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Letters


Readers please note it is essential that all letters to the Editor carry the full name and address of the writer, even if it has to appear under a pseudonym. This applies to all email letters as well.

 

Buddhism and temple culture
The immortal message of Gautama Buddha sans dogma, ritual practices and ceremony has been propagated for centuries by the Bhikkhus living in temples but now with new practices being introduced looses the self-reliance and mental development perspective inherent in the Dhamma and observances. Perhaps with the intention of propagating and not through ignorance that some temples and new ashramas have introduced new ritual practices that do not covey to persons unaware of the Dhhama the true principles of Buddhism.

The Buddhists appear before the image of the Buddha to pay homage to the ideals and ides the image of Buddha represents and not as a ritual worshiping practice before an image and the dhamma has never being imposed by force as numerically increasing followers is not the intention. For similar reasons the former Indian Prime Minister Nehru, German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhaur and many foreigners had images of Buddha in their homes. During the Great World War General Hamilton had found an image of Buddha in ruins of a temple in some country and given it to Sir Winston Churchill with the remark, “When you are worried just look at his reposeful attitude and smile at your worries.” It is for similar reasons that Nehru during his visits to Ceylon visited Anuradhapura to pay homage to the Samadhi Buddha Statue. The philosopher and former President of India S. Radhakrishanan of India had said, “The Buddha does not speak of codes and conventions, laws and rites. The way to be happy is to have a good heart and mind which will show itself in good deeds. Simple goodness in spirit and deed is the basis of his religion. He detaches the perfect life from all connection with a deity or outside forces, and teaches man that the best and the worst that can happen.”

With such perceptions expressed by illustrious persons, we in our country are inclined to adopt new ritual practices to impress the Buddhist masses and to those who are not Buddhists and worst of all, to foreigners. Two of the many recent innovations practised by some of the temples are the placing of a Siura on the branch of a Bo-tree and placing a statue of Buddha or a relic casket on the head of a person, an uncompromising ritual practice not in keeping with the basic principle in Buddhism. In most instances, the honour to place the Siura on the Branch of a Bo-tree is entrusted to a politician while the devoted dayakayas of the temple, some very knowledgeable Buddhists are onlookers. Recently the relic casket was placed on the head of a distinguished foreign lady who is a recent visitor and perhaps not a Buddhist with blessing narrations piously uttered by the Nayake Thero. The distinguished lady according to the newspaper is a vegetarian because of the love and attachment she possesses for animals. Such a person would have been dumbfounded at the ceremonial demonstration displayed in a Buddhist temple and more so if she was aware of the basic principles of Buddhism.

H. Fielding Hall in his book ‘In the Soul of the People’ published in 1898, had written of Buddhism, “ Surely this is a simple faith, the only belie that the world has known that is free from mystery and dogma, from ceremony and priestcraft; and to know that it is a beautiful faith you have but to look at its believers and be sure.” Nehru the former Indian Prime Minister in his book’ The Discovery of India, had expressed the view that with the introduction of Buddhism in India, “Much of the ritualism and ceremony associated with the Vedic, as well as more popular forms of religion, disappeared, particularly animal sacrifices.”

But for some recent innovations introduced by temples the lay dayakayas should be blamed more than the Bhikkhus as they are accustomed to say ahi hamuduruwone; without preventing such new ritual and ceremonial innovations being introduced and being unable to explain its significance to the Buddhist public and depicting a false outlook of Buddhism. Such lay dayakayas are not strictly loyal to the religion but blindly loyal to the temples. Temples and ashramas that are not even fifty years in existence are mainly responsible for introduction of ritual and ceremonial practices and for their publicity TV and newspaper services are obtained and closely associate influential and powerful politicians and highly placed officials.

The thovil ceremonies conducted in villages and the using of talismans are also linked to Buddhism by some of our people. Tourist hotels conduct thovil demonstrations and claim a link to our culture and Buddhism and the tourists are made to believe that the ceremonies are local Buddhist practices. Thus, though the Buddhist public does not agitate and find fault, the temple authorities should not indulge in conducting of ritual and ceremonial practices to publicise the religion. “Buddhism is free from compulsion and coercion and does not demand of the follower blind faith. At the very outset the sceptic will be pleased to hear of its call for investigation. Buddhism from beginning to end is open to all those who have eyes to see and a mind to understand.” Bhikkhu Piyadasi of Vajirarama.

Buddhist Mind

 

US and NATO sinking in Afghanistan
It is now very clear that the US and NATO have achieved nothing of substance in their adventure into Afghanistan and are sinking in the quagmire deeper everyday.

The US now desperately needs an exit strategy that looks like a win for two reasons: First, its reputation as a mighty military power that can’t be beaten, and especially by tribal clansmen. Second, if it withdraws empty-handed, how does it explain the rising number of troop deaths and the billions that are still being poured into a narco-state that is corrupt, in the middle of an economic downturn at home.

The insurgency in Afghanistan is spreading rapidly as the latest survey conducted by the International Council of Security and Development (ICOS) shows. Its latest research indicates that 80% of the country has a permanent Taliban presence up from 72% in 2008, and that 97% of the country has “substantial Taliban activity.” The organisation has tracked Taliban movement throughout Afghanistan since 2007. Even with such alarming figures the organisation’s president, MS Norine Mc Donald QC, told the internet web-site Huffington Post that she believed the figure was “conservative.” “Its bad numbers and bad news” she said. “They (the Taliban) have the momentum, their strategies and tactics are working and ours are not….. it’s not a question of where they are operating, its more a question of where they are not.”

Increased resistance activity has led to more occupation soldiers dying and an alarming escalation in air-strikes that have caused massive civilian causalities. On September 4, an air strike on two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban who were dispensing fuel to locals in Kunduz resulted in more than 90 civilian deaths. Villagers were able to retrieve only fragments of their loved ones’ body parts after the Americans deployed one of their favourite strategies of winning hearts and minds by dropping 1,000 pound bombs from the air.

Combined with instability arising from the recent presidential election in which allegations of wide spread electoral fraud were made and the country even more divided between the majority Pashtuns and the minority Tajiks, this is a sure recipe for disaster. Hitherto, northern Afghanistan was relatively calm and there was little resistance activity there but as the Kunduz episode shows, this has now spread much further.

What has the US and the NATO achieved in Afghanistan? They failed to get Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omer. They failed to secure the country. They failed to introduce Western democracy. They failed to better the lot of women and girls. They failed to halt the poppy trade, they failed in their reconstruction efforts and they failed to win the hearts and minds of the people of Afghanistan. All in all both the US and NATO have failed miserably. The only way out is to adopt an exit strategy to look like a win. This experience should teach the powerful nations not to, in future, invade countries and force their ideologies and culture on the indigenous people and exploit their natural resources. Afghanistan has historically been the graveyard of empires. In modern times both Britain and Russia were compelled to withdraw burying thousands of their soldiers in Afghanistan.

If Obama is smart, he will take a page from the approach adopted by Alexander the Great more than 2000 years ago. His generals told him the Afghans were such ferocious fighters that they will maul his forces. It was best to leave them alone. Alexander bypassed Afghanistan to take on the much easier prey in the Indus plains. Whether Obama suffers the fate of the Russians or achieve Alexander’s greatness will depend on what he decides to do next. Current thinking in Washington does not allow for such optimism. The US and NATO must continue to bleed before they realise to withdraw from Afghanistan with a nasty and bloodied nose. It’s only a matter of time before this occurs.

Saybhan Samat
Rajagiriya

 

Iran defiant and unstoppable!
The saga of Iran’s nuclear programme despite long-term negotiations with the world powers of the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China has once again ended in a stalemate with the western powers calling for crippling sanctions.

In the latest development, the UN watchdog’s governing body has passed a resolution condemning Iran for developing a uranium enrichment site in secret. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also demanded that Iran freeze the project immediately.

The resolution, the first against Iran in nearly four years, was passed by a 25-3 margin with 6 abstentions. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purpose, but the US claims that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons.
In September, it emerged that in addition to its uranium enrichment facility in Nantanz Iran has a second such facility near the holy city of Qum. This revelation deepened Western fears about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
This latest resolution against Iran by IAEA will certainly be used by the Western powers to impose crippling sanctions on Iran. In addition, the US and Israel have made veiled threats of a military attack on Iran. They also claim that unless Iran is pliant to their wishes, it will be treated as a pariah state and be isolated in the world community of nations.

All these views of the western powers are treated with contempt by the Iranian regime. The Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki in response to these threats said sanctions were effective in 1960s and 1970s, presently sanctions will not be effective. He added Iran knows how to get over sanctions. As to military attack, a spokesman of the Foreign Ministry in Iran said that the US and Israel do not have the moral courage to stage an attack on Iran. In the latest move to demonstrate its defiance, Iran announced that it was going to construct 10 more nuclear enrichment plants.

On the subject of Iran being a pariah state and in isolation in the world community, this is not true. On the contrary, Iran has expanded relations with the Non-Aligned countries and with other Muslim countries, signing several bi-lateral relations for trade and economic development.
President Ahamadinejad’s foray into Latin America last November was a huge success and he won support for his country’s nuclear programme and expanded Iran’s reach in Latin America in a three country good-will tour of Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela.

Chavez’s enthusiastic embrace of Iran, which shares his hostility towards the US and Israel, has made Venezuela a gateway for the Iranian government to make diplomatic in roads into Latin America.
In Bolivia, Ahamadinejad signed an agreement with President Evo Morales committing Iran to help his country do research on exploiting lithium, the light weight metal used in electric cars and other batteries. Bolivia possesses half the world’s known lithium reserves.

Ahamadinejad also built on ties with Bolivia by overseeing the results of Iranian aid to the poor Andean country watching the inauguration of a hospital and two milk processing and pasteurising equipment for the plants. Iran donated funding for the seven storey Red Crescent hospital.

In Venezuela, Iran has already helped set up factories that assembled cars, tractors and bicycles and Iranian businesses have sent crews to build public housing under contract with Chavez’s government. Both Chavez and Morales offer support for Iran’s nuclear programme, saying it is peaceful and not aimed at developing nuclear weapons as the US and European nations fear.

In Brazil, during talks on November 30, President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva urged western nations to drop threats of punishment over the nuclear programme and negotiate a fair solution with Iran. Ahamadinejad’s visit to Latin American nations, especially the first stop in politically moderate Brazil, appeared designed to provide a new measure of international legitimacy for his nation as it engages in large scale war games and refuses to back down from developing its nuclear programme.

In addition, Iran has expanded economic ties with several other countries among them Russia, China, Pakistan, Lebanon, Palestine, the Persian Gulf countries and even Sri Lanka. Iran has also got the unstinted support of the Non-aligned Movement and Islamic Organisation Conference. So, the claim of isolation is not true. All these challenges that Iran is facing from the Western Powers only makes Iran stronger and more steadfast. In fact, the Iranian progress is unstoppable and it was a wise move of President Rajapaksa to strengthen relations with Iran which brought Sri Lanka aid to develop the Sapugaskande Oil Refinery, the Uma Oya project, the rural electrification scheme and also obtain petroleum at concessionary rates.

Saybhan Smat
Rajagiriya

 

Tribute

S. Srikumar
A priceless asset in plantation industry
As the curtain comes down on a truly illustrious career spanning 44 eventful years, memories of a wonderful friendship flooded my thoughts. Sri, as an energetic young schoolboy was not inclined to the desk-bound pursuits in education at Royal College as his other three brothers were (the youngest, Skanda retired not long ago as Chairman of George Steuarts). His strengths lay in outdoor activities which were reinforced by his love for rugby. Consequently, he secured an appointment with the prestigious company of Whittalls Estates and Agencies as a Trainee Planter at the relatively young age of 18, and with that began a career from which he never looked back. His talents combined with his commitment and integrity, not to mention his disarming smile and infectious sense of humour, made him a gem of a choice for the industry. Soon he was climbing the ladder of success to the extent that he was probably the youngest Planter in the history of estates coming within the management of Whittalls, to be given the Acting Superintendent’s responsibilities, which he was entrusted with on Gonapitiya Estate in Kandapola at the very young age of 24.

For all of his exceptional qualities, the most valuable of which was his integrity, Sri was a priceless asset to his employers and superiors, whilst his inter-personal relationships and man management skills made him a godsend to his colleagues, subordinates, Plantation Workers Unions and labour forces that came within his purview on numerous estates he managed. Following the nationalisation of plantations in 1975, Sri served as Director on the State’s Regional Boards in both Hatton and Nuwara Eliya making an impact on the industry and the powerful labour unions with his administrative skills. His fair-minded approach combined with a flair for negotiations made him the logical choice as a mediator in difficult situations, and it did not come as a surprise when unions seeking the ear of the management for the redress of their grievances specifically requested the presence of Sri at those discussions - an expression of trust and confidence that one can really be proud of.

In the early 80’s, he did a stint in Malaysia in the state of Sabah with the prestigious Sime Derby Plantations where he acquired extensive expertise in the field of oil palms. That expertise was swiftly recognised by the then Minister of Plantation Industries, the late Ranjan Wijeratne who appointed Sri, Consultant to the island’s oil palm industry while he was still serving in Sabah.
Upon his return, he re-associated himself with the plantation industry which had by then undergone a drastic transformation.

He was head-hunted by Watawala Plantations, one of the more prestigious privatised plantation companies, where he delivered exceptionally in all related fields as a Director. At a time when the industry can continue to benefit from men of integrity, experience, proven ability and commitment, Sri’s decision to retire did come as a surprise to many.

Having said that, to retire as he has with his impeccable reputation fully intact, Sri can look back on his career with the kind of satisfaction that only those blessed by the Almighty can have.
Congratulations, Srikumar. A blessed retirement awaits you.

Wickrema De Alwis
Kandy

 

Appreciations

Dr Vere Edrisinghe
His healing hands were legendary
Despite the advances in medical science, few medical specialists would venture to give a guarantee of health. To do so, would be to lay their reputations and indeed the profession on the line.
But, this is exactly what Dr F.V. Edrisinghe did on one of my last visits to him shortly before he passed away three years ago. Having checked some lab reports, he said, “You don’t have anything to worry for the next five years.”

His comments were not some casually made remarks. They reflected the confidence born of his knowledge and expertise over a lifetime of service in the medical profession.

It was nearly twenty five years ago that I met him for the first time. In those days, as I accompanied my wife as she took her mother to consult him, the wait was painful. It was easily two hours before they came out of the surgery while I sat in the car trying to keep myself occupied and not feel resentful. Only when I started consulting him I realised that here was a man who first took great pains to listen to his patient whatever time it took. Then came the careful examination and probing with pointed questions. But the best was when he quietly reassured his patients in a gentle yet matter of fact voice of what the ailment was, what the treatment would be and how long it would take to cure. If it couldn’t be cured, he was sure to say so.

Despite my growing fondness for him and our warm and friendly discussions from dogs to politics and anything in between, there were some facts that I learnt only after his demise.
Dr Edrisinghe studied at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia and was a keen boxer during his undergraduate days. He was the first Consultant Physician to work at the Matara General Hospital and he also served in Kalutara, Kandy and at the General Hospital, Colombo. He retired in 1975 and went to Nigeria as a Consultant Physician in 1976. Following his return to Sri Lanka, he worked as Consultant Physician at the Central Transport Board (CTB) till he passed away on November 30, 2006.

His professionalism earned for him a reputation among many in Colombo and the suburbs. It was quite common to see foreign nationals waiting to consult him. His healing hands were legendary. There are many who would still testify to his demonstrated capability to detect cancers without sophisticated examinations.
Dr Edrisinghe loved dogs and would often enquire about our own dogs. His service though was to his patients and especially to his son Prineeth, who passed away a few years ago. Many would not have known that he conducted a free Medical Clinic at the Calvary Church for a quarter century.

It is an honour to pay tribute to a man who lived a simple yet exemplary Christian life as a medical specialist. To his wife Manel, daughter Mala, son-in-law Chrys and his grand son Rehan his death would no doubt have been a void hard to fill. I hope these words from a grateful patient would ease their pain even temporarily. May his soul rest in peace!

RJP


100th Birth Anniversary

J. Willie Aiyadurai Sportsman and Writer:

Grandpa, it has been a hundred years
But in our hearts you did not die,
the explosion you have been, has set alight
your name among the stars shining bright.
The bat in your hand stroking the ball
shooting runs forever into our minds,
the pen in your hand, writing words forever
and forever into our memories --
about your love, your wit, your life.
In the midst of remembering there is laughter
The light of your star helps us soldier on,
to tread our course in life.
And we shall become, in the dawn of days
Resilient, Renewed, Purposeful and always Thankful.

Jeremy Aiyadurai (grandson)
Victoria BC. Canada

 

 

 

 

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