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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Anagarika Dharmapala: His Last few hours as of Venerable Siri Devamitta Dhammapala

Last few hours of Venerable Siri Devamitta Dhammapala

As accounted by Brahamachariya Devapriya Walisinghe in 1933

Anagarika Dharmapala spent the last years of his life as a Bhikkhu. He was known as venerable Siri Devamitta Dharmapala.

This is an account of his last few hours on earth. Anagarika Dharmapala's 143rd birth anniversary fell on September 17.

DHARMAPALA: "Let me die soon. Let me be re-born twenty-five times to spread the Buddha's Dhamma." This was the last wish of the late Venerable Siri Devamitta Dharmapala, as he lay sick in the bed at Holy Isipatana with a fever to which he eventually succumbed on 29th April last.

It was not the wish of the coward or the imbecile but the earnest yearning of the undaunted spirit seeking fresh opportunities for greater service to humanity. Every minute of his remarkable life had been spent for the good of humanity and it was impossible for him to lie ideal in bed.

He was now compelled to a life of inactivity which was against his very nature and he longed to free himself from it. How often did he during his last days express a desire to pass away and be re-born with a better body and mind to serve Buddhism.

On the 20th, his condition became serious and I thought it advisable to send a telegram to his relations in Colombo. Responsibility lay heavy on my shoulders and at distant and lonely Isipatana I wanted someone who could share it with me.

The doctors were very grave and I could guess who was going on in their minds. So I wired to Calcutta asking Dr. P. Nandi, one of the leading physicians in Calcutta, to come up at once for no one understood Venerable Dharmapala's ailments better that Doctor Nandi.

The reply came much to my relief that an assistant Doctor was coming up on the 22nd and that Dr. Nandi himself would arrive on the 23rd. In the meantime on the 22nd, the Doctors pronounced the case as critical. "Let me die soon, let me be re-born. I can no longer prolong my agony; I would like to be re-born twenty-five times to spread the Buddha's Dharma" repeated Venerable Dharmapala.

At eleven o'clock in the morning his pulse began to fail and death was imminent. A tense silence prevailed in the room as heavy as a spell and there were many a hushed whisper and smothered sob around the bed of the dying leader.

He was not fully conscious of all that was happening around him while with heavy hearts we devoutly arranged his bed facing the Vihara so that he may have a fully view of the great work he had completed.

He looked for a moment at the sacred and stately edifice with that longing of the affectionate parent for his growing off-spring and in a flash this was changed into one of reverential love as he several times raised his folded hands in adoration.

An "Ata-Pirikara" was offered and we placed an image before him while the Samaneras chanted "Pirith", listening to which the great leader fell asleep and he was still sleeping when the assistant doctor arrived with oxygen from Calcutta. Waking up a little later he only asked, "Why all this delay?"

A streak of hope

Doctor Nandi arrived on the 23rd and the joy of our leader was unbounded. Ever since they had met each other they had been like brothers and I could hardly suppress the tears that rushed into my eyes as I saw how the two kindred great men met each other in mutual understanding and regard - one in the throes of death and the other determined to save him.

After a prolonged and careful examination Dr. Nandi pronounced the case of pneumonia. The arrival of the doctor changed the whole atmosphere of the place. Utter hopelessness and depression which were so long predominant gave place to hope and confidence for not merely was he the healer but was a guide, philosopher and comforter to us all. To our infinite joy and relief the patient began to come around; in the doctors presence he no longer refused medicine for he had implicit faith in him.

I shall be happy to take your medicine and die, he told the doctor.
Buddha Gaya

On receiving news of his serious illness the Samaneras who were sent to Buddha Gaya, returned on the 24th and peeped into the sick room. "From where are they coming?" enquired Venerable Dharmapala. "From Buddha Gaya" replied Revd. Sasanasiri who was standing close by.

When he heard this there was quite an agitated look in his face giving an index to the worrying emotions in his heart and then at last he asked to every one's surprise. "When her child is dying will the mother run away?" Those present readily understood what he meant for Buddha Gaya was of greater importance to him than his own life.

Throughout his illness Venerable Dharmapala kept harping on the Buddha Gaya question. Not a day passed without a reference to it. It has been his greatest ambition to recover the sacred site for the Buddhist world.

Lately he had re-started the movement and was contemplating a vigorous campaign when he unfortunately fell ill. "If I live another two years I shall see that the Holy Temple is restored," he told me once. His plan was to take up his residence at Gaya itself and from there carry on his last battle. He expected the whole Buddhist world to stand by him like one man, but in this he was sadly mistaken.

It was a rude awakening that he received a copy of a memorial sent by the Congress of Buddhist Associations dealing a death blow to his life's long aspirations. It was the greatest shock of his life and I can vividly recollect his pain and anguish when he read it. Alas! He never recovered from that shock.

How could he forget such treachery even on his sick bed? Space does not permit me to dwell on everything he said in this connection; but I must say that the restoration of Buddha Gaya to its rightful owners is a work which he has left to Buddhists to complete and I hope that it will be taken up in right earnest by the entire Buddhist world who would not look back till they succeed, thus crowning with success the great and heroic task initiated by the greatest of Buddhist Missionaries for the last seven hundred years and the greatest of Sinhalese of his time.

Flicker of the lamp

"Venerable Dharmapala's nephew, Mr. Raja Hewavitarane arrived from Colombo on the 26th, a day earlier than we expected, I had been fervently hoping that he would arrive before the patient should take a serious turn and so his welcome presence lifted a heavy load from my head. My relief was immense.

Venerable Dharmapala recognised him at once, affectionately stroked his face and enquired about his brother Neil. He also asked what action they were taking against the memorial sent by the Buddhist Congress.

As hours passed by the showed signs of recovery but it was only the last flicker of the flame before it went out. The end was soon to come, and bathe the Buddhist world in tears.

As the patient was not taking sufficient nourishment food had to be injected much against his will. On the 27th, all of a sudden he called and wanted pen and paper to write something very important.

He was semi-conscious at the time, and after scribbling something with great effort he closed his eyes. There were three lines of which the first was very indistinct while the last two read as follows: "Doctor Nandi I am tired of injections; I may pass away."

Aniccawata sankara

On the 28th, his condition showed no improvement although Dr. Nandi was hopeful and asked us not to worry. After staying at Sarnath for five days Dr. Nandi left by the evening train giving full instructions to his assistant to continue the treatment.

The patient passed a restless night and though very much worried at the time, little did we think of what the morrow held in store. In the morning of the 29th he was almost unconscious, and spoke nothing at all except mutter my name once. The usual sponge bath was given by the assistant doctor but unlike on other days the patient did not turn to a side. He showed no desire for food and his eyes were half closed.

A serene smile

Mr. Rajah Hewavitarane and all the inmates were anxiously watching by his bed side in silence when at about 12 o'clock, the temperature began to rise and in spite of all the efforts of the doctor and me it rose to 104 Farenthight by 2 o'clock.

We now realised that the end was near and Mr. Hewavitarane summoned all the Bhikhus and Samaneras and requested them to chant Pirith. While the priests were thus chanting the great leader breathed his last peacefully at 3 o'clock. There was a serene smile on his face bespeaking happiness and contentment.

Thus ended the remarkable career of the greatest Sinhalese of modern times and one of the most lovable and dominating personalities of this age. Not only did he save the Sinhalese from national degeneration and extermination but also won them a place of high honour amongst the great nations by his humanitarian activities throughout the world.

This is not the place to make an exhibition of his service to humanity, but it may be said without fear of contradiction that his services in the cause of his country's welfare and his services in the cause of Buddhism throughout the world are unsurpassed by those of any one during the last seven hundred years.

A grateful nation will no doubt treasure his memory ranking him with such great Missionaries like Asoka, Mahinda Thera and other great figures in the history of Buddhism. (Maha Bodhi Journal - June 1933)

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