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Letters


Is Buddhism under threat?

That Buddhism goes ‘against the stream’ of wrong understanding (miccha ditthi) prevalent in the world is evidenced by the frenzied attempt of all and sundry to destroy it or, if that is impossible, to adulterate and distort it beyond recognition. Apart from the normal conversion tactics, there is the more diabolical trick of recruiting hirelings, posing as Buddhists to twist its true meaning. Not surprisingly, those habitually donning the ‘sil redda’ to go and worship what preaches the opposite of the Buddha-word, rally round these pretenders, too.

Only one Buddha arises in a world system. Now men come crashing through the time barrier whooping they are ‘Buddha Metteyya’ no less – born before time! The truth will be out. An ardent fan, who arranged to sow anti-Buddhism seeds abroad, came unannounced to south Sri Lanka one day to find his ‘saviour’ sprawled on the ground dead drunk. Professionals, like doctors and lawyers, gravitate towards these cliques, as their teaching smacks of modernity and especially because no discipline is required of the adherents.

Their preachers call themselves ‘Sovan’ which is the first step of the four stages of sainthood. They do not know that a Sovan is distinguished by his total, unalterable faith (saddha) in the Buddha, Dhamma an Ariya Sangha, resulting from his first glimpse of Nibbana. Our pseudo-sovans like nothing better than to cock a snook at the Triple Gem! They say, “Do not go for refuge to the Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha, but to the “Buddha in You”. This being the world’s ever-present perennial philosophy ‘Thou art That’ ‘God is You’ etc., which Buddhism rejects, to go beyond. A rebirth scares them out of their wits, they say, “Hell is only in the mind”. When Kitty and Rover are pointed out as manifestations of the tirachanayoni woeful realm in Buddhism, they shudder in horror and turn away, muttering, “Darwin’s evolutionary thing”! They reject the five precepts – not to kill, steal, have unlawful sex, lie, imbibe intoxicants. But after Soma Thera’s loud insistence of basics, they dare not deny them. A Bodhi pooja is a recollection of the Buddha’s unique qualities and what better spot for this than near the Bodhi tree, where the Bodhisatta awakened to Buddhahood? If done correctly, it has been proved to overpower bad influences. Our fake ‘sovans’ sneer at the practice as “Tree Worship”

Giving (dana) is part of Buddhism. They dismiss it with, “If giving reduces grasping, throw your offering into the garbage pit without looking for recipients.” Loving-kindness, which is the bedrock of Buddhism, is viewed by them so fearfully, that recitation of the Karania Meta Sutta is prohibited. They are panic-stricken that, bearing the Buddha’s classic call of compassion, evil spirits will invade the house! It is way over their heads that the loving kindness/compassion taught in Buddhism is meant to tame, subdue and transform beings, including the environment. The Buddha says if anybody tries to harm his disciple practicing loving-kindness, it will be like one grasping a double-edged knife, which will only cut and wound that person. These “sovans” sprain at debunking the teaching by saying, “they know their dhamma,” leaving the Buddha out of it. Anytime anybody leaves the Buddha out, he is barking up the wrong tree! Psychiatrists say their mental wards have a number of patients, calling themselves “sovan”, and even “Awkaa Buddha” keeping one arm raised as proof.

It has come to such a pass, that manufacturers sell packets of their produce with a note boasting that the owner is “sovan” and demanding why flowers are wasted on the Buddha’s shrine, when they can be used to make soap! The loving gratitude expressed in the pure offering, coupled with the profound meditation on impermanence of the flower, together with the body and mind of the one who offers is beyond their understanding.
A peek into their lifestyles, which their acquaintances are eager to expose – possibly on account of their arrogance – reveals they are out of sight of the Buddha’s doctrine of abstaining from evil, doing all good and purifying the mind.

What is astonishing is how Buddhists, confronting these attacks against their religion, sometimes on TV prime time remain silent! These fake “sovans” should be prohibited from using Buddhist terminology, like, “Buddha”, “Arahant” “sovan”, “Rebirth”, “Kamma”, etc., all of which they vilify with their bizarre interpretation. They should be asked to promote their own myth in their own word, without desperately trying to degrade Buddhism.

What they are after is a quickie Nirvana, attainable in their existing state of desire, hate and delusion. Rejecting soul, they hang on grimly to mind, ignoring that mind is part of the composite realm and however high they reach they can plummet down to the lowest, as revealed by the Buddha, who pointed to buffaloes and other life forms, as having crashed down, after expiry of their good Damma in the higher formless realms or sakvithi raja status. No wonder they fear and reject rebirth!

They do not acknowledge the four noble truths – the foundation of Buddhism, revealed in the Buddha’s first sermon. Suffice it to say, their “sovan” claim is totally denied by the Buddha’s statement that outside of his Noble Eighfold Path, comprising, right understanding, right mindedness, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mind business and right concentration there is no, repeat no, sovan, sakadagami, anagami or arahat – that is, no salvation from suffering.
Prema Ranawaka-Das
Moratuwa

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No oil for the poor man’s hearth

For sometime now kerosene oil, which was earlier freely available and sold with no restrictions by petrol sheds, to the public, for their domestic requirements, hasn’t been available.
It is the poor man and middle-classes who use kerosene oil for domestic purposes, in areas where there is no electricity. Due to this school children in these areas are unable to study during night or in the early hours of the morning.

On inquiry from the petrol shed at Maharagama near the bo-tree junction close to the bus stand, I was made to understand by the Manager that they are not selling kerosene oil as hitherto done and we have to go all the way to Moraketiya, Delkanda or Nugegoda (near St. John’s)

On inquiry from a three-wheel driver I was informed that he charges Rs. 200 for the hire. You cannot waste time to travel by bus. Can we spend so much money for the journey or waste our precious time. Even industrialists require kerosene oil especially in case of electricity failure. Kerosene oil was freely available at petrol sheds, grocers and also from bullock-drawn carts and was sold at your door-step sometime back.
This appeal is to the minister concerned to make this commodity available to the public as before, at all petrol sheds.
V. K. B. Ramanayake
Maharagama

****

An open letter to the Minister of Public Administration

In response to your invitation to submit to you the grievances of the Government pensioners, may I address this open letter to you on behalf of a category of senior pensioners who retired prior to 01.01.1997.
You have openly declared that you are still a member of the UNP and we have no doubt that you still endorse the stand taken by the UNP in regard to the pensioners during the last Presidential Election campaign. The essence of that election promise goes as follows:

“Revising the pension of those public servants who retired prior to 01.01.1997, adjusting their pensions corresponding to the salary scales of public servants operative as at 01.01.2004 and to further revise the pensions with every subsequent salary revisions in the public sector.”
Since you are still a member of the UNP according to your public utterances, this is a very good opportunity to translate at least one election promise of your party into action.

It shouldn’t be difficult at all to find the necessary funds for this purpose in view of the fact that the Government could find the money to implement the recent unanimous decision of the Parliamentarians to have their salaries almost doubled with retrospective effect, with arrears and the Government decision to maintain a giant size Cabinet.
A large number of pensioners who retired prior to 01.01.1997 are among the dead. Even those who survive are in the age group 70-90. Most of them are ailing and debilitated and find it extremely difficult to meet even their medical bills.

We have no doubt, that you will have the courage to persuade your Cabinet colleagues to grant relief to a deserving section of senior citizens who have given of their best during their hey day.
A Senior Pensioner who retired prior to 01.01.1997

****

Pity the remand prisoner

There are a large number of remand prisoners held in custody, who should not be in remand. They are not hardcore criminals but ordinary citizens who have been accused, justly or unjustly, of some offence. The majority of the offences alleged to have been committed are bail-able. Then what is the reason for such a large population of remand prisoners? One reason is that Police unfairly object to bail even if the offence is bailable.

The Magistrates remand suspects for periods of time which are extended every two weeks. Some of these orders are not fair and violate the rights of the suspects.
The principles of law which govern the granting of bail are;

a) The granting of bail should be the rule and only in exceptional cases should the suspects be kept in remand. Section 2 of the Bail Act 1997 states that “Subject to the exceptions as hereinafter provided for in this Act, the guiding principle in the implementation of the provisions of this Act shall be, that the grant of bail shall be regarded as the rule, and the refusal to grant bail as the exception.” There are Supreme Court decisions to this effect. The policy of the law is not to punish a person before he is found guilty, but unfortunately this policy is not adhered to by either the Police or the Magistrate.

b) Sometimes suspects are granted bail in large sums of money which the accused cannot afford. Very often Magistrates want a surety from the area of the suspect’s residence. That is to say if the suspect is from Hambantota and he is charged in Kandy, he has to bring a surety from Hambantota. Is it fair to impose such a requirement? It must also be remembered that a remand prisoner, unlike a convicted prisoner, cannot be taught a trade under the prison rules. He is just kept in custody and fed by the State. It costs about Rs.300/= a day to maintain a prisoner. Can the State afford to keep all these persons in remand? They are seemingly respectable people who have unfortunately got trapped in our slow legal system.

Though there is provision for the release of remand prisoners under the “Release of Remand Prisoners Act No.8 of 1991”, this law is not properly implemented.

It should also be observed the impact on the family when the breadwinner is kept in remand. The children cannot go to school as other children torment them with remarks that their father is in remand. These are all forgotten by the authorities when they make orders to remand suspects. The law also stipulates that the quantum of bail should be reasonable which should be within the means of the suspect. If the suspect absconds, he could be arrested on a warrant. Is the criminal justice system fair by these unfortunate people?

If one complains to the J.S.C. about the Magistrate, the letter is referred to the Magistrate who will thereafter be harsh on both the suspect and his lawyer. Even if one appeals to the High Court, it takes time for bail to be ordered. Besides, can an average litigant afford this expense? Can anything be done to change the system and prevent the law’s delays and the consequent hardship, not only to the suspect but their families?

Remand Prisons are the worst places that one can send ordinary citizens who are not criminals. They are overcrowded by 200%. Some of the suspects are sexually abused by other prisoners and very often prosecuting officers try to take advantage of the wife of the remandee. Some of the remand prisoners are kept in custody for very minor offences, as they cannot afford to give the bail. At least these cases should be given priority and disposed of. These prisoners when ultimately released have learnt a few things from hardcore prisoners and feel bitter against the whole system. Instead of trying to rehabilitate persons, we make them hardcore criminals. A Commission should be appointed to look into the prison system and the reasons for a large remand population. Pity the Remand Prisoner. No one seems to care as they cannot vote nor do they have any political clout.
Anton Fernando

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