Piyasena brought considerable order into the accounts of the Association by insisting on the observance of proper financial regulations and procedures. The balances improved and stood at Rs 15,000 in 1943/44. It is to the credit of Piyasena that by stringent financial measures he brought about financial order and stability for the organisation.
D.N.W. de Silva was also another live wire who galvanised a sleepy and inactive organisation into a new dynamism. He brought his own enthusiasm to rouse the members from their apathy and infused new life and activity into the affairs of the Association. In 1943 even though there were no funds and no equipment and not even a separate section for a gymnasium, a physical culture department was started. There was wrestling and weight lifting organised in the dining room and it was very popular. This being war time it was open to servicemen and they too used the premises, in 1944 the Annexe was converted into a gymnasium and physical training activities commenced.
In 1943 a Sinhala Verse Contest was started and this too became popular.
Sir Baron Jayatilaka passes away.
In 1942 Sir Baron Jayatilaka was sent to India as Ceylon’s representative. He left a void in the activities of the YMBA, which was hard to fill. He remained Editor of “The Buddhist’ but S.A. Wijayatilaka continued to edit the journal in his absence. It was of course not realised at the time that this would be the last time the Association and the people of Ceylon would see him alive.
He took ill in New Delhi and on his way back to Ceylon on May 29 1944, he passed away on the plane in Bangalore. He was 76 years old. The members of the Association were thrown into gloom and unbearable sorrow, this towering intellect, inspiring leader and visionary who guided the fortunes of the YMBA for almost five decades would never again cross its portals or grace its gatherings. He devoted the greatest part of his life and time to the formative years of the Association.
He was the loved and respected guide and counsellor who were irreplaceable.
His eminence in national affairs brought with it a natural influence. His prestige, statesmanship and scholarship threw its reflection on the Association, giving it credibility, recognition and a voice that was clearly heard in Buddhist affairs.
When in the past years the YMBA faced difficult or turbulent times, it was his experience, wisdom and negotiating skills which held the Association together, prevented it from caving in and encouraged it to grow from strength to strength.
It was his consummate strategies and ingenious planning which gave the Association a home of its own, with so little in its coffers. At the time he died the Association was already on the road to the prestigious position it holds in society today.
He bequeathed his entire library of olla manuscripts to the YMBA library and one third of his estate to the Association. Despite his wealth he led a simple life. The YMBA remains a monument to this superior human being, a colossus who imperiously strode the national and Buddhist scene for several decades.
A Sir Baron Jayatilaka Fund was launched. In 1944 the Fund contained Rs 33,000 with Rs 10,000 from Sir Ernest de Silva.
In 1944 Sir Ernest was elected President. It has to be remembered that on numerous occasions when the Association ran short of funds, Sir Ernest, among many other generous persons unstintingly provided cash to shore up the Association.
In 1946 it was felt that a free night school should be started at the headquarters for working people to improve their education. This was done in the premises adjoining the headquarters at the Susamayawardhana Society.
T. B. Dissanayake PC a former hosteller and Member of the Board of Management managed the school competently for several years.
This was the period when D.N.W. de Silva was General Secretary and there was a great improvement in membership with the numbers going up to 1135. He retired in 1944, V.S. Nanayakkara became General Secretary and in the ensuing period the momentum of activity showed a further increase. Both these secretaries showed a much-needed dynamism in their activities.
Concerts and entertainments were organised, with one concert in aid of the Sir Baron Jayatilaka Fund. An oriental orchestra was formed and music, singing and dancing classes were organised. Some of the names associated with this venture were Ananda Samarakoon, Sunil Shantha and W. D. Amaradeva.
A new billiard room and temporary gymnasium was built all of these activities bringing new life to the premises. More people, young and old were coming into the YMBA and there was evidence that things were looking up again.
The Gift of a Hall
For some time it had been realised that the Association headquarters needed a larger hall. The foundation was laid in 1947 and Sir Cyril de Zoysa saved the board of Management the enormous worry of raising Rs 150,000 for the hall by volunteering to gift it in memory of his parents. It was declared open in December 1948, by D. S Senanayake, Prime Minister. The library and reading room too had been extended and more room made available for indoor games.
Mention has to be made about two faithful employees of long-standing service. They were K. Narayan Pillai who joined the service of the Association in 1926 and M.D Charles Appuhamy who was a billiard marker, and had joined the service of the Association in its Maradana beginnings. He retired in 1943. They were paid pensions. Among other persons who were on the staff of the Association was Dalton Alwis who was librarian for some years at Borella. He has earned a name for himself as a writer of Sinhala lyrics.
In 1948 the YMBA celebrated its Golden Jubilee, and the activities started with all night pirith and a sangika dana for 100 monks the following day. The most notable event connected with the Golden Jubilee was the opening of the new hall. It marked the expansion of buildings available for a greater spectrum of activities of the Association. A three-day carnival was also held and brought in Rs 12,000.
V.S. Nanayakkara was General Secretary at the time, to which post he had been elected in 1946 and he held it till 1954. His devotion to the Association was unbroken he held the post of Treasurer too for 15 years. His name has to be honoured for the great contribution he made towards maintaining the momentum of the activities of the YMBA.
1956 was Buddha Jayanthi year marking the 2500th Anniversary of the passing away of the Buddha, which fell on Vesak Day in May. A large number of people participated in the observance of ata sil, in listening to Dhamma sermons and taking; part in religious discussions at the Association’s Headquarters. The YMBA participated in many activities connected with the Island wide celebrations.
This was a time when the Association had to play a vital role in the protection of Buddhism and the strengthening of its status in the country. It was found that it was necessary to make representations to the government on many matters during this Buddha Jayanthi year. The YMBA for instance, made representations on the grant of land to Christian Organisations at preferential rates, even if these lands were in predominantly Buddhist areas. The Association also protested against another absurd proposal by some quarters to teach Ceylon History in schools only of the period after 1500 CE thus leaving out the most glorious, critical and significant periods in Ceylon’s ancient, cultural and religious history.
The General Secretary elected to office in 1955 was D.L. Dissanayake. Sir Earnest de Silva passed away in 1956. Sir Earnest de Silva became President after Sir Baron Jayatilaka and was one of the most notable financial contributors to the Association. The Fort branch is a memorial to him, to which he contributed unstintingly.
Mr. H.W. Amarasuriya, a well-known Buddhist worker and philanthropist was elected President after him.
Sir Baron Jayatilaka Centenary
Since Sir Baron’s death a pinkama has been held every year in his memory on his birthday. Since then it has become the practice to commemorate all deceased Presidents with pinkamas on their respective birthdays. The venue for such pinkamas is the Fort Vihara. Pinkamas are also held in memory of those other members who worked for the YMBA in past years.
Sir Baron Jayatilaka’s birth centenary was celebrated on an island wide scale on February 13, 1968.
A public meeting was held at the Borella Hall presided over by the then Governor General William Gopallawa which was addressed by many prominent; persons drawn from the major communities in the country who had been associated with Sir Baron in his lifetime. Prince Street in the Fort was renamed after him. The Association’s Library now renamed the “Sir Baron Jayatilake Memorial Library” was moved from “Mahanil” to a much more spacious section in the Fort Building. The Venerable Bhikkhu Walpola Rahula declared open the Library in its new home. A bronze bust of the first President of the Association by Tissa Ranasinghe commissioned by the Association in connection with the centenary was placed in the library. The library has since been moved back to Borella.
On the initiative of the Association the government issued a postage stamp in memory of Sir Baron.
On 12 February 1968 annual scholarly lecture in English on a Buddhist subject was inaugurated. The first lecturer was Dr. GP Malalasekara and his subject was “A Buddhist Pilgrim’s Progress”. Sir Baron Jayatilaka memorial lectures have been continued without a break for the past 36 years.
For the YMBA, 1971 was a bad year. The Dhamma examinations started in 1920 and carried on without a break, except for 1935, and dear to the collective heart of the Association had to be discontinued due to government policy. It was the cause of much heartburn because of the vitally important role the examinations played in the Buddhist education of children and future Sunday school teachers. It was a project close to the heart of the late Sir Baron Jayatilake, whose idea it was.
The Cultural Affairs Department without consulting the Association decided that the annual grant of Rs. 50,000 which had been given since 1958 for the conduct of the examinations was to be discontinued in 1970. The grant had been authorised by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike when he was Prime Minister.
This put the Association in great difficulty. It was a great blow. It had invested Rs. 350,000 in a modern printing press, in the hope that the YMBA could print books for free distribution by the government. The Association was also informed that the Cultural Affairs Ministry would conduct the examinations at Senior and Teachers levels, because the Dhamma examination certificate should have the imprimatur of government. It was also stated that the government intended to compile new books because the books compiled by authors selected by the YMBA mainly bhikkus were unsatisfactory.
In the matter of the printing of books the YMBA was requested to tender along with other Organisations. It cost the YMBA around Rs. 93,000 to conduct the examinations, Rs. 50,000 of which had been met from the government grant now withdrawn. Appeals fell on deaf ears. The government itself took over the conduct of all Dhamma examinations from 1971.
It was the demise of one of the YMBA’s proudest achievements, carefully nurtured and efficiently conducted by a hand of devoted volunteers which included bhikkus, who compiled books, wrote question papers and corrected answer scripts.
Staff had to be retrenched and Examinations Branch closed down in 1971. The Association was now left with the expensive printing press, and no expertise or experience to run it on a commercial basis. It was sold to the Maha Bodhi Society for Rs. 500,000.
The Dhamma examinations, which started with 374 candidates from 27 schools in 1921, drew nearly three lakhs in 1970. The Branch itself had a full time staff of about 15 persons. The Honorary Secretary of the Branch was the indefatigable D.C. Sri Dillimuni. The Dhamma examinations helped to introduce uniformity and systematise the teaching of Buddhism in the Dhamma schools. The examinations were open only to schools, which registered with the YMBA.
Fortunately, things changed in a few years time. 1977 had printed only three books by the government for nine grades. In 1979 the conduct of examinations was given back to the YMBA with a grant of Rs. 250,000 for printing of books. They were to be conducted in collaboration with the Cultural Affairs Department. The printing of books was subsequently taken over by the Cultural Affairs Department. The Association was to conduct examinations for grades five to nine only. The grant given to the Association was greatly reduced to a mere Rs. 25,000.
By 1996 the numbers of students sitting the examinations had increased to over four lakhs. The Department of Buddhist Affairs pays for the printing of question papers and certificates. The Association is assisted immensely by its affiliated Organisations and the Sasana Arakshaka Mandalas who offer their voluntary services for the proper conduct of the examinations.
There is also an examination for the selection of prize-winners from among those who do well at Dhamma school examinations. The best three in each grade in each district are invited to the Borella Headquarters to take the examination. The best among them are awarded prizes, which are given away at a ceremonial prize distribution held annually.
At present (2004) Dhamma school examination conducted by the YMBA covering island wide is carried out with the active co-operation extended by the Buddhist Affairs Department. This examination is held for students from grade 5 to grade nine onwards. Presently around 10,750 Dhamma schools have been registered with the YMBA. Approximately about 7600 Dhamma schools represent approximately 650,000 candidates for the examinations. Venerable Theras officiating as secretaries of 88 Saranarahshaka Mandakayas and is affiliated to the YMBA Buddhist Association extended their co-operation in conducting the grade examinations. About 30,000 volunteers offer their services for conducting examinations. Presently besides the Dhamma schools grade examinations the association is conducting Pali, Dhamma and Abhidhamma examinations annually for both laity adults and clergy. In addition Dhamma examinations are conducted in English medium for both local and foreign candidates. Dhamma examinations in English are now conducted at centres overseas, in Singapore, Malaysia and the United Kingdom. Facilities are made available at 15 centres in Sri Lanka for local students. The total number sitting for the Dhamma examination in English now exceeds 1500.
There are several Trust Funds established through the Colombo YMBA. YMBA owes a deep debt of gratitude to the donor philanthropists. The donors have thereby given a helping hand to the needy students for successful careers in their fields of studies and also to benefit the children in the war torn areas for the welfare of the refugees irrespective of race, caste or religion.
The scholarship funds that are functional include Sri Cyril De Soysa Trust Fund, Mr. B. de S. Abeyratne Trust Fund, Mr. Janaka Athukorale Trust Fund, Mr. D.N.W. de Silva Trust Fund, and Mr. V. S. Nanayakkara Trust Fund, Mr. N.J.V. Cooray Trust Fund, Mr. Eric Amarasinghe Trust Fund, Mr. Thilak Wijesinghe Sister’s Trust Fund, Sir Baron Jayatilaka Trust Fund, Evelyn de Silva Trust Fund, Mr. E. L. de S. Jayawardene Trust Fund, and Niponzan Myohoji Gurukula Trust Fund.
Trust Funds are also established for the provisions of Heel Dana, Daval Dana on Duruthu Poya each year, Heel Dana on Nawam Poya each year and Gilanpasa on Bak Poya each year and providing morning breakfast, noon meals and tea for Sil observers.
There are also new Trust Funds established annually apart from the above.
Extensions to Borella Headquarters
By the seventies the Borella Headquarters was need in extensions and Sir Cyril de Zoysa undertook the works. The Association bought 80 perches of land abutting the headquarters for Rs. 175,000. Extensive additions were made to the Hall with enlarge green rooms, changing rooms and improvements in lighting and panelling of the auditorium. It cost Rs. 150,000, but the improvements made the YMBA Hall one of the best in the country. A smaller hall was also built for rehearsals. The hall became very popular for weddings.
The YMBA has had a hostel for many years, but it was now in an unsatisfactory state. In a new building costing Rs. 355,382, erected on the newly acquired land at Borella the top floor was used for a hostel, the second floor for the Vocational Training Centre and the ground floor for the Sir Baron Jayatilake Library which was moved from the Fort back to Borella. The building was declared open in 1971.
Gift Of The Century
The YMBA is indebted to the late Sir Cyril de Soysa in a manner, which cannot be quantified. His untiring services to the Association in putting up the Fort building and extensions to the headquarters went hand in hand with immeasurable generosity. Twenty five years earlier he had donated the Hall at the Headquarters and now he made another incredible gift to the Association. He gifted to it the Regent Flats opposite the Regal Theatre in the Fort. It was the gift of the century.
Earlier in 1969 Sir Cyril was conferred with honorary membership and was elected President. The flats did have a mortgage, but once settled became a good source of income. He divested himself of all his wealth leaving a small proportion for his own maintenance.
Unhappily the “gift of the century” was not destined to benefit the Association to the full extent of Sir Cyril’s intention. Housing laws enacted in the seventies deprived the YMBA of a good part of that memorable benefaction.
To the YMBA he was a tower of strength over all these years. While he threw himself into the affairs of the Association, he was at the same time engaged in several other activities such as the building of the Kalutara Bodhiya complex, improvements to the Kirivehera, Bellanwila and Kuppiyawatte temples. He was also a Trustee of the London Buddhist Vihara.
Board Of Governors
1962 was another landmark year when the rules of the Association were amended to provide for the appointment of a Board of Governors, which had control over funds, properties, and administration of the YMBA. Decisions were to be arrived at by a majority vote. The Board of Management had to seek the approval of the Board of Governors in such matters as transferring of rights over property or funds or for the creation of any liability or claim against the Association above a specified value.
The Board of Governors also exercised control over expenditure. Disposal of any movable property valued at less than Rs. 50,000 and expenditure amounting to less than Rs. 50,000 only could be sanctioned by the Board of Management without the approval of the Board of Governors. This was an important step in regularising procedures for financial control of the now much enchanted income of the YMBA.
Passing away of Prof. G. P. Malalasekara
Prof. G. P. Malalasekera had been associated with the YMBA for several decades and was highly respected Buddhist scholar. In his passing away in 1973 the YMBA lost another of its stalwarts. He was a past President of the All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and an Editor of “The Buddhist” as well as a Vice President of the YMBA. He was responsible for the establishment of the World Fellowship of Buddhists and was its first President.
The 75th anniversary of the YMBA was commemorated with a public meeting, all night pirith, and a sangika dana. The Ven. Heenatiyana Dhammaloka Thero delivered a Dhamma sermon on the occasion. The A.B. Gomes hall was also declared open by the Speaker, Stanley Tilekeratne.
A religious pageant named the “Sprit of Buddhism” was staged to mark the occasion. 50 artistes participating in it depicted the history of Buddhism from the handing over of the protection of the island to Uppalavanna by Sakra, right up to the fall of the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815.
The pageant was a great success and a tribute should be paid to W. Dharmadasa Kuruppu and R. Bodinagoda for the great pains they took to make it a success.
At the public meeting held in the hall presided by Sir Cyril de Zoysa the portraits of Sir Baron Jayatilake, Sir Ernest de Silva and H.W. Amarasuriya were unveiled by the then Governor General William Gopallawa. Among the guest speakers were scholar monks, Dr. J.H.F. Jayasuriya, Sir Razeek Fareed and V. Siva Supramaniam. In honour of the occasion “The Buddhist” published a souvenir and a social was held for members and their families.
Religious Activities of Great Importance
Throughout the years of its existence one of the main interests of the YMBA was religious activities and Buddhist education. The Association had set as its aim the rekindling of interest in the study of Buddhist education. The Association had set its restoration to its rightful place. This it set out to do by providing the YMBA as a forum for bana preaching, lectures, discussions and at the same time making reading material available in its library and reading room.
The colonial period was an era when Buddhist learning in general and pirivena education in particular was undermined and Christianisation were bulldozing its way into Buddhist society. But it speaks well for the Buddhist public that there was a great desire amongst them to learn about Buddhism and its great heritage.
On Poya days ata sil was organised at the Association headquarters along with Dhamma sermons by reputed monks, sometimes as many as six for the day. Religious discussion meditation and mal, pahan and Buddha puja were held. On Vesak days the premises filled up with devotees observing ata sil who numbered 1000 on some occasions. On other Poya days there were 300 or so in recent years. Bakthi gee and special Vesak programs were also organised.
The teaching of Dhamma, Abidhamma and Pali, meditation including Vipassana bhavana classes became a regular feature of the Association’s religious activities. Sermons by erudite monks, lectures by Buddhist scholars have provided the Buddhist public with a rich variety of thought and education on the Buddha Dhamma. The Sunday morning sermon became a regular feature and many people made it a point of attending them, because they wanted to listen to learned monks. A summary of the sermon was printed and distributed amongst the devotees.
The YMBA was able to meet the cost of heel dana, daval dana and gilampasa from trusts set up over the years for this purpose. A tribute must be paid to the late Sir D.B. Jayatilaka, for many years Secretary for Religious Activities and a Vice-President. He started this Fund with an initial contribution of Rs. 25,000 to set up a trust in memory of his late wife Mrs. Dolly Jayatilaka. Twenty-four similar trusts have been established amounting to Rs. 129,000 to meet these expenses.
In addition, for a quarter of a century the Pierson Group of Companies has provided the daval dana for those observing ata sil on Vesak Day.
The Vipassana bhavana classes proved to be very popular and some 250 devotees attend them. Among the monks who conduct these classes are the Ven. Sastrapathy Kammattanachary Godagama Gunaratana Thero and Sastravedi SastrapathyDickwelle Upatissa Thero.
The Abhidhamma classes too were well attended even though the study of the higher metaphysics of Buddhism is no easy task. In recent years there have also been many students who have attended classes on the Visuddhimagga conducted by the Ven. Hegoda Khemananda Thero.
Another feature of the Association’s religious activities was the Dhamma Charika sermons. In the early years members of the YMBA went to various parts of the country teaching people about the Dhamma. This Dhamma Charika program had been in abeyance in recent years. People in the provinces and remote areas were keen to listen to erudite monks and they were willing to invite them to their villages. So the program was revived. The YMBA pays for the cost of transport and other expenses.
Among the places visited by monks to deliver sermons were Ahangama, Makola, Kottawa, Ambuwangala, Kadugannawa, Kekirawa, Ragama, Walpola, Chilaw, Battuluoya, Kolonnawa, Elpitiya. The bhikkus who made these visits included the Ven. Sastravedi Sastrapati Kotmale Dinnaga Thero, Ven. Uduwe Dhammaloka Thero, Ven. Rajawate Vappa Thero, Sastravedi Urugamuwe Ratanasara Thero, Ven. Sastravedi Sastravedi Belideniye Siridhamma Nayake Thero and Ven. Sastrapati Kotapola Amarakirthi Thero.
Throughout the years one every single day of the week the Association organised some religious activity for the benefit of the public and the response has always been good.
In 1988 a series of expositions by learned monks on special stanzas of the Dhammapada was organised. Those who attended the sermons were given a leaflet with the Pali stanzas of the Dhammapada and a summary of the exposition. Even though in the past dayakas paid for the pirikara and the printing of the leaflet, this contribution has fallen off. The Association has had to meet the expenses.
Because of deteriorating moral standards and indiscipline among youth the Association requested leading Buddhist school Principals to encourage their students to attend these expositions. But the response has been, sadly, poor. It is a matter of regret that in 1993/1997 period attendance at the Sunday sermons too has not been satisfactory.
However, within five years sermons based on all stanzas of the Dhammapada were completed. From October 1995 a new series of sermons was started on the Pansiya Panas Jataka stories. There was also discussion on the Milinda Panna led by the Ven. Belideniye Siridhamma Nayake Thero.
While the Dhamma sermons, discussions and classes are almost invariably in Sinhala, a couple of features in English were introduced in the last few years. A member of the Dhamma Examinations Committee, deeply versed in the Abhidhamma and a competent teacher P. Mahanama, conducted weekly classes on the subject. The state of his health compelled him to discontinue his work but Mrs. M.C. de Silva carried on the lectures with equal competence. Vice-President Ranapala Bodinagoda was responsible for initiating a programme of Dhamma discussion on the third Sunday of each month. There are usually three panellists with Rajah Kuruppu as moderator. Questions and contribution of views from a growing number of participants have enchanced the value of this programme.
The Sir Cyril de Zoysa Dhamma School was started at the headquarters in Borella in 1975 with forty students. The Ven. Pandita Viplawansa Thero has been its Principle since its inception. There are about 25 volunteer teachers on the staff and students number about 300 by 1998.
They publish ”Muni Daham” and “Vipula Rasika Witti” newspapers. The school has a student’s society, which promotes oratory, singing and religious competitions and organises bhakti gee during Vesak.
There were many small but significant contributions made by the Association to persons and places in 1990 – 1997 periods. The Buddhist mortuary at Kanatte cemetery in Colombo had fallen into a dilapidated state and the YMBA took over the repair and maintenance of the building.
A donation was made to complete the steps leading to the Vihare at the University of Peradeniya. An initial grant was conveyed to the Buddhist complex at Angunukolawewa, Thanamalwila. Robes were gifted to monks who fled from Batticaloa to Kalawewa. A Buddha statue was donated to the Viharage built by the army at a school in Gambiragaswewa.
A Project was launched to restore the Chetiyagiri temple at Arantalawa, which had been attacked by terrorist several times. The buildings had been destroyed and the statues defaced. The Kalutara Bodhi Trust too made a generous donation towards the financing of this undertaking.
Contributions were donated to the Buddha Sasana Fund of the Government.
The Shrine room at Fort is a boom to hundreds of workers in the Fort. It enables them to worship or seek solace before work or in the lunch interval or after work. Several societies of workers in the Fort such as the Bank Association hold their pinkamas at the shrine. The shrine room was repainted with he assistance of generous donors.
In 1988 in a period of the greatest uncertainty, the Ministry of the Buddha Sasana was created. At the time the there was great hope that it would lead to national Buddhist regeneration, protect the Buddha Sasana and the Buddhist way of life and cleanse society of the many evils it had fallen into.
Sports Popular at the Fort YMBA
Sports activities continue to be popular at the Fort branch. Among the sports facilities provided are those for weight lifting, judo, gymnastics, table tennis, bodybuilding and carom. The Board also passed a sum of Rs. 50,000 in 1995 for the purchase of punching gloves, head guards, speedballs, dumb bells, weights etc.
There have been a few foreign instructors with the local personnel. Members have won Judo tournaments and championships. A new youth section too was opened to encourage teenagers but this has fallen into abeyance.
Sports – YMBA Borella
The Billiard room, consist of 2 tables and a long felt need to secure another billiard table by the President and members of the Board has been the most striking feature. At the same time the Board of Management has given a task to the membership to gear the section to play a more positive role in producing quality players while increasing its membership. The Billiard room is being patronised by its playing members.
Conference of Affiliated Associations
There is provision in the YMBA Constitution for the affiliation to it of other societies. Numbers of such bodies vary at any given time because of an unhappy tendency of many to die away. By 1968 the number was thirty. Over the years conferences have been held to discuss and take steps on matters relating to Buddhism.
At the annual conference held in 1992 to which 135 affiliated bodies were invited several proposals were adopted and it was decided that special steps should be taken to implement them. The proposals covered such matters as:
1. Reorganisation of inactive societies.
2. Anti-Buddhist activities such as unethical proselytisation;
3. Fullest co-operation to encourage children to attend Dhamma schools.
4. Propagation of the Dhamma and publicity.
5. Engaging in social service activities.
Prevention of Drug Abuse and Smoking
The Association’s anti drug abuse programs were started in 1992. It was decided that they should first be launched among students and teachers in the Daham pasal in the Western Province. But the programs continued to be low key because of a shortage of funds and space. In October 1994 the Board of Management voted special funds for the purpose and that year around 40 students were trained to carry the drug prevention message.
Both teachers and students were introduced to the Drug Prevention Handbook specially designed for Dhamma schools by the International Organisation of Good Templars Alcohol and Drug Information Centre. Students were generally enthusiastic, but it was noticed that they tended to fall off prior to their school examinations.
During the Navam perahera of Gangaramaya students distributed pamphlets and put up banners along the route. Banners were also displayed by the Association in June 1994 on Anti-Narcotics Day organised by the Police Narcotics Bureau. They put up banners on Anti-Tobacco Day, opposite the YMBA on May 31, 1994.
The Association joined the Federation of NGO’s on Drug Abuse. A YMBA member was appointed to the Sub-committee of the National Dangerous Drug Control Board. The Federation of NGO’s held lengthy discussions with the Minister of Education on the question of drug abuse among school children.
Cultural and Literary Activities;
Light of Asia Contest
Cultural and literary activities have been part and parcel of the Association’s programs. The “Light of Asia” Contest which was started in 1925, was revived after an interruption during the war and has continued into the present time. It has attracted many talented students and after it was thrown open again to non-Buddhists recently it is a matter of great satisfaction that students of other religions too have participated. Even more encouraging is the fact that many students of the outstations also compete including pupils of Dhamma Schools.
In 1991 Sidat Sri Nandalochana, son of D.N.W. de Silva presented a challenge trophy for the best contestant in memory of his father.
Annual Inter-school Drama Competition
The Annual Inter-School Drama competition has been conducted now for over a period of 60 years.
This competition is now carried out in collaboration with the Ministry of Buddha Sasana. Around 40 schools participate in the competition presently. The total cost of this event i.e. for prizes meals for children travelling from outstations, payments to judges etc is over Rs. 200,000. The total cost is collected from well wishes, thus causing no burden to the YMBA. The People’s Bank had given a contribution of Rs. 500,000 to refurbish the YMBA Hall and to replace the curtains.
The current president of the YMBA Mr. Prassana Goonetilleke has also been the branch secretary of the All Island Inter-school Drama Competition. The event is held to date and is carried out very successfully giving encouragement and opportunities for Dhamma School students from very distant places to participate annually.
The Sir Baron Jayatilaka Library
The library is well patronised. The reading room provides all the daily newspapers including the Sunday papers and several journals. Apart from these it buys the Sinhala tabloids such as Yukthiya and Lak Janata and foreign magazines such as Time and Newsweek.
Many people and institutions over the years have donated books. These include the Sri Lanka Army, schools, Daham pasel and NGOs and the Kandy Buddhist Publication Society. Computer is now cataloguing the books. The library has also been gifting books and magazines to schools, Daham pasel, children’s societies, and even to the Daham pasela of a Vihare in Sydney, Australia.
The Sir Baron Jayatilake Library is the repository of an old and most valuable collection of ola books, the gift of Sir Baron Jayatilake. Postgraduate students generally consult them. These ola leaf manuscripts are in need of repair, oiling, rebinding and restoration. This work is in progress.
In 1998 a valuable acquisition was the gift of Siri Perera, a past President, of a lifetime’s collection of Dhamma books along with the cupboard, which housed them.
In the past few years too there had been several books and other valuable publications donated to the library from institutions as well as from individuals. The Institutions that donated books include Buddhist Publication Society, Kandy, Amila Welfare and Education Foundation, Asia Foundation, Dr. N.M. Perera Centre, Colombo Chetty Association of Sri Lanka, Ven. Piyadassi Dharma Dana Project, National Joint Council and The Research Association.
Other individuals who have offered valuable books and publications to the Sir Baron Jayatilaka Library in the recent years include;
Mr. M.S. Perera, Mr. N.P. Wickramanayake, The late Mr. Siripala Tilakasena, Mr. Thanabalasingham, Mr. L. Bodinagoda, Mr. Rajah Kuruppu, Mr. Pandula Mahanama, Prof. Nandasena Mudiyanse, Mr. Amasiri Weeraratne, Mr. Piyadasa Wattegama, Mr. P.A. Ludowye, Dr. M.B. Wickramasinghe, Mr. M.K. Walpola, Mr. Hewage Jayasena, Ven. Aluthgama Viplagnana There, Mr. C. Sapukotange, Mr. W. Malwana, Dr. M.V. Amarasingha, Mr. Prema Ranawake Das and Mr. G.H. De Zoysa.
Mr. Kulasiri Wilfred M. Gunasekera who served as a member of the Library Committee for a considerable number of years resigned due to advancing years.
Mr. Rajah Kuruppu, is a well-known contributor to the propagation of Buddhism for past several years. He is the editor in chief of ‘The Vesak Sirisara’, and also author of several other Buddhist books and publications. He has been serving the Colombo YMBA continuously for many years. He is the President of the ‘Servants of the Buddha’ and also the Chairman of SLBC Buddhist Forum.
Apart from his gift of valuable Buddhist books and publications to the Library, he has been also serving as the Branch Secretary of the Library for the past several years and is of immense benefit to the Colombo YMBA and presently is one of the Vice Presidents.
Sir Baron Jayatilaka Memorial Lectures
To commemorate an outstanding Statesman of Sri Lanka the Late Sir Baron Jayatilaka, a former Leader of the State Council, Minister of Home Affairs and the first President of the Colombo YMBA (1898 – 1944) a inaugural public lecture organised by the Colombo YMBA was held in 1968.
The inaugural great speaker was the later Dr. G. P. Malalasekera who spoke on the subject ‘The Buddhist Pilgrims Progress’, thereafter the Memorial Lectures have been continued each year and the persons who were invited to deliver on various subjects of Buddhism included. imminent speakers such as;
His Highness Prof. Prince Purachatra of Thailand, Prof. K.N. Jayatilake, Acharya Buddharakkhitha Nayaka Thero, Ven. Piyadassi Thero, Dr. L.K. Loshi, Ven. C. Nayanasatta Thero, Prof. Jothiya Dhirasekera, Dr. Padmasiri de Silva, Ven. T. Kanthipala, Ven. Walpola Rahula, Dr. David Kalupahana, Mr. Henri Van Zeyst, Ven. Dr. Hammalawa Saddhatissa Nayaka Thero, Prof. Y. Karunadasa, Dr. Hema Goonetilaka, Ven. Bhikku Nanajivaka, Prof. Ralph Buultjens, Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi, Ven. Olande Ananda, Mr. Bogoda Premaratne, Dr. Ananda W.P. Guruge, Dr. L.P.N. Perera, Dr. Chandima Wijebandara, Ven. D.K. Dhammajothi, Prof. G.L. Peiris, Dr. Asanga Tilakaratne, Deshamanya Neville Kanakaratne, Prof. Nandasena Ratnapala, Mr. Alec Robertson, Prof. J.B. Dissanayake, Dr. Piyasena Dissanayake and Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne.
Social Service – A Helping Hand to the Helpless
Almost from its inception the YMBA’s members realised that it should involve itself in helping the weaker sections of society and step in to do relief work during disasters. Sir Ernest de Silva among many others emphasised the need for Buddhist to assist the unfortunate and the poor. He was a great believer in the concept that a country
civilisation is judged by the way it treats its poor. Besides, members were aware of the Buddha’s injunction: parattham patipajjatha (Be of service to others).
In past decades the YMBA had come to the aid of persons in distress or displaced during floods, epidemics, terrorist attacks and other disasters. With the years the YMBA took on a large portfolio of social service activities to assist elders, the young unemployed, pilgrims, children, the displaced and victims of insurgent activity. In addition it also took on the restoration of ruined or neglected places of Buddhist worship.
Lakshmi Lama Nivasaya, Walana, Katunayake
This home is situated at Walanagoda on the Averiwatte – Minuwangoda road and opposite the ancient Devale and behind Lakshmi Vidyalaya. The land was purchased by the late Sir Earnest De Silva (President 1944 – 1955) at his expense and donated to the society.
On an appeal from the Lakshmi Lama Nivasa Buddhist Society the YMBA took over the administration of the Lakshmi Lama Nivasaya for boys. The Association provides board, lodging, clothing and educational and medical facilities for the boys.
Presently Lakshmi Lama Nivasaya consist of three a storeyed building a connected dining hall, bathrooms, kitchen and a sick room. There are 45 in mates for boys between the ages of 6 and 18. Orphans abandoned and helpless are the classification under which they have been by the Child Protection Society before admission to this home. The children have daily routine to follow and all children attend schools on a daily basis. The children’s home bears the examination fees and all other expenses of the inmates under YMBA administration.
One of the long-standing benefactors of the home is Mr. Anil de Silva, the grandson of the late Sir Earnest de Silva. A permanent Committee with the participation of parents and custodians is held every year and also officers of the Probation and Child Care Services of the Western Province also visits on a regular basis and supports the home
The children are brought up in a Buddhist atmosphere and they participate in religious observances both morning and evening and observe sil on Poya days. They also attend the Daham pasela at Sumithraramaya at Walana. The older boys attend Amandoluwa Maha Vidyalaya and small children attend the Lakshmi Junior School next to the home.
They participate in sports and gardening in the spacious three-acre coconut land on which the home stands.
Among the benefactors of the Home are Messrs. Jewelknit Ltd., of the Export Processing Zone, Katunayake. The Home receives a grant from the government.
The electrical fittings and fixtures at the Children’s home is over 50 years old and a hazard to the children. These electrical fitting and fixtures are urgently required to be replaced. A project have been initiated by the Association to replace these old electrical fittings and fixtures and generous contributions towards this project would be very much appreciated.
Gamini Matha Home
The Gamini Matha Elders Home was establishd in 1944, due to very generous donation by the late Mrs H. M. Gunasekara. In 1970 the organisation in charge requested the assistance of the YMBA to run it. Presently the home gives shelter to 50 Males.
The YMBA ensures that the lives of the inmates are less monotonous by providing the home with radios, television sets and indoor games. The elders are taken on pilgrimages and pleasure trips with the help of well wishes and philanthropists. Some of the inmates earn pocket money by making envelopes, which the YMBA buys, for use in its offices. Help Age of Sri Lanka has helped the home generously in many ways, and also facilitating eye operations for the elders free of charge. The Home receives food, clothing, and medicines prescribed by a doctor who visits the Home regularly are supplied by the YMBA free of charge.
Religious observances are held everyday. Help Age Sri Lanka has helped the Home generously in many ways. In addition to regular periodic grants for its maintenance Help Age has assisted in the repair of buildings. In 1993/94 Help Age donated Rs. 237,716. It has also been facilitating eye operations for the elders free of charge.
The officers of the Social Service Department visit the Home regularly.
In June 2004, work commenced on the construction of a sick room in memory of the late Dr. D.J. Attygalle, the well known physician with funds provided by the Association has in addition a proposal to construct a room for Disabled Elders with modern facilities and a large storeroom. The latter would enable the present area used for storage to accommodate additional 25 inmates.
Kataragama Pilgrims’ Rest
Devotees going to Kataragama needed a rest, which need to be comfortable, spacious and moderately cheap. The YMBA decided to fill this lacuna and the government allotted one acre of land for a Pilgrim’s Rest. The foundation stone was laid in 1971by Dudley Senanayake and a two storied building was completed in 1973, at a cost of Rs. 400,000 from Association funds. Sir Cyril de Zoysa, as he had done in the case of several building operations of the YMBA, supervised the construction of the Pilgrims’ Rest.
The Kataragama Pilgrims rest, which is very centrally located in the heart of Kataragama Town, is a tremendous benefit to very large number of pilgrims who go on pilgrimage to Kiri Vehera and Kataragama Devale. The rest now consist of 3 special class rooms, 28 class I rooms, 20 class II rooms, 19 class III rooms and 19 Halls and is presently managed by a Resident Manager, 3 Assistant Managers and a staff of 24.
Pilgrims’ Rest, Polonnaruwa
The administration of the Pilgrims’ Rest at Polonnaruwa, which was run by the Mahabodhi Society, was given over to the YMBA. The Association renovated the buildings extensively, and it was named the YMBA Mahabodhi Pilgrims’ Rest. It was a very convenient place for pilgrims and other visitors to break journey during visits to Polonnaruwa. But in 1987 during the insurrection of the JVP the buildings wee taken over by the security forces.
When it was handed back in 1991 it was in the most dilapidated condition with all the furniture, fittings and fixtures and the building itself heavily damaged. Repairs would have cost over Rs. 1,000,000 and this amount was beyond the ability of the YMBA to furnish. Even the shrine room was damaged.
The government has paid no compensation. The Pilgrims Rest was later handed over to the Mahabodhi Society.
According to a study done in 1988, it was found that Divulapitiya had the largest number of food stamps holders in the Gampaha district. Youth in the area lacked skills and training and were largely unemployed. The Land Reforms Commission gave Two acres of land from Balagalle Estate in Divulapitiya for the building of a vocational training institute. This was to be a pilot project.
In 1991/1992 the first batch of trainees was chosen and in addition to technical training which would enable young people to find jobs, it was hoped that the Institute would help to improve the social economic conditions of the district.
The Sri Lanka Canada Development Fund helped the YMBA to put up the buildings and purchase machinery and equipment for training, with a generous donation of funds. This was possible through donations made by the Canadian NGO Cardinal Leger and his endeavours, a subsidiary of Jules and Paul Emile Leger Foundations.
During the last five years over 500 boys between the ages of 17 and 19 years have passed out as trained persons. Among the trades they learn are motor mechanism, lathe operation, metal fitting, light electrical work and carpentry. They are trained for one year and then receive one more year of on-the-job practical training in recognised workshops.
Over 500 girls between the ages of 17 and 22 have completed training in industrial sewing, dress and flower making. The majority of trainees both boys and girls have found jobs or are self employed. Those who pass the tests are issued with certificates. The National Apprenticeship and Industrial Training Authority has extended its co-operation to the Institute by enabling trainees to sit its examinations and receive its training allowances.
The Hatton National Bank has also arranged a program on Entrepreneur Development for the benefit of the trainees.
Trainees live and work in a Buddhistic atmosphere and participate in Buddhist activities. The trainees maintain the gardens and grow vegetables too so that they get some training in agriculture as well. The Institute has accommodation for the training of 250 students each year.
Over the years the Institute has been receiving donations from well wishes. The Divisional Secretary, Divulapitiya donated tools and equipment worth Rs. 200,000 and the Negombo Peoplised Transport Service donated an serviceable diesel engine and spares worth approximately Rs. 75,000.
The Institute of Construction Training and Development (ICTAD) has also been most co-operative by permitting students to sit the Trade Tests conducted by it.. The trainees have performed extremely well.
Messrs Dias Mechanical Engineering Works Ltd., Wattala one of the institutions to which the trainees are sent for-in-house training, recently repaired the lathe machine free of charge, the cost being Rs. 7000. Justin Dias, the proprietor has also donated raw materials to the Institute.
The training programmes consist of the following courses;
For Boys - Motor Mechanism ( 2years)
Electrical Technology (2years)
Metal fitting (2years)
For Girls - Operation of Industrial Sewing machines (4 weeks)
Dress making and handy crafts (1year)
The planning, establishment and management of the Institute to date have been the responsibility of S.J. Walpita, a Member of the Board of Management.
Vocational Training Institute, Rajagiriya
The Vocational Training Institute, Rajagiriya was declared open by Siri Perera, YMBA Vice-President in 1974. There had been many delays in the establishment of the Institute, even though the government had allocated land as early as 1954. The trainees are taught electrical engineering (AC/DC) motor mechanism, carpentry, metal fitting, lathe operation and plumbing. Applicants need to have GCE O/L passes. Forty trainees in deserving circumstances are given free board and lodging.
In its first years the Institute was under the management of D.C. Sri Dillimuni.
Generous assistance was received from the Sri Lanka Canada Development Fund and NORAD, towards the building and the buying of equipment. The Probation and Child Care Department too gave a grant. On-the-job training is offered to the trainees at the Colombo Dockyard. Associated Motorways and several other garages and institutions.
On completion of the course trainees sit the final examination and receive a certificate if they pass. Qualified trainees can sit the examinations of the National Apprenticeship Board. The trainees receive Rs. 600 a month from the Board. Carpentry students when they pass out are presented with a set of tools, while five proficient trainees from each trade are given tools to start their trades with.
Funds for books and equipment have also been received from the Institute for Construction Training and Development of the Ministry of Policy Planning and Implementation. Presently over 60 students successfully complete the course annually.
Commercial School, Borella
The Commercial School, Borella was started in 1976 as a service to the children of low-income group of the area. It has classes in shorthand and typewriting (English and Sinhala), book keeping and accountancy, needlework and English. The institution has been registered as a Vocational Training Institute. In 1993/94, 100 students attended classes and in 1995/96, 120 did. During these courses it has been found that students tend to drop off, either because they have got jobs or go in for higher education.
As in other institutions run by the YMBA the students work and live in a Buddhist atmosphere, take part in religious and charitable activities and they are subjected to ethical training for life. S.J. Munasinghe, Member of the Board of Management, supervises the working of the school to date. Presently about 50 students en-role annually and gain successful employment thereafter.
Bhikku Wards at General Hospital
In 1984 the YMBA took on the maintenance of the bhikku wards at the General Hospital, Colombo, a responsibility shouldered by Ranapala Bodinagoda, currently Senior Vice President. Initially the YMBA carried out repairs at a cost of over Rs. 40,000, the shrine room was colour washed and a Buddha statue placed in it. A new mal asana was built for the shrine room. All the walls of the wards were painted the floors repaired and tiled, the pavements repaired and cleaned and three toilets and bathrooms tiled and repaired. Two overhead tanks of 450 gallon capacity and new taps were installed and new pipelines laid, all light fittings were checked, repaired or replaced where necessary and fluorescent lamps put in. The doors were repaired. New furniture and curtains replace the old.
However the Bhikku Wards at the General Hospital is no longer handled by YMBA.
Commemoration of the late Past Presidents
The YMBA Board of Governors, Board of Management and the staff take much effort in organizing separate Pinkamas to commemorate all the late Past Presidents who have contributed immensely to bring Colombo YMBA to the present status.
Sir Baron Jayatilaka - (1898 – 1944)
Sir Earnest de Silva - (1944 – 1957)
Mr. Henry Woodward Amarasuriya - (1958 – 1960)
Sir Cyril de Zoysa - (1960 - 1980)
Mr. Siri Perera - ( 1980 – 1983)
Mr. L. Piyasena - ( 1983 – 1987)
Mr. Eric S. Amarasinghe - ( 1987 – 1994)
All Pinkamas are held at the Fort Viharage and the Bhikkus who conduct these
Pinkamas are invited at the request of the relatives of the Past Presidents.
Relief and Rehabilitation
In 1964 when there was a cyclone in the north and east the YMBA was able to send relief to Vavuniya and Maradankadawala. Marandankadawala was helped on a long-term basis too by the building of a shrine room and hall for 42 Buddhist families, resident there. A Dhamma school was also started, but later the building was given over to the government for a weaving school.
It was suggested that more and more neglected Buddhist shrines in remote areas should be restored and Buddhist families settled around them. The rationale behind this relief effort was that if Buddhist families were not assisted to stay on in those areas, they would abandon them completely, leading to further destruction of Buddhist places of worship. Thus when many Buddhist families were in dire straits in Vavuniya in 1982 it was decided that each family be given Rs. 3000 for repairs of houses, food and agricultural implements.
For the restoration of these places the Board allocated sums of money in the eighties and public donations were called for. At Pulukunawe in the Ampere district the shrine room, and chetiya were repaired at the cost of Rs. 75,000. At Tantirimale the school building for 350 children, the Principal’s quarters, the teacher’s dormitory, the furniture and the fence were repaired. Twenty-one refugee families were resettled here and assistance was extended to them.
Around this time in the mid eighties it was evident that Buddhist monks studying at the Sri Jayawardenepura University had no residential facilities. In consultation with the vice-chancellor the Association was able to provide them with these facilities.
The Association also gave a donation of Rs. 20,000 to the Government Agent, Anuradhapura to assist victims of terrorism to build their homes. Financial contributions were made for numerous purposes. Among them: Rs. 12,000 towards the Lankaramaya, an allowance of Rs. 250 a month to the Ven. Saranankara Thero of the Kirivehera Kataragama for a year, Rs. 5000 to the Buddhist Congress, Rs. 1000 to Sil Matha Nirmala Kusum: Rs. 1000 towards the commemoration ceremonies for the late Ven. Induruwe Uttarananda Thero.
During the ethnic disturbances in 1983 the YMBA was able to provide 1000 meals a day for 10 days to the refugees. They were also given clothes.
Assistance was also given to the Ven. Vimalagnana Thero of Tantirimale, the Ven. Ratnasara Thero was assisted to establish a temple at Angunukolapelessa.
Due to civil strife in 1988/89, there was much disruption of YMBA activities. For instance a co-ordination conference of office bearers of YMBAs and regional YMBAs had to be called off because of adverse conditions. Dhamma school sessions too were disrupted due to civil disturbances.
Help for the Displaced
Nevertheless relief work continued in areas disturbed by terrorist activity. In the Vavuniya district Sri Sumanaramaya in Ulukulama, which was virtually abandoned, was assisted by the YMBA and this encouraged dayakas to come back and the temple began functioning again. Tantirimale too had become stable towards the end of the eighties.
Other villages and colonies helped in Vavuniya were R.B. Colony, Maradanmaduwa and resettlement in those areas was satisfactory. But in R.B. Colony there was a setback due to a further terrorist attack, and residents abandoned the area. The water pump and other equipment, which had been donated, had to be moved out. Severe drought had affected villages such as Sandamal Eliya and the people had to be given dry rations. In these activities the Ven. Vimalagnana, chief incumbent of the Tantirimale Raja Maha Vihare was an active leader.
In June 1989 a fund was started with an initial contribution of Rs. 10,000 to help flood and earthslip victims. Foodstuffs, dry rations and clothes were also collected and these were distributed in Colombo, and in flooded out villages of Ihala Mawanella, Pahala Morawatte, Bogamuwe, Nikawalamulla etc.
Whilst terrorist attacks from time to time brought work to a standstill, residents were resettled at R.B. Colony and Paleheeruwa in Vavuniya by the YMBA. Their houses were rebuilt, wells were dug and they were given dry rations, water pumps, and funds for planting material and for the repair of a tractor donated by the Army.
Kitoluwa West in Trincomalee was one of the places where rehabilitation work was disrupted by terrorist attacks. Resettlement of 18 males was undertaken by the Archeological and Village Restoration Trust and wells were dug and houses were being repaired when the terrorists struck. Relief was also extended to Sinhala refugee’s houses in Dambulla and Matale.
Dry rations were distributed to other refugees living in isolated villages. With the help of monks living in these villages (almost always under threat) such as Etamabagaskanda, Siyabalagaswewa Mamaduwa, Maradanmaduwa, Kalakunnaduwa, Madukanda, the Association distributed family parcels of dry rations during visits of members there.
By the early nineties the situation in Tantirimale when the YMBA had been doing relief work to some extent stabilised due to the efforts of the Viharadhipathi of the Raja Maha Vihare, Tantirimale. The population of the area had increased somewhat with the return of displaced persons to their homes. A hospital was built for the area and the Viharadhipathi continued the good work.
By 1990/91 the security forces had brought considerable normalcy to southern Vavuniya. Dry rations worth Rs. 25,000 were distributed to the Sinhala villages in Vavuniya and three villages in Trincomalee district. A visit by members of the Siyabalanduwe refugee camp showed that there were displaced Sinhala persons from Vavuniya, Anuradhapura and Madawachchiya who needed help. They were given food, clothes and cadjan. A few months later the situation seemed to have improved and they were absorbed into the resettlement programs.
The refugees who had been resettled at Palehuruwe in 1987 were given one acre per family, seed paddy, fertiliser, agricultural implements and a tractor by the army which stabilised themselves and they had cultivated 42 acres, which had not, been cultivated for eight years.
Meanwhile 300 families from villages bordering Vavuniya/Anuradhapura had been forced to leave and entire villages like Kokiali had been wiped out. 1987 to 1990 were bad years of civil strife. In August 1987 there was an attempt on the life of President Jayewardene in Parliament and the District Minister for Matara, Keerthi Abeywickreme died in the attack. Lalith Athulathmudali, Minister of National Security was severely injured.
Thirty-two Buddhist monks massacred by the Tamil terrorist at Arantalawa, the chief monk of China Bay the Ven. Rambukkana Saddhalankara Thero was murdered, and many Sinhala villagers too were killed by the LTTE.
N.S.A. Goonetilleke PC, Vice-President of theYMBA who at great personal inconvenience and risk made regular and frequent visits to the affected areas, admirably handles this programme of relief and rehabilitation by the Association during the troubled periods.
YMBA INVOLVEMENT IN NATIONAL POLICY MATTERS
Protest and Court Case
By 1987 the Buddhist Organisations felt the need to make their position clear on several issues concerning the ethnic conflict and security situation to the President. These related to the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) operations, the lack of security for the Sinhalese in war torn areas, the enforced inactivity of the Sri Lankan security forces etc.
Several Buddhist Organisations such as the YMBA, The Buddhist Theosophical Society, the Sasana Sevaka Samithiya, The All Ceylon Buddhist Congress and other bodies met and decided on requesting the government to take the following steps to ensure security for the people.
1. The President should forthwith order the withdrawal of Indian armed and paramilitary forces from the soil of Sri Lanka.
2. Sri Lankan security forces should be deployed to protect the lives and property of the population and places of Buddhist worship such as Thiriyaya, Dighavapi, Seruwila, Kudimbigala, and Anuradhapura.
YMBA Files Petition
In the lead up to the passing of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution the YMBA conveyed its opposition to it and the system of Provincial Councils which was to follow. On October 14, 1987 the Association filed a petition in the Supreme Court that certain provisions of the proposed legislation would undermine the unitary character of the state as enacted by Article 2 of the Constitution.
In the course of the submissions the petitioners pointed out that the existing Constitution imposed legal restraints which precluded interalia the following:
1. Bartering away the unitary character of the state.
2. The merger of the Northern and Eastern Provinces in any constitutional or administrative structure.
A map of the north and east prepared by an Assistant Commissioner of Archaeology and dated 01.07.82 was attached to the petition showing Buddhist places of worship. It was averred that the restoration and maintenance of these places was a constitutional obligation of the state, apart from its national obligation towards the protection of Buddhism.
There were many instances when anti Buddhist anti- Sinhala elements had been destroying and obliterating places of Buddhist worship in the Northeast. There was vandalism, which was going on unnoticed by the authorities. For instance, a Bodhi tree in Kiliveddi near Seruwila believed to have grown from a sapling of the Sri Maha Boodhi had been destroyed under various pretexts such as laying of telephone lines, in 1970. By 1977
not a trace of that Bodhi tree was to be found. In 1971 the work on the building of a kovil had been started.
The Bodhi tree at Gokanna Vihara in Trincomalee Fort was also chopped down in 1964 and a Hindu kovil stands on the site. It has to be noted that the Sansoni Commission, which inquired into the ethnic disturbances of 1977, commented on this vandalism and the restraint of the Buddhist in the face of it.
Of a Full Bench of the Supreme Court comprising nine judges, four judges including the Chief Justice held that the Bill relating to Provincial Councils etc., was not inconsistent with the Constitution. Five judges pointed to specific provisions, which were inconsistent with the Constitution.
The Bill passed into law with certain amendments and modification in 1987. In the period following there was growing concern among Buddhists at the alarming increase in anti-Buddhist activities – the proliferation of liquor outlets, racing and legalising of the running of casinos. There was deep feeling about the undermining of the moral fibre of the nation.
Another problem, which caused great perturbation among Buddhists, was the unethical conversion of poor people by Christian Organisations, which exploited the poverty of the indigent sections of the population. Proselytising was engineered with the unrestricted flow of funds from abroad, which the government did nothing to curb.
In year 2004, Board Members met the Minister of Buddha Sasana to express their views on Unethical Conversion Bill that is to take place in the Parliament.
Protest against Mahayana Order
In 1987 there was a great deal of controversy in the country about the entry into Sri Lanka of a Sri Lankan monk who had entered the Mahayana Order. The YMBA protested against the holding of ceremonies in connection with his return and this was endorsed by the President who ordered that there should be no state approval or support in connection with the return of this Mahayana monk.
The YMBA also protested with five other Buddhist Organisations against a suggestion made in Parliament that kasippu production should be legalised. The Association also participated in a committee set up to reduce consumption of liquor.
In 1990 membership had gone up to 2960.
Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis
The Vesak number of “The Buddhist” 1997 in its editorial drew attention to the fact that although hundreds of bhikkhus lived in piety and quietude, there were many others who led lives unworthy of a monk, flouting the Vinaya rules. It was asked how this situation could be remedied and the cutting comment was made that the bhikkhus engaged themselves in everything, but matters pertaining to putting their house in order.
Referring to the controversy about the bhikkuni sasana, the editorial commented that in Buddhist society there should be bhikkhus, bhikkhunis, upasakas and upasikas, to complete it. It said, “Whatever procedural and other defects may be pointed out about the ordination of some women in Saranath by a sympathetic section of the Sangha, the news is welcome”.
In 1995 the membership had risen to 3307.
Representations to All Party Conference
In 1988 the Association made representations to the All Party Conference on constitutional amendments with a view to strengthening and increasing the effectiveness of existing provisions under Section 9 of the 1978 Constitution. Other representations covering other aspects of the of the Constitution were also made. On the basis of the draft proposals placed before the government and the select committee the YMBA convened a joint meeting of leading Buddhist Organisations.
Pamphlets were issued on such topics as “The consequences of setting up a federal constitution”. “Is there an ethnic problem and is federalism necessary”. A special meeting was held in September 1995 presided over by Gamini Jayasuriya, at which the Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhita Thero delivered a lecture entitled “The present state of Buddhist rights”.
A Congress of the Maha Sangha was held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall on March 05, 1995 to protest against the draft devolution proposals of the government. The Congress was attended by2500 bhikkhus and the Venerable Mahanayake Theros and several other monks of eminence addressed it.
A National Joint Committee initiated by the YMBA during 1995 and comprising forty-six mainly Buddhist organisation in the country focused its attention on the rights of the Buddhist. The National Joint Committee appointed a Sinhala Commission to inquire into the injustices suffered by the Sinhala people since the arrival of the colonial powers and look into their grievances. The Sinhala Commission presented its interim Report in September 1997 and the Devolution Proposals of the government.
YMBA Head Quarters – New Building
Meanwhile “Mahanil” the headquarters building had become dilapidated and unsafe. In August 1989 it was demolished. A new building was estimated to cost Rs.50 million. Gamani Jayasuriya, President of the Mahabodhi Society, cut the first sod for the new building. President of the time Mr. Eric S. Amerasinghe laid the foundation stone on November 08, 1989. Money had to be raised for the new building. The Anagarika Dharmapala Trust contributed Rs. 100,000 and there were several individuals who contributed as much as one lakh each.
That year the late Sir Cyril de Zoysa was honoured by the issue of a stamp, which was cancelled by the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications at a ceremony at the YMBA.
In 1990 the Building Fund amounted to Rs. 1,346,990. In March 1990 the Board of Governors Authorised the Association to borrow Rs. 23 million from the Peoples Bank for the new building by mortgaging land belonging to the organisation.
In the nineties the Association began facing a new problem, the defaulting in the payment of rents particularly by those Organisations occupying office and shopping space in the Borella complex and the Fort building.
In May 1996 the Board decided to put up a statue of Sir Cyril de Zoysa. With donations from members and staff the Austin Place side of the Borella YMBA Building erected a Buddha statue facing D.S. Senanayake Mawatha. It cost Rs. 400,000.
Rent Collection from Sir Cyril de Zoysa building Fort and YMBA Borella complex
The two buildings completed due to dedicated and untiring efforts of a few past Presidents and in particular the late Sir Cyril de Zoysa several decades ago have now paved the way giving an opportunity for YMBA to continue to have much needed regular funds by the way of leasing out building space for shops and offices in the two complexes. The total number of Tenants occupying YMBA Borella and Fort are around 120 and 100 respectively. The Colombo YMBA presently have a total permanent staff of approximate ………. to carry out various services and activities undertaken through out the year. The rent earnings obtained from the two complexes are still not sufficient to successfully accomplish many tasks undertaken by the YMBA and therefore the management of the YMBA also depends much needed contributions from Institutions as well as from wishes to carry out these tasks.
The remarkable success and the steady progress of the Colombo Young Men’s Buddhist Association in the past several decades was possible over the years due to the earnest endeavours of President’s, Board Members and Working Committees.