Most Venerable Matara Sri Nanarama Maha Thero

Venerable Mātara Sri Ñānārāma Mahā Thero was an all pervasive presence of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya, where he was resident as the first Abbot and Chief Preceptor from 1967 until his passing away.

Venerable Ñānārāma’s service to the Buddha sāsana was immeasurable. In recognition of his detailed understanding of the dhamma, he was crowned with numerous spiritual titles of appreciation.

In 1951, Venerable Ñānārāma was invited to head the newly established Sri Kalyāni Yogashrama Samsthā, conferring upon him the honour of Chief Preceptor of an association of hundreds of monasteries of the Ramanna Nikaya ordination tradition scattered throughout Sri Lanka.

In 1958, when a group of eminent Burmese meditation masters visited Sri Lanka, he undertook intensive training in the Burmese Vipassanā meditation methods under the guidance of Sayadaw U Javana, a senior student of the late Most Venerable Mahā-Si Sayadaw.  During this time, connections with the Burmese Sangha intensified.

Skilled in three languages (Sinhala, Pāli and Sanskrit), he translated the Buddha’s teachings to a timeless unfolding of dhamma with the insights he gained through his own dedicated practice.

Venerable Ñānārāma authored books on the topics, Bhāvanā Mārgaya (an exposition of the path of meditation), Vidharshana Parapura (work on instruction and practice in the lineage of insight meditation), Samatha/Vidharshanā Bhāvanā Mārgaya (on meditation for calm and insight) and Sapta Anupassanā (on the seven contemplations of insight) in the Sinhalese medium.

The two books, Seven Stages of Purification and Insight Knowledge and Seven Contemplations of Insight, published in the English medium by the Buddhist Publication Society, include translations of these writings.  These books form a profound examination of the ‘seven contemplations’ of classical Pāli Buddhism in the practice of meditation and the progression of insight in the practice.

Seven Contemplations of Insight evolved out of a series of discourses on vipassanā insights given by Venerable Ñānārāma at Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya.  Offering a detailed study of the first seven insights, also known as Sapta Anupassanā, his teachings served to fill a vacuum in the understanding of Buddhist insight meditation.

Seven Stages of Purification and Insight Knowledge captures deep meditative experience.  Offering a framework for the yogi’s gradual progress from an exercise of moral restraint to the attainment of the final goal of liberation, it provides a vivid explanation of the higher stages of mental purification as a yogi navigates and masters through the stages of insight knowledge, gaining direct knowledge into an understanding of the true nature of phenomena.

Venerable Ñānārāma’s contributions to the propagation of the sāsana, his literary mastery and his enjoyment in spiritual authorship were surpassed by his emphasis on the meditation practice, thus, spending a great part of his life in deep meditation and the cultivation of vipassanā insights.

Venerable Ñānārāma was a rare teacher, always reminding the resident monastic monks to engage in the practice with great diligence and urgency, to strive towards the final goal of liberation with continuity of mindfulness, without any interruption – “even if the Buddha were to visit, you must continue to strive in the practice”.  This was the message he conveyed to his students.

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Venerable Ñānārāma’s constant reminder to the resident monks and lay disciples alike was to diligently strive in the practice and he emphasised that: the birth of a Buddha in the world; receiving a human birth; gaining the benefits of the Buddha sāsana; monkhood; associating with the wise and the availability of the dhamma were a rare occurrence.

An inspiring feature of Venerable Ñānārāma’s candour was his capacity to forebear great suffering and pain; and to remain calm amidst obstacles, always responding with compassion and loving-kindness.  His time at the hermitage was marked with extraordinary deeds of generosity, sharing whatever he received on a personal basis amongst the resident Sangha.

Having spearheaded the establishment of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya, Venerable Ñānārāma breathed his last and peacefully passed away on 30 April 1992, at which time he had served the Srī Kalyāni Yogāshramaya Samsthā for forty years of his spiritual life.  The cremation took place on 7 May 1992 amidst thousands of devotees at the Galduwa Yogasrama premises.

By then, Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya had been in existence for twenty five years.