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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
(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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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