Ven. Rerukane Candavimala

1. My Childhood

Ordination and Journey to Burma

I was born in the village of Rerukana, Raigama district in the Adikari borough of Sri Lanka. It is a small village near Bandaragama. It is surrounded by large paddy fields, and there is also a substantial area of cultivated land for other crops. Nowadays there are a lot of houses in our village, and so it is highly populated also. But in those days there were only about 10 or 15 houses in the entire village. Our houses can be seen still standing. Originally published as the first four chapters in රේරුකනේ චන්දවිමල මහා නාහිමි චරිත කථාව. Initially the roof structure had beams made from coconut palm timber and covered with coconut leaves. Now it is covered with tiles. I have a feeling that our house is considerably older than myself. I was born on Monday, 19th July, 1897. My father was Don Bastian de Paulis Gunawardhana, and my mother was Munasinghage Podi Nona. They were both very pious people.

There were six brothers and sisters in the family including me, but I was the eldest. Now only my younger sister and I are alive. Her name is Selohami, and she was the second born. Neelis Gunawardhana, Edmond Gunawardhana, Ackman Gunawardhana, Aidyn Gunawardhana were my four brothers. They are all dead now.

I only went up to the second grade at school. I still remember a story we learnt in first grade, “the battle between sharks and whales”. I cannot remember much about what I learnt in second grade. I remember how I passed through to the second grade though. On the set day we were seated facing each other and the teacher dictated “tea drinking is healthy” and we had to write it on our slate-boards, in beautiful handwriting. I could not do that. The child opposite me had written it beautifully and I copied it. That is how I progressed onto second grade; I copied.

At the beginning of this century, that is in 1906, a Burmese monk named Ven. Vinayālaṅkāra came to Sri Lanka. He visited many religious sites in Sri Lanka, to venerate and offer respect. On his travels he also happened to visit our district. He stayed in a cave on a rocky mountain for a few days, resting. The villagers became very impressed with this monk and started offering him food, etc. He could not speak much Sinhala but he would try to speak with everyone and even gave sermons in broken Sinhala. The villagers became very comfortable with the monk and started to offer robes and other allowable requisites in full.

One day the venerable thought of offering all that he had to other monks, 100 in total. He went to the nearby temples and invited them for a food offering (dāna), but they did not accept his invitation. It was a big problem for the lay people of the village. Ven. Waskaduwe Subhūti His biography is elsewhere on this website: came to know about this and accepted the invitation and also made arrangements for the required number of monks to attend the dāna. He was a brave and very powerful monk. The dāna offering went very well. After that a group of pious villagers decided, since the monks from nearby temples did not attend the dāna, it was time to build a new temple. So they got together and built it on this land.

It was called Idikati deniya in those days. It was an overgrown piece of land. It was used to hide stolen bullocks and to release cobras and vipers and such like when they were caught. This land had a lot of owners too. So nearly all of them had got together and offered it to the Burmese monk, Ven. Vinayālaṅkāra, and that is why this temple is called Vinayālankārāramaya.

I mentioned earlier that Ven. Vinayālaṅkāra gave sermons to all who came to see him, albeit in broken Sinhala. Most of the time it was about the benefits of being a monk and ordination. My father used to go frequently to listen to his sermons. Now I think Ven. Vinayālaṅkāra must have been thinking of Burma when he praised ordination. In Burma many more people will be ordained than in Sri Lanka. Anyway, our father used to regularly listen to his sermons and would come home and tell us about what he heard. One day he asked me, ‘Would it be a bad thing if you became ordained?’ I was about nine. So I agreed to ordain, as in those days children liked to join the Sangha, and the parents liked it too. Not just me, another 26 children wanted to join. We were ordained by Ven. Vinayālaṅkāra. Before ordination I read books on the novice’s Dhamma (sāmaṇera baṇa daham), Pali grammar and such like. I did that under the guidance of Ven. Batuwita Susīma.

The new novices though did not get much of an opportunity to stay in Sri Lanka after their ordination. On 27th January 1908 Ven. Vinayālaṅkāra took us to Burma. So I learnt all about the Dhamma and the whole of the Tipiṭaka over there. All of the novices were staying with the Head of the Shwegyin sect in Lower Burma. It was really difficult for us, mainly because of our lack of knowledge of the Burmese language. At first I could not pronounce some words at all but gradually it became more manageable.

In those days my retention of facts was very good and I read a lot of books. I stayed in Burma for over 10 years. In that time I learned the Vinaya and the Commentaries with respected Dhamma-Vinaya teachers of Burma. I also had the chance to return briefly to Sri Lanka.

When I went back to Burma it was also to obtain the Higher Ordination (upasampadā). On October 26th 1917 at Dhammikārāma Sīma in Burma I received my Higher Ordination.

I also obtained an in-depth knowledge of the Abhidhamma in Burma. There are a number of learned, scholarly monks over there. There are also many valuable books written on the subject. That is where I gained much knowledge of the various meditation methods and the practice. I can speak Burmese as if it were my mother tongue; I can also read and write in the same manner.

I would like to mention a unique and good method of teaching that exists in Burma. I do not know if this is used anywhere else in the world. Teaching is done in complete darkness. Both teacher and the group of students sit in the dark without books. The teacher explains the contents first and if the student has listened well he will be able to recite it back word for word. Sarūpavibhāga in Abhidhammaṭṭhasaṅgaha, Mātikā, Dhātukathā, Yamaka, Paṭṭhāna were all taught like that. The method was called ratrivacana, or night recital.

For this students have to wake up at 4.30am. There is a bell. Then the morning worship. They note their attendance. When their name is read out they have to say ‘here’ loudly. If you do not turn up at that time a punishment is handed out. You have to take five pots of water, or more sometimes, and pour them away somewhere. I just could not wake up at that early time. So I used to get the punishment many times in the beginning. Then they stopped it, they must have realised I am not able to wake up so early.

Going back to ratrivacana, the lessons would go on for three to four hours. Sometimes I would fall asleep. After the lessons the others would go back leaving me alone. Those days I was very lazy, perhaps the laziest in all Burma at that time.

I will elaborate some more on the Burmese monastic methods of education. A special emphasis was given to Pāḷi grammar and language. They were taught at a very high and scholarly level. Also the Tipiṭaka and the Commentaries were taught in depth. When we were in Burma none of the secular subjects were given any special significance. I have heard that things are different now. Why, some Burmese monks even come to Sri Lanka to learn English nowadays.

After about a year after my Higher Ordination I came back to Sri Lanka. I stayed for some time at Dematagoda Mahā Visuddhārāmaya in Colombo.

I need to mention something special. It was Ven. Arangala Siridhamma the head monk at that temple who encouraged me to write. He used to say over and over, “there are many excellent books on Dhamma and Abhidhamma in Burmese – it would be good if you could write something like that in Sinhala.”

2. From Burma to Sri Lanka