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The Last Farewell

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Nikini Full Moon Poya Day falls today

by Mervyn Samarakoon

‘ Thasma thiha the Bahiya, ditte

dittadhammang hothu ‘

Wisdom finds its sublime splendour in a Samma Sambuddha’s words. His resolute counsel to the clergy is to confine their speech to the Dhamma at all times. Futile discussions on kings and rulers, affairs of state, battles waged and speech marked by vain glory, ridicule of others and time spent on hollow rhetoric are not their domain.

The moment a disciple reaches the supramundane state of spiritual pre-eminence the words that emanate from him or her do necessarily adhere to the Master’s advice above. Thera and Therigata bear irrefutable testimony to this fact.

All rules have exceptions, though. A remarkable case is Sumedha, the princess who spurned royalty for a life of sheer asceticism against a plethora of almost insurmountable obstacles. Her utterances in the height of her hedonistic life afford a glimpse of the profound wisdom normally associated with a liberated being of the sublime Order. It is necessarily a trait acquired in her long voyage lost in time and her life story defies accepted convention.

She was the daughter of Koncha, king of Manthavathi city in the era of Lord Gautama Buddha. The eloquent, erudite, moralistic princess driven by samsaric practice, one day walks up to her parents and makes a stunning pronouncement, a veritable sermon on ‘what should be looked to in the scale of values as highest of all’ – in the memorable words of Bhikkhu Nanamoli in his preface to the English rendition of Buddhagosa’s masterpiece Visuddhi Magga.

” I am attracted by Nirvana ” says she. “Paradise itself is transient, need anything be said of human pleasures? They are didainful, wrought with worries and endless remorse. Sense desires that ensnare the unwise are hurtful like snake venom.

Slaves to sense desires undergo endless suffering in the woeful states. Wrongdoers cause much evil with their deeds, words and minds. Immersed in the depths of sorrow, they fail to realise the truth of the world.

Beloved mother, many are those who wish life among gods, ignorant of the harsh reality.

All existence is impermanent, including the heavenly ones. It is fools that beseech rebirth again and again.

Priesthood is beyond the reach of those suffering in the realms of the dreadful.

Mother, please do permit my ordination, I shall strive to repel the twin evils of birth and death.

Having arrived upon a Buddha era, l shall uphold celibacy unto my last breath.”

 Finally she threatens with death from starvation if her request is denied. In the face of the tragically helpless situation the parents make a desperate plea.

” Child, stand up, be sensible. A life of celibacy is not yours. You have been given to King Anikadatta of Varanawathi to be his queen. All his might is in your hands. Wealth, power and glory are yours. You are still in your youth, enjoy the pleasures of a royal life.”

” I simply do not need it, existence is woeful. It will be either bhikkhunihood or death for me” she insists.

” How can this rotten, foul smelling body full of filth, like a pot of excreta be considered desirable?” she continues. ” Why would this object of disgusting flesh and blood teeming with worms and food for the crows, be given to another?

Soon, it will be carried to the grave like a log, the mind having taken leave of it.

Relatives bathe themselves in water fearing that the corpse left as food for canines and foxes might return home. What wouldn’t the outsiders do?

If dissected and the inside turned out, even the mother that bore it will turn away in disgust.

Acutely aware that all formations are subject to decay and disintegration, how could I ever wish wedloock in sincerity?

Why undergo aging and death time upon time in the midst of undying Buddha Dhamma?

Endless is the agony in hell and in the animal kingdom, so it is for gods in the heavens

Those who strive, invariably reach the shore of deathlesness.

Father, l shall depart today. What purpose is there for me in this worldly life. Sensual pleasures are like dog vomit to me.”

As the above words are being uttered by young Princess Sumedha, King Anikadatta of Varanawathi arrives for the nuptial ceremony in all his resplendent regalia. Just then the princess severs her blue tress of hair with her father’s sword, shuts the door and enters the first jhana. She contemplates on the impermanence of all component matter, when the royal suitor climbs to the upper floor and makes a moving plea himself

” I will give you the kingdom, wealth and all my authority. You are still in your youth, sense pleasures are rare. Enjoy the fruits of abundance, donate to charitable causes and be happy. Do not give heartburn to your parents.”

Replies the princess, “Having overcome ignorance, l have no use for sense pleasures. Just observe all their evil repercussions.

Mahamandathu, the Sakvithi king who ruled the four continents died insatiate of sensual craving. They are likened to a sword, a meat chopping log, a snake head, a skeleton, a torch of fire, a poisonous fruit, a fleeting dream or a borrowed item. They bring about neverending sorrow.

You had better go back to your kingdom, I have no attachment to existence. As if your head is on fire, fight decay and death that are constantly in pursuit.”

She then opens the door to face King Anikadatta and her sobbing parents.

” Samsara is indeed long for those who cry at the death of their father and brother and at their very own misery.

Limitless are the tears, the mothers’ milk and the mounds of bone. The blood that flowed is greater than the four great oceans. The heap of bones is taller than the Vepulla rock.

If all the world’s leaves are cut into one inch squares, their numbers are yet smaller than the fathers you’ve had. Contemplate on it.

Ponder this worthless body, a bubble of froth.

Ponder the impermanence of all component things, the indescribable suffering in hell.

Why pursue the five-fold sense desires in the presence of Buddha Dhamma.

They are frighteningly harmful, boiling, ablaze.

Why go in search of enemies when there is a sanctum, a refuge.

Sense desires are your enemies, the destructive fires. They are torturous fetters. A fire burns you when you touch it, not otherwise.

Do not forego eternal happiness for temperory gratification.

Suffer not later as the fish that has swallowed the bait

Firstly, develop restraint. As a dog on a lead, you are tied to the chain of lust. Like the gypsy that destroys the canine, so will your desires eventually destroy you

Entwined in temperory pleasures, one ends up with insurmountable woes. Just so, discard them that are impermanent. The root causes of birth and death cease to exist in the abiding state of Nirvana. It is decayless, deathless, free of impurities and of all worldy sorrows and fears.

Sages such as Buddhas did realise it, and its path is known today, though unnavigable to those who dawdle.”

So saying, Sumedha threw down her hair to be seen by King Anikadatta who then tells her father ” Give Sumedha permission to enter the Order. May she realise the path of emancipation.”

Released by her parents she entered the bhikkhuni order with trepidation and soon reached her goal of Arahanthood along with the mighty supermundane powers. The text mentions the royal princess was amazed at her attainment of Nirvana. She began recalling her past lives as well.

Her colourful narrative commences from an era long gone by, where she with three of her like minded friends had a magnificent temple built for Konagamana Buddha. In cosequence she was born as consort to the rulers of Thavathimsa, Yama, Nimmanarathi and Paranimmitha Vasavaththi heavens in succession.

In the dispensation of Kashyapa Buddha she was the confidante of the famous seven unmarried, devout daughters of King Kiki of Kasi kingdom, followed by several more spells in the celestial spheres, before she made her final appearance on earth as daughter to the king of Manthavathi. The narrative ends with the note that the offer of a stupa to Konagamana Buddha was the source of all her merit and finally, of Nirvana too.

The position occupied by Bhikkhuni Sumedha in the spectrum of Buddhist literature is unique if for the only reason that her sentiments on the illusion of existence, paradox of heaven and the great void were voiced not from the seclusion of a newforest hermitage, but in the splendour of her father’s own palace at the crest of an otherwise carefree and utterly exuberant youth.

 



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Scarcity, prices, hoarding and queuing

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By Usvatte-aratchi

We live in a scarcity economy and will do so well into 2024, past the next Presidential elections if it comes then; it may not. (The new minister may open bets.) All economies are scarcity economies; otherwise, there would be no prices. We also live in plentiful economies; look at the streets of Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, Paris or San Francisco during day or night. Scarcity is a relative term, as most terms are. A scarcity economy is one where prices rise relentlessly, where cigarettes are more expensive in the evening than they were the same morning. Scarcity economies will have two or more sets of prices: one official, others in markets in varying shades of grey until black. Scarcity economies are where everyone (producers, traders, households) hoards commodities, hoards everything that can be hoarded, at reasonable cost. Scarcity economy is one where productivity is lower than it was earlier, where both labour and capital idle. Scarcity itself may push down productivity. Observe thousands of people standing in queues to buy all kinds of things whilst producing nothing. That is labour idling. Others hang on to dear life in crowded trains arriving in office late to leave early, to get to ill lit homes where to cook each evening they repeat what their ancestors did millions of years ago to light a fire. Money is one commodity that can be hoarded at little cost, if there was no inflation. The million rupees you had in your savings account in 2019 is now worth a mere 500,000, because prices have risen. That is how a government taxes you outside the law: debase the currency. In an inflation afflicted economy, hoarding money is a fool’s game.

The smart game to play is to borrow to the limit, a kind of dishoarding (- negative hoarding) money. You borrow ten million now and five years later you pay 500 million because the value of money has fallen. US dollars are scarce in this economy. It is hoarded where it can wait until its price in Sri Lanka rises. Some politicians who seem to have been schooled in corruption to perfection have them stored elsewhere, as we have learnt from revelations in the international press. Electricity is not hoarded in large quantities because it is expensive to hoard. Petrol is not hoarded very much in households because it evaporates fast and is highly flammable. That does not prevent vehicle owners from keeping their tanks full in contrast to the earlier practice when they had kept tanks half empty (full). Consequently, drivers now hoard twice as much fuel in their tanks as earlier. Until drivers feel relaxed as to when they get the next fill, there will be queues. That should also answer the conundrum of the minister for energy who daily sent out more bowser loads out than earlier, but queues did not shorten.

As an aside, it is necessary to note that the scarcity economy, which has been brought about by stupid policies 2019-2022, and massive thieving from 2005 is partly a consequence of the fall in total output (GDP) in the economy. Workers in queues do not produce. The capital they normally use in production (e.g. motor cars, machines that they would otherwise would have worked at) lie idle. Both capital and labour idle and deny their usual contribution to GDP. Agriculture, industries, wholesale and retail trade, public administration, manufacturing and construction all of which have been adversely affected in various ways contribute more than 75% of total GDP. Maha (winter crop) 2021-22, Yala (spring crop) 2022 and Maha 2022-23 and fishing are all likely to have yielded (and yield) poor harvests. Manufacturing including construction are victims of severe shortages in energy and imported inputs. Wholesale and retail trade which depend directly on imports of commodities have been hit by the sharp drop in imports. Tourism, which is more significant in providing employment and foreign exchange, collapsed dreadfully since late 2019 and has not recovered yet. About 16 percent of our labour force work in the public sector. They have failed to contribute to GDP because they did not engage in productive work due to variegated reasons. Teachers were on strike for two months in 2021. In 2022, so far government employees have worked off and on. Wages of government employees are counted as contributions to GDP, by those that make GDP estimates. However, here is an instance where labour was paid but there was no output equal to the value of those wages. Such payments are rightly counted as transfers and do not count to GDP. For these reasons estimates of GDP for 2021 must be well below the 2020 level. The 3.6 growth in official estimates is unlikely. The likely drop in 2022 will be roughly of the same magnitude as in 2021. These declines are not dissonant with misery one sees in towns and the countryside: empty supermarket shelves, scant supplies of produce in country fares, scarce fish supplies, buses idling in parks and roads empty of traffic. There have been warnings from our paediatricians as well as from international organisations of wasting and probable higher rates of child mortality. It is this sort of sharp fall in wellbeing that engenders the desperation driving young and ambitious people to obtain passports to seek a living overseas. You can see those from mezzo-America amassed on the southern border of US. Will our young men and women end up beyond the wall of China?

Of this lowered supply of goods and services, this society is expected to pay a massive accumulated foreign debt. (Remember the reparation payments in the Versailles Treaty). In real terms it will mean that we forego a part of our lower incomes. Do not miss this reality behind veils of jargon woven by financial analysts. It is not something that we have a choice about. That is where international help may kick in. Gotabaya Rajapaksa government after much senseless dilly dallying has started negotiations with the IMF. There is nobody compelling our government to seek support from IMF. They are free go elsewhere as some who recently were in their government still urge. Examine alternatives and hit upon an arrangement not because it permits the family grows richer but because it will make life for the average person a little less unbearable.

If prices are expected to rise people will seek resources to hoard: money to buy commodities, space and facilities to hoard, security services to protect the property and much more. Rice producers cannot hoard their product because animals large as elephants and small as rodents eat them up. Because of the unequal distribution of resources to hoard, the poor cannot hoard. In a scarcity economy, the poor cannot hoard and famines usually victimise the poor, first and most. If prices are expected to fall, stocks are dishoarded to the market and prices fall faster and deeper. In either direction, the rate at which prices change and the height/depth of the rise/fall depends on the speed at which expectations of change in prices take place. A largescale rice miller claims he can control the price of rice at a level that the government cannot. His success/failure will tell us the extent of his monopoly power.

When commodities are scarce, in the absence of a sensible system of coupons to regulate the distribution, consumers will form queues. A queue is rarely a straight here, nor a dog’s tail (queue, in French, is a dog’s tail which most often crooked). Assembled consumers stagnate, make puddles and sometimes spread out like the Ganges, with Meghna, disgorges itself to the Bay of Bengal. They sometimes swirl and make whirlpools and then there is trouble, occasionally serious. There is order in a queue that people make automatically. To break that order is somehow iniquitous in the human mind. That is why breaking the order in a queue is enraging. For a queue to be disobeyed by anyone is infuriating, and for a politician to do so now in this country is dangerously injurious to his physical wellbeing.

The first cause of rising prices, hoarding and queues is the scarcity of goods and services in relation to the income and savings in the hands of the people.

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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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