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Tribute:

Siri Perera, QC

The 100th birth anniversary of late Siri Perera, an outstanding Criminal Lawyer, Buddhist Scholar and Leader, President of the Colombo YMBA and Diplomat, was held recently. A son of an affluent timber merchant in the outskirts of Colombo, he had his secondary education at Ananda College, Colombo and was in the first batch of students to be enrolled for Nalanda College when it was established in 1920s.

At the age of 16 years, he passed the Cambridge Senior Examination with honours and distinctions in Sinhala and Pali while Latin was also one of his subjects. Later, entering University College, he passed the London Inter-Arts examination when 18 years. Pursuing legal studies at Law College, he obtained a First Class in the Final Examination and was enrolled as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in March 1933.

Siri Perera established himself as a very competent Criminal Lawyer, commanding an extensive and lucrative practice in the Criminal Courts of the country.

In the working years of his life, he had two main interests, the legal profession and Buddhist activities. While a student at Law College, he became a member of the Colombo YMBA in 1928 at the age of 19 years, perhaps, the youngest member at that time. His association with the Colombo YMBA was long and meaningful. In 1931, at the age of 22 years, he was elected to the Board of Management of the Association and was later one of its Vice Presidents. On the demise of the then President, Sir Cyril de Zoysa, he became its President in 1978 after 50 years in active service in the Association and held that prestigious position till 1983. A few years before his death, his large collection of Dhamma books was gifted to the Sir Baron Jayathilake Memorial Library of the Association.

Having learned Buddhism in a Dhamma school, he strongly advocated the establishment of more Dhamma schools so that all Buddhist children would learn the Dhamma. Such schools were usually located in Buddhist temples. Fluent in both English and Sinhala with a knowledge of Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism, he addressed many Buddhist audiences in Colombo and elsewhere.

To me he was a guide and a teacher in the study, practice and dissemination of the Dhamma. Many were the occasions when we discussed the Dhamma at his residence in Borella, and in the initial years my articles on Buddhism were examined and appropriately corrected by him.

For a long time, he supported the annual Buddhist Journal, Vesak Sirisara, edited by the Late H.P. Jayawardena, former Headmaster, Royal Primary School. He contributed articles in English for this Journal on varied subjects over several years. Since Jayawardena was advancing in years and looking for someone to continue its publications, he induced me to first serve as its Asst. Editor and eventually to take-over as Editor. So, I served as the Asst.

Editor from 1987 to 1993 when I became its Editor on the death of Jayawardena and performed that task for 15 years relinquishing that responsibility this year.

He told me that he had supreme confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha without any kind of doubt.

He made a great effort to observe the Five Precepts and had a deep respect for the life of all living beings. A teetotaller and non-smoker, he was a strict vegetarian.

He was first a member and then the Chairman of the SLBC weekly half hour popular Buddhist discussion program, Buddhist Forum. Other members who participated with him in these discussions included well-known Buddhist scholars such as Alec Robertson, Prof. K. N. Jayathilake, Justice S. R. Wijayathilake and Dr. Rienzil Piyasena.

He was offered an appointment as a Commissioner of Assize which usually led to the crowning glory of entry to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. However, he declined the offer to refrain from passing the death penalty even though it was part of the judicial process. Taking into consideration his significant contribution to the unofficial Bar, he was made a Queen's Counsel in 1965.

In July 1967, he was appointed as the High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in India and served in that capacity for three years. Nevertheless, he stated that his three years in New Delhi gave him a wide and varied experience of men and matters. Moreover, he had the opportunity to visit many places in India associated with the life of the Buddha.

For 40 years, he served as Criminal Lawyer with distinction and appeared for some well-known cases such as the Matara Police Station murder case, Galle Face flats murder case, Turf Club robbery and murder case and Dematagoda acid bath murder case. In some of these cases, the Presiding Judges told the accused that they owed their life and liberty entirely to the skill of their Counsel.

In the second half of the 1960s, to the surprise of his legal colleagues, he abandoned Law altogether to devote all his energies on the Dhamma and social work.

Siri Perera, after a brief illness, passed away at the age of 85 years in 1995. May this noble son of Sri Lanka who made his mark as a Criminal Lawyer, Buddhist leader and scholar, a Diplomat and the President of the Colombo YMBA, while leading a life in accordance with the Dhamma, realize the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.

- Rajah Kuruppu - Vice President Colombo YMBA

 

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