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Bhikkhu Ñánavíra


Ven. Ñánavíra, Ven. Ñánamoli and Ven. Ñánavimala at the island Hermitage.

Ven. Ñánavíra, Ven. Ñánamoli and Ven. Ñánavimala
at the Island Hermitage.

Images and the biography below courtesy of Ñánavíra Thera Website

Ñánavíra Thera

Ven. Ñánavíra Thera was born Harold Edward Musson, on the 5th of January, 1920, in a military barracks in England. His father, Edward Lionel Musson, was Captain in the 1st Manchester Regiment stationed in the Salamanca Barracks in Aldershot. A career officer, Edward Musson reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, D.S.O., M.C. The father apparently expected his son, an only child, to follow in his footsteps. Some people from his town remembered the youth as a rather solitary teen-ager, living in a duty-bound atmosphere which generated some occasional tendencies toward rebelliousness. He was noticably inclined to introspection and contemplation. A neighbour of the family recalled his telling her, much to her puzzlement, that he often enjoyed walking alone in the London fogs. She also recalled his marked distaste for a tiger-skin proudly displayed by his father in the foyer of "Wivelrod House", the country residence in the Hampshires. It was a trophy of a hunt in India or Burma. His mother, née Laura Emily Mateer, appeared to have been devoted to her son; "possibly over-devoted to him", one person commented, "as her only child". She was deeply sorrowed by her son's departure for Ceylon at the age of 28, and desperately attempted by a visit there to persuade him to forsake his monastic existence and return to England.

The setting of his youth was a greystone mansion, within sight of a fine abbey, in the environs of Alton, a typical and restful English small town in the Hampshiredowns, about an hour southwest of London by road or rail. No doubt the young Musson's life was influenced at least equally by the nearby town of Aldershot, the site of the celebrated military academy. It seems likely, too, that he spent some time during his childhood in India or Southeast Asia. According to an interview -- perhaps not wholly reliable -- published by the journalist and novelist, Mr. Robin Maugham, in a somewhat sensational newspaper in 1965, the young Musson had been significantly affected by a statue of the Buddha which he had seen when his father was commanding a battalion in Burma.

His schooling was at Wellington college -- traditional for scions of military families. He went up to Magdalene College, Cambridge, in 1938, and spent one summer (probably the same year) studying Italian in Perugia, Italy. In June, 1939, he sat for Mathematics, and in 1940, for Modern Languages (in which he earned a "Class One"). In 1939, immediately after the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the Territorial Royal Artillery. In July, 1941, he was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Intelligence Corps, for which his knowledge of modern languages was doubtless an asset (he was an interrogator). In October, 1942, he was promoted to Lieutenant, and in April, 1944, to Temporary Captain. His overseas service with the British Eighth Army was primarily in Italy, from 1943 to 1946. A family acquaintance spoke of him, however, as having "completely resented warfare". In a letter, written in 1964 in Ceylon, may be found the sardonic comments that he had much enjoyed travel before the wartime army, and that he agreed with the classification of intelligence into three classes, "human, animal, and military". He received a B.A. degree in Modern and Medieval Languages from Cambridge University for six terms of university study together with three terms allowed for military service.

Little can be surmised concerning his initial interest in Buddhism. In his university days, James Joyce's novel, Ulysses, had exerted a powerful influence on him because (according to a letter dated 28.ii.1965) Joyce had held up a mirror to the "average sensual Western man" and had shown that "nothing matters". He wrote of himself (19.v.1964) as having always preferred ideas to images. Poetry, he once noted, only "pleased" him. Alongside this penchant, as one might put it, for the realistic view over fantasy, was a great love of music, especially Mozart, the late Beethoven, Bartok and Stravinsky. The first public indication of an involvement with Buddhist thought was his translation of an Italian study, written in 1943 by J. Evola, and published in English by Luzac (London) in 1951 under the title, The Doctrine of Awakening -- A Study on the Buddhist Ascesis. In a letter written in 1964, Ñánavíra Thera expressed "considerable reserves" about the soundness of the book. Apparently he had chanced upon the Italian work during his wartime assignment in Italy.

After the war, Musson found himself, according to his own account, in no special need of money (19.xi.1964) and highly dissatisfied with his life. In 1948, he ran into a sometime fellow-officer and friend, Osbert Moore, who felt similarly dissatisfied. Osbert Moore was born on the 25th of June, 1905, in England and graduated at Exeter College, Oxford. His interest in Buddhism was roused by reading Evola's book, later translated into English by his friend Musson, during his time as an army staff-officer in Italy. After the war he held the post of Assistant head of the BBC Italian section at Bush House. In 1948, they both decided to settle their few affairs in England, put the Western milieu behind them, and go to Ceylon to become Buddhist monks. In 1949 both received Novice Ordination at the Island Hermitage, Dodanduwa (from Ven. Ñánatiloka), and in 1950 the Higher Ordination as bhikkhus at the Vajiráráma monastery, Colombo. Osbert Moore was given the monastic name of Ñánamoli, and Harold Musson that of Ñánavíra. Both returned soon to the Island Hermitage (an island monastery situated in a lagoon of south Ceylon), where the Ven. Ñánamoli spent almost his entire monk life of 11 years, until his sudden death on the 8th of March, 1960, due to heart failure (coronary thrombosis). He is remembered for his outstanding scholarly work in translating from the Pali into lucid English some of the most difficult texts of Theraváda Buddhism.

Ven. Ñánavíra was more solitary and moved from the Island Hermitage to a remote section of southeast Ceylon, where he lived alone for the rest of his life in a one-room, brick-and-plaster kuti (hut) with a tile roof, about a mile from the village of Bundala, on the edge of a large game-preserve. It was an all-day, uncomfortable bus-ride from Colombo, where he had to repair at times for medical treatment. The change of life was not physically easy. Not long after arriving in Ceylon, he contracted a severe case of amoebiasis which continued to plague him for the next fifteen years. The tropical climate and the local food must have been taxing for the physically ailing Westerner. Bhikkhus accept food which is offered to them by laypeople, and this custom often leaves them with few options concerning their diet. Some indication of the harsh physical effects of the amoebiasis may be glimpsed in the observation of Ven. Ñánasumana, an American bhikkhu who had met Ven. Ñánavíra in October, 1963, and began regular study with him. In a letter dated 30.x.1964, Ñánasumana wrote of "a man of about 60 years.... He speaks and I learn". In 1964, Ven. Ñánavíra was only 44 years old. He died a year later, on the 5th of July, 1965, by his own hand and deliberate decision. Suicide is of course regarded with peculiar horror and condemnation in our Judaeo-Christian civilisation, as an offence against God, perhaps incurring eternal torture in Hell, and even as a legal offence against the proprietary State. Ñánavíra Thera wrote extensively and carefully on the question of suicide, which arose for him because of the severity of the amoebiasis and other health problems. He mentioned the occurrence of a nervous disorder associated with the chronic amoebiasis and the prescribed medication, which combined to "leave me with little hope of making any further progress in the Buddhasásana in this life". But it is doubtless best to allow the late Thera to speak for himself in his letters. Only after a careful reading of them should the reader form his own opinion.

Ven. Ñánavíra's writings fall into two periods: from 1950 till 1960 (the Early Writings), and from 1960 till 1965 (included in Clearing the Path). On 22.iii.1963, the author wrote in a letter:

...With regard to any of my past writings that you may come across..., I would ask you to treat with great reserve anything dated before 1960, about which time certain of my views underwent a modification. If this is forgotten you may be puzzled by inconsistencies between earlier and later writings....

Before use is made of the Early Writings, the reader should be familiar with Clearing the Path, which sets the former collection (serving as a supplement to the latter) in the proper perspective.

The earliest known piece of writing by Ven. Ñánavíra Thera on the Dhamma is found in his "Translator's Foreword" to The Doctrine of Awakening -- A Study on the Buddhist Ascesis (translated from the Italian -- La Dottrina Del Risveglio by J. Evola -- by H. E. Musson and published by Luzac & Company, London, 1951):

Of the many books published in Italy and Germany by J. Evola, this is the first to be translated into English. The book needs no apology; the subject -- Buddhism -- is sufficient guarantee of that. But the author has, it seems to me, recaptured the spirit of Buddhism in its original form, and his schematic and uncompromising approach will have rendered an inestimable service even if it does no more than clear away some of the wooly ideas that have gathered round the central figure, Prince Siddhattha, and round the doctrine that he disclosed.
The real significance of the book, however, lies not in its value as a weapon in a dusty battle between scholars, but in its encouragement of a practical application of the doctrine it discusses. The author has not only examined the principles on which Buddhism was originally based, but he has also described in some detail the actual process of "ascesis" or self-training that was practised by the early Buddhists. This Study, moreover, does not stop here; it maintains throughout that the doctrine of the Buddha is capable of application even to-day by any Western man who really has the vocation. But the undertaking was never easy, and the number who, in this modern world, will succeed in pursuing it to its conclusion is not likely to be large.

H. E. M.
April, 1948.

Having come to Ceylon and after acquainting themselves thoroughly with the Pali Suttas, the two English monks also explored many modes of Western thought -- even quantum mechanics! -- through reading and discussion. When Ven. Ñánavíra left Ven. Ñánamoli at the Island Hermitage to live on his own, the two friends continued their discussions through voluminous correspondence which lasted until 1960, the year of the Ven. Ñánamoli's death. Increasingly they found that the Western thinkers most relevant to their interests were those belonging to the closely allied schools of phenomenology and existentialism, to whom they found themselves indebted for clearing away a lot of mistaken notions with which they had burdened themselves. These letters make clear the nature of that debt; they also make clear the limitations which the Ven. Ñánavíra saw in those thinkers. He is insistent that although for certain individuals their value may be great, yet eventually one must go beyond them if one is to arrive at the essence of the Buddha's Teaching. Existentialism, then, is in his view an approach to the Buddha's Teaching and not a substitute for it.

The major portion of the Early Writings consists of written to the late Ven. Ñánamoli Thera. With the manuscript letters, which were preserved by the recipient (tied up in bundles, one of which, containing letters written between August and December 1958, was not found), were found draft copies of some of the replies which were sent to Ven. Ñánavíra Thera. These have been included here; it should be remembered, however, that they are only draft copies and not final versions. Following these are a few written to Ven. Ñánavíra Thera's chief supporters, Mr. and Mrs. P. The two essays following the letters were published (the Sketch was reprinted several times) in abbreviated form: the texts reproduced here are taken from the author's typescripts, which may be regarded as the definitive versions. Following these two essays are the contents of the author's Commonplace Book, and then Marginalia, being the comments the author made in the margins of various books which engaged him (together with the text commented upon, where useful). Finally there is a collection of various papers discovered after their author's death: notes, translations, etc. Apart from the two essays, the other texts have been edited, but hopefully all the important passages are included here.

The difference between Ven. Ñánavíra's early writings and those included in Clearing the Path is very marked and striking. The early texts show a man who, in his own thinking and discussion with others, earnestly seeks a way of approach to the heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by repeated trial-and-error. This seeking has eventually yielded its fruit when, though suffering from amoebiasis (which prevented him to a great degree from practising samádhi, or mental concentration), Ven. Ñánavíra apparently attained sotápatti, or Stream-entry, on, which he has himself described in a letter "to be opened in the event of my death". A person who has "entered the stream" has ipso facto abandoned personality-view (sakkáya-ditthi), which is the self-view implicit in the experience of an ordinary ignorant worldling, and understood the essential meaning of the Buddha's teaching on the Four Noble Truths. Ven. Ñánavíra's writings after 1960 express just this kind of certainty: no more groping in the dark, no more doubt or speculative guessing.

No later than February 1963, the Ven. Ñánavíra Thera completed a book called Notes on Dhamma (1960-1963), which was privately published by the Honourable Lionel Samaratunga in the same year. Following production of that volume, the author amended and added to the text, leaving at his death an expanded typescript, indicated by the titular expansion of its dates, (1960-1965). Notes on Dhamma has been variously described as "arrogant, scathing, and condescending", as "a fantastic system", and as "the most important book to be written in this century". The Ven. Ñánavíra Thera himself remarked of the book that "it is vain to hope that it is going to win general approval... but I do allow myself to hope that a few individuals... will have private transformations of their way of thinking as a result of reading them".

And indeed, the influence of Notes on Dhamma on Buddhist thinkers continues to increase more than three decades after its publication. Inasmuch as the first edition, long out of print, consisted of only 250 copies, how is it that this book has aroused such extraordinary interest and controversy? The answer, it seems, is to be discovered not only in the specific content of the Notes but in their general attitude, their view and direction. In describing that attitude their author wrote of the Notes that they "attempt to provide an intellectual basis for the understanding of the Suttas without abandoning saddhá"; that they "have been written with the purpose of clearing away a mass of dead matter which is choking the Suttas"; and that, above all, "the Notes are designed to be an invitation to the reader to come and share the author's point of view".

That point of view -- achieved by the Ven. Ñánavíra through dedicated self-investigation using the Buddha's Teaching as a guide -- is described unflinchingly in the Notes, which assume that "the reader's sole interest in the Pali Suttas is a concern for his own welfare". However, the Notes, with their admitted intellectual and conceptual difficulties, are not the only way to discuss right view or to offer right-view guidance. The letters which are collected here are not only "something of a commentary on the Notes"; they are, independently, a lucid discussion of how an individual concerned fundamentally with self-disclosure deals with the dilemma of finding himself in an intolerable situation, where the least undesirable alternative is suicide.

With openness, calmness, and considerable wit the Ven. Ñánavíra discusses with his correspondents (including his doctor, a judge, a provincial businessman, a barrister, a British diplomat, and another British citizen) the illnesses that plague him and what he can and cannot do about them, and about his own existence. His life as a Buddhist monk in a remote jungle abode is not incidental to the philosophy he expounds: the two are different aspects of the same thing, namely a vision that penetrates into the human situation both as universal and as particular, and recognizes that it is this situation which it is the business of each of us to resolve for ourselves. In presenting this view the Ven. Ñánavíra offers a contemporary exposition of the Teaching of the Buddha. In living this view he evokes a dramatic situation wherein an individual resolutely faces those questions which every lucid person must eventually face.

Most of the editorial work connected with Ven. Ñánavíra Thera's writings was performed -- as a labour of love -- by the late Sámanera Bodhesako (Robert Smith), who died in Kathmandu in 1988, aged 49, from a sudden intestinal hernia while on a return journey to the United States to join his father for the latter's eightieth birthday celebration. During the last years of his life in Sri Lanka he founded Path Press which published Clearing the Path: Writings of Ñánavíra Thera (1960-1965). He also worked as editor for the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy which published The Tragic, The Comic & The Personal: Selected Letters of Ñánavíra Thera (Wheel 339/341) in 1987. Prof. Forrest Williams of the University of Colorado also participated as the co-editor of Clearing the Path.

Clearing the Path has so far been translated into Czech, Dutch, and Serbo-Croatian (only Notes on Dhamma). There are also plans for a second revised edition of the English original, which seems to be out of print now, although a few copies should still be available from Wisdom Books.





The Doctrine of Awakening -- A Study on the Buddhist Ascesis (translated from the Italian -- La Dottrina Del Risveglio by J. Evola -- by H. E. Musson and published by Luzac & Company, London, 1951):



The Legend of Bundala

by Kingsley Heendeniya

More than 50 years ago, I had the once-in-a-lifetime fortune to meet Harold Musson and Osbert Moore who came to Sri Lanka on an exploratory visit to study Buddhism. They had met in the British Secret Service during the World War when assigned to interrogate prisoners in Italy.

Harold born on in 1920 at Aldershot graduating in 1940 with a First Class in Modern Languages from Cambridge and also studied Mathematics. Osbert, born in 1905 graduated from Oxford and was an Executive Director in the BBC Italian section of Bush House. In Italy, Harold came across a book on Buddhism written by Evola and published an English translation 'The Doctrine of Awakening – A Study on Buddhist Ascesis' [Luzac, London, 1951].

After the war, Harold, an only child and heir to Coal Mines in Wales returned to a bohemian life in London. Osbert went back to the BBC. One evening, they met in a pub and during a long discussion they found no meaning in their pursuits and in the trivialities of post-war life. It destined them to visit the Island Hermitage, be ordained by its German High Priest Nanathiloka – Harold as Ñanavira and Osbert as Ñanamoli – to live, strive, achieve and die in the wilds of Sri Lanka. This is their story.

I graduated as a doctor in 1958 and the following year volunteered to serve as Medical Officer of Health at Hambantota. Ñanavira found the humidity of the Island Hermitage affecting his health and the company of others interfering. About two years before me, he came to Hambantota for its dry climate, and his search for solitude led him to the forest of Bundala, 13 miles further south. Bundala was then a remote hamlet with very poor people living in wattle and daub mud huts, subsisting on burn and slash cultivation and fishing. I am told it was an ancient village of the caste of washerwomen and men serving King Duttugemunu, around 1500 years ago.

Dense forest

From the main highway to Tissamaharama, a thin gravel road ran through the jungle to the village. Just past a culvert at a bend is a clearing of the scrub land and rolling sand where, after the rains, flamingos come every year to feed. And hidden in a crop of dense forest is a footpath leading to the dwelling house or kuti designed and built by Ñanavira. As even now, all around was thick virgin forest with wild elephants, leopards, wild boar, monkeys, endemic and migrating birds feeding in the lagoons; and infested with poisonous snakes, the deadly Russel's viper (polonga) and the cobra. The area is now the Bundala Forest Reserve.

The kuti had one room about 8 feet square entered along a 12 feet corridor built for walking meditation. It had a stone bed and as I remember, a table, chair and some books. Ñanavira built a latrine and an earthen water storage structure. Nearby, if you walk through the jungle is the sea, stretching without land all the way to Antarctica. It is an idyllic place to practice the Dhamma as recommended by the Buddha. Whenever I visited him in the stillness and cool of evenings, the aroma of solitude and the soft rays of the setting sun would seep into me the meaning of tranquillity. But seasonal droughts in July can be enervating and one day I met Ñanavira bathing in the culvert, in a drying pool slaked with mud. Later, he was taken to Colombo to syringe the mud from his ears! Another time, he was treated for bursitis of both knees from unrelenting practice of anapanasati meditation. This is how an Englishman learned and practiced the Dhamma.

My visits were for not more than an hour, mainly to know if he wanted my mother to send him anything. [My mother Clara, was the founder and secretary of the Sasanadhara Kantha Samitiya or women's society she built with other ladies to look after the needs of the monks of the Island Hermitage]. One day, I saw him writing with a pencil stub less than one inch – and yet Ñanavira wanted nothing except some medicine for his chronic bowel disorder, treated as for amoebiasis. Letters published after his death reveal a long correspondence with a doctor about ups and downs and its progress to become incurable. At the same time, he answered profound philosophical questions on Dhamma. As time went by, pain and frequent diarrhoea attacks interfered with concentration. The drugs prescribed produced poisonous effects. In a discourse to King Passanedi, the Buddha has described five conditions for striving, the second of which is ability for good digestion. In a letter to his doctor in December 1962 he said, 'Although I wrote to you in my last letter that I was oscillating between the extremes of disrobing and suicide; a return to lay life would be pure weakness, and in any case I should be miserable”. So, on July 5th 1965, he decided to put an end to his life.

But I am now getting ahead of my memories. Ñanamoli had a fine sense of self-deprecating humour and enjoyed robust health. Among other work, he translated to English the Visuddhimagga of Buddhagosa and never left the island from the day of his ordination. After completing his magnum opus, he decided to go on a pilgrimage with the then High Priest of the Hermitage. The rules of the Vinaya do not permit, among other things, handling of money. My mother's samithiya attended to all that. So, when my father put Ñanamoli in the train at the Fort railway station, he asked “Sir, when are you returning?” Ñanamoli, smiled and said “Bertie, how do you know I am returning?” He died of a heart attack on a desolate gravel road in the backwoods of Kurunegala, about 25 years after walking the lush carpets of the BBC. The body was taken by bullock cart to a hospital and later, after the inquest, for the funeral in Colombo. My mother sent me a telegram to inform Ñanavira.

I went to Bundala in the afternoon around 3 O'clock. I parked the car near the culvert and walked through the jungle looking around for elephants. I met Ñanavira at a small clearing in the footpath. He was dying his robe in the way prescribed by the Buddha. The first thing he said was “Kingsley, why are you coming at this time”? I was then in my late twenties and he a little older. We were like friends and stupidly, I beat around the bush. He interrupted, “Have you come to tell me that Ñanamoli has died?” The casualness with which he said it hangs in my memory. When I explained he continued to dye the robes and wring them as if the news meant nothing. He said Ñanamoli had written to him about the pilgrimage and left instructions to settle his affairs in the event of death. Ñanamoli had a presentiment of death! I told Ñanavira that I am unable to take him by car for the funeral in Colombo because I did not have leave. Can he travel by bus? Without the slightest hesitation, he got ready with his bowl slung over the shoulder and walked with me to the car. In the distance we saw two wild elephants and he remarked: “Kingsley, the problem for human beings is boredom. Animals are never bored. Do not read the Suttas because you will then give up the lay life”. He knew I had just got married. He had never made any attempt to teach me the Dhamma though he had detected a dormant reflexive nature in me. One evening, I was standing on the beach, alone. There was the horizon in the setting sun and the clear blue vault above, the sound of crashing waves and an ethereal emptiness. I felt utterly insignificant in the immensity of the universe and had an overpowering feeling that nothing in life mattered. I had told Ñanavira about this strange glimpse of an insight.

I brought him to Hambantota and lodged him at a small temple near my residence. The next day after a noon day meal my wife served, I took him to the town bus stand. It was about 1 PM. The bus to Colombo starts from Tissamaharama. It was packed when it arrived. Ñanavira got in. I paid for his ticket. He stood in the gangway with his bowl slung over the shoulder holding the handrail – tall, imposing and indifferent. It occurred to me that here was a man who at one time could have bought the bus on the spot! I inquired if there was anyone willing to pay for a taxi in Colombo to Vajiraramaya and I shall give the money. A man who was seated immediately got up, gave it to Ñanavira and assured he will attend to everything. That was the last time I saw Ñanavira. Shortly afterwards, I went on transfer to the North Central Province and we corresponded briefly. He had a peculiar way of folding letters into the envelope, as in origami. Unfortunately, I have not preserved any.

A few years before, Ñanavira's mother flew to Sri Lanka to take her son home. His father had died and she was alone. My mother arranged for her to stay at the Mt. Lavinia Hotel. Ñanavira met her at Vajiraramaya in Colombo. His pagan life as she thought, and the bizarre change devastated her in her only child. She recoiled to see him eating with his fingers from the begging bowl. Ñanavira tried and failed to explain. He returned to his forest refuge. The mother flew back to London – and died in two weeks.

I met Kate Burvill from the Tate Art Gallery [presently with Thames and Hudson] in a strange way in Colombo, in January 1999. She is a niece of Ñanavira and had come on a holiday to Sri Lanka for the first time, combining it with a search for information about her uncle. She visited the Island Hermitage and the monks there referred her to me. She telephoned from the Galle Face Hotel and we met. The next day I took her to Bundala – to give her a feeling for the wilderness, the solitude, the ambience and peace where her uncle lived strived and entered the Path when Kate was only 3 years old.

At the kuti, we met an English monk, a former telecommunication engineer, who gave her the library copy of 'Clearing the Path'. He said there was a waiting list in Europe for the kuti. Later in the evening, though our driver protested about wild elephants on the road in the gathering night, I arranged for her to meet the mother of the village headman of Bundala. The old lady re-told the story of Ñanavira. The headman, she said was a three-month baby in her womb when tragedy struck the village.

This is the way Ñanavira died. One evening, I saw his skin inflamed with insect bites and gave him a vial of ethyl chloride spray used those days as a local anaesthetic. He used it and obtained another from my mother. By now his sickness had worsened. He had attempted suicide twice. This time was final. He constructed a facemask with polythene and through an ingenious self-closing tube made also from polythene, inhaled ethyl chloride vapor probably after his noonday meal. A man from the village came as usual to offer the evening dana of fluids at about 4 p.m. He tapped the door. There was no response. He then opened it and went into the room. Ñanavira was 'sleeping' on his bed in the position adopted by the Buddha – the lion's pose – with a polythene mask over the face. One hand was fallen with the empty ethyl chloride vial gently laid on the floor. Ñanavira Thera was dead. He ran to the village and the news spread like fire. The whole village, including women and little children ran to the kuti.

The village headman's mother gave a moving graphic account of the funeral arrangements – how she and other women gave their best saris to drape the pyre 8 feet high made by the villagers. Her daughters joined to say that even now Ñanavira is not forgotten. Questions are set about his life at the regional Dhamma Sunday School competitions. My father attended the inquest. There was a sealed letter addressed to the coroner and no postmortem examination was done. The people of Bundala cremated their beloved Ñanavira Thera and interned his ashes by the kuti, beside his sanctuary by the sea.

The ashes of an American monk Nanasumana (Mike Schoen) who died from a bite of a polonga lie beside it now. He had met Ven. Ñanavira in October 1963 and begun regular Dhamma study with him. In a letter to a friend dated 9 Oct. 1964 Nanasumana wrote of Ñanavira: “This is an old man of 60. He is in constant physical pain but he never shows it nor does the peace in his eyes ever change. We spend many hours talking – rather he speaks and I learn”. Note that in 1964. Ven. Ñanavira was only 44 years old. From this brief eyewitness account one can see the harsh physical effects of the bowel disorder. A friend in Yugoslavia sent me this information and a photograph of Ñanavira taken at this time. I am shocked to see the gaunt, emaciated frame of a man who looked like the statue of the Buddha when I knew him. But I too can see the same haunting kindness in his eyes as when I knew him.

Serpents never harmed Ñanavira.

They would uncoil, move some distances and watch him pass. No wild elephant ever threatened him. They would visit the kuti every night, drink the water he leaves in a bucket, sometimes kicking it, and pull his towels and robes on the clothes line to tease him. But they never touched a tile. With one kick, they could demolish the kuti in a minute. So it stands today – and yes, the elephants still keep vigil. Because of Kate I now know more about the kalyanamitra I had. The following year I met her at the Tate Gallery, and she presented me a brand new copy of 'Clearing the Path', the book by Ñanavira Thera on Dhamma that has not been written for 2000 years, reviewed in London as the 'most important book of the century'. He lives in the hearts of people who have no need to understand any of it. Ñanavira, attained sotapatti in 1959, and perhaps arahant at death. He is the legend of Bundala.

[Condensed from the 'A Gist of Dhamma' by the writer]



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