From the interview with Somadasa by Tom Rosenberg.
My hometown is Bundala.
When I got to know about the Venerable Ñāṇavīra I was very young. I was about 8-9 years of age. As far as I know he was residing in Bandagiriya.
At that time when a colony was being established in Bandagiriya, deforestation took place. In the past this area was surrounded by forests, this village was the only one for miles. Since the monk couldn’t reside where the forests were being cleared, he picked a part of the forest devoid of deforestation to reside in.
I remember the preparations being made to build a monastery for Venerable Ñāṇavīra. I remember seeing him present while bricks were being piled at that spot for construction.
He was in very good health when he came here. He was very tall and handsome. He was around six and a half feet tall and very good looking. This other monk, called Ñāṇamoli, was also with him who was ordained in unison with the Venerable Ñāṇavīra.
Venerable Ñāṇavīra associated with Venerable Ñāṇamoli closely, and he visited Venerable Ñāṇavīra at his monastery frequently. At that time Venerable Ñāṇavīra was in excellent health, he had a huge appetite unlike contemporary monks. He could consume twice/thrice the amount of lunch monks currently eat.
The system those days was that every household took over the responsibility of providing breakfast once a month. An Elephant house soft drink was provided for refreshments in the evening and for every meal of the day, besides a flask of tea, box of matches and oil. We provide almost a jug full of porridge for breakfast, even lunch constitutes of a substantial meal like this.
The Venerable Ñāṇavīra was a very healthy youth those days, which was reflected in his appetite. I think he started falling ill about 11-12 years after residing here. This was not critical by the way; he was just mildly ill for 5/6 years and took medication for hemorrhoids.
The Venerable Ñāṇavīra was not a person who suffered from a lifelong illness. He was only sick for 3-4 years previously to his death.
In the end he has decided to commit suicide because the pain was beyond endurance and the medication didn’t cease the pain or reduce it. Another reason behind the decision to commit suicide was mentioned in some of the letters he wrote during the final phase of his life.
It said that he felt guilty and ungrateful as he wasn’t able to return the favor to the good people that donate his daily meals by helping them with meditation and other religious activities, as his long suffering from the illness made him incapable to do so. He has regarded this as an act of fraudulence and all these facts are clearly stated in the letters he wrote prior to the decision of taking his own life.
He had a special bond with the animals that lived in the forest. Animals like deer, the Sri Lankan jungle-fowls and monitor lizards could be seen around him when we went to his monastery to deliver food. The Venerable Ñāṇavīra accepted food including a share for such animals and squirrels too, and we have seen him feeding them.
As far as I know his daily routing included a bath in the evening, where he would get into water that was about 3-4 feet deep, and the bath would last for long time starting from around 4 in the evening.
He used a bokkuwa (which means a small bridge) near the monastery for this purpose and chose not to use the reservoir that was close by. There was something similar to a watering hole near the bridge which conveniently contained water even when the rainy season was over.
However when the watering hole was lacking of water and the Venerable Ñāṇavīra couldn’t use it, it would somehow rain enabling him to fulfill his needs. People believed that such a miracle was a result of his Venerable Ñāṇavīra’s holiness.
Definitely he was very noble and sacred. Though he didn’t preach each and everyone one of us and offer sermons, it was clear to most of us that he was very keen on meditation which helps spiritual development and practiced Buddhism devotedly and we had the utmost faith in him.