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Myanmar monks and Tibetan Lama showdown

In the backdrop of violent confrontations between Buddhist monks (bhikkhus) and the Myanmar Government, and also more recently in Lahasa, where Tibetan Lamas violently clashed with Chinese authorities, the writer has had many enquiries as to whether the behaviour of these devout servants of Buddha, had transgressed their vinaya (discipli­nary) rules of conduct.

As a samanera (novice) bhikkhu, when one shaves his head of hair, dons a saffron robe and takes possession of an alms bowl, and also later when at the age of 20, he receives higher ordina­tion (upasampada) after learning the ancient Pali scriptures, he is required to consciously repeat three times, before his preceptor and other senior members of the Maha Sangha Order, the words (in Pali):

“Sabbe dukka nissarana nibbana
sachchi karanathaya”
(In compassion for me, Lord let me be ordained as a bhikkhu, to enable me achieve destruction of all suffering, and finally achieve the bliss of nibbana)

By doing so, a bhikkhu, voluntarily renounces all worldly or earthly pleasures and is required to live away from the civil society. He is required to lead a spiritual life in seclusion, either in the forests or in an aranya surrounded by nature’s vegetation, meditating in numerous ways on aspects of the profound Buddha dharma, such as annichya, anatta or dukkha.

He will sustain himself on dana offered by the laity and if it is not forthcoming, then walk on pindapatha. His aspirations, broadly, are to be serene or of collected mind, unselfish as a Bodhisattva would be, kind and guide humanity to lead good normal lives.

Grameeya bhikkhus live in temples close to human settlements administering to the spiritual and social welfare of the community. The vanawasi bhikkhus, who reside in the jungle aranyas lead a more secluded life and are close to nature. They meditate most of the time and often live in caves, tending for themselves.

The last category is the dhutanga bhikkus who usually go out on pindapatha, wear rag type worn-out robes and move from place to place and rest for the night in cemeteries, in the open air or in forests under large trees.

An ancient text says a bhikkhu is one;
“In whom there is neither fraud nor conceit
Who is without greed, unselfish and desire-less
Who has dispelled anger and violence,
He is a Brahamin, He is a recluse, He is a bhikkhu.
With mindfulness of the body extinguished,
Controlled over contact’s sixfold base,
A bhikkhu who is always concentrated
Can know nibbana for himself...”

Now getting back to the paragraph referring to the conduct of some bhikkhus of Myanmar and Lamas of Tibet, in recent times – their main concern is to lead a simple, righteous, religious life as shown to them by the teachings of Great Master Sakyamuni Gauthama Buddha. The concept of human rights and their application appear not to have validity in several countries like China, which has a strong socialist base.

For the sake of political power, rulers do have their own agenda that can never be changed by a minority of spiritually minded people. Unfortunately, the situation in Tibet for the last 49 years is that the Chinese authority, which has become stronger militarywise, does not want a dialogue with Dalai Lama, the Spiritual Head who is now in exile.

His Holiness Dalai Lama, the Head of all Tibetans, who is in exile has repeat­edly told the world that he does not want his homeland to be an independent sovereign state, but be an autonomous state preserving their indigenous Mahayana Buddhism and unique cul­ture but be under the watchful ‘god father eye’ of China.

He does not advocate or support violence. He looks forward to a middle path solution to the historic problem of Chinese occupation of Tibet. Tibet has no military might: The hegemony of China in East Asia well known. Economically, she is a strong power to reckon with as well.

In Myanmar too the Chinese political and economic influence is well known with the military junta. The university student population backed the Sangha in the street at the recent confrontation with the military junta.

It has not benefited the Sangha who live in large monasteries. Whilst the junta has been in power for more than two decades, it has in fact curbed the possible unbridled flood of American and Western culture coming into the country. In that scenario, ancient Buddhist values and culture still appear to be unaffected.

This is what the writer noticed on two visits to this large country. In that background, the Sangha should continue to lead simple lives that they have enjoyed, and not forget their personal commitment as Buddha putras, having nirvana as their goal.
Upali Salgado


Religion and philosophy – path to inner peace

The country is finding itself divided according to ethno-religious politics where piety, unity and traditional values are hijacked by those narrow and self-centred to advance their political agendas.

However, it is a tribute to the goodness and inner strength of our society that there remains within our midst groups of well-meaning people who shun these parochial and divisive notions. They refuse to be seduced by mythical tales insidiously crafted by pseudo-nationalists and the power-hungry calculated to divide the society.

Inspired by the teachings of great thinkers and ancient philosophers, these good men and women believe there is much space for unity among our diverse communities. They believe time will come soon when those ideologies that preached hatred and division resulting in harmful conflict will come to an end.

No divisive politics is involved in the proceedings of both entities. There is no question of ‘the other’ and both are inclusive gatherings centred on those features of the goodness in man. The two groupings I have in mind attract those usually above the age of 60 – clear-thinking, educated men and women – holders of positions of responsibility in their respective professions. Both groups, though they function independently of each other, share noble thoughts in the propagation of universal kindness and the search for peaceful ways of co-existence.

The servants of the Buddha meet for about an hour on Saturday evenings in the serene surroundings of a Buddhist temple in Bambalapitiya – reflecting on the causes of complexities of life; seeking answers to those deep questions that cause unhappiness and sorrow; pain and suffering and many other concerns that baffled man everywhere. They meet under the inspiring teachings of that Prince of Peace - Gautama Buddha.

The society has a history going back over 85 years. Meetings are held in an environment of calm and openness. Those in attendance are dressed neatly and in simple white, sans ostentation. Proceedings begin with a brief prayer. Meditation during – when necessary – and after the proceedings, is part of the routine.

Learned speakers – lay and cleric, make speeches on topics drawn from different disciplines in society. The audience is encouraged to seek clarification from the speaker of the day in a discourse that is polite, dignified and courteous. This grouping is headed by a former civil servant well-versed in Buddhism, who has spent a good part of his retired life in the propagation of Buddhism - ably assisted by a dedicated team of men and women hailing from various disciplines.

Yet another group of men and women of philosophic inclination is the Krishnamurthy Centre – dedicated to the works and memory of that great Indian philosopher of our times – Jittu Krishnamurthy – who dedicated his life enquiring also into the causes of unhappiness and sorrow. Krishnamurthy, the free thinker, coming from a Brahminic religious background is often misunderstood as a nihilist.

Perhaps observations such as ‘Man invented God’ fortified this perception. Krishnamurthy believed in the supremacy of the human mind and was of the view that man has utilised only a small part of his limitless mind so far. His talks centre on, among many others, the relationship between man and society. Invariably, he faults desire and pleasure as the cause of sorrow. The difference here is the proceedings are recorded speeches and audio-visuals of the late thinker.

There is no discussion by the audience before, during or after the talks. This society meets on the four Sundays of the month – once in Nugegoda, the Colombo Public Library and twice at their Headquarters at Beddegana. Participation is generally by about 25 – all familiar with the work and philosophy of the late Indian thinker. This group is founded by a distinguished educator (now no more) and now lead by a well-known academic, who counts on the assistance of several retired men and women dedicated to the cause.

At a time when there is a powerful interest at work, in making a profitable business of keeping the major communities in the country divided on the basis of the negatives of history, both the servants of Buddha and the Krishnamurthy Centre are examples that there are many people amongst us influenced by humanism and deep philosophical leanings. They find solace in seeking peace within – causing no harm either real or in thought to those around them professing other faiths.

If there is one factor that is common to both groups it is that both useful bodies are short of resources to continue their exemplary service. If the corporate sector is looking forward to assisting useful organisations dedicated to peace and the teaching of unity between communities, these two are worthy of support. The voluntary contributions made by the small membership are totally inadequate. However, what is required to help them is not very much either.
A. Kandappah


Rabies and ‘No kill’ policy

Animal lovers organisations trade on the sentiments of Buddhists. The Buddha’s teachings are made to stand on its head, whilst men die of rabies, others spend thousands of rupees on anti -rabies injections, when bitten. Organisations like ‘Embark’ and ‘Sathva Mithra’ treat the problem lightly, by saying that, stray dogs left to themselves, will not harm humans.

Newspapers have reported that in 2007, 56 people died of dog bites, 10 in the first two months of the current year. Despite it, the rampant pressure of dog lover societies, has given way to a ‘No kill’ policy with a Governmental nod. The dog numbers exceed 3 million in a land of 20 million humans. A preposterous ratio! Of the 3 million, approximately 2.75 are strays, though many of them are tolerated in the shade of homes, and roam the streets.

In 2007, the Health Ministry is supposed to have spent Rs. 500 million to treat bitten patients. 17000 injections were used in 2006, the cost of which may have been about 23.5 million. In 2008. the Budget provided 100 million to eradicate rabies. Additionally. the State spends about 10 million, on sterilisation programmes at provincial level.

The moot point is if the country could afford, the luxury of permitting strays, to roam the streets. In British days, all dogs were licensed bringing in money, to the Administration. Household pets too, had to be licensed. Even when on a tether, a dog had to carry a licence, or face the risk of seizure, and the gas chamber. A bite or even a lick, could pose a danger to humans. Sterilisation may keep down dog numbers, but, bites may not decrease. Spending 100 million on a ‘No kill’ policy, is flippant waste of money, that could be directed to the economic upliftment of the country. To have the right to live, any dog, should be licensed, as the State has to bear a large slice of the cost of sterilisation, vaccination and other medication.
Denzil Perera



Late A. K. Padumasena

It was a real shock to hear the sudden demise of Anguru Kankanange PADUMASENA on the 2nd of February after a brief illness, I have closely associated him from 1989, nearly two decades, initially as colleagues at Bank of Ceylon and then as ex bankers. Although we had been in service from the sixties, opportunity arose for both of us to meet when we were assigned to the Western Provincial Office which was the first of it’s kind to be established. The office was housed at the York Street building in conforming to the Government’s new concept of decentralising the country’s administration.

Late Padumasena was a native of Matara, who hailed from a very respectable family. He had his primary education in Matara and his higher studies in Colombo.. First, he opted for a career in teaching and was attached to the tutorial staff of Wesley College for a few years before joining Bank of Ceylon, in the year 1963 as a Junior Clerk. Prior to being promoted to the grade of Officer he had served in several departments and branches of Bank of Ceylon and he once recollected that his period at the Haputale branch, was the most memorable period. He got married late in life, as he was more interested in looking after his mother (although there were several brothers and sisters in his family). One condition he laid for the intended spouse was that she should be agreeable to look after his mother. His wife Soma was born in Malaysia and still she has family links with relatives there and they have since made several visits to Malaysia for important functions such as weddings etc

Late Padumasena was well known as ‘Padume’to his colleagues and friends. He became a very popular officer in the Bank during his tenure of service as the Manager of Regent Street branch, which more or less catered exclusively to the employees of the General Hospital. He knew almost every member of the hospital staff from the Medical Superintendent to the attendant. He was assigned to this branch before channel consultations of specialist doctors became popular. He has helped many Bank employees, their relatives and friends in numerous ways through his contacts with hospital authorities. He was a sought after person for the needy patients of all employees attached to the large network of branches scattered throughout the island.

‘Padume’ was a quiet and unassuming soft-spoken person, who possessed an exemplary character and performed his duties impartially and to perfection. He was a very punctual employee. His pragmatic approach and his pleasing disposition towards his subordinates were some of his outstanding attributes. The clients had free and easy access to him and he was a flexible person and a person who listened carefully to the requirements of the bank’s constituents. He abided by the rules and guidelines given to him as Manager to precision. He never exceeded his delegated authority. Whenever he exceeded his powers, he always made it a point to bring it to the notice of his superiors. He possessed public relations in abundance. Above all, he was a real gentleman .He was simply a man of virtue. After a few years at Regent Street branch he was appointed as the Manager of the Milagiriya branch of Bank of Ceylon. There too, he worked tirelessly for the needs of the clients as well of the institution. He retired from the Bank’s service in December 1994 upon reaching his 60th birthday having served an unblemished career, which spanned for over three decades.

‘Padume’ had a vast circle of friends both in the bank and outside. After his retirement and while I was still in service, we were in close touch having had a close rapport and understanding. We attended weddings, funerals and other functions together. I was a close family friend of his and quite often we used to visit his club BRC for a small drink and a chat. He never missed funerals of his relatives and friends in Matara .He always made it a point to attend every funeral. About three months back he and I attended a lunch patronised by about 40 ex pensioners. He afforded me with this opportunity by inviting me where I benefitted because I met several senior colleagues. He was a very devoted husband and a faithful father to his only daughter Sweeni, a qualified Accountant. After his retirement he was very keen on giving his daughter in marriage. When she had confessed to him that she was having an affair he wanted me to go and meet his intended son-in –law, a Quality Control Manager of a reputed garment factory with his brother and another ex banker. As a father he was he was keen to see his daughter’s fiancé. He was very happy after the meeting and the marriage took place without much delay and at the time of his demise he had a two year old granddaughter. They lived together in harmony at his residence at Flower Lane. Pepipilyana..
For his wife, the only daughter, son-in-law, family members and friends,his sudden demise was indeed an irreparable loss.
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana.
Sunil Thenabadu


W.P. Wickremasinghe

W.P. Wickremasinghe, retired executive officer of the National Building Materials Corporation passed away recently and his funeral took place at the Kottawa Public Cemetery, before a large gathering. He was a resident of Weera Mawatha, Depanama, Pannipitiya and his home town was Weligama.

Wickremasinghe was a religious person and always lent a helping hand to the Buddhist temples in the area. At the same time he was social worker in the area.

He served as the auditor of the Sinhala Subasadaka Sangamaya for a long time. His children were educated well and they are serving as doctors. I came to know him long ago as he was a visitor to his brother’s daughter’s home, frequently which is close to my house.

Now Wickramesinghe is no longer in this world. He has gone to another world, but we never expected his sudden death. May he attain the supreme bless of Nibbana.
– M. G. Asoka Karunarathne







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