Tribute to a Great Anandian Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake
Posted on March 9th, 2018

By Dr. Tilak S. Fernando Courtesy Ceylon Today

Three years ago, on the 4 March 2015, Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake had to answer the inevitable call from above, at the age of 75, in London. This tribute is, therefore, devoted to this great personality (an old boy of Ananda College), on his third death anniversary, for the great service he rendered to humanity as a prominent paediatrician attached to the Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children in Colombo, as well as bolstering his career up to emeritus status at retirement, in the field of psychiatry, attached to the UK’s National Health Service.

Born in Bentota, to parents who were both teachers in a suburban school, Buddhadasa Bodhinayake succeeded as an exceptional scholar, from the time he joined the Ananda College, Colombo, and reached the peak in his career (medicine) to become a man of the world! His school record, as President of the Literary Union (both English and Sinhala), within a single academic year, still remains intact. He bagged the junior, senior, and open college oratorical championships in school, and shone as the only Anandian to win five all-island oratorical championships, plus a Gold Medal from the United Nations.

As an undergraduate, ‘Bodhi’ fought against university sadistic practices of ragging by senior students, who traumatized new comers, both physically and mentally, and formed the first Sinhala Student Union called Tri Sinhala Sanvidhanaya, under the aegis of the late Ven. Baddegama Wimalawansa Thera, Ode’ Temple, Maradana.

Upon graduating from the Faculty of Medicine, Colombo, in 1969, he underwent his internship at the Lady Ridgeway Children’s Hospital, under the supervision of the late Dr. P.R. Anthonis, the Founder President of Ceylon College of Surgeons, and the eminent paediatrician, Prof. M.H. Hamza.

The young doctor Bodhinayake suddenly suffered from hepatitis that forced him to go on Medical-leave. However, upon his recovery from the illness, ‘an inadvertent administrative bungling’ at the Medical Council, compelled the President of the Medical Council to request him to repeat his internship, which he rejected. This trivial matter was allowed to blow out of proportion and became a public issue, ending up in the National Newspapers (Daily News). Dr. Anthonis and Prof. Hamza, having gathered the injustice meted out to this newly qualified medical doctor buttressed Bodhi’s stance; the late Dr. R.B. Lenora consented to assist him financially, and S. Nadesan, QC, offered free legal advice, should the case continued up to High Court status. Nevertheless, the President of the Medical Council stuck to his guns by referring to a Government Circular. The young Bodhinayake responded to the uncompromising act by leaving the President’s office stating: “I would rather distribute newspapers from the Colombo pavement than repeating his internship again”.

Sinhala Youth Organization

This incident tempted young Bodhinayake to get involved in backstage politics, thus forgetting medicine momentarily. The birth of the Sinhala Youth Organization (SYO) was the result of such dramatics, with the cooperation and assistance extended to him by the late Dr. Seevali Ratwatte, Ven. Elle Gunawansa Thera, and few other individuals in 1970. The idea of the Organization was to set up a campaign to topple the existing government, and to get Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, elected as Prime Minister in a new Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) government.

When Dr. Seevali Ratwatte introduced Buddhadasa Bodhinayake to his sister, Mrs. Bandaranaike, she asked him a direct question whether Bodhi could galvanize the youth into action, as there was only a breathing space left before the general elections. With an affirmative answer, young Bodhi immediately went into action and sought support from the national newspapers, numerous Buddhist monks, and several other Sinhala Organizations to execute an effective campaign, out of the newly formed socio-political wing of the SLFP, SYO. The Sinhala Youth Organization appointed Dr. Seevali Ratwatte as the President, while Nimal Siripala De Silva and Elle Gunawansa Thera became founding members of the organization.

When Mrs. Bandaranaike became victorious at the 1970 elections, she consulted Buddhadasa Bodhinayake and offered ‘whatever position he desired’ in her new Government. Everyone expected that he would consent to be the new Minister of Health, but Bodhinayake wanted only one thing from Mrs. Bandaranaike – to get his internship regularized. The Minister of Health, W.P.G. Ariyadasa, immediately attended to it with the blessings of Mrs. Bandaranaike and advice and guidance from the Attorney General.

Dr. Bodhinayake continued his medical practice to become one of the most popular Paediatricians in the country. As a young Paediatrician he became interested in Anorexia Nervosa, and ended up publishing his first book in Sinhala, after an intensive research, on the psychology of children titled Daruwage Heti Therum Ganna (understand your child). He also published several papers on Anorexia Nervosa and Adolescent Medicine in Sri Lanka, between 1975 and 1980 (UNESCO Publications). All these helped
Dr. Bodhinayake to Chair the first UNESCO International Symposium on Health in Paris and to act as Chairman of the State Advisory Board on Scientific literature. He became the youngest Asian to win a UNESCO award in 1966 based on original scientific writing. He also launched and published the first ‘Science Magazine’ called ‘Vidya’ that lasted for 25 long years.

National Advisory Committee

At the end to the JVP insurrection, Mrs. Bandaranaike appointed a three-member National Advisory Board, which included Dr. Bodhinayake, A.J. Rajasooriya, the Head of the CID, and another official, to deal with the young rebels who were in remand custody.

A popular broadcaster Karunaratne Abeysekara afforded Bodhi to enter the broadcasting arena through his popular children’s programme, Lama Mandapaya. This experience helped him to record over one thousand broadcasts on radio and TV over a period of 25 years. Despite many claims about the ball-by-ball cricket commentary in Sinhala, by various journalists, Buddhadasa Bodhinayake held the record as the first-ever broadcaster to experiment this task from the Oval Cricket Grounds, during Ronnie De Mel’s tenure as the Director General of Broadcasting. E.R. Erathne at the Official Language Department helped Bodhinayake in the use of appropriate Sinhala words in his live cricket commentary.

Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake and eminent science fiction writer, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, were buddies in Sri Lanka. The duo jointly authored the first book on space in 1961, titled Oba Vennek Handata Yai (someone like you will go to the Moon). Subsequently, Sir Arthur persuaded Bodhi to immigrate to the UK and encouraged him by offering his (Sir Arthur’s) house in North London for the family’s accommodation. As Sir Arthur Clarke had decided to live in Sri Lanka, his brother, the late Fred Clarke, was entrusted to look after the Bodhinayakes. Finally, Bodhinayake family became the proud owners of Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s house at Nightingale Road, North London N22.

In the UK

In the UK, Bodhi was extremely fortunate to have been chosen as a trainee at The Royal Free-University College-Friend rotation as he landed in London, where there was a Royal Free Anorexia Nervosa Unit. Within a year, he was promoted as a Registrar, and later became a Senior Registrar at St. Bartholomew’s North Middlesex, Hospital, and Worley Rotation.

Branching out to Psychiatry, Buddhadasa Bodhinayake became the Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Tutor to mould postgraduates at Barking & Bentwood Hospital and conducted, in excess of nine annual symposia; trained more than 120 postgraduates during a period of 12 years. Finally, he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1990.

On his pre-retirement, due to ill health, he was conferred the Emeritus Status by the North East London Mental Health Trust. Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake has gone on record as the only Sri Lankan to serve on the Editorial Board of the recognized International Review of Hospital Medicine, which has been the primary periodical journal for hospital-based medicine for decades.

The writer was a close friend of Dr. Buddhadasa Bodhinayake in London. During one of our intellectual conversations, Bodhi explained to the writer how he made reference to and practised meditation in his psychiatric lectures, as a therapy for over 20 years in the UK successfully. Being an ardent Buddhist, he firmly believed in the theory that concentration of the mind was always beneficial to an individual.

At first, however, the term ‘meditation’ in psychiatry managed to raise some eyebrows amongst the senior medical professors in the NHS. Some even took it as a pun for discussion, because even eminent psychiatrists were made to disbelieve so, and meditation was regarded as an alien topic in the Western medical mindsets. Ostensibly, it has now become acceptable with more and more applications coming out to the world in the medical press about the advantages of meditation.

His alma mater, Ananda College, offered him the opportunity to visit the College again, with an invitation to be the Guest of Honour at the Ananda College Prize Giving in 1993. That was regarded as an opportunity, on the part of the Ananda College, to uphold and recognize this old boy, in the presence of an audience of 2000, consisting students, teachers and guests. Up to the end of his lifetime that recollection remained in his memory as the biggest achievement in his life.

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