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A dhamma daana of a different kind



Four-decades of writings by Prof. Asanga Tilakaratne, eminent scholar of Buddhist Studies and the one time Head of the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Colombo, featured in eight volumes will be launched on August 27 at the BMICH.

by Randima Attygalle

Cataloguing the work of a reputed scholar spanning over four decades, elicited from numerous sources, both local and foreign, into a collection of eight meticulously compiled journals is a colossal task. In a labour of love, this has been realized by a team of Buddhist and Pali scholars guided by Ven. (Prof) Raluwe Padmasiri Thera in a manner true to the words of the Buddha, “If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”

The eight volumes, five in English and three in Sinhala are a tribute to the eminent scholar Prof. Asanga Tilakaratne credited not only for his fine literature of a wide canvas of Buddhism related themes but also for his work as a teacher moulding a generation of young scholars in Buddhist and Pali studies. He has drawn inspiration from celebrated modern interpreters of Buddhism such as K.N. Jayatilleke and David J. Kalupahana in his scholarly pursuits.

The writings of Prof. Tilakaratne, the founder Head of the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Colombo, are classified under several key themes including Buddhist Philosophy, Buddhist Ethics, Theravada Studies, Buddhism and Modernity, Inter-religious understanding and Buddhist Literature and Culture. The soon-to-be-launched collection will bring the painstakingly researched papers of the reputed scholar closer to the student, researcher and the intellectual reader.

The idea of compiling Prof. Tilakaratne’s academic papers was first mooted as a casual discussion among a group of scholars at the occasion of his retirement from the University of Colombo in 2018 as the Senior Chair Professor of Pali and Buddhist Studies. “Initially neither they nor I had any inkling that the project will run into many volumes! All papers compiled under eight different banners are what I have written for four decades. Although I have been teaching full time for the last 30 years, I did not stop my research and writing because teaching and writing go together. If the teacher is not delivering new themes and fresh raw materials, he is not doing justice to his students,” says Prof. Tilakaratne.

He applauds the editorial board of ‘emerging Buddhist scholars’ comprising his friends, junior colleagues and students for embarking on this uphill task. The panel which represents the four-fold group in Buddhist society (Bhikku-Bhikkuni, Upasaka-Upasika) truly represents the future of Buddhist Studies in the country, says Tilakaratne who notes that they have the “potential to take contemporary Theravada Buddhist scholarship to the world”.

Prof. AsangaTilakaratne

Comprehensive scholarly introductions by renowned Buddhist scholars- both local and foreign add to the substance of the volumes. Ven. Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanayaka Thera, Jayadeva Uyangoda- Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Colombo and G. A. Somaratne, Professor of Buddhist Studies, Centre for Buddhism, University of Hong Kong, are credited for the introductions of the three Sinhala publications. Scholars like Dr. Surakkulame Pemaratana Thera, emerging monastic Buddhist scholar who holds a doctorate from Pittsburg University and works at Pennsylvania University, USA, Anne M. Blackburn of Cornell, Damien Keown of Goldsmiths College, University of London, Rupert Gethin, President of Pali Text Society, London and Professor of Bristol University, UK, and Abraham Velez of Kentucky University, USA complements the English volumes.

The demand for Buddhist books continues to escalate but this, however, needs to have a mechanism of checks and balances, remarks Prof. Tilakaratne. “With the demand, there is now a tendency to publish practically anything in the name of Buddhism for this ready market,” says the author who urges publishers to have the manuscripts reviwed by a qualified panel of scholars. In the USA and the UK the average time between handing over the manuscript to the publisher and its publication is two years or more.

“But in a situation where a good number of books published in this country are author’s own publications, with no guarantee of accuracy or value whatsoever, means that anyone can publish virtually anything provided they have resources. there must be a broader mechanism in place in order to assure that what is given to readers is of good quality.”

In this backdrop, the collection authored and edited by qualified professionals bear the intellectual responsibility for the content. The panel of editors had also taken considerable efforts to adhere to sound academic traditions.

The two volumes ‘Inter-religious understanding’ and ‘Buddhism and Modernity’ featured in the collection are particularly topical in the contemporary setting bidding the Buddhist intelligentsia of Sri Lanka to create a dialogue on these topics, notably on religious understanding so that communal reconciliation becomes a reality. “History reflects that Buddhism has faced challenges with courage and survived. Since 1815 the challenges posed by modernity in a Sri Lankan setting have been diverse and serious, so much so at a certain point, during this early period of the island’s British colonial history even some local scholars seemed to have thought that Buddhism will definitely lose the battle. Some papers in the collection discuss issues related to this aspect of modernism,” explains Prof. Tilakaratne.

What is significant in the collection is that it addresses issues related to how Buddhism as an organization adapted to new situations and adopted certain aspects of modernity while preserving the core of its philosophy. One of the key aspects of the author’s academic writings, which is reflected even in his formative years of academic and intellectual development is his effort to interpret the teachings of Buddha in the context of problems arising from modern scientific and technological developments. His first book Minis Getalu Pilibanda Bauddha Vigrahaya (Buddhist Analysis of Human Problems), published in 1979, belongs to this genre and won the State Literary award for that year.

Inter-religious understanding deliberates on theoretical and doctrinal issues as well as issues arising from historical and social contexts. “Doctrinally and philosophically the challenge for any religion is to accommodate other religions while preserving one’s own uniqueness. Where multiplicity of religion is a fact in one’s daily life, stressful situations among religious followers is inevitable. The challenge for each religion is to find out its own resources to cope with such situations. In my writings I have tried to develop a position which to my understanding is fair by Buddhism as well as other religions,” observes the author.

While lauding everyone who supported to make this initiative a reality, Prof. Tilakaratne makes special mention of Ven. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Nayaka Thera, Chief incumbent of Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya and the publisher of the collection- Sarasavi Publishers.

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SJB MPs tell Speaker they received death threats



Vote in House to elect President:

By Saman Indrajith

Three SJB MPs told Parliament yesterday that they were threatened with death on the eve before the recent vote in Parliament to elect the President.

MPs Wasantha Yapabandara, Tilak Rajapaksa and Chaminda Wijesiri said that they had received death threats and demanded to know the legitimacy of the recent election of a new President by Parliament.

Badualla District SJB MP Wijesiri said that votes had been solicited from MPs by offering bribes and those who did not take bribes were threatened and intimidated to vote for Wickremesinghe.

“The votes were obtained by issuing death threats on MPs. Therefore, one has to question the legitimacy of the recent poll held in Parliament to elect a new President,” MP Wijesiri said.

The MP demanded that Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena should order an investigation into death threats. “Similarly, the Speaker should inform this House whether the election held in Parliament to elect a new President is legitimate or not,” he said.

Kandy District SLPP MP Wasantha Yapabandara said an unidentified caller had asked him to resign from Parliament or face death. “I have handed over recordings of the conversation to you and I request you to carry out an investigation into this matter,” the MP told the Chair.

Digamadulla District SLPP MP Tilak Rajapsksa also called for an investigation into threats faced by MPs.

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Govt. announces 75% power tariff increase



Janaka Ratnayake

By Ifham Nizam

The Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL) yesterday said that the new electricity tariff hike of 75 percent would be effective from today.

The electricity bill of the consumers who use up to 30 units per month will increase by Rs. 198.

The average monthly electricity bill for those who consume up to 60 units will be increased by some Rs. 200.

Although the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) had sought an increase of 276% for the consumers who used more than 90 units, the PUCSL stood firm on sticking to 125%, according to PUCSL Chairman, Janaka Ratnayake, who said that 75 % of the electricity consumers continued to benefit from a subsidy.

Steps had also been taken to encourage electricity consumers to promote renewable electricity generation with the tariff revision decision, he said.

Ratnayake said that the new tariff revision had been formulated to provide relief to the hotel sector and the industrial sector.

“During the last nine years, the value of the dollar has increased by 190 percent. Therefore, the industries in the export sector will not be greatly affected by this electricity tariff revision,” he said.

Instead of the 116 percent tariff increase proposed by the Ceylon Electricity Board for industries, hotels and general-purpose sectors, with low electricity consumption, will get an approved tariff increase of 39 percent for the public sector and 75 percent for the industrial sector.

Only 50 percent of the increase in the approved rates, especially for the tourism sector will come into effect tomorrow. The remaining 50 percent tariff increase will come into effect after another three months as an incentive and relief, facilitating the tourism industry’s recovery, according to the government.

In addition, it has been decided to provide a 1.5 percent discount when electricity bills are paid in dollars as a relief to the tourism and export industries.

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SLPP questions GR’s response to ‘Aragalaya’



… won’t expect miracles from new Prez

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) didn’t expect miracles from UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe but strongly believed he could meet the growing threat posed by fascists, lawmaker Sagara Kariyawasam, General Secretary of the party, said on Monday night.

Appearing on ‘Salakuna’ a live political programme on Hiru, SLPP National List MP said that the party unanimously decided to back Wickremesinghe’s candidature, at the presidential contest, in the wake of the so-called protest movement destroying properties belonging to 76 lawmakers and those belonging to other party activists and their relatives during meticulously planned and executed ‘operation.’

The protest movement also killed Polonnaruwa District MP Amarakeerthi Atukorale and his police bodyguard, MP Kariyawasam said, emphasizing that their decision was essentially influenced by serious security considerations.

The panel of journalists, comprising Chamuditha Samarawickrema, Madushan de Silva and Kalindu Vidanage, pressed Kariyawasam and UNP General Secretary and ex-MP, Palitha Range Bandara, over their agreement on the SLPP’s support for Wickremesinghe at the presidential contest.

In spite of Kariyawasam and Bandara repeatedly denying a written agreement, or verbal understanding, the Hiru panel sought an explanation how the UNP leader managed to obtain 133 votes other than the one vote exercised by Wickremesinghe himself.

The SLPP won 145 seats, including 17 National List slots at the last parliamentary election in August 2020 whereas the UNP was reduced to just one NL seat.

At one point, a smiling ex-State Minister Bandara asked the interviewers not to portray the SLPP’s backing for Wickremesinghe as another ‘ali koti’ agreement. Bandara was referring to the much-publicized accusations, directed at the UNP at previous national elections, before President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

Responding to queries, lawmaker Kariyawasam revealed that in the wake of stepped up protests, against the government, the SLPP advised the then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa against appointing another member of the government parliamentary group as the PM. The SLPP felt that replacing PM Mahinda Rajapaksa with one of their own wouldn’t have helped to bring the tensions down, MP Kariyawasam said.

UNPer Bandara emphasized that Wickremesinghe accepted the premiership on May 12 after Samagi Jana Balavegaya leader Sajith Premadasa, MP, and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka, also of the same party, turned down President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s offer.

Asked whether SLPP strongman Basil Rajapaksa proposed Wickremesinghe’s name, lawmaker Kariyawasam said that a committee, chaired by him in his capacity as the General Secretary, decided to field Wickremesinghe at the presidential contest. Lawyer Kariyawasam said that former Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, too, attended the meeting, via zoom technology.

According to MP Kariyawasam, of over 30 members of the decision-making body, led by Mahinda Rajapaksa, 23 participated at the meeting. Basil Rajapaksa and SLPP Chairman Prof. G.L. Peiris had been among those who didn’t attend the meeting.

MP Kariyawasam said that in spite of a Prof. Peiris acting contrary to the decision taken by the party, disciplinary measures hadn’t been initiated. The former Foreign Minister remained the SLPP Chairman, MP Kariyawasam said.

When interviewers sought an explanation as regards Mahinda Rajapaksa’s declaration, soon after MPs overwhelmingly elected Wickremesinghe, as the President, on July 20, that the SLPP fielded Dullas Alahapperuma, MP Kariyawasam asserted perhaps the former Premier said so taking into consideration his personal friendship with the Matara district MP. Lawyer Kariyawasam said that Mahinda Rajapaksa’s reaction could be interpreted in different ways.

Lawmaker Kariyawasam asked the interviewers to raise the issue at hand with Mahinda Rajapaksa while reiterating the SLPP took a hard decision and nothing mattered other than electing a person who could overcome the fascist challenge.

MP Kariyawasam declined to name culprits though he categorized a section of the parliamentary group as having conspired against the government.

The SLPP General Secretary questioned President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s failure to meet the threat posed by the protest movement. Declaring the SLPP had been surprised by the President’s decision to leave the country, lawmaker Kariyawasam queried whether the President cum Defence Minister refrained from exercising his powers, or the instructions issued by him weren’t carried out. Declaring that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should have stayed back and faced the challenge, MP Kariyawasam said that the SLPP’s stand on this matter would be revealed later, along with what he called self-criticism of the party.

Asked whether the armed forces refrained from carrying out instructions issued by the President, MP Kariyawasam advised the interviewers to seek a clarification from the former leader.

MP Kariyawasam said the campaign that had been carried out against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be examined against the backdrop of Western powers interventions in Iraq and Libya leading to the execution of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Dec 30, 2006 and killing of Muammar Gaddafi on Oct 20, 2011 at Sirte, Libya. Lawmaker Kariyawasm recalled how the Western powers falsely accused Iraq of having Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) before invading that country. Those who couldn’t stomach the eradication of the separatist LTTE were hell bent on taking revenge on the Rajapaksas, MP Kariyawasam said.

When Chamuditha Samarawickrema asked MP Kariyawasam to reveal the number of Colombo-based diplomatic missions that had been involved in the anti-government project, an irate SLPP official, while declining to answer, emphasized that it shouldn’t have been raised with him.

The public would know the truth one day, the MP said.

The contentious issue of handling corruption cases, during the Yahapalana administration, compelled the SLPP General Secretary to strongly dispute the UNP General Secretary.

Responding to the UNPer’s declaration that a team, supervised by Ranil Wickremesinghe, altogether handled 448 cases whereas the other team, spearheaded by Maithripala Sirisena and J.C. Weliamuna, did absolutely nothing, MP Kariyawasam said such claims were baseless.

Ex-MP Range Bandara harshly criticized both Sajith Premadasa and Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. Alleging that MP Premadasa never had the guts to take up a challenge, lawmaker Range Bandara issued a dire warning to MP Fonseka over his call to revolt against the government. Declaring that the former warwinning Army Commander couldn’t operate outside the Constitution, the UNPer said that the Gampaha District MP could suffer the fate of Ranjan Ramanayake, who was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to a prison term.

MP Kariyawasam launched a scathing attack on former Power and Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over what he called the much publicized claim over an agreement with Oman to procure oil for a period of one year. In spite of such claims, nothing materilized thereby causing major problems for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government, the MP said.

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