Remembering Jayantha Jayamuni De Silva and His Philisophical Messages

Malinda Seneviratne, in Daily News, 11 November 2020, ….

Almost 30 years ago, a bunch of young people, mostly undergraduates, spent a few days in a small temple in Matara. Anandaramaya, Pallimulla, Matara. They had gathered to discuss politics with a view to forming a political organization. Many things were discussed under various topics which included history, economics, philosophy and how these informed political practice.

The discussions were led by four different individuals. The Chief Incumbent of the temple, Ven. Athureliye Rathana Thera, who had just graduated from the University of Peradeniya, spoke of the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhist philosophy. Champika Ranawaka led the discussion on the development discourse with an emphasis on ecological issues. The political activism of M.D. Daniel, a veteran of the Communist Party (‘Peking Wing’), took them through the Left history of the world and Sri Lanka, with the ‘Little Red Book’ in hand for frequent reference. He shared all he knew about peasant struggles in the country.

Then there was a Jayantha Jayamuni De Silva. A small man, Jayantha Aiya was soft spoken. He was not in the thick of things, maybe because he was about 15 to 20 years older than most of the group. Danny Aiya was probably 15 years his senior, but far more engaging outside ‘the class’. Jayantha Aiya did smile, but that was little more than a coy expression of amusement.

He knew things. He knew a lot of things. From what I gathered, he had been involved in some small way during the ’71 insurrection. He had studied the great philosophies of the world and had a very good understanding of historical processes, both the broad sweeps and the particular. He had a thesis and had an uncanny ability to draw in things from far and wide to support it. He sometimes stretched things a tad too far, but one thing was clear: Jayantha Aiya was a keen student of the world around him.

So this group, as time went by, did form a political organization. It evolved with the passing of the years and the demands of the moment. Some remained, some left, but the friendships survived. And so it was with Jayantha Aiya.

He lived in Gelioya and was the Shroff in the Agriculture Department, Peradeniya. For various reasons, I was mostly in Kandy during the 1990s and had many occasions to meet Jayantha Aiya. He was always a student, always a teacher.  Unassuming and simple in his ways.

What wasn’t immediately apparent was the fact that Jayantha Aiya never stopped. He just couldn’t. He thought. He read. He kept notes. He brought it all together. Towards the end of the decade he came out with a book which I believe he co-authored with an undergraduate in Philosophy (Saman Pushpakumara). It was an attempt to resolve the apparent disjunctures between the great religious and philosophical traditions and bring to surface their enduring commonalities.

Jayantha Aiya wanted the entire universe to be on the same page, it seemed to me then. That was quite an ambitious project. He firmly believed that there can be no shortcuts, that knowledge is fundamental and a non-negotiable element in any effort to change the world for the better.

Life took me along different paths, but Jayantha Aiya remained in Gelioya, continued to work at the Agriculture Department and to roam the universe in search of useful knowledge. He read. He shared what he had discovered with people receptive to ideas. He incorporated comments and insights.

Sumedha Weerawardena, who was a very close associate, captured him best in a short piece published recently.Apparently he had set up an organization called Mooladharma Vidya Sangamaya (translatable as ‘Forum for Fundamental Studies’). Later he would help fo rm the Peradiga Chinthana Pasala (School for Eastern Philosophies), the Manava Chinthana Vyaparaya (Movement of Human Philosophies) and the Manava Vimukthi Vyaparaya (Human Liberation Movement).

The last has a tagline: Pragnaave Aviyen Yudha Vadimu (Let us fight with the weapons of wisdom). That’s him. Wisdom was his weapon and it was with it that he went to battle against all the forces he believed were evil and were holding back human civilization.

A few years ago, he wrote a book titled Vidya Vimukthi (Liberation of Science, perhaps) which was published by the Human Liberation Movement. According to Sumedha it focuses on Buddhism. It was to be part of a trilogy, the second being ‘Samma Vimukthi’, a treatise on politics and the last ‘Bandara Maha Lanka’, the fruit of his lifelong research on history. The Human Liberation Movement is to publish these shortly.

Jayantha Aiya loved this Earth. He loved people. He loved life. The one thing that really spurred him on, I feel, was his conviction that things could be so much more beautiful. He was humble enough to realize that transformation takes time and the odds right now were heavily stacked against him and people like him. That didn’t deter him. He did what he could and what he felt had to be done. He worked for a ‘someday’ which was better and which he knew he would not live to see. He was, indeed, a weapon of wisdom, and wisdom-weapons endure.

Jayantha Jayamuni De Silva breathed his last a few days ago. He was 70. And as in the case of all exceptional human beings, he was remembered by everyone he had touched. “Jayantha Aiya nethivuna” (“Jayantha Aiya has passed away”) was what everyone who called, everyone he or she knew said. I’m sure many felt that a great light has gone out. For now. ‘For now,’ because he made sure he would leave behind everything needed to light a fire that could blaze bright and dispel darkness.


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