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Letters


 

The twin evils

Apparently in the sixth century the European races which invaded North American lands handed over pieces of paper to the native Americans, and claimed land as their own property. The North American natives called Red Indians could not understand this; they used to roam the whole land, hunt and build wigwams allowing them to roam, whenever and wherever they liked to. Chief Seattle said that they are merely guardians of this land, and only passing on. And their chief task was to leave it in such a state as to make it livable for future generations. This truly is the Mahinda Chintanaya brought by Arahat Mahinda and told to King Devanampiyatissa. Of cause, he tested the king’s intelligence so as to ascertain whether he could follow a philosophy as deep as Buddhism. There was no ownership of Buddhism at the time of King Asoka. No Mahayana and Theravada. The place I am seated at near the Sigiriya rock is ample proof of this. It was probably occupied by Buddhist monks and driven away by king Kassayapa to Pidulangula Rock, just a kilometre from the Sigiriya rock as the birds fly. Moral responsibility is always higher than any ownership of property. Property is a mere invention by colonial powers.

The second factor I wish to bring to your attention is the power of money. We know that there is a crisis in financial capitalism. When people have been trying to make money on money, that is, if I were to lend you Rs.100, promise to give back Rs.110 in a months time without producing any thing useful, it is not sustainable as Golden Key in Sri Lanka, and cheap mortgages in the United States have so amply demonstrated.

I have to draw on Marxism for further explanation. Say, that one has a lust for drink or woman or food. There is a limit to which one can satisfy such lusts. Either you have too much food, get drunk or have too many women. But money is an abstraction of desire. There can be no end to it. It is infinite desire. Even Bill Gates may claim he has not sufficient money for all he wants to do. Further, it can attract others for its own sake; so a rich man may be able to attract a woman, not for his own handsomeness but for the quantum of money he has. May I add power as well. Thus, an executive president with all his powers may attract others for the power that he wields. No criticism is tolerated, unless of course, the king or executive president listens in all humbleness to his advisers. If he doesn’t, then he becomes a lost and arrogant person without any feedback from the people. The present President is so popular and the Opposition so weak that he could easily obtain a 2/3rd majority to diminish the powers of the executive presidency. His true colours will be shown if he does this, so that no one else would ever misuse those executive powers. The second major factor is that he has with able members of the armed forces and clever members of his family defeated the Tamil Tigers militarily, he can win the peace (which is more difficult) by changing the Constitution to choose our own solution to the problem of devolving powers and/or implementing the 13 Amendment in full or part of its concurrent list.

In the Kutadanta Sutra when the Buddha was a Bodhisatva and an advisor to the king; this king after having conquered lands by force had asked his minister - his chief chaplain - the Boddhisatva as to what rituals he should partake to go to heaven. The minister chaplain rather curtly advised that he should observe his own land and stated that there were many poor people in his land and that he should first give grain to the former, capital to the entrepreneur and proper wages for his workers and asked him to comeback after doing this. After two years, having followed the chaplain’s advice he came back. The land was now prosperous, there were no beggars and people supposedly lived with open doors and no walls and hade time to play with their children.

This again is the simple story given by E. F. Schumacher in his book on Buddhist Economics, without the basic necessities of life, lay people do not think of higher spiritual matters but also lusting merely after material needs leads to problems of unsustainable lifestyles as today’s environmental problems so amply demonstrate.
The simple message in this article is that both ownership of property and money can be very damaging. A different world view can best be understood by 1istening to Arahant Mahinda, or the native American chief Seattle.

Prof. Arjuna de Zoysa

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Sports and religious concepts

A timely premonition, perhaps with the intention of nipping in the bud; the Dailly Mirror Editorial on ‘ Cricket, Nation and Religion’ August 11,2009 has focussed the attention of people of all nationalities and people with diverse religious practices to think as Sri Lankans [Nation] on all issues without giving prior consideration to community and religious sentiments. Perhaps it is after the Premadasa Stadium cricket matches that prompted the Editor to publish his thoughts. The anti-national cheering practice based on community and religion has prevailed for many years but people of other communities and religions for reasons of good relations ignored and were silent.

The first cricket match played in Galle [watched the play on TV] has always proved that out stations attract large crowds but by our local standards and the ramparts for many provided the vintage view. Among the Sri Lankan spectators was a group dressed in their recently acquired foreign dresses, cheering the Pakistan team waving the Pakistan National flag and that for sentimental attachments but if they in addition cheered the national team the appreciation would have been a worthy sentiment. They were silent when Pakistan lost the match and failed to cheer the national team. Of the other spectators, the majority cheered only our team and only a few applauded a technically perfect cricketing shot or a smart piece of fielding or a cleaver grasp of a ball to complete a catch by a Pakistani player. They should have cheered both teams for the great game to be a decent sporting event. This is not the first occasion it has happened as in many sporting events in Colombo when a Muslim country participates the cheering is for the visitors and not for the local team and many have silently observed the occurrence even in 1950s at the then Oval, SSC and in out station matches.

The world over, in most issues, views or decisions are expressed based on religious emotions or based on documented religious concepts. Most confrontations all over the world are as a result of not thinking and acting in human, moral, ethical and need based stipulations but based on religious sentiments or based entirely on religious concepts in a document. With irrational expressions and demeaning conduct a person or a group cannot insult, humiliate or degrade any religion, a religious prophet, a religious icon, a religious dignitary or written religious documents and such persons only portray their ignorance and looses the respect of the people. But in most other countries, Muslim groups rather than taking offence and expressing dissatisfaction pass sentences of death and numerous other punitive punishments including banishing such persons from the country.

Philosophers and scientists from Galileo to Albert Einstein, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bertram Russell, H. G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Krisnamurthiand many others have expressed in their books their attitude to religion and the disbelief in some critical concepts in some religions, but, only a few people world over have agreed with their critical expressions on religion, the majority abide by and observe all religious practices according to the concepts of their religion. But all such persons who had expressed strictures on religious believes and practice lived a good life for many years serving the people with acceptance and living with them without being harmed for their strong expressions against religious concepts and practices. Barack Obama in his book ‘The Audacity of Rope’ defines religion thus; “faith and reason operate in different domains and involve different paths to discerning truth. Reason and science involves the accumulation of knowledge based on realities that we can all apprehend. Religion, by contrast, is based on truths that are not provable through ordinary human understanding - the ‘belief in things not seen.’ Thus, if in most world issues involving Muslims rash and threatening indictments were not expressed, most confrontations world over could have been avoided and applies to all communities.”

Recently in Pakistan, a Church and some houses of Christians were burnt on hearing that the Holy Koran had been disparaged but fortunately there was no reaction from Christians in other countries. In Somalia a Muslim girl had been ordered to receive 40 lashes for wearing a trouser and she has appealed to a court of justice that the Koran or Islamic practices does not prohibit wearing of trousers by women. In Beruwala a dispute of two groups of two Mosques resulted in the burning of one if not both Mosques and the death of a few Muslims. If the dispute or the misunderstanding occurred with persons of other communities or religions the damage to institutions and humans would have been greater. Talibans destroyed several Buddhist statues and Buddhists’ reaction was simple protests. In our country until about 1980 women other than Burghers wore the saree and in Sinhalese villages women wore the cloth and the jacket and school girls of all communities wore to school a white frock up to knee high and could not be identified community wise and racial harmony prevailed among the girls in schools and boys did not wear a cap while seated in a class room. In my very young days in the school I studied, Sinhalese, Muslims, Malays, Tamils and Burghers wore similar dresses and studied and participated in games in peace and harmony. But of late dresses worn by Muslims in other countries are worn instead of the traditional saree and the schoolgirl knee high uniform frock and unintentional segregation cannot be ruled out.

Thus it is evident from the cricketing incident that the attachment is not for the country of birth but to Muslim communities of other countries reflecting a desire to distance from other communities of the country. The present government has settled one issue and to live as members of one nation, persons of all communities should think and act humanely without community or religious attachments in decisions involving the nation. Reconsidering the new dress sense for school children will be rewarding act. At the moment Sinhalese Buddhists and Sinhalese Christians are in a majority but in seventy five years the situation may change with most families limiting children to two or three. The writer will be accused of being an anti-Muslim but the discerning intention is the prevention of SL nationals disintegrating on community and religious standing.

“The modern world is plagued by a greater diversity of beliefs than ever, many of them eccentric or even dangerous, and rational argument is regarded by a lot of ordinary people in pointless sophistry” - ‘The Mind of God’ by Paul Davies PhD.
Libran

****

Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando

A true leader and a comforting shepherd

Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Marcus Fernando, the Bishop Emeritus of Chilaw, bade farewell to his earthly life around 7.00pm on Monday, August 25, 2009.
He was ordained as a Bishop in 1965 at the young age of 34 years (perhaps one of the youngest in the world to be raised to the episcopate of the Catholic Church in contemporary times), and was appointed the Bishop of Chilaw in 1972. He retired on October 26, 2006 on reaching the age of 75.

He looked forward to his retirement in order to embark on a special mission that was so dear to him. It was the writing of sermon notes for the 3-year Liturgical Cycle which he strongly felt would bring us closer to Lord Jesus whom he loved so passionately. He wanted to accomplish this task as a sign of his tremendous love and unfailing gratitude to Jesus, who was the source of his strength and selfless shepherding.

His episcopate of 34 years long years as the Bishop of Chilaw was exemplary. He was a holy bishop, an eloquent preacher (aptly referred to as the “Fulton Sheen of Sri Lanka”), a courageous and an inspiring leader, protector of the environment, voice of the voice-less, an indefatigable defender of the Church and above all the “good shepherd” (in true biblical sense) of the Catholic community of the diocese of Chilaw.

He did not hesitate to call a spade a spade. He was truly a prophetic voice. His leadership was not confined to the diocese of Chilaw. He gave tremendous leadership to the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka serving in various capacities including that of the Presidency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference for many years.

Space constraints prevent me from writing at length about all his great achievements and contribution to the Catholic Church in Sri Lanka. Hence, I highlight his foresight, character and faithfulness to Jesus Christ and His Church:

1. The diocese of Chilaw comprised the Puttalam and Kurunegala Districts. His prime concern was neither the prestige of his position nor the geographical size of neither his diocese nor the number of priests working for him, but the spiritual nourishment and welfare of the flocks entrusted to him. Jesus’ command “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17) was his priority. Having realised the spiritual and material needs of his people scattered throughout the large expanse of land in the two districts of his diocese, he had the courage to propose the creation of a new diocese for the district of Kurunegala. Thus, the diocese of Kurunegala came into being in 1987. The wisdom of this far-sighted and unselfish decision is now quite obvious.

2. He was deeply concerned when the Anti-Conversion Bill was presented in Parliament in May 2004. He showed his mettle, leadership qualities and steadfast love for Jesus Christ and His Church when he boldly petitioned the Supreme Court against the draconic provisions of the Bill. The Supreme Court judgement was a vindication of his stand.
3. He did not cling on to power, prestige or position. He had the foresight to get his successor Rt. Rev. Dr. Valence Mendis appointed the Coadjutor Bishop in April 2005 (well before his date of retirement) thus ensuring a smooth transition on October 28, 2006.

With his demise, the last of the Sri Lankan Bishops who had the privilege of personally attending that epoch making event – the Second Vatican Council, has gone to his eternal reward.
“I feel on top of the world, you see, God is so good to me!” This was the often heard response when anyone inquired about his health and well-being. Bishop Frank Marcus was always positive in his outlook and contended with whatever he had. He was ever grateful to God not only for what he received but also for what he did not receive. I believe he is now truly “on top of the world” enjoying his eternal reward in the company of Jesus in whose Vineyard he laboured so faithfully for more than 50 years as priest and bishop.

When my wife and I paid our last respects to Bishop Marcus at the Chilaw Cathedral, we observed the usual pleasant smile on his face. This perhaps could be the smile that adorned his face at the time he breathed his last and met his Creator God and heard Him saying: “Well done, good and faithful servant in my Vineyard. You fed ‘my lambs’. Now enter into my heavenly abode for your eternal reward!”

Thank you and good-bye dear Bishop Frank Marcus until we meet on that beautiful shores. We know that you will intercede for us from your heavenly abode. We thank God for your exemplary life – a life worthy of being emulated by all – especially by those in authority.
Victor Silva, FCA. FCMA. Dip M. MCIM

****

Tax Department refunds

The’ Irate tax payer of Colombo 2’ (island August 29, 2009) has raised an issue that has affected so many persons who have silently owned the loss but not without annually reminding the Department of refunds due to them while submitting the annual returns together with the payment due.

The officials are very familiar with their rules and regulations not only to ensure recovery but also to impose fines on any delays. Perhaps the Payee tax payers are the most at the receiving end. The grievance of ITP of Colombo 2, relates to the period 2005/06 but the present writer’s refund relates to a period of about seven years. But refrains from giving the exact period for the fear they will be at your door step to assess the possible additional taxation though the writer is aware that from a person who has only avoided begging to make a living further amounts cannot be recovered for tax payments. For several years some tax payers who make small annual payments have not received the tax assessment sheets issued by the Department on the annual payments made.

Thus the Finance Ministry or the Commissioner General could make newspaper advertisements requesting such persons to send a letter giving detai1s of refunds due and refunding could be effected without any delay. Corporate taxpayers could send their accountants and get refund payments expedited but it is the payments made by persons from their monthly salaries that undergo the pain of the inability to obtain refunds due to them. But when you are requested to appear before an assessor they are very courteous though professional in attitude.

Refund Victim

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Presidential Investigation Commissions

During the reign of the late J. R. Jayewardena, a Chairman of a then highly respected blue-chip company, which in recent times, has been disgraced by the fraudulent acts it had committed, had been in the habit of giving in to the ‘drink’ too much and at times even made a public nuisance of himself. His jest landed him and his company in deep trouble when JRJ took offence at his swipes on the Presidential Commissions ‘the old fox’ established at the time. One such joke was that a Presidential Commission is akin to visit a toilet. One sits down at it and the matter is dropped!!! This obviously went too far for the liking of JRJ and before the late Chairman realised it. One of his company’s biggest assets - its building and premises in Fort was promptly taken over by the Government. Fortunately, at the instance of a particular cabinet minister, sanity prevailed and the building subsequently divested.
Today, we see a similarity in the present government wherein the President promptly appoints a Commission to probe or investigate heinous crimes perpetrated on individuals, media organisations and the general public; from the abduction, assault and even murders of journalists to the abduction of even baby elephants; there are supposedly investigating committees. Sadly, none of these committees or investigators has come up with anything substantial thereby creating doubt in the minds of the public as to whether there are any committees or investigations at all!

R. Silva

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 Appreciation

145th death anniversary of Anagarika Dharmapala

One of the greatest laymen who served the cause of Buddhism is Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala after the great kings of ancient Sri Lanka such as Dutugemunu, Valagamba and the great king of Medieval India, Dharmasoka.
Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala was born on September 17, 1864. Even after 145 years since his demise the yeomen service rendered by him to the cause of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and foreign countries is still remembered with great appreciation.

Dr Ambeckar had made a mass conversion of Indian untouchables to Buddhism in October, 1956. Long before that Col. Olcott along with Anagarika brought a large number of South Indians to Maligakanda Vidyodaya Pirivena and got them converted to Buddhism. This is considered a very remarkable contribution to the propagation of Buddhism. He is revered in Sri Lanka as the person who initiated to spread Buddhism in Sri Lanka and the world over.

Anagarlka’s parents were Don Carolis Hewawitharana and Mallika Hewawltharana from Matara. At six years of age, he entered St Benedict Vidyalaya, and subsequently S Thomas’ and then Royal College. At these schools he studied the Bible and achieved first in his examinations.

The writer met the then Mayor of Colombo in 1988 and persuaded him to change the name of Turret Road in Kollupitiya to Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala Mawatha. In a similar manner, Anagarika Dharmapala was able to persuade a number of people to discard their Portuguese, Dutch and English names. He changed his anglicised name to Dharmapala. One among them followed him was George Peiris who became Gunapala Piyasena Malalasekara, and many others took Ariyan names.
He devoted all his attention to create a national consciousness and a national identity. He campaigned against alien habits of the Sinhalese and endeavoured to uplift the national and indigenous culture. He launched a national re-awakening movement which quickly spread throughout the country.

He established the Lanka Mahabodhi Society in 1891 and set up the Mahabodhi Society in India. The following year, he launched The Mahabodhi, a monthly journal which he edited having been the writer, proofreader, publisher, sub-editor and distributor all rolled in one.

Anagarika explained that the ruination of our religious way of life began with the invasion of our country by foreign powers. He spoke very harshly against the bad habits we gained from them and campaigned to reform the country.
Anagarika practised what he preached for he was a teetotaler and vegetarian. He denounced drunkenness and encouraged vegetarianism.

Ironically, he was not against other religions or even foreigners for he encouraged the study of all languages. He himself was proficient in Sinhalese, English, Pali and some foreign languages.
Incessantly and ruthlessly he attacked immodest western habits and culture. He had no fixed abode and hence was called “Anagarika”. He sent our people to foreign countries to learn skills and they came back and set up cottage industries such as ceramics, toy and match industries.

Anagarika first visited India in the latter part of 1884 to participate in the All India Parama Vighya Society in Madras, accompanying Mrs. Blavasky, and returned in 1885.
Anagarika then began his service to the cause of Buddhism. He was the first person to carry out propaganda work on Buddhism in Japan. His mentor was Sri Sumangala Thero who Anagarika’s father consulted to secure permission for his eldest son to become an Anagarika.

We, in Sri Lanka and the Buddhists world over owe him much and remember him with deep gratitude.
May Srimath Anagarika Dharmapala be born in Sri Lanka again and again to serve the cause of Buddhism!
May he attain the supreme bliss of Nirvana!

V.K.B. Ramanayake

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