Postscript: Most Venerable Ñāṇavimala Mahāthera
Some twenty years ago in a residential part of the city of Colombo, an ascetic monk of foreign origin walked from house to house, on piṇḍapāta (going for alms food). Although this was the practice enshrined in the Buddha’s monastic teaching, it was a very unusual sight in the fast developing urban capital of Sri Lanka. The monk was serene and pleasant, and he walked slowly, mindfully and silently. After the morning meal was served into the alms bowl, he offered simple blessings and on occasion a brief Dhamma teaching prior to proceeding to his temporary abode, the Vajirarama temple. This practice of piṇḍapāta by the elderly foreign monk continued even when he was not in good health and had painful, swollen feet.
Typically, once a week, a pious and devout lady in her early fifties residing in an affluent part of Colombo, used to eagerly await this monk’s visit. Indeed she even had a pre-planned ‘menu’ ready and waiting for this special opportunity to serve the morning dāna and to venerate the monk every week. Her blissful face radiating with joy was always an indication that the monk had, in fact, made his weekly visit.
Residing with his grandmother during those times was a young student named Kshanaka, who had the valuable opportunity of associating with this bhikkhu and offering dāna on a regular basis. Years passed by, and the young Kshanaka became increasingly interested in exploring the teachings of the Buddha, whilst also studying other religions and contemplative practices. Gradually, the visiting monk became a teacher to the young student, and a special student-teacher relationship developed, that was to make a significant impact on the life of the young Kshanaka.
On many occasions, as a lay practitioner, Kshanaka used to spend weeks and months on an island hermitage in the south of Sri Lanka with his teacher, practicing meditation and learning the deep teachings of the Buddha. He too took up the practice of cārikā, traveling miles on foot, using simple dwellings and residing in remote forests in sparsely inhabited parts of Sri Lanka. Whenever the teacher fell ill and required hospitalisation, Kshanaka slept on the floor beneath the hospital bed keeping a watchful eye over him. Over time, Kshanaka evolved into a steadfast disciple and a devoted attendant to his mentor, the German bhikkhu, the Most Venerable Ñāṇavimala Mahā Thera.
On December 18th, 1999 after ordination at a simple ceremony, Venerable Ñāṇavimala’s earnest disciple Kshanaka became Venerable Bambalapitiye Ñāṇāloka Thera. The monastic student continued the same practice, taking abode at his teacher’s monastery, the Island Hermitage in Polgasduwa. As before, while continuing to emulate his teacher, Venerable Ñāṇāloka led a life of austerity and simplicity, with a firm resolve to abide by the Dhamma and the Vinaya as prescribed by the Buddha. Living in seclusion, subsisting on food from alms rounds, staying in simple dwellings and striving ardently, were the hallmarks of the practice of these two monks. They lived by the teachings of the great Master and they demonstrated that such a monastic lifestyle was possible even 2600 years after the Buddha’s ministry. Indeed it was such exemplary spiritual lifestyles that inspired many lay Buddhists at that time to take up the practice of meditation ardently.
The monastic relationship between the mentor and pupil lasted until about 2004. During those memorable years the old lady who, facilitated the meeting between the two (i.e. Venerable Ñāṇāloka’s grandmother), had the opportunity to visit the island hermitages at Polgasduwa and Parappaduwa many times, and to offer alms to the monks and listen to Dhamma teachings. She and her family were able to make a variety of offerings to both Venerables Ñāṇavimala and Ñāṇāloka, and to learn true spirituality from the exceptional lives they led. Her own devotion to the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha grew, and was epitomized by her unflinching adherence to sīla. The compassion and kindness she radiated were likened to these same traits inherent in the great German monk.
This postscript is to pay homage and to venerate with extreme respect, one of the most humble, simple, and yet a great son of the Buddha who lived on Sri Lankan soil, the Most Venerable Ñāṇavimala Mahā Thera.
The writer is the sponsor of the publication and the daughter of the elderly lady who offered alms to Venerable Ñāṇavimala during the 1990’s.