|Tuesday, 7 January 2003|
Sir Cyril de Zoysa - a noble personality
by Ven. Kosgoda Siri Sudhamma Thera
An indomitable personality, far sightedness, man of action, unflinching determination, great self-confidence, fearlessness, honesty were epithets that were variously employed to refer to him.
It could be said without fear of contradiction that the virtues that were seen in the times of the kings of Anuradhapura such as wisdom, compassion, religious fervour, belief in the efficacy of divine power and unlimited generosity were to be seen in Sir Cyril de Zoysa. When discussing his career learned people not only in Sri Lanka but also those abroad compare him with historically stalwart figures as King Dutugemunu and Parakramabahu the Great. Those who speak of his religious contributions unhesitatingly compare him with the great benefactor, Anathapindika. His irreproachable conduct was similar to that of a Bodhisatva.
Doubtlessly an admixture of all these qualities of all these great personalities were reposed in this single human being.
In close proximity to the famed Maha Kappina Walauwa, the ancestral home of the late Gate Mudaliyar Samson Rajapaksha and that of his progeny the late Gate Mudaliyar Tudor Rajapaksha was Thotamune Kangkanan Gederawatte, the land on which the parents of Sir Cyril built their home. In this home was reared four brothers and a sister. On 26th October 1896 was born the second eldest child who was none other than Sir Cyril, destined to excel them all.
The fortunate parents, were Notary, Soloman and Mrs. Harriet de Zoysa. In his formative years Sir Cyril had his education at St. Thomas College, Matara and at Galle's Richmond College. Thereafter he enlisted at Colombo's Royal College. In 1916 after success at the Cambridge Senior examination he joined the capital city's Law College for further studies.
About 1921 he exhibited his prowess in the legal field by practising at Balapitiya's Police Courts. In acceding to an entreaty of a powerful Kalutara lawyer Sir Cyril moved to that salubrious town not far from the place of his birth.
This move proved to be a catalyst to his career as an eminent Buddhist worker. It indeed should not be forgotten that Sir Cyril had historically prominent Brahmin antecedents who all had been reared in the strictest Buddhist traditions. It is needless to mention that the faith that he had in the Buddha Dhamma and his belief in the efficacy of the Divine had been ever present from the days of his childhood.
His faith in that the Gods protected those who lived wholesome lives was unshakeable. One day while having a bath at Kaluganga the young lawyer evinced a strong devotion as he witnessed the Bo tree nearby. In careless disregard of the colonial power's stated law against the lighting of oil lamps and the offering of flower at the Bo tree the young man without any compunction at all did the very thing. Eventually that young man turned out to be the all powerful protector of that Bo tree. Despite obstacles he spent a no mean part of his time and wealth in serving the role as a protector of the holy tree.
During this time whilst practising the law Sir Cyril embarked on a venture that helped in providing means for the protection and upkeep of what became to be the venerated site at Kalutara. This was the Swarnapali Bus Company. This venture turned out to be none other than the South Western Bus Company. Thereafter it was the custom of each passenger of a bus on its daily run to contribute his or her mite by way of tribute to the holy site. It was the honest belief that each cent thus received was utilised for the worthy purpose of maintenance.
In the year 1941 the able lawyer was returned as mayor of his adopted home town. It happened that in 1949 for the first time in the history of the town a Government Agent belonging to the Buddhist faith was appointed who himself had been born in his native Balapitiya.
This was C. P. de Silva destined to be the Leader of the House in the sovereign parliament. The enthusiastic Sir Cyril obtained the benefit of his unstinted cooperation. On November 12th 1951, a Board of Trustees for the efficient maintenance of the Kalutara Bo Tree premises was inaugurated. As a consequence of that act the surrounding area was also obtained for further development as a holy site complete with all amenities. The Vatada Maha Seya rose up in similar distinction to the all pervading aura of the Ruwanveliseya itself. The Vihara, preaching hall, the alms hall and the rest rooms were constructed in keeping with Sinhala architecture using traditional motifs. All these came up in next to no time as if divinely ordained.
This awe inspiring construction was similar to that undertaken by a king of the Anuradhapura era. It is also said that an undertaking of such magnitude as the Vatada Seya had not been done even in those far off days. His fervour was such that he himself provided the architectural design for the magnificent edifice as were to all the rest of his undertakings. Thus came to the fore Sir Cyril's uncanny artistic judgement. In winning the precincts as a holy site he not only had to wage battle with the whites but also with their brown lackeys.
During a pilgrimage to India he underwent deep sorrow at seeing the neglected state of the Ananda Bo tree in Sarnath. With haste the devout Buddhist removed a sovereign gold ring worth Rs. 15,000 (an enormous sum at the time) gave it to a minister of the then Indian government who had accompanied him at the time and requested that the money be used for the restoration of the site.
After having gone to witness the ancient ruins in Anuradhapura in the company of a professor of German University I returned with him to the Kalutara holy precincts, on a certain day. The question the German Professor asked me was to tell him who the Sri Lankan king was that built this Mahaseya. I then pointed at the iron cast statue of Sir Cyril. The German professor unhesitatingly went to the statue and stood motionless glancing at it as if wonderstruck. On our way to Galle I showed him the tombs of the parents of Sir Cyril. On signalling to halt the vehicle he went to the site and paid his fervent respects. At this I told him that it was the custom of Sir Cyril to pay similar respect at all times even when it rained cats and dogs. "Is this not the way the Buddha Dhamma had shaped the people of this land? he asked me.
Sir Cyril never at any time stinted in making financial outlays to worthy Buddhist causes. He always thought that it was his duty to do so. It was the belief of the majority of people that whatever he puts his hands to never faulted. At a time when the Colombo YMBA was in a pitiable position in the way of finances and other ways it was Sir Cyril who rescusitated the organisation.
New life was infused into it by the power of the divine it was believed. Sir Cyril bore the responsibilities of president of the YMBA and in honour of his parents bore the financial burden of the construction of an entirely new building for it and presented it to the organisation. The YMBA building in the Fort together with the magnificently constructed Budu Medura was a gift by him presented to the devoted Buddhist public of the entire country. It was the result of his farsightedness that this served as means to obtaining an income for the Fort YMBA. The amount of energy that he put forth to resuscitate the organisation was indescribable. In order to perpetuate his name for all time the building was named after him.
Despite efforts on the part of many people the reconstruction programme of Kataragama's Kirivehere did not succeed. It was soon after Sir Cyril took charge that the spire of Kirivehera was crowned with the pinnacle. The way to the Kirivehera from the Kataragama Devale was paved and the entire length was lit up for the convenience of the countless pilgrims through his generosity.
He who always admired the traits of the Sangha took pains to educate young monks. The morning meals everyday for months on end for the aspiring young monks of the Pinwatte Saddharmakara Pirivena were supplied entirely by his own munificence.
Despite all these efforts he did not rest contend. He also contribute a vast amount of his wealth for the up keep of the institutions such as Colombo's Maligakanda Vidyodaya Maha Pirivena. Kuppiywatte Jayasekhararamaya, Bambalapitiya's Vajiraramaya, Hunupitiya's Gangaramaya, Bellanvila Rajamahaviharaya, Alutgama's Kande Viharaya, Kalutara's Gangatilaka Viharaya, Moragalle Aranna Senasenaya. He also built for the convenience of the pilgrims at Polonnaruwa and Kataragama rest houses with facilities to suit the climatic conditions. He did all these generous acts without making any outward show of it as any true Buddhist would. The more he utilised his generosity for worthy causes the more wealth that he accrued.
In order that the benefits of the sublime Buddha-Dhamma be widespread he built London's Buddhist Vihara for just such purposes of propagation. Not content with the mere outlay of funds he also took pains to have competent people appointed at suitable positions for its proper administration and the propagation of the Dhamma by suitably qualified monks and learned people.
The respect that he showed his own religion the same respect he showed the others. In Kalutara he was invited to participate in the centenary celebrations of the church nearby to the Kalutara Bodhi Prescints. He accepted the invitation with all due honour.
When he was asked by the custodians of the church to take charge of the premises for the use of the Bodhi prescints and give him some other suitable site instead Sir Cyril turned it down on the grounds that a church that had stood for a century should not be pulled down. His house and property in Kalutara was presented for the schools, Kalutara Maha Vidyalaya and Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya.
Among his other generous deeds was the employment of 1500 people in a textile project utilising his property in Balapitiya.
In view of the enormous amount of social service that he had rendered the country he was honoured by the country by being appointed to serve in the Senate, the upper house of parliament. He continued in that role for a period of fourteen years the last eight of which he served as president of the chamber.
His succinct comment on the role that he so prominently played was when he told a journalist of a prominent newspaper the following: "I am now free!. However wealth I posses is of no use. They do not have any use for me. I was born sans any wealth. I shall die too without it. My satisfaction, my peace of mind and my strength is constituted by the Buddha-Dhamma. I shall receive the blessings of the Devas until my dying day."
He was born on October 26th 1896 and passed away on 2nd January 1978. All of us assembled here to pay our deep gratitude by the unveiling of his statue. We sincerely wish that he be born in Sri Lanka again and again and finally reach the salutary state of Nibbana!
Produced by Lake House