I am writing this in response to the news item in your paper of 26 January 2021 under the caption, “GMOA seeks university admission for medical students at the age of 18”.
This communication from me is practically from the horse’s mouth; from someone who, so many eons ago in 1965, benefitted by being allowed the privilege of joining the Faculty of Medicine, University of Ceylon, as a novice Medical Student, at the tender age of 18 years and two months.
I sat the GCE (A/L) Examination in December 1964, at the age of 17 years and five months, offering the four subjects of Physics, Chemistry, Zoology and Botany. In or around March 1965 we had the Practical Examination in all those four subjects at the University of Ceylon in Reid Avenue. I think the results of the examination were released around July or August 1965. There were around 250 vacancies for medical students, 150 in the Faculty of Medicine Colombo and 100 in the Faculty of Medicine, Peradeniya. There were only two Faculties of Medicine at the time. I qualified to enter the Colombo Medical School with just four simple passes in the four subjects. In fact, although there were vacancies for 250, there were only around 220 students who had got through all four subjects. Even those with three passes with a credit or a distinction had managed to enrol for medical education.
I qualified with MBBS 2nd Class Honours at 23 years and one month of age and started working as an Intern Medical Officer at the Colombo General Hospital at the age of 23 years and two and a half months. From then onwards after many postgraduate examinations I became a fully qualified Specialist Consultant at the age of 30 years. I was in England for my postgraduate studies when I cleared the final hurdle of the MRCP in 1977. I returned to Sri Lanka in 1978 and was posted as a Specialist Consultant Paediatrician to the Badulla General Hospital at the age of 31 years. Thereafter, I was most fortunate to be allowed the dispensation to provide my services to the hospitals at Badulla, Ratnapura, Kurunegala, Kalubowila and the Lady Ridgeway Hospital, all for 29 years, till my retirement at the age of 60 years.
I am not writing this letter as a manifestation of ‘monkey praising his own tail’. Far from it. I am doing so to firstly be ever so grateful to the education systems of our motherland that provided a child from a very ordinary lower middle-class family, which barely managed to make ends meet, the opportunities that
were perhaps the birth right of every child. We were all equal and given the chance of a lifetime to excel in our respective fields. Some of us at least, managed to make good use of it. I do hope that I have, at least even partly, fulfilled my obligations to the people of this country in return for what was given to me on a platter by them.
The 1960s were well before the advent of computers. Dedicated men and women of the Ministry of Education would have toiled, even burning the midnight oil, to organise the GCE Advanced Level Examinations, correct answer scripts, arrange the practical examinations, tot up the marks and then finally release the results, all within just about six to seven months. Everything had to be done by hand and even the results had to be entered by hand. Yet for all that, they did it with such tremendous devotion and commitment that benefitted all of us. There would have been thousands of files with neatly entered details. There was only a Ministry of Education. There was no Ministry of Higher Education. For the government of the day, education was education; higher or otherwise. Funding was also for education. All those fine people who worked in that ministry saw to it that the youth got a break. We were all very much like their own children.
As was quite rightly pointed out by the GMOA, the current set of doctors are only able to qualify with the basic MBBS in their late twenties or even early thirties. Most of their potentially productive periods of youth are spent waiting for results or twiddling their thumbs and doing nothing at home before they could either enter a medical school or waiting to be posted as doctors even when they finally qualify. So much of very valuable time is lost in the entire process of Higher and University Education. In fact, in the late seventies when I was posted as the Specialist Consultant Paediatrician to the General Hospital Badulla, there were junior doctors such as House Officers and Senior House Officers in the hospital, who were older than I. An indirect effect of these delays is also the necessary postponement of marriage and the starting of their own families for many doctors, male and female. The lady doctors of rather advanced age could even have problems of reduced fertility and the real risk of congenital defects of the babies that are related to maternal age.
All of this is indeed a crime. None in any government in living memory has even seriously attempted to redress this appalling situation. With the facilities available today and with some decent leadership and proper organisation of the systems, it would not be a huge big deal to take things back to what it was during the halcyon sixties. All it would need would be an iron-willed commitment, embellished by unwavering enthusiasm. I am quite sure that there are capable people around who could make a real difference in such a context.
I have been ever so fortunate to have been afforded the opportunities that I was provided right throughout my childhood and youth. I have written many times before, extolling my gratitude and veneration to people such as Dr C. W. W. Kannangara and other persona, who were the designers, architects, facilitators and perpetuators of our free education system. I would love to see the very same opportunities, especially in university medical education, which I had, being made available to the youngsters of today. We owe it to our people and our youth to do so in a gesture of obligation to the future of this resplendent isle.
The GMOA has reportedly written to the President and the relevant Ministers of Government regarding the topic under discussion. I hope very much that some acolyte would be kind enough to show this letter to the very same legislators who wield such power which would be able to make a difference.
A Realistic, Fantastic and Futuristic Dream
By D. L. Sirimanne
I dreamt I was the Radio Officer on a KLM Super Constellation flight to Colombo with a Dutch crew. Flight Information sent us a ‘red alert’ that Colombo Airport was closed and to divert the flight to Jaffna. I immediately informed the Captain and he accordingly altered heading to Jaffna. I called KKS Approach several times with no success. When the captain heard me calling KKS, he burst into laughter. “Call Jaffna Control, Siri; surely haven’t you flown to Jaffna before?” I said, “Of course Captain, I have flown hundreds of times to KKS on DC3s in the 1950s and knew every bit of the Jaffna peninsula.” Rather amused he said,” But that was 100 years ago Siri, aren’t we in the 2050s now?” I felt embarrassed and then called Jaffna Control, and they answered immediately. I gave our position and ETA and requested weather and landing instructions. Clearance was received to land on runway 22. The Controller’s voice was familiar and I asked, “Is that you Nada?” “Yes Siri, I am Nada, where were you all these years, so nice to hear you.”
Approaching Jaffna, I was surprised to see at a distance the glare of a well-lit city like Singapore glistening in the night. I told the captain, “I feel we are approaching some strange airport and this can’t be Jaffna I knew!” He laughed. “You should see Jaffna Airport and the city now.” We landed and taxied to a huge modern busy airport terminal. JAFFNA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT in huge letters glowed above the buildings and in Tamil too.
The passengers and the crew disembarked. ‘I said to myself, Good Lord! This is fantastic and strange to me.’ As we entered the Arrival Gate, I was greeted warmly by the Airport Manager, my good old friend, Reggie Santiapillai. “Hello Siri, where have you been all these years? “I told him “I was with KLM flying the North Atlantic and this is my first flight to this region after ages.” He said, “That’s great Siri, I am glad the flight was diverted to Jaffna and not to Lonkok.” “What? Are you referring to Bangkok?” I asked highly amused. “No Siri, the Chinese took over Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport on a ninety-nine years lease for nonpayment of loans and developed it to international standards and changed its name. It is a very busy airport now, busier than BIA”. I was in fits of laughter at this funny name.
Soon, a number of my Tamil friends whom I knew at KKS in the 1950 surrounding me, Customs and Immigration Officers Siva, Raja, Airport Controller Nada, Traffic Officers Fitch, Shakespeare, Panchalingam etc., to greet me. I asked Reggie, “How did insignificant KKS airfield with only a Control Tower in the 1950s become Jaffna International Airport?” “It’s a long story Siri, I will tell you when we get to the hotel.” I couldn’t believe what I saw. We were in a very busy airport like Croydon.
I expected a coach ride to the city, instead we went by sky-train which was almost supersonic and in 15 minutes we were in the city center. I wondered what happened to the miles and miles of cadjan fences that lined the rugged road in the 1950s from KKS airport to Jaffna town. Huge high-rise buildings well lit and with beautiful avenues lined with large beautiful shops displaying their products in show cases was unbelievable. It reminded me of Bond Street in London, a beautiful metropolis crowded even at this late hour with shoppers and tourists. The crew was booked into Jaffna Hilton an impressive hotel with manicured colorful lawns and walkways, swimming pools. Reggie and I settled down in the cafeteria for a chat and a beer.
“How did all this happen, Reggie?” I asked. He thought for some time and smiled. “Siri, we are now a Federal State. It is called THE FEDERAL STATE OF TAMIL ILLAM.’’ “That’s wonderful news Reggie! Congratulations!! I am so proud and happy you people have at last a Federal State of your own.” “Thank you Siri,” he said. “Can you remember when we were under British Rule, Sinhalese, Tamils, Burghers, Muslims and other ethnic groups were known as Ceylonese. Unfortunately, when Ceylon received Independence in 1948, the majority Sinhalese Governments took control of the country, and named it Sri Lanka, and a Sinhalese Buddhist Country.
Instead of treating all citizens impartially, they treated us Tamils and Muslims as minorities. They thought none other than a Sinhalese Buddhist should rule the country. Two major Sinhala Political Parties formed alternate Governments and for years fought each other for power neglecting the country. Due to this discrimination of Tamils, an uprising lead by Prabhakaran with a gang of terrorist suicide bombers, well-known as LTTLE waged a 30-year war with the governments, which retarded the country’s development and finally in 2009 was destroyed by President Rajapaksa under emergency rule.
It was an ideal opportunity for the Sinhalese and Tamils to shed their differences and unite all Sri Lankans as one prosperous nation, but President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government ignored that opportunity. The Tamils did not wish the country to be divided and requested to give them at least a Federal State in the north of the country, but the arrogant Sinhalese Governments dismissed it.
President Rajapaksa and his government had great power, and since the war had ended and there was no need for defence spending. He found China the ‘rescuer’ as a bottomless well for borrowing, and got China to build large unwanted project such as Highways, Harbours, Airports, a massive Lotus Tower, dredging the seafloor to build a worthless dream of a Port City, etc., and the country getting into enormous debt while he and his Ministers collected huge commissions.
During General Elections in 2018, Basil Rajapaksa formed a new powerful party named SLPP which came into power with a huge majority. It was a Rajapaksa Government, with Gotabaya as President and Mahinda as Prime Minister. There was mismanagement and when the time came to settle the loans from China, India and Japan, etc., the country was found completely bankrupt. There were no dollars to obtain even the basic requirements such as fuel, medicine and food for the people. People revolted by forming a huge protest rally termed the ‘ARAGALAY’ on the Galle Face Green for a couple of months which compelled the President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country and the Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to resign.”
“The Ethnic Tamils and Muslims were greatly depressed with what was happening. The Ethnic Reconciliation proposed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe failed. Their cry was, why should we suffer mismanagement of the country by the corrupt Sinhalese Governments. The country is in severe debt to China and India. The IMF and World Bank were reluctant to help an unstable government and the borrowings were enormous. The country was heading for anarchy. In disgust, they appealed to the United Nations for a Federal State of their own in Sri Lanka.
Considering the chaotic unmanageable state of the country and the imbalanced disparity between the Sinhalese and Tamils, the United Nations passed a Resolution, temporarily dividing the Country into a Northern Territory and a Southern Territory, for a period till they can govern the country by themselves as a united nation. Talks between the creditors India and China on the outstanding debts, came into an arrangement, India to govern the Northern Territory and China to govern the Southern Territory for twenty five years.”
“China appointed a Chinese Governor to rule The Southern Territory and made Colombo similar to Hong Kong. I must say, the Chinese improved the Southern Territory by leaps and bounds, with strict discipline, and Industrialised it with large factories manufacturing farming tractors, motor vehicles, Information Technology, Medicines, Garments etc. Farming too was modernised and soon Rice, Tea, Rubber, vegetables spices found overseas markets earning millions of dollars. Exports dramatically increased and imports drastically reduced with local production. Tourism too expanded rapidly to almost 50 million visitors a year shared by both Territories. The Central Bank stabilized with a continuous steady healthy credit balance in US Dollars. Employment and living standards improved quickly with decent wages. The rupee appreciated equivalent to a US Dollar, a great achievement.”
“In the Northern Territory, the Tamils, Muslims and other ethnic groups adopted the old British Colonial form of Government. India allowed a prominent respected Jaffna Tamil politician to Govern the Territory with an efficient Civil Service. India, Britain, USA, and the European Union came to our aid and built Jaffna International Airport. Jaffna, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Batticaloa became major cities. Very soon ours became highly industrialised with Trincomalee becoming a financial and industrial hub with container terminals, ship building yards, steel factories, car assembly plants, flour mills, fishing, etc. In double quick time our Northern Territory too became a highly successful State in the island. Most of the expatriate Tamils came back with their earnings and expertise and developed the North into what it is now. Trade oriented Universities were established in all our cities since skilled labor was needed for development. Tourism developed very rapidly. Last year we shared almost 50 million tourists with the friendly Southern Territory and permitted free travel between. Successful drilling in the Mannar basin produced oil and gas for our industries and we shared it with the South for development.”
“What about border defense?” I asked Reggie. He replied, “Actually, the North and South have their own police forces. There is no need for border patrol as major crimes such as smuggling narcotics, currency and gold disappeared. After all we were once one nation and now both the North and the South have developed simultaneously and the two governments have cordial relations living side by side. The whole island has developed as the Most Beautiful and Peaceful Country on Earth for trade and tourism. Who knows, someday these Territories may merge as one Nation in one country,” Reggie said with a laugh.
A gentle tap on the door ended the dream with our maid bringing our morning coffee. My wife with a kiss asked me, “Darling, why were you laughing and talking in your sleep?”
A fable: Misappropriation Bill presented in Parliament of Sovereign Kleptocratic Republic of Chauristan
No, you will not find it among the five ‘Stan Countries’ in the massive spread of Eurasia. Go further south and further east until you meet a sizeable island, not quite utima thule. Ask any forlorn-looking young man in that land where cones on stupa nearly scrape the underbelly of heavens, ‘In this seemingly pleasant land, what is the profession where a person with no inherited wealth, no education, and no professional skills can amass vast wealth in less than five years?’ The young man turned to him as if the stranger were a gross ignoramus and answered, ‘Why silly, politics? This is where asinus rex est.’ ‘Did you say, a land where the donkey is king’? How so?’ asks the visitor. ‘By misappropriating public funds’, gravely replied the young man, ‘to continue which, there is today a Misappropriation Bill presented before the House. It is mainly for misappropriating public funds, first by misallocation’. ‘That is probably why those rich thieves thrive luxuriantly outside a jail. In other countries, such men and women are housed at state expense in jails and at somewhat less comfort than princely. The state owes at least that little to those geniuses, who brought such immense ill fame to this land.’
A few days ago, the Chaurisri, the president of the Chaurigrha (that is the name of the Parliament like the Knesset in Israel or the Duma in Japan) announced the first reading of the said Misappropriation Bill. Since 2005, the annual Misappropriation Bill has been the principal instrument used to plunder the revenue of the state. Revenue (misnamed government income) of the state comprises tax revenue, government income and proceeds from loans raised by the government, each year. The misappropriation has been so gross, systematic, persistent and thorough that the kleptocratic republic won infamy in international fora including lending institutions, as a dark hole that sank money that should have benefited the common people of that country. As was inevitable, the Treasury was empty and the people were left with only foul air to breathe. Yet, Chauripurohit (Minister of Finance), who is also Chauripathi, announced in Chaurigrha that corruption in that land was but ‘a fable’. If the purohit spoke the truth, which he betimes does, then the truth in Chauristan is incredibly fabulous (Fable and fabulous come from the same Latin word ‘fabula.) At the bottom of that dark hole sat a spreading family of fat cats whose skills were confined to deception and corruption. They could not catch so much as a mouse who dared to pilfer some of the Swiss cheese they had imported to fatten the cats. One of the lenders to Chauristan was so concerned that its funds should not be misappropriated, that it appointed its own accountants and auditors when lending to the government of Chauristan. Knowledgeable taxpayers avoided and evaded tax payments because they knew that their taxes only would fatten the family of cats who would litter more. Other taxpayers and potential taxpayers flew out in flocks. The cost of those preventive measures became a part of the loan that the taxpayers of Chauristan would eventually repay.
Three parties misappropriated funds for their benefit. First the members of the Executive Branch of the government from the highest to the lowest. Those sums were fittingly very high. It is commonly averred that they siphoned 20 percent of any loan proceeds and of the price of large contracts. The contractors themselves plundered public funds by using sub-standard material, cheating on measurements and abandoning projects fully paid up but only partly done. There were three important consequences. First, the highest in the executive branch who decided on which projects or which version of a project would be selected, always and inevitably opted for the highest-priced project on offer. The reasoning was quite simple: 20 percent of $20 million raised a bribe of $4 million and 20 percent of 100 million gave $20 million and some loans exceeded a few billion US dollars. There were more than a few who shared each loot. Second, all large-scale projects were financed with loans from overseas with some marginal contribution from tax revenue. The Family avoided accepting offers of projects from countries and companies that would not collude with the Family to offer the cut that the Family wanted and further, deposit the bribe in banks outside Chauristan. So solicitous were they for the good name of Chauristan that they kept their gold securely in a locked Pandora’s Box. The most egregiously corrupt instance was when the government of Chauristan turned down a Light Rail Project offered almost free by a friendly government. Thirdly, as projects which had been accepted became either completely or partially unproductive, the burden of repayment fell on taxpayers, whose income had not increased at all. If you built a house and nobody took it on rent, you would pay the loan to the bank from your monthly salary and that at the cost of milk for your baby. The responsibility is yours for having put up that house in a devil’s cemetery. In reaction, when the burden of taxation became too heavy to bear, some refused to earn beyond a certain upper limit, some packed their bags and looked for refuge overseas and the very poor withered on the vine like grapes in winter in northern Italy. Loans were used to build 40 foot-wide roads on which crocodiles slumbered in the sun and buffaloes gambolled idly, airports, where hangars stored rice and sheltered no airplanes, ports where ships did not call, theatres where ghosts (not Ibsen’s) found permanent residence and where tall columns kept watchful guard over teals nesting in the bushes near the Beira. They did not produce an income adequate to service the loans and people in other sectors were starved to pay off loans while the cats and (Kaputas) crows grew visibly fatter. When those other sectors were destroyed wilfully by one member of the Family and by circumstances well beyond the control of the Family, the economy fell with a thud and woeful consequences fell upon the public. Yet, the cats grew fatter. Purposely and wilfully, one member of the Family denied large sums of tax revenue to the government and diverted that flow to Family friends who also had helped pay for their election to office and also to evade justice. The problem was further complicated as some of these loans were from overseas and had to be serviced with foreign currency. The value of the domestic currency in both foreign exchange and domestic markets tanked. Price inflation soared higher and faster than a kite in August on Galle Face Green.
The second group that misappropriated funds were rich traders who had power and influence over the said Family. Those had gained from the losses to the government treasury and at the same time to the public. The current Misappropriation Bill provides several honeypots that the kleptocrats must already savour. Government enterprises making good profits are up for sale to the private sector, even to the very private sector enterprises and individuals who had plundered the public purse. The capital that the Fat Cats publicly denied owning will suddenly emerge from where they were hidden, and black money will suddenly whiten and glisten and so will be born the Sri Lanka oligarchs. Wealth now hidden in properties in Australia, Europe, Africa, islands in the Indian Ocean and in the Caribbean will flow into Chauristan. Several miracles will occur simultaneously: black money will glisten and whiten blindingly; plunderers in kapati suits will fatten further in Parisian suits and Italian shoes; Sri Lanka’s capital account in the balance of payments will be in the black temporarily. It will be perestroika all over again but in a teacup. Voters need to understand these shenanigans well and elect representatives who will confine plunderers in jail and recover the loot forthwith.
The third group of plunderers was bureaucrats at very high levels. Senior Advisors to presidents, the prime minister and other ministers were notoriously corrupt. Many were caught with their sticky fingers in the kitty but skillful lawyering and unscrupulous politicians installed them back in higher positions and with substantially higher pay. And so merrily did they plunder; the Chauripurohit was right; it was fabulous (fable-like).
The Misappropriation Bill was presented in Chaurigrha as if there was only a macroeconomic problem ailing the economy. All the talk was about primary balances and stability in the economy. There was not a word about the horrors committed by the misallocation of resources. They were fables: my left cleft foot! Everyone breathed the macro-economic vapour and in the ensuing stupor forgot that it was misallocating resources and mismanaging individual projects that summed up to the macro-economic disasters. Thirteen years after the war in Chauristan, defence expenditure keeps on rising at the cost of other sectors including education and health. It is true that defence forces employ large numbers who would otherwise go unemployed and that these young men and women dig trenches and fill them back. Some of them have started making bags for politicians; a few will carry them. But what is the invasion against which the armed forces ever defended Chauristan? Chauristan armed forces cannot withstand for a fortnight even a minor invasion by sea, air and land from any but the smallest powers in its neighbourhood. They failed miserably to prevent a well-planned attack on worshippers at prayer in church on Easter Sunday in 2019, reliable information from other countries notwithstanding. Defend the country: flipping claptrap (Andy Capp might have said). The armed forces in Chauristan arefor the protection of the government against its own people and not for the protection of the state against other states. (One way of confounding the public mind is to confuse the use of the terms state and government so that when people attack a government it is dressed up by government as an attack on the state. Aragalaya attacked the government then in power and not the state of Sri Lanka. They were not traitors to the state of Sri Lanka. In contrast, Eritrea became a separate state after she broke away from Ethiopia. The people who rebelled were traitors to the state of Ethiopia.) Chauripurohit during the budget debate threatened to use armed forces to protect his government from the wrath of the public . That call, in principle, is problematic. After all the armed forces are of the people. But the armed forces are there to maintain public order. Good judgment is of the essence Why not call that outfit the Ministry of Internal Security? Why call a rose by another name?
There is one organ of government that will protect the people from depredation by the government: the judiciary. The judiciary has neither sleuths nor guns nor tanks. The judiciary needs the active support of some important parts of the executive to bring enemies of the people (Ibsen, again) to justice. When the executive fails in its duties and, in fact, colludes with other parts of government to harm the governed, the judiciary is helpless. Allocation is determined by the executive branch of government which can starve the judicial branch of resources. It is the function of the legislature to correct such misallocation.
Allocating massive sums over two decades to projects that overran their originally budgeted resources and construction periods ensured that those projects would bring about waste of capital and minimal rates of economic growth. Of some 5,000 head of cattle imported from New Zealand to Chauristan 90 percent died within a year. Good project management could have eliminated all this waste. In fact, some parts of Chaurigrha brought out these dreadful facts but the mass in that august assembly could not make the connections.
The government of Chauristan is a swamp that drains the flood of unemployed in the economy. Politicians continually widen and deepen that swamp to keep their noses above water. There is roughly one government employee for every 15 persons in the population. There is roughly one teacher per 15 students in schools. More than 20 percent of the labour force in the country work overseas and the recent higher rate of outflow from the country is raising the stock. In the face of this stark evidence, purohits in the land blame the education system for unemployment in the economy. They don’t ask how China, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Mauritius recently and Europe, over centuries, employed large increases in their labour force at rising levels of productivity. They did so because governments and entrepreneurs employed increasing populations. And Chauristan is distinguished by its repetitive kleptocratic governments, the scarcity of productive enterprises and the plenitude of unproductive labour.
The stranger exhaled a long breath, looked the young man in the eye and said: ‘Every prospect in this land pleases me but the dominant elites, whatever robes they wear, disgust’. And the traveller weary, wended his wayward way.
Religious and philosophical aspects of Buddhism
By Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara
Buddhism first originated in India in the 6th century BC. Today, Buddhism has become one of the most popular religions with over 507 million followers worldwide. It is a non-theistic religion, as it does not believe in a creator or God.
Some prefer to call it a religion, while others call it a philosophy, still others regard it as both a religion and philosophy, as it contains many characteristics which blur the lines between philosophy and religion. Different people view buddhism differently. Therefore, the question of whether Buddhism is a philosophy or a religion depends on how people define religion and its technicalities. Religion generally connotes idea of presence of powerful God who controls the entire world, Buddhism which is non-theistic cannot be classified as a religion. Term non-theistic religion would be a contradiction in terms.
Of course, it has to be admitted that there are plenty of religious and philosophical aspects to the Buddha’s doctrine.
Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha. He was born to a royal family in Kapilavastu, on the foot hills of the Himalaya in the 16th century B.C. When he was overcome by sights of disease, old age and death he realised that the world was full of suffering and misery and therefore renounced his worldly life in search of true happiness. After practicing great austerities, and going through intense meditation with a strong will and a mind free from all disturbing thoughts and passions, he attained enlightment.
The Buddha can also be regarded as one of the greatest psychotherapists the world has ever produced.
Buddhism is a pragmatic teaching, which starts from certain fundamental propositions about how we experience the world and how we act in it. It teaches that it is possible to transcend this sorrowful world and shows us the way of liberating ourselves from the sorrowful state.
Buddhism is not culture bound, nor bound to any particular society, race or ethnic group unlike certain religions that are culture bound. Buddhism believes in pragmatism and its practicality can be seen as one of its distinguishing features. Buddhism lays special emphasis on practice and realisation.
In a way Buddhism can be considered as a way of life. It is the righteous way of life which brings about peace and happiness to every living being. It is a method of ridding ourselves of miseries and to find liberation from samsaric cyclic life.
The teachings of the Buddha contain practical wisdom that is not limited to theory or to philosophy. Philosophy deals mainly with knowledge and it is not concerned with translating that knowledge into day to day practice. Philosophy is commonly defined as a rational investigation of principles and beliefs of knowledge and conduct. Philosophy can see the frustrations and disappointments of life but unlike in Buddhism it does not show any practical solution to overcome those problems which are part of the unsatisfactory nature of life.
The Buddha’s teachings are referred to as the Dhamma, which literally means “the ultimate truth” or the “truth about reality”. Buddhists are expected to live by it. The Buddha always encouraged his followers to investigate his teachings for themselves. His Dhamma is described as Ehipassikko which roughly means “Inviting his followers to come and see for themselves or “verify” or “to investigate”. He strongly encouraged his followers to engage in critical thinking and draw on their own personal experience to test what he was saying. This attitude differs entirely from other regions such as Christianity where followers are encouraged to accept its scriptures unquestioningly. This is exemplified by the Kalama Sutra.
When the Buddha on his wanderings arrived at Kesaputta, the town of the Kalamas’, the Kalamas went to the Buddha and said to the Buddha “Lord, there are some brahmans and ascetics who had come to Kesputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them show contempt for them and disparage them. Then again other brahmans and ascetics come to Kesputta they too expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others they deprecate them, revile them show contempt for them and disparage them. They leave us absolutely uncertain and in doubt. Which of these venerable brahmanas and ascetics are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?”
Lord Buddha replying said “Yes, O Kalama’s, it is right for you to doubt, it is right for you to waver. In a doubtful matter, wavering has arisen.” And gave them the following advice. “Come, O Kalamas, do not accept anything on mere hearsay. Do not accept any thing by mere tradition thinking that it has been handed through many generations. Do not accept anything on account of rumors without investigations. Do not accept anything just because it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept anything by mere supposition. Do not accept anything by mere inference. Do not accept anything by merely considering the appearances. Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with your preconceived notions. Do not accept anything merely because it seems acceptable. Do not accept anything thinking that the master is respected or it is part of tradition”.
“But when you know for yourselves after investigation that these things are good, these things are not blameless, these things are praised by the wise, undertaken and observed, these things lead to the benefit and happiness, enter on and abide in them”
These wise utterances of the Buddha made more than 2500 years ago, still holds good and can be applied with equal force to our day to today life. In Janasara-sammuccaya he repeats the same counsel in different form. “tapac chedac canikasatsvarnamiva panditaih Parrikshya blikshavo grahyam madvaco na tu gaurvat” which means “As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it on a piece of touchstone, so are you to accept my words after examining them and merely out of regard for me”.
The Buddha dealt with the problem of human suffering and approached it in a concrete way. This attitude of pragmatism of Buddhism is clearly evident from the Culamalukyasutta in which the Buddha made use of the example of the wounded man. A man wounded by an arrow wished to know who shot the arrow, from which direction it was shot, the material with which it was made, before it was removed from his body. This man is compared to a man who would like to know about the origin of the Universe, whether the world is eternal or not, finite or not before he practices the religion.
Just as the man in the parable will die before he has all the answers he wanted regarding the origin and the nature of the arrow, such people will die before they will ever have the answers to all their irrelevant questions. This Sutra exemplifies the practical attitude to Buddhism and question of priorities.
Buddha as a primarily ethical teacher and reformer discouraged metaphysical discussions devoid of ethical value and practical utility. Instead, he enlightened his followers on the most important questions of sorrow, its origin, its cessation and the path leading to its cessation, as adumbrated in the Four Noble Truths. To him the problem of human suffering was much more important than speculative discussions or reasoning.
Most people define religion as believing in some kind of omnipotent God or Creator, the view to which buddhism does not subscribe. Buddhism is not a religion based on faith, authority, dogmas or revelation, but based on facts as we experience them in our daily lives. Buddha declared “whether a tathagata (buddha) arises in the world or not all conditioned things are transient” Annica, unsatisfactory Dukkha and soulless Annatta. Buddha declared deliverance could be attained independent of any external agency such as a God or a savior. This is one of the fundamental differences which distinguish buddhism from other religions.
In the Dhammapada the Buddha says: “By oneself alone is evil done: by oneself is one defiled. By oneself alone is evil avoided: by oneself alone is one purified. (Purity and impurity depend on oneself. No one can purify another). A Buddhist does not think that he can gain purity or salvation merely by seeking refuge in the Buddha or by mere faith in him. Buddha as a teacher may be instrumental or show the path of purification to a person but he himself has to strive.
Although the Buddha discounted the concept of God he never denounced or denigrated it. Never in all his discourses did the buddha make a direct attack on the concept of God
Most people across the world consider buddhism as a religion. But it should be admitted that Buddhism has many religious and philosophical aspects in its doctrine, which has led many people to regard it so. Further, Buddhism also contains metaphysical aspects which are associated with religion. Similarly, discourses on rebirth and different realms of existence, in which a person can be reborn after his death are associated with religion. Moreover, reference to supernatural powers in many of Buddhist discourses and Karmic consequences which result from one’s actions makes it less of philosophy and more of religion
Further, he speaks of the law of karma which he uses to expound the unfairness and inequality that exits in society, the defilements, fetters and hindrances such as attachment, sensory desires, lust doubt and uncertainty and craving which prevents one from attaining liberation from samsaric life. All of the above go to prove the religious aspects of the doctrine. The five precepts by buddha are more like a set of guidelines people should follow for a good life on this and the next life.
Therefore, debate whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy is legitimate has both sides have reasonable argument to buttress their stand on the matter.
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