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A man of vision and compassion

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Col. Henry Steel Olcott

by Sanjiva Senanayake

Every year in November, Ananda College organizes an oration by an illustrious alumnus of Ananda to commemorate and celebrate the life and work of an exceptional American who was instrumental in the founding of the College in 1886. The Olcott Oration, one of the main highlights of the College calendar, was inaugurated in 1968. After a break of about 10 years, it was relaunched in 2001 with Professor Sudharshan Seneviratne as the speaker and has been held unbroken since then. Last year, Sydney-based lawyer, human rights activist and lyricist, Maithri Panagoda, delivered the oration.

This year it will be held at 4.30 pm on 28th of November with Dr. Anil Jasinghe MD, SC, Md (Med. Ad.) speaking on “SRI LANKA’S RESPONSE TO A GLOBAL PANDEMIC. COVID-19 – A STRATEGIC PERSPECTIVE”. For the first time it will be hosted virtually, cast live from the Kularatne Auditorium on the OBA’s Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/anandacollegeoba) providing an opportunity to the many Anandians residing overseas to participate as well.

Colonel Henry Steel Olcott was a larger-than-life figure who contributed as much as any Sri Lankan to resurrect the educational and cultural bases of the people to strengthen and extend the achievements of the Buddhist revival of the 19th century into the future, and onward to Independence from colonial rule. The three individuals most identified with the 19th century movement that led to the formation of Ananda were born within 10 years of each other. Ven Mohottiwatte Gunananda in 1823; Ven Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala in 1827 and Colonel Olcott in 1832. The latter’s pragmatism, interpersonal skills and unbounded energy complemented the religious and cultural forces, coordinated and directed by the two monks, and formed a winning combination.

Col Olcott was an accomplished agriculturist who took part in the American Civil War and soon thereafter he was appointed one of three men on the commission to investigate the assassination of Abraham Lincoln in 1865. He then qualified and practised as a lawyer in New York City. He had an interest in metaphysics and the supernatural and, during an investigation, met Madam Helena Blavatsky with whom he founded the Theosophical Society in 1875.

Col. Olcott’s arrival in Ceylon in 1880, resulted from circuitous and fortuitous circumstances. The famous Panadura debate of 1873 was reported in some detail in the ‘Ceylon Times’ and a copy of a booklet about it was given to an American Theosophist, Dr. J. M. Peebles, who just happened to be in Ceylon around that time as part of an international tour. Peebles re-published the book in the US and gave a copy to Col. Olcott, who was then inspired enough to start an elaborate correspondence with several prominent monks including Ven. Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala to find out more about Buddhism and the predicament of the Buddhists in the country. It was through this serendipitous chain of events that Olcott’s abiding involvement with Buddhism was kindled, resulting in the greatest impact on education for Buddhists.

In the oppressive climate that existed in Ceylon following 3 ½ centuries of subjugation and oppression, especially in the coastal areas, most natives had lost their self-esteem. Olcott, with his energy, commitment and optimism, represented fresh hope. Quite apart from the rarity of being a ‘white man’ on the side of Buddhism, he brought to the revival movement qualities that were lacking. He was an exceptionally action-oriented man with the organizational skills and persistence needed to achieve results. His legal background and his oratorical and negotiating skills were key factors. He took great care to consult and work closely with the prominent Buddhist figures of the time, especially Ven. Sri Sumangala and Ven. Gunananda, and supplement their efforts rather than project his image as a ‘white saviour’.

As for strategy, Olcott didn’t re-invent the wheel and at the outset proposed following the methods of the Christian missionaries, along with stirring more community involvement. He stated:

“We must form similar Societies, and make our most practical and honest men of business their managers. Nothing can be done without money. The Christians spend millions to destroy Buddhism; we must spend to defend and propagate it. We must not wait for some few rich men to give the capital: we must call upon the whole nation.

True to his word, he came back in 1881 to raise money for Buddhist education and take the message to the people. He embarked on tedious tours of the Western province by bullock cart on primitive roads that lasted many months, accompanied only by an interpreter. This is something no native had done before.

Olcott was captivated by the country and its common people and renewed his dedication to the noble task he had set for himself. After this tour, he wrote in his diary –

“And I saw the people as they are, at their very best; full of smiles, and love, and hospitable impulse, and have been welcomed with triumphal arches, and flying flags, and wild Eastern music, and processions, and shouts of joy.”

“Ah! lovely Lanka, Gem of the Summer Seas, how doth thy sweet image rise before me as I write the story of my experiences among thy dusky children, of my success in warming their hearts to revere their incomparable religion and its holiest Founder. Happy the karma which brought me to thy shores!”

During these trips, he realized that many of the lay Buddhists did not have a good grasp of the basic teachings of the Buddha and had no access to books. He thus wrote a Buddhist Catechism, in the form of a series of questions and answers, in his spare time on the lines of the elementary hand-books used by Christian missionaries. Having got it translated into Sinhala, he spent many hours in discussion with Ven. Sri Sumangala to get his stamp of approval and published it the same year – 1881.

The subject of improving Buddhist education had apparently been already extensively discussed prior to Col. Olcott’s first arrival in May 1880. A meeting held just five days after his arrival is referred to by Olcott in his diary where he writes of “a movement destined to gather the whole juvenile Sinhalese population into Buddhist schools under our general supervision”. The Buddhist Theosophical Society (BTS) was formed the following month to drive this project.

Initially, the BTS set up Sunday schools given the limited resources available – the first in Galle and several others in various parts of Colombo. A few rich businessmen came forward to support the new movement and in May 1885 the BTS bought Nos. 60 and 61, Maliban Street as well as 29 and 30, Beira Street (now Olcott Mawatha) for Rs. 6,000! At that time, the Beira Lake extended up to where the Fort railway station stands today.

With these acquisitions it was decided to establish a full-time school at 61, Maliban Street, Pettah, with Charles Leadbeater, an English theosophist, as Principal. The Buddhist English School was established with 37 students and three teachers on 1st November, 1886, which is the official birthday of Ananda College, the name the school was given when it moved to its present location in 1895. The main intention of the Buddhist leadership was to create a generation of young Buddhists with patriotic sentiments and modern skills to play a bigger role in national affairs. A more fundamental goal was also to redeem the self-esteem of the majority and help them stand up for their rights that had been long denied.

On numerous occasions Colonel Olcott was nominated by the Buddhist leadership to negotiate with the British on their behalf, something at which he became very successful. His level of acceptance and trust can be gauged by the fact that as early as 1884, on the eve of a visit to England on behalf of the Buddhists, the Mahanayakes of the Siyam Nikaya and the Amarapura Nikaya, who did not always cooperate, united in giving him full powers to administer Pansil and admit laymen as Buddhists. He was interested in uniting all Buddhist groups in Asia and visited Myanmar and Japan twice – in 1889 and 1891 – the first trip with Anagarika Dharmapala.

Olcott committed himself to the cause of Buddhism, and Buddhist education in Sri Lanka in particular, for 27 years, until his death on 17th February 1907 – i.e. from the age of 48 to 75 years. He made around 30 visits to Ceylon and was the one constant factor from the Theosophical Society as far as Ceylon was concerned. On many occasions, he was instrumental in obtaining the resources and services of the Society for the benefit of the Buddhists.

We can only speculate as to how the Buddhist revival would have fared if not for this great servant of Buddhism.

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Col. Olcott’s diaries, titled “Old Diary Leaves” are available at

Online Books and Articles

The author, attended Aananda College, from 1958-1969. He was a member of the editorial board responsible for compiling a book, published by the Old Boys’ Association in 2017, on the first 125 years of the college

 

 

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Trump Walks Out of the White House Into A Minefield of Legal Perils!

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WHAT DONALD IS NOW UP AGAINST . . .

by Selvam Canagaratna

“Nobody has a more sacred

obligation to obey the law than those who make the law.”

Jean Anouilh, Antigone, 1942.

“At some point in the next few weeks, Donald Trump will face his second Senate trial following an impeachment by the House of Representatives. Unlike the proceedings in late 2019 and early 2020, this time around — in the wake of the attempted coup on January 6th carried out by a violent mob inspired by Trump’s words to attack the US Congress — the process has been swift,” wrote Sasha Abramsky, a freelance journalist and a part-time lecturer at the University of California at Davis, in Truthout magazine.

The House impeached Donald Trump after a debate that lasted a mere few hours.

Given Trump’s inflammatory words on January 6th, and the unwillingness of senior lawyers to rally to his defense, and given the fact that has now publicly laid blame for the violent events squarely on Trump’s shoulders, the disgraced ex-President’s trial in the Senate could be almost as rapid.

If there is any honour whatsoever among GOP senators — or for that matter, any ability to think long-term about their own political self-interest — he will become the first President in US history to be convicted by that body. Of course, since he will have already left office, he won’t, alas, become the first President to be removed from power via an impeachment and trial process.

That’s a shame, but it doesn’t make the process any less vital. If American democracy is to survive, if political decisions aren’t to be held hostage by gun-wielding fanatics, Trump’s effort to undermine the peaceful transfer of power following an election must face real consequences.

Conventional wisdom has it, however, that most GOP senators, no matter how personally distasteful they find Trump and how terrified they were by his unleashing of a mob against them on January 6th, won’t want to antagonize their base by voting to convict. Conventional wisdom has it that, when push comes to shove, appeasement will win the day.

But in this instance, might conventional wisdom be wrong? As Mitch McConnell seems now to have concluded, and as and many of his caucus likely soon will, having shamefully enabled Trump these past four years, they now have precious little incentive to waste political capital on a wounded and discredited ex-President, a man who has lost his hold on many independents as well as on a significant minority of GOP voters.

To the contrary, they have every incentive, as more and more evidence of his malfeasance surfaces, to utterly disempower this demagogue in order to ensure that he can’t rise from the political ashes to wreak vengeance on those in the GOP who didn’t help him in his coup attempts. Convict him, and they can then, in quick order, pass legislation barring him from ever running for public office again — a fate that, surely, no public figure in American history has so richly deserved, and one that must have McConnell and other GOP leadership figures in the Senate privately salivating in delight. True, this would alienate a not insignificant proportion of the GOP base; but in the long run that might well be less damaging than alienating the independents who are so central to creating a viable electoral coalition for both political parties.

Were the Senate to turn on Trump in this way, McConnell would risk fracturing his base; after all, , and only coup. But if McConnell and the GOP establishment don’t seize this particular bull by its horns they risk being reduced to an extremist party incapable of attracting anyone outside of their shrinking base. In the long run, backing the conviction of Trump might offer them a one-off chance to cauterize their party’s bleeding wound, and to sever its joined-at-the-hip connection to an authoritarian leader who stoked a mob bent on assassinating elected officials. This is a phrase I never thought I’d write, but… “If I were Mitch McConnell, I’d seize the moment and throw Trump as far under the bus as I could possibly manage.”

For here’s the thing: If McConnell doesn’t lend his support — and, by extension, many of the other GOP senators’ support — to conviction, it will only further erode GOP credibility among the broader electorate if, over the coming months, as seems increasingly likely, Trump is indicted in a number of state courts for his myriad crimes. The lower Trump’s legal fortunes sink, the worse the senate will look if it twice exonerated him for his actions despite a preponderance of evidence indicating his guilt.

How would voters react if McConnell, after acknowledging Trump’s culpability for triggering the attempted coup, then pushed to give the man a free pass for it, only to have Georgia show more spine by indicting him for threatening a public official and demanding votes “be found” to guarantee Trump a victory he hadn’t legitimately won?

How would they react if New York State indicted Trump and miscellaneous family members for tax fraud, or campaign finance law violations, or possibly even money laundering, if some of the allegations surrounding his relationship to Russian mobsters turn out to have substance? How would they react if the for his role in the events of January 6? How would they react if — essentially for pimping out his services to foreign governments and entities?

when he leaves office on Wednesday. But, in addition, he is facing a number of as well, including from women who allege he assaulted them in the years before he became President. Given the events of the past two weeks, he may well also face numerous other civil lawsuits, including damages claims from family members of the victims of the January 6 Capitol breach. In each of these trials, evidence will be presented — and the public will see and read that evidence — that will make Trump look more awful by the minute. The further out we get from the Trump era, chances are, the more clear the harm he inflicted will become.

Trump’s corporate backers realize this. Belatedly, he is being cut off from his go-to financing sources, including Deutsche Bank, which has said it will no longer do business with him. As a result, as his legal woes mount, he will likely have to resort to crowd-sourced, dodgy money-making schemes simply to get his gullible supporters to pony up cash to fund his defense attorneys.

Although the fates may have finally caught up with this grifter, the political firestorm he helped create remains. For as Trump leaves the White House, his far-right supporters won’t magically disappear. Trumpism and its toxic spin-offs — from QAnon to the Proud Boys — will remain a threat on the American political landscape for years to come. That, alas, is the sobering reality as a new presidency gets underway and as Donald Trump, from domestic exile in Mar-a-Lago, prepares for his second Senate trial.

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Jagan in R. K. Narayan’s “Vendor of Sweets”

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The world- renowned author R.K Narayan’s novel “Vendor of Sweets” is undoubtedly a worthy contribution to the world of English literature. Born in Madras in 1906, Narayan hailed from an entirely orthodox family. This traditional up-bringing may have influenced him in presenting Jagan’s character in the story.

The story set in the post-independent era in India revolves round, as the title suggests, a vendor of sweets. Narrated in the medium of a third person Narayan uses the English language very effectively to portray characters which are essentially Indian. Yet the reader’s response is rather intimate as the characters transcend time, culture, geographical boundaries, religion etc. thereby achieving universality. In the ensuing analysis let us see how Narayan sketches Jagan’s character to achieve this universality.

As the story begins, we meet Jagan, the vendor of sweets in conversation with his cousin whom the narrator says that no explanation could be given as to how he came to be called so.

The first glance at Jagan gives an insight into his character when he says “conquer taste and you will have conquered the self” This extract from the Holy Scriptures quoted by Jagan was questioned by the cousin, “Why conquer self?” Jagan’s reply was “I do not know, but all our sages advise us so.” This is Jagan who Narayan portrays. The lack of analytical sense is him made him what he was.

This trait in him develops further as the story wends its way towards that tragic end. His limited capacity into in-depth thinking prompted him to accept whatever the sages say. He is unable to give an explanation as to why the taste should be conquered. He accepts it merely because the sages say so. This feature in him prevented his independent thinking. The cousin’s character in contrast with his inquiring mind sheds light on the portrayal of Jagan’s.

We see this trait extending further in his life in most of his dealings. For example, we know that he was in the forefront of the Indian Independence struggle ardently following Gandhi in his nonviolence campaign. What is striking is the fact that he followed Gandhi’s nonviolence policies to the letter and went to the extent of making his shoes out of the skin of an animal which had died due to old age. His words quite rightly justify the point. “I do not like to think that a living creature should have its throat cut for the comfort of my feet”

It is this behavior that makes us think of him as an extremist. He ventures into extremes without being realistic. His attitudes towards his wife’s sickness is one such instance where he became tenacious in the belief that only indigenous medicine can cure her headache. The narration stands to show that their first clash cropped up over such an argument.

The absence of an analytical mind drove him towards diffidence. He lagged behind taking decisions of his own. Even in the transactions with his son he needed cousin’s help to communicate. When his son told him that he wanted to give up his studies in College, he was aghast. His expectations of his son were entirely different. He wanted his son to pursue his studies and collect a BA degree. But he lacked confidence to discuss the matter with the son. He sought cousin’s help to mediate with the son. The cousin’s advice was that it would be best to know from the boy himself. He even suggested “why don’t you have a talk with him?” Jagan responded “Why don’t you?” This is a clear indication of Jagan’s character as a man who is not strong enough to take up challenges.

The home environment was such that the communication between father and son had come almost to a stand-still in the aftermath of the mother’s death. Jagan played the maternal role of feeding the boy properly but he paid little or no attention to the boy’s mental well-being. He was proud that Mali had grown physically. The narration stands to show that he was very proud of his son’s height, weight and growth. But he neglected the fact that as he grows his needs, requirements and aspirations need to be soothed for the wellbeing of his mental growth. He forgot the fact that his son is growing up without the warmth of the mother.

Jagan was in the habit of reading the “Bhagavad Gita” even in the midst of his business activities. However, his concentration on the religious scriptures was invariably hindered with the slightest quietening of the sizzling in the kitchen or if he noticed any slackness at the front stall. If a beggar is spotted by him near the entrance, he would shout “Captain, that beggar should not be seen here except on Fridays. This is not a charity house.” Such acts of Jagan revealed in no uncertain terms his hypocrisy and we know that his hypocritical demeanour was seen in many of his dealings.

Besides, Jagan was somewhat displeased when the trays in the sweet shop returned with the left-overs. It bothered him as if he had a splinter in his skull. When the head cook suggested that they can be turned into a new sweet for the next day, forgetting all his holy scriptures he readily agreed to it, saying “After all everything consists of rice, flour, sugar and flavours…..” His lofty ideals were mere lip-service and clear manifestation of hypocrisy in Jagan.

His hypocrisy does not end at this point. It further extends. We know that he maintained two books to record his business accounts. Narayan, very sarcastically records this act of Jagan when he puts it, “…… arising out of itself and entitled to survive without reference to any tax.” Such acts of dishonesty clashed with his so-called religious principles and the reader responds with discreet sarcasm.

A character sketch of Jagan is incomplete if no mention is made about his inter-personal skills. As mentioned above, his relationship with his wife and son ended in failure and so was his relationship with the members of the extended family. The narration reveals Jagan reflecting “They never liked me” and further the narrator’s words “Thus he had escaped the marriages of his nieces, the birthdays of his brother’s successive children and several funerals” What we gather from the narration is that Jagan felt grateful for being an outcast as it relieved him from his family obligations. This feature in Jagan drives home the point that Jagan was a failure in maintaining inter-personal skills which ultimately made his life pathetic.

This is Jagan we meet in Narayan’s “Vendor of Sweets” In Jagan we see a man not put into a frame. A blend of good and bad. A person made of flesh and blood and we begin to wonder whether we have not met him somewhere, in our daily transactions. Jagan is a victim not of evil but a victim of his own silly, weak or strange but harmless aspects of character. Jagan is essentially Indian but his hopes, aspirations and dreams are universal.

 

Written by Vivette Ginige Silva

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R.K. Lionel Karunasena, fine athlete and exemplary police officer

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Twenty years ago Lionel Karunasena had a heart attack while taking his constitutional walk at the Bambalapitiya Police park and collapsed.

He was born on January 2, 1945, in Ratnapura. He studied at the Seevali Maha Vidyalaya, Ratnapura, excelling not only in his studies but also in athletics. His forte was long jump and the triple jump. He was spotted by the talent scouts of the Ceylon Track and Field Club (CT &FC) and enrolled him to the club and found employment at Air Ceylon.

On November 11, 1964 at the CT& FC- University Athletics dual meet, he equaled the national long jump record of 24 feet two and a half inches established by N.A Weeratunga of the Mercantile AAA on the December 28, 1956.

The writer was a witness of this event. In his allotted six attempts, he jumped over 22 ft. One jump was nearly 25 feet but he over stepped the board. In his fourth jump he leapt into fame equaling the Ceylon record. This record was broken only in 1985!

At the Ceylon 1964 AAA nationals, he was placed third in the long jumps event. He won the event in 1965 and 66. His ambition in life was to serve as a protector of law and order. In order to achieve this, he joined the police as a sub inspector on June 26, 1967.

Despite his busy schedule as a police officer he continued to be involved in athletics representing the police. In 1977, he came third at the AAA Nationals when two Indian athletes, P. Bannerjee and Mohinder Singh took first and second places.

He represented Sri Lanka at the Asian Games in 1966 at Bangkok and again at Bangkok in 1970.

In the all-time list computed by the Sri Lanka AAA recorder, Lionel Karunasena ranks second.

He always believed in equality and denounced social injustices. Due to his dedication towards duty he won quick promotions and rose to the rank of DIG. His first appointment as DIG was to the Wanni. Here he was required to be in the war front. There he was a shining example to his colleagues.

He often visited the many camps in the war zone.

He served as the Commanding officer of the Police STF for over 13 years and was the fourth commanding officer of the STF. He had a miraculous escape when President Premadasa was killed by a suicide bomber on May 1, 1993. Seventeen others were killed along with the President.

He was a highly respected office in the police. His wife Chitra, daughter Sarika and son Shalike were well aware that he was a committed officer and at the same time a loving wife and devoted father. His long and dedicated service will be written in gold. May his journey through samsara be short and peaceful.

 

K.L.F.Wijedasa

100,Barnes Place – 7 Colombo

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