Ven. Dr. Kakkapalliye Anuruddha Nayaka Thera
Erudite Pali scholar and Buddhist educationist
Venerable Dr. Kakkapalliye Anuruddha Nayaka Thera passed away on September 29, 2013. In commemorating him, the trustees of the Sati Institute, Udupila, Delgoda, a monastic educational centre established by the Venerable Thera towards the latter part of his life, held a series of pinkamas at the institute on November 5, 2016.
This appreciation is to reflect on his life and work as a scholar and teacher in Pali and Buddhism and Buddhist educationist here and abroad.
The Venerable Thera was born on January 20, 1929 in Kakkapalliya, a locality in the district of Puttalam. In a family of 11, he was the ninth. He entered the Sasana at the age of nine at Sri Nimesharamaya, Ponnankanniya. His monastic teachers were Venerable Mudukatuve Nanarama Thera, a senior lecturer at Vidyalankara Pirivena and Venerable Pannankanniye Medhananda Thera. He received his early monastic education at Maliyadeva Pirivena, Kurunagala, and entered the University of Ceylon (Peradeniya University) subsequently, and got a distinction pass in his first degree offering Pali as his special subject. He worked for some time at Peradeniya Department of Pali and Buddhist Studies as an assistant lecturer.
A landmark in the academic career of the thera is his joining Lancaster University, UK, to pursue his doctoral studies. He received his doctorate from Lancaster producing a thesis on the social dimensions of Buddhism.
Venerable Anuruddha’s educational career started as a teacher at Vidyalankara Pirivena, Peliyagoda, which was one of the two leading higher education centres in pre-independent Ceylon. When Vidyalankara was promoted to a university in 1959, the Venerable Thera joined it as a lecturer after completing his first degree at Peradeniya, and actively served there till he left Kelaniya in 1982 to become the first Mahopadhyaya (Vice Chancellor) of the newly established Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka.
The Venerable Thera was first and foremost a teacher who dedicated a good part of his active life to teaching Buddhist studies in particular, Pali, to pirivena and university students. He had the advantage of traditional monastic Pali scholarship which he received from his monastic teachers and elders.
His familiarity with the Pali canon, its commentaries and related literature was uncontested. As a result of this traditional scholarship, he had a phenomenal memory and was so comfortable in quoting from texts in his lectures.
At the same time, he had access to Pali and Buddhist studies in modern university setting. Among his university teachers were the late professors N.A. Jayawicrama, Jotiya Dhirasekera and W.S. Karunaratne, giants of modern academic Buddhist studies in this country. This exposure gave him analytical tools to study the Buddhist texts.
The Venerable Thera was a fine combination of both traditional and modern academic traditions. The Venerable Thera was very confident about his scholarship, and consequently had an imposing personality, and a deep voice which went along with that personality. He was a leader among the Sangha.
A very important chapter of Venerable Anuruddha’s life is his being appointed as the first Vice Chancellor of the Buddhist and Pali University of Sri Lanka (BPU). The university was a brain child of the late Walpola Rahula Maha Thera. Once the idea of the university materialised the unanimous choice of its stewardship was Anuraddha Thera. He interrupted his long and illustrious career at the University of Kelaniya to take over the leadership of the newly established university dedicated for Pali and Buddhist studies in the country.
The thera laid a firm foundation for the university which has evolved to be a substantial residential education centre by now. It is due to his far-sightedness that he was able to enroll the new university in the Union of Commonwealth Universities. Another landmark of the university is that the Venerable Thera achieved was the inauguration of the Sri Lanka Journal of Buddhist Studies, the academic journal of the university.
By the time Venerable Anuruddha retired from BPU, the university was in the world university map.
Since he retired from BPU and University of Kelaniya, the Venerable Thera’s guidance was sought by various Buddhist academic institutes in Southeast Asia. By the time he passed away, Venerable Anuruddha served as a visiting professor at the Centre for Buddhist Studies, University of Hong Kong and was resident and teaching Pali at Chi Lin college, Hong Kong. Prior to that he taught at Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan, Singapore Buddhist Library, Foo Ei Chan Buddhist College and Buddhist Mission, all in Singapore.
In this region there are practically hundreds of men and women and monks and nuns who studied Pali from him.
In addition to teaching Pali and the Tripitaka, Venerable Anuruddha authored a very valuable resource for Pali students, Dictionary of Pali Idioms published by the Centre for Buddhism, University of Hong Kong. In this work, the author has gathered a large amount of idiomatic Pali phrases from all over the Tripitaka, and it is a result of his long academic career dealing with Pali, a task in which few people will be able to compete with him.
A Guide to Pali: Language of Theravada Buddhism is a textbook widely used by students of Pali. In addition to these two works he co-authored with Mary M.Y. Fung and S.K. Siu The First and Second Buddhist Councils: Four Versions: English Translation from Pali and Chinese, a useful compilation for those who pursue higher studies in Buddhism.
One of the last projects the Venerable Thera embarked on was the Sati Institute established in Udupila, Delgoda with the collaboration of Mun Wu Foundation of Hong Kong for training young Buddhist monks in Dharmaduta activities in English language. Unfortunately the thera did not live long enough to witness the fruition of this endeavour.
But the institute remains a monument of his services to the Buddha-sasana worldwide. Venerable Anuruddha’s was a life of a consummate Buddhist monkhood endowed with pariyatti (learnedness) and patipatti (practice) leading to pativedha (realisation).
On the last of these three aspects we are not in a position to make any judgment. But all those who were fortunate enough to associate with him knew without any doubt his pariyatti and patipatti. With his departure the sasana has become poorer. It is time for the young members of the Sangha to come forward to fill the gap created by his demise.
May Venerable Anuruddha attain the supreme freedom in Nirvana!
Professor Asanga Tilakaratne Professor of Pali and Buddhist Studies University of Colombo