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A tribute to Sir Cyril de Zoysa on his 111th birth anniversary:

A tireless servant of the Dhamma


Due to the good fortune of nations, from time to time and from era to era they witness the birth of men of mark. With the birth of such men, such nations see a national awakening, a resurgence of religion and the progress of the land.

Such a man born on October 26, 1896 towards the end of the 20th century was the second son of Solomon and Harriet de Zoysa of Kankanang Gedera Watta, Welitara Totamune, Balapitiya, in the District of Galle in South Sri Lanka. This was Cyril de Zoysa.

Two brothers, two sisters and Cyril himself comprised the family. Of them, Sir Cyril and his brother, V. T. de Zoysa, were men of mark who brought undying fame not merely to South Sri Lanka but to the whole country. They were men of quality, wisdom, wealth and power.

From his childhood, Cyril de Zoysa evinced unbridled affection towards his parents. It was at St. Thomas’ College, Matara, Richmond College, Galle, and Royal College Colombo that he had his primary and secondary education.

Following upon his higher education at the Ceylon Law College, Cyril fulfilled the aspirations of his father, a Notary, and of his mother, by commencing his career at the Balapitiya Courts and attaining fame as a brilliant lawyer.

A man of unshaken and relentless devotion to the Buddha Sasana, it was such affection and devotion that he evinced towards his parents. His words extracted below makes it crystal clear how much he cared for his parents and how adept he was in making money and in the altruistic use of his earnings.

“In the days gone by, it was at Ambalangoda that my father engaged in his practice as a notary. He commuted in a buggy cart hired for the purpose. I was not too happy about this. I dearly wished to have my father use own buggy cart.

I gave tuition to students, and with these earnings purchased a quality buggy cart and an ox for the sum of five hundred rupees. I gifted this to my father, who blessed me for this act of love and generosity. I perceived that this gift I gave my father brought him immense joy. Likewise this brought me too unforgettable joy.”

Cyril commenced his legal career in the judicial division of Balapitiya based in his elegant residence at Kankanang Gedera Watta of Welitara Totamune. He soon found destiny taking him away from Welitota to Kalutota.

Cyril speedily proved himself an honest and able lawyer, whose fame soon radiated from the city centre of Kalutara and spread far and wide. The turning point in his life was indeed his move to Kalutara in 1926 to continue his practice there.

Cyril de Zoysa was a born defender of the Buddha Sasana, which he cherished as if it were his own life. He protected the sacred Kalutara Bodhi, so dear to his heart, prizing it above his very life as it were, and this fact is reflected in his own words:

“Those days (in the nineteen thirties) no one was allowed to approach the Kalutara Bodhi even if it were only to offer a flower or light a lamp. The Government Agent of Kalutara deployed the Police to secure the place and chase away the people who come to worship the Bodhi. I got wind of this.

I cannot indeed account for the sentiment that arose within me to erect even forcibly a stand to place flowers before the Bodhi and conduct a Buddhist religious ceremony there.

At my own expense I had a stand and ‘tray’ erected to place flowers, right at the point where today the main till receiving offerings of coins is located. The police approached me and asked me to move on without continuing this. I ignored the requests.

I challenged them to file action against me if they so wished and continued to build four flower stands around the sacred Bodhi Tree. Now increasing numbers began to flood in to worship here.

It is my belief that this happened so, because I had the blessings of a guardian deity aloft the sacred tree. Moreover, I began this work certainly not for the love of praise and fame out owing to the religious fervour reposing within me from my childhood days.

At that time it was the residence of the white Government Agent that stood atop the hillock opposite the sacred Bodhi. On the right was the office of the Government Agent, the kachcheri. Cyril embarked on a bitter battle and obtained the entire area, to be utilised in pursuit of his acts of charity and philanthropy.

It is this great devotee who had a dagoba with a relic chamber built on this hillock, had it sealed, then had a massive, protective outer dagoba with four entrances built around it, and the inner walls had murals depicting various incidents in the life of the Buddha-aspirant painted, thereby turning it into a veritable gallery of Buddhist art.

These premises with artistically finished parapet walls, donation boxes and flights of stairways turned into a source of inspiration and devotion for ardent Buddhists, as though the Buddha himself were gracing the precincts with his personal presence.

This beautiful place, attracting the hearts and minds of all those who witness this spectacle, may be ranked one of the most eminent places of Buddhist worship in the entire region of Asia.

Where the kachcheri once stood there stands a pilgrims’ rest. Witnessing this sacred place with the Dagoba and the Bodhi Tree so well developed, Cyril spent the rest of his life happy and content.

The Swarnapali Bus Service that he had inaugurated was soon transformed into the South Western Bus Company.

This provided a service from Colombo right up to the southernmost point of the island and it stood out conspicuously above all other transport service providers owing to Cyril’s effective management, which paid due regard to the needs of the public as well as the employees.

It is Cyril who, for the first time, provided the opportunity for people of this country to commute in double decker buses.

The Swarnapali Bus Service that he initiated, now under the name of South Western Bus Company, expanded its services more vigorously. In comparison with transport services in the other regions, it is because of Cyril’s efficiency, strong commitment, firm determination and employee relationship that this service was way ahead of the others.

In 1957 it was decided that all bus services would be nationalised. It is Cyril who drew greater satisfaction by this gift, than did the government.

Upon the nationalisation of bus services on January 1, 1958, Cyril, displayed characteristic qualities of a true professional, without any regret, the South Western Bus Company consisting of 300 buses which he had tended to so protectively.

It was with great joy, without any hesitation or remorse that he transferred all depots and sub-depots together with all the equipment in each such place, to the Government.

Cyril raised wealth through his many business enterprises, and far from using it selfishly to meet his needs alone, utilised it as a humble altruist would, in the cause of social service. He spent much of the twenty-four hours of the day on religious and social service activities.

The conspicuous features stamped on his personality were his engagement in social service, providing them on a voluntary basis and holding honourary office in several organisations or institutions and provided his guidance and donated much of his wealth to them.

Sir Cyril de Zoysa also took into his hands the reins of the development of the Sacred City of Kataragama, completed the restoration work of the Kirivehera at Kataragama and shouldered the responsibility of having the crystal pinnacle place on the Kirivehera Chaitya.

He rendered a valuable and laudable service to the town of Kalutara by establishing the Kalutara Bodhi Trust in 1951 thereby laying the foundation for the continued maintenance of the historic Bodhi at Kalutara and the sustenance of the Buddha Sasana.

Cyril who was appointed a member of the Senate (the upper chamber of the Parliament of independent Sri Lanka - then Ceylon) remained its Deputy President for six years.

Thereafter, he succeeded Sir Nicholas Attygala as the President and served in that capacity for eight years. Accordingly, he was fortunate enough to serve the Senate for fourteen years.

Not only did Sir Cyril de Zoysa dedicate his life, wealth, time, labour and intelligence in the cause of the country, nation and religion but he also founded the Kalutara Balika Vidyalaya, or Kalutara Girls’ School built upon his residence, Brooklyn, and pioneered the establishment of a Buddhist College, the Kalutara Vidyalaya bordering the Galle Road.

Cyril de Zoysa was a great Buddha-aspirant, who sent the evening of his life very happily contemplating the services he rendered. His own words testify to this:

“I am now free. However much of wealth one has it is all futile. They are all empty. I was born with no wealth. I shall die without wealth. My joy, my consolation, my strength is the Buddha Dhamma. As long as I live I shall incur the blessings of the gods.”

Sir Cyril de Zoysa, who was a fearless Sinhalese, a good Buddhist, an able politician, a farsighted business tycoon, a social worker of the highest order, a man of immense wealth and a philanthropist par excellence was a great Buddhist.

The writer is the Most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Grantha Visharada Rajakeeya Pandita Dauldena Gnaneesara Mahanayaka Thera and The Most Venerable Mahanayake of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha.

 

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