Venerable Sobitha Thera
Posted on November 12th, 2015

By Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana Courtesy Island

Profound sadness I felt, shared with millions of Sri Lankans irrespective of cast, creed or race, on learning the premature death of Ven. MadulaweSobitha, was interrupted only by another sad thought: ‘Did ‘Yahapalanaya’ kill him?’ Not that I am implying “Yahapalanaya” was involved directly but contributed to his premature death by the failures which are increasing by the day, unfortunately.

The excellent editorial ‘A heart of gold stops beating’ (The Island, Tuesday November 10) speaks volumes and documents the place Ven. Sobitha earned, by tenacity and perseverance in fighting for just causes, in the history of our Motherland. I was not fortunate enough to know him personally and had never being introduced to him but remember serving him ‘dana’ at a relation’s place about five years ago as well as the words of wisdom that followed the alms giving.

All of us advancing in years, waiting in the ‘departure lounge’, think more and more of death and phenomena, some still unexplained, associated with death. Having developed a special interest in heart failure, a disease which carries a very high mortality rate, in the latter part of my professional career, death started fascinating me. I was very careful not to predict the ‘probable time left’ to relations or to the occasional patient who asked me direct, for more reason than one. Not that I was scared or embarrassed to be found wrong but it was so difficult to predict only on the basis of the physical criteria. Some patients, who wanted to live, survived much longer than we expected and some others who were not on death’s door, decided they did not want to live longer and died.

Palliative care physicians, whose job is to ease the final path of the terminally ill, have confirmed what some of us suspected. Terminal patients often wait till a son or daughter arrives or an important event happens, to die. Terminally-ill patients who are constantly surrounded by the family, often die when no one is around but we do not know whether this is an act of kindness to the near and dear or due to a feeling of loneliness. Perhaps, we may never know.

I do not know the details of his terminal illness but am made to understand that Ven. Sobitha had a valve, probably Aortic, replacement in a private hospital in Colombo but was flown to Singapore as he developed complications. Aortic valve disease is common in the elderly as with age the cusps of the valve get thickened with deposition of calcium and Aortic valve replacement is a common procedure in the elderly with a very low complication rate. Of late, another procedure has been developed for those who are not fit for ‘open-heart’ surgery; those with severe co-existing disease and very old, in their eighties and nineties. It involves replacing the valve through a catheter introduced from the large artery in the groin (Femoral artery). Considering all this, Ven. Sobitha’s death is, in a way, not expected. I would not have expected the surgeon to undertake the valve replacement if there had been complicating illnesses.

The editorial states:

“However, there were signs of Sobitha Thera’s age and failing health having a mellowing effect on him during the latter stages of his life. He was less vocal in demanding the abolition of the executive presidency and electoral reforms. It looked as if he had come to terms with the sobering political reality; politicians, unlike statesmen, go by the Machiavellian principle that the promise given was a necessity of the past and the word broken is a necessity of the present.”

He was only 74 years old and the failing health may have been due to the valve disease; when the Aortic valve is narrowed, the amount of blood pumped out of the heart is reduced and the resultant poor circulation leads to slowing down.

I have learned from a very reliable source that one of the last acts of Ven. Sobitha was meeting a government leader the day before he was admitted for surgery. We will never know what transpired at the meeting but no one will doubt Ven. Sobitha expressing his disappointment at what was happening in strong terms. What is left to conjecture is how the president responded. Had Ven. Sobitha gone for surgery in a despondent mood, it could certainly have affected the outcome. Therefore, the failings of “Yahapalanaya”, too many to describe and anyway not necessary as they are well known, could have contributed to this unfortunate outcome.

Perhaps, death spared him the worst of all; cabinet ministers in open warfare over ‘the Avant Garde floating armoury’ issue. It is a shame that ministers do not seem to know fundamental principles of natural justice and assume they are judge & jury; they deliver their judgements at press conferences fuming vitriol at those with opposing views. So much for good governance, which has become a mirage!

As the editorial rightly states, it is high time politicians in government stopped shedding crocodile tears but bring about radical changes, which is the appropriate way of honouring the departed prelate.

May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana!

4 Responses to “Venerable Sobitha Thera”

  1. Sampath Says:

    “Considering all this, Ven. Sobitha’s death is, in a way, not expected.”

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    Agree with Dr Wijayawardhana totally re this line:

    “As the editorial rightly states, it is high time politicians in government stopped shedding crocodile tears but bring about radical changes, which is the appropriate way of honouring the departed prelate”.

  3. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:


  4. Independent Says:

    I did not either. I am a bit younger.
    I did not see Charmpaka either.
    I saw few great “Sinhala Buddhist” Ranil, My3, Wijedasa ( Buddha Sasana Minister representing TNA boss) only.

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