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Letters


 

                                                                                      Appreciations                                                                                    

For the corrupt Lasantha was a pest

Lasantha Wickremetunga, the late Editor - In - Chief of The Sunday Leader is no more with us.
He was brutally assassinated last Thursday January 8, by those who never knew him. The killers may not have even read what he wrote.

They were hired simply to extricate Lasantha from this world. One thing is sure. The killers are still living among us. I presume they may have mourned the death of Lasantha after learning that Lasantha also fought against the powers that be, on their behalf.
I am sure if Lasantha was living even with injuries, he might have forgiven the killers and perhaps may have confronted those who hired them to kill him unswervingly.

This reminds me of the life of Judas Iscariot who agreed to betray Jesus by handing him over to the Chief Priests to be murdered.
The reward Judas was given by the Chief Priests for betraying Jesus was 30 pieces of silver.
However, the history reveals that Judas repented his betrayal and returned the money to the Chief Priests and later committed suicide by hanging himself; because he felt guilty.
The significance of Judas’ story, is that he realised that what he did was wrong and also that was on the insistence of somebody else.

The lesson learnt from this story therefore, is that even though Judas committed a sin, he repented and inflicted upon himself a huge penalty by killing himself.

That is the punishment he gave himself. But what about the penalty the world has given to him? The answer is clear. No son born in this world has ever been named Judas. This is the everlasting punishment the world has given Judas.
But what is the punishment given to those who killed Lasantha?

Where have Lasantha’s killers gone? Do they have similar conscience of Judas? How many Judases are hired by those keen to eliminate people who fight for true democracy and freedom in our own island nation? The killers, I am confident, are well protected by those who wanted Lasantha killed. The entire country knows they will go scot-free soon.
They are fed, paid and further trained to kill some more journalists and other fighters for true democracy.

Lasantha shed his blood for the sake of the country. To me, he was and will remain a true Sinhalese and a Sri Lankan who always wanted to share half of his meal with his Tamil or Muslim brothers and sisters, which the majority of the Sri Lankans are not quite used to.

To many who were corrupt, Lasantha was a pest. True. He was haunting them, day and night. He exposed them to the public. Lasantha’s belief was that if an individual was holding a public office then he/she was answerable to the public.
Therefore, he collided with such dishonest public officials head on with courage and vigour. Nobody could dare stop him, notwithstanding several attempts being made by various governments and businessmen.

And finally, the only way to silence him was to execute him. And that, whoever who did it, did it so, professionally. No doubt.
Now the onus is on the government to bring the culprits to book, if the government is keen to absolve itself from the allegation widely levelled by all those who have condemned the killing.

Lasantha took on the high and mighty leaving the small man out. He spoke for the voiceless. During the height of the JVP insurrections, he expressed grave concern for the victims. He was always articulating the minority views. He was all out for a negotiated settlement to the ethnic crisis and not war. He advocated that state terrorism should not be the answer to the LTTE terrorism in the country. And finally he paid the price for advocating all these virtues.

Lasantha was a dear friend to everybody. I have known him personally since 1994.
My first encounter with him was in February 1994, when he met me privately with an invitation to work at The Sunday Leader. I was then working for The Island.

Having invited me to join his team he told me the option was mine and that I could leave if I did not find it interesting. He went on to say even if I decide to leave the new newspaper after a brief period, still I could one day be proud of the fact that I was one of the pioneer members of The Sunday Leader.

Yes, I am today proud that I was one of the pioneer members of The Sunday Leader under Lasantha whom I called Lasi all the time and worked with him for eleven years.
My friendship with Lasi was cordial and pleasant. It is he who taught me the art of interviewing different personalities and created a regular column for me.
He was open and was never tired of listening to the woes of others. He was one of the most professional and fearless editors the country has ever produced.

Journalists working under him were backed by him at all times. He expected everyone working under him to be fearless and accurate in reporting. He guided journalists when they showed an interest to work hard.
But he is no more. Lasi cannot be replaced. We are forced to live with good memories of him.

I remember very vividly one of Lasi’s maxims in life. He used to say that ‘a coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man dies but once.’ How true it was when eight men were assigned to kill one brave and fearless man.
It is clearly understood that those who came to kill Lasi were cowards and feared him; because they were armed when Lasi was unarmed. Their faces were enclosed when Lasi’s face was not.

He gave himself fearlessly into the hands of his own executioners who shot him and tore his flesh apart.
Lasi was a believer in Christ and while he believed that the wages of sin were death, he also believed that he was called upon to forgive those who did without knowing what they did. I am confident his soul will soon occupy one of the rooms in the many mansions created to all the true believers of God.

As I pay tribute to Lasi, who was one of the witnesses at my wedding, I pray that his soul may rest in peace. May the perpetual light be shed upon him. Good bye my brother!
Wilson Gnanadass

****

                                                                    Deshabandu Alec Robertson (1928-2002)                                                        

Dedicated life to disseminate Buddhism

It is with profound appreciation that I express my sincere thoughts of Mr.Alec Robertson, whom I knew for nearly twenty five years. My Association with him was inspiring, challenging and a source of much spiritual and intellectual satisfaction. The more I recollect him, the more questions I am led to ask about Buddhism. The more I understand it, the more I think of his exquisite personality that went in to making him unique and us different. What better way to spend one’s life than being a professional, investigating the intricacies of Buddhism, which is a broad dynamic field with shifting emphasis ans new discoveries.

I have relied on his expertise. He has infused me with enthusiasm, for some of the individual areas of initials; shared new ideas, corrected faulty ones. I owe a debt of gratitude for what I learnt from him, when a thousand questions and qualifications crowded my mind. The remarkable comments made by him will have an everlasting effect on me.

His extempore lectures numbering thousand here and abroad were heralded widely for their spiritual and worldly wisdom. He successfully maintained the live lecture format and his purpose was to stimulate and provide thought, while teaching a view point that was very helpful. His preachings advanced the knowledge of Buddhism by placing it in the broader context of Sri Lanka culture, drawing on texts, archaeological evidence and inscriptions. His lectures generated a wide range of practical empowerment applications promoting emotional stability, accelerating learning, breaking unwanted habits, overcoming fear, building self-esteem. He was a consummate narrator to children. He used no spell binding tricks of oratory, but just talked to the audience, in general conversational tones, the smile coming and going on the mobile expressive face. His lecture schedule was epic. He was also capable of addressing general audiences with simplicity and direction.

In the last century it was Mr. Alec Robertson, who most explicitly dedicated his whole life to the dissemination of Buddhism. He was a talented broadcaster, authentic journalist, remarkable writer, astounding narrator. He beautifully elucidated the meaning of the path to enlightenment through his direct spiritual advice and writings. This direct and lucid style made it one of the most accessible introductions to Buddhism. His books provided inspiring and valuable insights. His writings convey a picture of his personal life, his wide ranging knowledge and his thought on issues of global concern on Buddhism. Mr. Robertson lucidly expounded all the suttas and even Abhidhamna, making them easy to understand. His deep knowledge and wisdom on Buddhism is well known nationally and internationally. Long revered as a spiritual force he appealed people to look within, to know the essential four truths, the essence of Buddhism. He has shown how the Buddhist philosophy of impermanence, suffering and egolessness blends with one’s life with remarkable clarity. He looked at Buddhism through a newer way of thinking. His life was a consuming quest for knowledge and wisdom. He encompassed a vast range of perspectives of Buddhism. His writings produce a broad portrait of this remarkable person. At their best his articles to various journals, magazines and newspapers throb with unforgettable details that leave the reader with a vivid sense of various aspects of Buddhism. His articles were truly amazing in their efficiency and originality.

Mr. Robertson must rank as one of the finest broadcasters in English on Buddhism in Sri Lanka to date. This article is inadequate to an introduction of the extraordinary person of many talents and a laudable self-imposed mission. His exemplary life of indescribable richness, which in all its many facets will inspire us to be better human beings. His broadcastings on the four noble truths on kamma of the futility of desires, on reprehensibility of the belief in the soul, on Nibbana, rebirth, death, paticca samuppada enchanted the public. In his broadcasting lectures one finds in him scholarly treatment of Buddhism. He threw his energy to disseminate his profound knowledge and wisdom in Buddhism with a laird of emotional fluency and serenity.

The triumphant version of his life tends to portray him as impressive to defeats and humiliation. He was cool and polite, there was steel too. He was firm, assertive and confident. His iron-will, profound wisdom, selfless service, purity, his magnetic personality, exemplary methods to propagate the teaching of the Buddha are commendable. He displayed intellectual integrity, moral earnestness and spiritual insight. He was a true Buddhist, one who had relationships, friendships, marriage, family and an eminent life.

Dr. Mrs. Tilokasundari Kariyawasam

****

Rare Buddhist scholar

The seventh death anniversary of Deshabandu Alec Robertson falls on the 31st of December, 2008. His passing away was widely lamented by all Sri Lankans as well as his numerous foreign friends and acquaintances who had at some time or other benefited from his guidance, friendship and exemplary life, and more than anything else from his deep understanding and propagation of the Buddha Dhamma. Sri Lanka has no dearth of Buddhist scholars, among both the Sangaha and the lay persons but not many would claim to have all those and many other attributes found in extraordinary abundance in Mr. Robertson. The dilemma among many Buddhist scholars is that they are unable or do not make a serous effort, to live up to the expectations of those who listen to them with rapt attention. They are unable to balance their obsessions with the precepts with even a minimum of practice. How many of us, while claiming to be Buddhists, and even highly critical of others for their shortcomings, pay very scant attention to the most basic five precepts, not to speak of ceaseless pursuit of higher states of spiritual achievement.

My own association with Mr. Robertson at a personal level is very short and would not go beyond his last few years. On the other hand, as a long standing Buddhist activity, I have followed his politic writings and the radio broadcasts. His son Prasantha happened to be a close friend of our eldest son and it was through this fortuitous circumstance I was able to establish some personal association with Prasantha’s father. On my few visits to his home I observed the very simple and unostentatious life of the Robertson family. In my very young days. I had aspired to a life of few worldly possessions, sans houses and property seeing the Robertson family I felt some envy, in having both by choice and circumstances changed my life, almost irrevocably. In Mr. Robertson I saw the highest epitome of a life of few worldly attachments nevertheless living a life of contentment, and devoid of lobha, dosha and moha.

Looking back on Mr. Robertson life, one could assume that he has been fortunate in many ways, in his long sojourn as a servant of the Buddha and the Dhamma. His father, a born Christian, was working in Dodanduwa in fairly close proximity to the Dodanduwa Island Herritage, which was the reclusive abode of Gnanatiloka and Gnanaponika Maha Theros. They were, by birth, of German origin. Young Alec had accompanied his father on his occasional visits to the Hermitage, and these encounters had left an indelible impression on the son, perhaps more than in his farther. With that initiation to the Dhamma, while living and working in Colombo, young Alec has continued to seek guidance of other maha theras, such as Pelene Vajiragnana, Narada, Piyadassi Kassyapa and Soma, all from the Vajirarama, in Bambalapitiya.

Alec was too young to have known and interacted with Anagarika Dharmapala (1864-1933), but his adult life seems to suggest that at a later and more mature age, Anagarika may have stirred his feeling and even shaped his mission in raising the level of understanding and practice of the Dhamma by his fellow men and women. Another person who may have drawn Alec into the airborne dhamma discourse was late Prof. Gunapala Malalasekera, the doyen of Pali and Buddhist scholarship, and Buddhist activist at the time.

Like Anagarika, Alec also had a remarkable ability to expand, through his own efforts, his knowledge of the Dhamma through the mastery of Pali and a deep understanding of the three pitakas. His remarkable memory was his other forte and which adorned him as a shining armour in his many engaging discussions on the Dhamma, often in the company of others, of even greater eminence and erudition.

Practically all who have penned their appreciations of Alec and assessed his many contributions in the service of the Dhamma have been most emphatic on his dexterity in responding to probing questions and clarifications on the Dhamma and the life of the Buddha. What most remarkable about Alec was his unhesitating responses, and their clarity in delivery. This indeed was a rarity among many contemporary Buddhist scholars, who when confronted with such verbal challenges would wonder as lost sheep, groping for credulous answers. Only persons who are steeped deeply in the Dhamma, based solidly on the pitakas in their original Pali rendering, could be in complete control of such situations. Among those living among us, Ven.Harispatthuwe Ariyawansalankara mahathera is one such person.

Let me end this short appreciation with the following quote Asoka Jayasinghe (writing in 2005) who considered himself as an adult sishya of Alec:
“We are left with the memory of this great Buddhist layman whose life was that of an ideal Buddhist; both in erudition and practice.”
“Sabba danam dhamma danam jinati”

Dr.W.M.K.Wijethunga

****

 

 

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