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, creating a culture colonialism and overtaken the educational Sphere 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 and 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 the 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 (later Sir 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 have 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 that their vision has contributed to the birth of one of Sri Lanka’s best known Buddhist organisations with island wide reach, prestige, influence and activity.
Mr. C. S. Dissanayake (Clerk Government Services) became the 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 (Sir 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 have 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 that their vision has contributed to the birth of one of Sri Lanka’s best known Buddhist organisations 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:-
- The study of Buddhism
- The discussion of subjects related to Buddhism, and
- 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 on 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 Lending 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.
- To provide facilities for, and to foster the study and the propagation of the Buddha Dhamma.
- To encourage the practical observance of the Buddha Dhamma.
- To promote unity and co-operation among Buddhists.
- To advance the moral, cultural, physical and social welfare of Buddhists. and
- To promote the interests of Buddhism'
A Story of Struggle and Achievements of the Colombo Y.M.B.A
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. Bultjens realised that the YMBA was not just an Association for 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 realized 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 was 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 representing 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 thick 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 were 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 into disarray, charged as if they were with 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 of 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. Nagahawatte and P. Ginendrasinghe.
The light flickered discouragingly in those years and almost died down. But 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 preachings 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 also donated books.
As time went on the YMBA’s activities were regularized and expanded and were 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 when 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 thousands 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 of 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 salutary 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 particularly Charles Dias and many others 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 a 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. Gunasekara, 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, 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 centers.
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 was 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 and 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 devotees 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 organization thus obtained legal status and a legal personality.
This meant that there could be no threat to its existence which gave it a new dignity and inspired it towards greater service. This achievement is to the credit of a selfless band of courageous Buddhists 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 overcame 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 the 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 fulfill 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 of 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, and 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 was 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 organized 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 organized.
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, serving for many years as 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 attended them. Among the monks who conducted these classes were 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 paid 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 and , 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 panelists with Rajah Kuruppu as moderator. Questions and contribution of views from a growing number of participants have enhanced 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 – YMBA Borella
- The Billiard Section of Colombo has been popular with a section of the Membership since 1940’s. Friendly matches are played between Kandy YMBA and a few selected institutes.
- The YMBA supports Sports activities at several places, and wish to expand its activities.
Conference of Affiliated Associations
A network of Affiliated YMBA’s spreaded throughout the island, work in close liaison an collaboration with The Colombo YMBA.
An Annual Conference is held in Colombo, where projects are discussed, new projects planned, and working in concert to protect, nurture and uphold Dhamma.
Some of the Projects like,
a. Dhamma School Teacher Training Projects focused towards revisiting and restructuring the ‘Trainers role in a changing environment…’
in moulding the the Budhist Child
b. Parent’s workshop – To discuss with Parents, helping them to understand their role in making a Child who could face the future,
c. Buddhist Leadership Programme – to groom future Leaders according to Dhamma,
d. And reengineering the role of Regional & Rural YMBA’s to implement above projects, and their existing good projects.
Has been appreciated an welcome by regional youth Leaders, and Colombo YMBA now proceeds firstly on Provincial Basis, District wise, and