Inside story of Soma Thero's death
It is in this backdrop that Wijekoon moved to file a report on the priest's Russian visit, a week after his passing away on foreign soil. What is significant in the document dated December 18 is the detailing of the circumstances of Soma Thero's death and annexures dated December 6 by a doctor as well as the President, Buddhist Society in Moscow, Russia providing valuable insight not only Soma Thero's death but his mindset at the time. The annexures deal with a personal visit paid to Ven. Soma Thero by the doctor and the President, Buddhist Society well before his death, and which in fact was filed six days before his death thereby discounting any theory the document was prepared after the Thero's death. It is also revealed in the report the Thero was hospitalised for nearly seven weeks before the Sri Lankan embassy was informed of his condition by a caller from Australia. The Ambassador upon being informed had had regular contact with Soma Thero and the documents reveal the tenor of their discussions with regard to the Thero's health condition. It is also revealed in the reports that Soma Thero was not only fully satisfied with the treatment received but had insisted on continuing with it at the same hospital. According to his report, Ven. Gangodawila Soma Thero had arrived in Russia on October 11, on an invitation by the International Theological University, St. Petersburg (ITU), which sought to award a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Buddhism for his popular book Buddha Stupa. The Thero's work had been recommended by Dr. Shanthi P. Jayasekera, a Sri Lankan living in St. Petersburg. "Before he landed in Moscow, it appears that he has felt a severe chest pain. In spite of this chest pain, he has decided to take the next plane to St. Petersburg which is over 750 km away from Moscow," the Ambassador's report said. It further claims that on arrival at St. Petersburg airport, the reverend monk was received by Dr. Shanthi Jayasekera and when he complained of his chest pains, the priest has been reportedly taken directly to a hospital named City Hospital No. 2 where medical treatment was provided. Wijekoon's report further claims that the priest had been transferred to a sanatorium named Rapina, where he rested and took physiotherapy exercises before he was to undergo bypass surgery. However, the Ambassador adds that the embassy was kept in the dark about the monk's visit and it was only during the last week of November that one Kosala Jayasekera from Australia informed the Ambassador that the visiting monk was ill, was undergoing treatment and was under the care of Dr. Shanthi Jayasekera. When the Ambassador contacted the Thero, he has reportedly given a description of his illness, said he was much better, undergoing exercises and that he was satisfied with the doctors and others who were taking care of him. Accordingly, Ambassador Wijekoon has wished to fly the ailing priest to Moscow after consulting the Sri Lankan community there. "When I told him of our intention, he completely refused saying that he was fully satisfied with the treatment he was getting there." Subsequently, President, Buddhist Society in Moscow, Rupasiri Perera visited the priest on November 30 and upon return, reported that the priest was normal and happy to stay in St. Petersburg and that there was no need to bother bringing him to Moscow. He in fact wrote to Kosala Jayasinghe in Australia on December 6. This report was filed by the President of the Moscow Buddhist Society six days prior to Soma Thero's death. The Ambassador has also drawn attention to the fact that Ven. Soma Thero has been awarded the degree at a simple ceremony at the sanatorium itself, an issue that had given rise to much speculation
at the time as the photographed ceremony had only five persons present, furniture in disarray and no audience. It now appears from the Ambassador's report the ceremony took place at the sanitorium, which possibly explains the circumstances of the photo. The reports filed by the Embassy and doctor was later corroborated by the postmortem done in Colombo, that the thero had in fact died of a heart attack. The Sri Lankan Ambassador in Moscow has further stated that he has been in touch with the priest almost daily and that he failed to attend the degree awarding ceremony in St. Petersburg upon being invited by the late priest himself as he (Wijekoon) was scheduled to present credentials in Kazakhstan. The Ambassador confirms that the priest was not recommended surgery as he was a severe diabetic patient and that he had suffered a severe heart attack on December 12 and passed away around 8 a.m. The Sri Lankan mission chief has sent a further clarification regarding an incision that appeared on his neck area subsequently, attached to the report. Wijekoon in a fax massage has clarified the position with regard to the cut on the late monk's neck. "Having inquired further to my e-mail sent today, I wish to inform that the cut appearing in the neck region of the Thero is the cut made by the pathologist to avoid blue spots appearing on the face due to congestion venous blood. Through the cut, medical preparations were injected into carotid arteries for the above mentioned purpose." However, upon the Ambassador's initiation, Dr. K.A. Karunanayake (embassy panel doctor) along with Rupasiri Perera had visited the Thero in St. Petersburg on being informed in November to ascertain his condition and to collect some money to foot the bill of his operation. Members present at a meeting of the Buddhist Society in Moscow have promptly agreed to contribute nearly US$ 9,000. Ambassador U.B. Wijekoon has attached two reports by Dr. Karunanayake and Perera filed on December 6 (six days prior to his demise) to his own report faxed to Colombo, which offers the opinion that Ven. Thero's was a natural death caused by a severe heart attack. Supporting the Ambassador's claim that the priest died of natural causes, Dr. Karunanayake in his report dated December 6 states: "Rev. Soma Thero has been suffering from diabetes mellitus type 2 for the last 10 years. Before landing here in Moscow, he felt chest pains. With those pains, he managed to fly further to St. Petersburg spending another three hours and then only an ambulance was called and he was rushed to the hospital." More pertinently, the letter written six days before the venerable monk's death ends with Dr. Karunanayake adding, "According to Soma Thero, he is not sure in this condition whether he can fly or not because the last time he got the chest pains while in the air. I agree with him on this point, as diabetic patients may feel chest pains whenever they get into conditions of low oxygen levels." To foot the bill of the surgery, Rupasiri Perera of the Buddhist Society in Moscow adds that Roubles 167,773 were handed over to Dr. Shanthi Jayasekera in the presence of Soma Thero as there was no other person to hand over the money to. Pertinently, Perera's letter adds that he managed a little dhamma discussion with the priest on the morning of December 6 at the hospital, but felt that he had some worries. "He does not worry about his health but worries about the attitude of others to his illness. He gets so many calls from different countries, mainly Sri Lanka and Australia, and 99% of them make him worry because these people do not know the situation here and they have not got the right information," said Perera in his letter to Jayasinghe in Australia, obviously communicating Soma Thero's message. Going by the comments of the Buddhist Society president made on December 6, six days prior to the Thero's death, it appears, Soma Thero himself was concerned "wrong information" was spread on his illness by interested parties, which he himself has cautioned against and wanted stopped.