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Bhikkhus behaving badly?

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by Dr. Upul Wijayawardhana

Rather than discoursing on the profound truths expounded by the Buddha, some Bhikkhus have specialised in telling stories. Worse still, they are spreading canards the latest being that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka. Though I would love for this to be true, unfortunately, there is no archaeological evidence even to support that the Buddha visited Sri Lanka, leaving aside being born here. The excellent article by Bhante Dhammika of Australia printed in this newspaper proves with archaeological evidence where the Buddha was actually born (Was the Buddha born in Sri Lanka? Sunday Island, 25 October) but I am sure these Bhikkhus and their supporters would disregard archaeological evidence and concoct their own.

Fortunately, caste is a fading entity in modern society only politicians and bhikkhus attempting to keep it alive. I need not dwell much on the utterly disgraceful practice of perpetuating the caste system by some Nikayas, as I have discussed this in detail in my article “Have we let down Gautama Buddha” (The Island, 8 May 2020) except to ask the question: Is it not the height of hypocrisy to deny ordination on the basis of caste when the Buddha decreed that it is not birth but actions that decide whether one is an untouchable or a Brahmin? (Kammna Wasalo Hothi, Kammana Hothi Brahmano)

“We will take trade union action in 48 hours, if our demands are not met” was the recent rallying cry of a trade union leader, in the midst of a grave national emergency, which shocked me for more reason than one. Though the initial grasp in controlling the Covid-19 epidemic seems to have been lost, for whatever reason, and the problem in Sri Lanka is nothing compared to what is happening in the rest of the world, around 300 dying daily of the deadly virus in UK, still we are facing a grave situation as our battered economy is not likely to withstand any more challenges.

In this situation an implied strike, to say the least, is grossly irresponsible. And what is this trade union? A nurses’ union. Are they not supposed to be healing angels? Who is the leader of this union? A Buddhist Priest! Has he forgotten what the Buddha said: “Health is the greatest gain” and “He who would minister to me should minister to the sick”? For a Buddhist priest to even suggest risking patients’ lives is the greatest insult that could be done to the ‘Compassionate One’ who introduced the concepts of ‘Metta, Karuna. Muditha and Upeksha’.

It is a great shame that nurses in Sri Lanka, who are second to none, are not able to find a member of their own profession to lead their trade union. In the country that produced the first female prime minister in the world, is there no lady with leadership qualities to lead the union of a profession still largely dominated by women? It indeed is an outrage for a Buddhist priest to be lead a trade union, nursing or otherwise. Obviously, he is politicking as his latest offer is to lead the opposition to the government! Is he trying to replace Sajith?

It is true that Bhikkhus have come to the rescue of the nation at times of national peril but that does not entitle them to play a part in daily politics, which some of them are doing in various guises. At least partly due to the efforts of one Buddhist Monk who took to a ‘political clean-up campaign to get rid of Rajapaksas’ we had to endure almost five years of a rotten Yahapalanaya, unfortunately. Now another group of Bhikkhus are attempting to dictate to the new government. In fact, one of them had the audacity to state in a press conference “If they want to amend the constitution, they should get our permission first”! Have they forgotten that the government is there to carry out the will of the people, not that of the Sangha? Let them be reminded that Sri Lanka does not belong to them, nor to Sinhala Buddhists alone, but to all citizens.

Bhikkhus entered the parliament and behaved as disgracefully as other elected ‘honourable’ politicians. There were brawls in the well of the House. Disappointed Buddhists stopped voting for Bhikkhus though a party which was formed by them got a seat on the national list but the debacle that followed can only be equalled to antics of the now-doomed UNP! Did the Buddha get involved in politics? Did He go round doling unsolicited advice to the rulers? Definitely not. He maintained a distance and recognised the fact that rulers had to make unpalatable choices at times. He gave advice only when sought. In contrast, some of the modern day ‘political priests’ not only attempt to be king makers but also threaten to bring down the government when it refuses to do what they want, often personal favours. By the actions of a few, unfortunately, the entire Sangha may be tainted as there are many with hidden agendas who are keenly waiting for any opportunity to discredit the Sangha.

I have heard rumours that some Bhikkhus are charging for Bana preaching in various guises. They are selling the Dhamma! However, first-hand confirmation of this came with a recent conversation I had with one of my very dear friends who, unfortunately, lost his daughter to cancer: “When the Hamuduruwo, a renowned preacher whom I invited for the Mataka-Bana sent a message that he needs Rs. 25,000 I was shocked. I had only Rs. 15,000 cash with me which I sent”. This Bhikkhu discharged his noble responsibility for a fee! I am told some others insist that they need their own sound system and charge for that; a simple ruse to sell the Dhamma! We get enraged when a Buddhist exhibits a tattoo of the Buddha but venerate and encourage these businessmen in robes!

I am reminded that Ven, Walpola Rahula accepted invitations for Bana Preachings on the express understanding that no pirikara was offered. In his writings he mentions how guilty he felt after receiving an umbrella after a Bana preaching. He feels he may have indicated that he needs an umbrella but from the time he received it, every time he looked at it, guilt overcame him, that he had sold the Dhamma. I can well understand devotees desire to make an offering as we are made to believe that it adds to our good karma. Just to satisfy that desire if a Bhikkhu accepts a pirikara, perhaps it may be construed as harmless but to preach for profit is totally despicable.

Maybe, I am paving my path to hell by writing this as some Bhikkhus say that criticizing the Sangha is an unpardonable sin. Perhaps, the Buddha may not agree with them had He been alive today. Not only that, He would have been shocked and dismayed by what some members of the Sangha is doing in His name. The greatest achievement of the Buddha is empowering us to seek our own destiny; freeing us from any supernatural overlords. He gave us freedom of thought and laid the foundation for the scientific basis of analysis of questions. He walked miles and miles, most likely barefooted, around large parts of India to pass on His message to all and sundry, explaining in terms each group understood. During his travels, on most nights, the Buddha would have slept under a tree gazing at the night sky above with the vast universe beyond. His bed would have been nothing more than a folded robe. In contrast, what do some of His followers do today? They live in opulence, boast of enlightenment, seek power and profit by selling the Dhamma. What a great shame?

 

 

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Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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