J.H. Karunarathna, Jus­tice of Peace – A Silent Bud­dhist Leader

Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) - - FEATURES/APPRECIATION - By Ven. Ñanasiha of Siri Va­ji­rara­maye

A well-known fig­ure in Bud­dhist cir­cles, J.H. Karunarathna, passed away peace­fully on Fe­bru­ary 10, 2017 at his res­i­dence at 33, Abeysin­harama Road, Colombo 10. At the time of death he was 94 years old. Born in 1923 to a much re­spected Bud­dhist fam­ily in Wel­palla in Pit­i­gal Ko­ralaya, Katugam­pola Hat­pat­tuva in the Ku­rune­gala District, he had his ed­u­ca­tion at the Wel­palla Bud­dhist Boys School and Wel­palla Dhamma School and showed his dis­tinc­tion in pass­ing all the ex­am­i­na­tions at that level. For­tune brought him to Colombo and due to cir­cum­stances he got in­ter­ested in the mo­tor car spare parts busi­ness. He started as an as­sis­tant in a mo­tor spare parts en­ter­prise run by a rel­a­tive of his in a small room at the Baud­dha Mandi­raya, Fort. Later he es­tab­lished his own busi­ness in Panchikawatta and Slave Is­land un­der the name Karunarathna Mo­tor Stores in premises owned by him.

My first ac­quain­tance with late Mr. Karunarathna was in 1960 when the Sasana Se­vaka So­ci­ety of Ma­haragama, un­der the pa­tron­age of Most Ven­er­a­ble Madihe Paññāsiha Ma­hanayaka Thera and Ven. Ampi­tiye Sri Rahula Maha Thera, elected me as one of the Joint Sec­re­taries, the other be­ing Mr. Karunarathna. I con­tin­ued with him as Joint Sec­re­tary un­til 1964 and later be­came a Vice Pres­i­dent, its Pres­i­dent from 1985 -1992, and still later as Pres­i­dent Emer­i­tus un­til 2015. Mr. Karunarathna con­tin­ued to be one of its Joint Sec­re­taries and has the long­est in­nings in the post of Sec­re­tary un­til he vol­un­tar­ily re­tired from that po­si­tion in 1994.

The po­si­tion of Sec­re­tary is one that he cher­ished very much. He had a per­fect hand and all ad­mired his lu­cid style of writ­ing. I can­not re­mem­ber any oc­ca­sion when his record of min­utes of a meet­ing was chal­lenged. He knew what to record and what not to record. It was not the Hansard style where ev­ery word was recorded ver­ba­tim (al­low­ing for ex­pung­ing), nor brief like the record­ing of a Cabi­net de­ci­sion. It was mid­way be­tween the two and what was recorded could stand on its own feet with­out ref­er­ences. They formed a valid ba­sis for me to write the his­tory of the Sasana Se­vaka So­ci­ety when it cel­e­brated its golden ju­bilee in 2007. This speaks much for Mr. Karunarathna’s cal­i­bre.

He was a life mem­ber of al­most all the lead­ing Bud­dhist or­gan­i­sa­tions in the coun­try and held the po­si­tion of Sec­re­tary of some of them, the most no­table were Pet­tah Bud­dhist So­ci­ety started in 1949 (40 years its sec­re­tary), Sri Lanka Tem­per­ance So­ci­ety started in 1912 (25 years), Panchikawatta Maranād­hāra So­ci­ety (22 Years), Fort Sri Bod­hi­raja So­ci­ety (15 years), Bud­dhist Theo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety (nearly 10 years).

In 1993, when he com­pleted 50 years of ser­vice to the Bud­dha Sasana and the com­mu­nity he pub­lished in book­form ex­cerpts from the per­sonal diaries he had main­tained

A peep into his life will in­di­cate what a dis­ci­plined per­son he was. In 1993, when he com­pleted 50 years of ser­vice to the Bud­dha Sasana and the com­mu­nity he pub­lished in book­form ex­cerpts from the per­sonal diaries he had main­tained. The title of his pub­li­ca­tion was ‘J.h.karunarathna bi­og­ra­phy, namely, My Ser­vices’ – ‘J.H. Karunarathna Car­itā­padā­naya no­hoth Mage Se­vaya’. In the in­tro­duc­tion he has men­tioned that from the age of 12 he got used to writ­ing down im­por­tant events re­lat­ing to his life and of gen­eral sig­nif­i­cance in ex­er­cise books and from 1940 on­wards he switched on to printed diaries to keep records. That was the train­ing ground for that rare skill he pos­sessed of record­ing events truth­fully and pre­cisely.

An ac­tiv­ity that was very close to his heart was or­gan­is­ing reg­u­lar ser­mons at the Baud­dha Mandi­raya, Fort un­der the aus­pices of the Pet­tah Bud­dhist So­ci­ety. With what glee he had men­tioned that dur­ing 1949 and 1993 he was re­spon­si­ble for or­gan­is­ing per­son­ally 385 Bana ser­mons. Af­ter he pur­chased his car, he him­self drove the in­vited monks from their tem­ples to Fort and back. He rel­ished this ac­tiv­ity be­cause he was able thereby to come into close con­tact with some of the most eru­dite monks who were ex­cel­lent ex­pos­i­tors of the Dhamma. That was the im­me­di­ate re­ward he ex­pected.

Most Ven­er­a­ble Pa­lene Va­ji­rañāna Ma­hanayaka Thera was one of his clos­est spir­i­tual men­tors. He has men­tioned in his bi­o­graph­i­cal sketch that he associated with over 200 monks

Most Ven­er­a­ble Pa­lene Va­ji­rañāna Ma­hanayaka Thera was one of his clos­est spir­i­tual men­tors. He has men­tioned in his bi­o­graph­i­cal sketch that he associated with over 200 monks. Spe­cial ref­er­ence has been made to Most Ven­er­a­ble Kalukon­dayawe Paññāsekara Maha Thera, Ven. Pan­dita Ham­malava Sad­dhatissa Maha Thera, Ven. Madihe Paññāsiha Ma­hanayaka Thera, Ven. Narada Maha Thera and Piyadassi Maha Thera. Among lay lead­ers he had the for­tune to as­so­ciate were Pro­fes­sor G.P. Malalasek­era, P.P. Wick­ra­maarachchi, Dr. A.p.de Zoysa and jour­nal­ist, Piyasena Nis­sanka.

There is much more that could be writ­ten. But the ap­pre­ci­a­tion above will give a snap­shot view of the true qual­i­ties of real Bud­dhist lead­er­ship. The Bud­dha Sasana has sur­vived so far be­cause of such noble peo­ple who have served with si­lence and with­out praise. Let me end with his words: “Rather than wast­ing my time I have utilised the greater part of it in ser­vice to my coun­try, my peo­ple, and so­ci­ety, and es­pe­cially in serv­ing Bud­dhist or­gan­i­sa­tions. When I think of this I am over­joyed that my life is well spent.” How many of us could ut­ter such won­der­ful words be­ing true to one-self.

May J.H. Karunarathna at­tain the supreme bliss of Nib­bana and may his Sansaric life be happy and peace­ful.

He was a life mem­ber of al­most all the lead­ing Bud­dhist or­gan­i­sa­tions in the coun­try and held the po­si­tion of Sec­re­tary of some of them, the most no­table were Pet­tah Bud­dhist So­ci­ety started in 1949 (40 years its sec­re­tary)

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