Legacy of Love | Daily News

Legacy of Love

Dr. E. W. Adikaram


One hundred and eleven years ago this day, one of the greatest Sri Lankans of the 20th century was born, in Kalutara. Today we have run out of words to describe a giant like him, because all such names have been overused to describe many people who could not come anywhere near such great men. Dr. E. W. Adikaram was not just a man of the century, he was a MAN of all time.

He was a great man because he had a vision, and he tried to lead people by example, and not by empty advice. Many have forgotten the role he played to bring us Free Education.

He travelled all over the country, reaching out to the people, explaining to them the importance of obtaining the right to free education for children. Even though we should continue to honour C. W. W. Kannangara as the father of Free Education, we should never forget the contribution made by Dr. Adikaram.His education in U.K. had not affected his mind or his manners, and neither was his association with the Theosophical Society, as he was able to get the best from everyone, while retaining his independence and his beliefs.

Five precepts

Still many people could recall his famous comments on observing the Five Precepts. It is often reported that Dr. Adikaram had never recited the Five Precepts. But it may not be a very accurate statement, because as a child, following his elders he would have done so, until he realized the futility of reciting them like a magic formula. His explanation was that once he had recited the precepts, and agreed with himself that he would not violate them, there was no need to recite them again. It is simple logic, that unless a pledge is broken, it need not be made again. Or in other words, reciting the Five Precepts again and again could mean that we have broken them again and again.

We need to understand his teaching, more than ever now. Instead of uttering the five promises, that we abstain from killing, stealing, lying, taking drugs and sexually misbehaving, and then breaking the promises one by one, we should try to think positively.

All we have to do, as Dr. Adikaram showed us, is to love all life on earth, both animal and plant. If we truly love someone, we would never think of hurting him, stealing from him, cheating him or ill treating him. When we have only loving kindness, we would never need to promise to abstain from anything bad.

Dr. Adikaram was in a way, even a greater human being than Mahatma Gandhi, because he not only encouraged ahimsa, but did not even cause others to commit violence.

Public speeches

Even in our country, we talk a lot about, and hold in very high regard, Devanapiya Piyadassi raja, who is now called Emperor Asoka, who lived in India about 2400 years ago. What we have forgotten, or failed to realize is that we had in our own country, in the last century, a man who was really even greater than Asoka raja. Both of them preached the same Dhamma. Asoka raja did it through his inscriptions written on pillars and rocks around the country, and read to the people regularly by his officials, and he also sent his Dhamma Mahamatya to spread his message. Dr. Adikaram spread his message through his public speeches, to the people who came to meet him, and to a wider audience through his 'Sithivili' series.

Like Asoka raja, he too would have been influenced by the teachings of the Buddha, Mahavira and the other ancient sages in India, and believed that what the Buddha taught was the best path to travel on. Like Asoka raja, Dr. Adikaram also did not address a particular race or creed, and showed a way of life which could be practiced by anyone, without compromising his own faith or religious practices. Asoka's Dhamma is clear in some of his edicts. "Kindness should be shown to living beings. Truth should be spoken." (Minor Rock Edict II Brahmagiri) and again "Obedience to mother and father is good. Giving to friends, acquaintances, to Brahamanas and Sramanas and relatives is good. Spending little and storing little are good." (Rock Edict III Girnar) Asoka raja promoted a Dhamma acceptable to all. That is why the great Indian historian Romila Thapar said "Asoka's Dhamma did not conform to the religious policy of any one of the existing religions of his time." "Adikaram, though a committed Buddhist intellectual, was a rare voice of plurality and cosmopolitanism in this largely majoritarian milieu. Adikaram's article is a trenchant critique of the very concept of nationhood and nationalism", Dr. Harshana Rambukwella wrote commenting on an article written by Dr. Adikaram in 1983, after the ethnic riots.

A better world

Yet the greatness of Dr. Adikaram was that he practiced what he preached, from his early life. He lived a peaceful and useful life. He never waged or promoted war, he never judged or punished other human beings, and he never inherited or amassed wealth and power. Asoka remained a raja, he also had slaves and servants (Rock Edict III, Girnar) many wives (RE VI). According to legends, Asoka raja in the end gave up almost all his wealth and power and ended up unable to offer more than just half an Amalaka fruit to the monks at Kukkutarama. But he was too old and too late in life to be an example to the people of Bharat Desha and beyond.

Asoka raja left a legacy, that is still honoured and remembered in India, and that is why Jawaharlal Nehru selected the Asoka Chakra for the Indian flag and the Lion capital as the state symbol. Dr Adikaram too left a legacy, - all his writings, in which he attempts to guide our people to a better world.

It is time for us to re-read all his writings, and get our children to read them. It is the greatest tribute we can pay for this great and wonderful person who left us over thirty years ago, but is still with us and will be with us always.

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