By ROHANA R. WASALA
It was recently reported in the media (e. g. The Island/Monday, July 19, 2021) that Public Security Minister Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera had said that all young persons above the age of 18 years should be given military training to inculcate disciplinary values in them. He was speaking at the opening of a new police station at Hirana in Panadura, last week. The Minister, while referring to the prevalent opinion about the young generation (i.e., children and young adults in education generally, I presume) that they have no respect for discipline, obedience to rules, and good behavioural values, observed that the problem could be tackled with proper training. He immediately qualified what he said with: “This does not mean we must turn them into military personnel, but if we are to train the youth above 18 properly, the most suitable places for that training are military camps. We must design a course aimed at personality development.”
Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera is very honest and trustworthy. I haven’t an iota of doubt about his sincerity and his commitment to the job he has been assigned with. But, anent this idea of his, I’d say in all humility: “Not so arbitrarily! Not so hastily!” However, as education is not his responsibility, the Public Security Minister may be making an implicit suggestion to his Cabinet colleague who is in charge of that subject. Isn’t it more urgent for the well-meaning Minister to look after the discipline of the minority of police officers who sometimes act in ways unbecoming of their profession, by getting the police hierarchy to enforce discipline on those few of their subordinates? He should not forget that there could still be blacklegs in the force, linked with yahapalanaya.
By the way, the Minister, quite sincerely and justly, showered the police with praise for rendering “yeoman service during the past few months in overcoming the threats posed by the underworld, and fighting the pandemic”, when, as The Island/July 26 reported, he called upon the Venerable Maha NayakeTheras of Asgiriya and Malwatta Chapters, and the Getambe Hamuduruwo, who, unlike the Maha Nayake monks, is known and respected for his blunt speech. The news item is illustrated with four telling pictures of the Minister meeting with the prelates and paying obeisance to them. To me it looks like The Island photographer has caught the Minister’s meetings with the monks in a satiric light.
The Buddhist Sangha has a key role to play (though it is always unobtrusive, based on the Dhamma) in fostering discipline among the people, including rulers and civil functionaries. Isn’t the motto of the Sri Lankan Police “Dhammo have rakkhati dhammacari” (The Dhamma protects the followers of the Dhamma)? But what is the heartbreaking reality the people encounter in this area today? Writer S.M. Sumanadasa’s opinion piece “Whither the Sangha and the Buddha Sasana?” (The Island/July 26) has well elaborated this deficit on the part of the Sangha. My own opinion is, as I have repeatedly pointed out, that only a united Maha Sangha can save the Buddha Sasana and the Buddhists; acting only as moral guides, without dabbling in politics, except when the survival of the Sasana and the people is in danger.
The Mahanayakes should be able to recall all the agitating young monks from the streets, ostracise those who don’t listen, put a stop to misrepresentations of Buddhism by misguided maverick monks, and counter the conspiracies of anti-Buddhist proselytisers, etc., and put politicians in their place, who so unashamedly exploit the yellow robe to cheat in their immoral political games. This is a tall order, no doubt, but the Maha Sangha must do the task or let the Buddha Sasana perish. There’s nothing to worry about the Buddha Dhamma/Buddhist teaching. It is better understood, practiced, and protected among the enlightened civilised people of the world everywhere. Theravada Buddhism has been absorbed (without a label, characteristically) into the basically humane religious philosophies and forms of democratic rule in the whole world. But the continuing absence of such an undivided Sangha leadership in Sri Lanka is spelling disaster for the Buddha Sasana and the Sinhala Buddhists.
It is true that the country’s successful tackling of the Covid-19 pandemic, through vaccination amidst untold difficulties and artificial snags, owes much to the hard work and the discipline of the health and security personnel, including the police. I measure success in this connection in the following terms: by now, over seven million Sri Lankans have got at least one dose of an anti-Covid vaccine, and over one million of them have got both. Vaccination is the only remedy available against the deadly disease. All 225 MPs and hundreds of local representatives must be equally responsible for saving the people, who elected them to office, from the Coronavirus. Their personal discipline must be exemplary, because they are also accountable if young people behave without discipline as alleged. I personally do not believe that the vast majority of our young people lack discipline.
But if it is perceived that there is such a problem, responsible politicians and educational authorities ought to do something about it, in an apolitical, non-controversial, scientific manner (i.e.,through ideological debate and discussion among experts, not leaving out agreeable youth interaction and involvement). They must take collective steps to democratically protect the young from falling into the hands of the negligibly few, ignorant and immature political power seekers among them, who have ruined the lives of generations of youth over the past roughly 55 years. The people have convincingly rejected them, and the same people will wholeheartedly support any positive measures that responsible people’s representatives and civil authorities introduce in good faith, by way of a remedy against their misleading quixotic adventures to ensnare the young into their schemes.
But if they admit their past errors, and conceptualise a new approach to national politics, as a bulwark against minority communalism as well as the big parties that succumb to the trickeries of the few racists among minority politicians, Sri Lanka will be theirs to rule. My frank view is that, Uvindu Wijeweera, the well-educated young son of the late Rohana Wijeweera, the founder ideologue and leader of the JVP, destroyed by the reactionary forces that his successors later befriended, has great potential in leading such a movement. Monks, please don’t wreck his chances. (This is an anticipatory digression, but not entirely out of context.)
Back to my present subject. My gut feeling, as a senior retired educator and educationist, is that the alleged problem and the solution suggested by the Public Security Minister (alleged youth indiscipline and military training, respectively), must be better conceptualised, more carefully thought out with the assistance of relevant non-self-seeking specialists, whose expertise is not in question, and whose love of the young and of the country is even more assured. (I don’t personally think that a problem of general youth indiscipline exists; if it does, adults must be held responsible, and their (adults’) problems, if any solved). I have worked with adolescents and young adults of both sexes in secondary and tertiary education in Sri Lanka and abroad for over 35 years (the better part of that time in an alien culture abroad). The wisdom that I have gained in connection with the subject at hand, is that normally young people everywhere are unspoilt and moral idealists. They are ready to act with self-discipline and responsibility or are ready to subject themselves to formal discipline, when they are convinced that discipline, contrary to what the word basically implies – restraint, control -, makes them strangely free and strong enough to channel the physical and mental energies that they naturally possess to create happiness for themselves and for those around them.
this more clearly when I taught abroad than when I was working in my own country Sri Lanka (where I worked for a shorter period in my less mature years). But, how disciplined our educated young people are in a conducive environment was demonstrated when they enthusiastically joined in a mass voluntary wall painting movement for town beautification across the country with the election of a new president in November 2019, that electrified them with new expectations and prospects of better times to come.
Incidentally, the Minister’s proposal reminds us of the leadership development programme that was introduced during the post-2009 government, and implemented with the help of for the benefit of fresh university entrants before the commencement of their academic studies. The Army was co-opted to the programme, because it had all the human and physical resources required for such an undertaking. It was probably partly intended as a dampener on the chronic problem of initiation ragging, which was historically and inevitably associated with the rejected and depleted political minority mentioned above. The programme was no doubt a wholesome confidence building and personality development measure, being a more rational and more acceptable form of initiation (than the sadistic ragging administered by psychopathic criminals) into independent university life from secondary school.
The programme was well received both by the students and their parents, and by the general public. However, the well-designed and well conducted initiative met with an adverse response, mostly for the wrong reasons, from foreign agenda promoting NGOs and blindly politicised oppositional groups. The proponents of the useful course of leadership training and personality development probably felt that, in the then prevailing context, this kind of reception was likely to later create public misunderstandings that could translate into electoral losses for the governing party. So it had to be abandoned almost as soon as it was started. A farcical personality development programme of the fake ‘Reconciliation’ brand was enacted under the yahapalanaya, when it was in its last legs.
The negative experience (being forced to abandon the first leadership programme for university entrants introduced during 2009-15) should have alerted the Minister to the possible, nay probable, repetition of criticism from the same quarters. Those attacks on the previous leadership development programme were for the most part unfounded, but not totally so. Their politicised nature betrayed a severe deficit of sincerity on the part of the critics. Employees of foreign NGOs, including even the (probably forcibly roped in) venerables of Friday Forum who disapproved of that military-like training, cannot free themselves from suspected susceptibility to the attraction of the filthy lucre. Their opposition can be safely disregarded if the recipient students, their parents and the general public have no problem with the rudimentary military training that the Public Security Minister proposes for all the young people of the country. But, in my opinion, the immediately existing political and social environment in Sri Lanka is not conducive for the success of such a personality development programme.
The Public Security Minister’s bona fides are beyond doubt. He pledged to stand by the police officers who carried out their duties in good faith. But he should know better than most if he has succeeded in emerging out of the lingering shadow of the yahapalana incubus. Candour without caution is likely to prove mere self-defeating naivety at the present juncture.
Sri Lanka cricket: what ails thou?
By a Sports Aficionado
This cricket-mad nation was appalled by the pathetic and blatantly disgraceful performance of its National Cricket Team at the premier event of the game, the World Cup. Even before the event ended, heads rolled over here on the cricket board. Such action should have been taken long ago but what we need now is an honest analysis of the debacle and the remedial measures that need to be taken.
One of the root causes of the problem is that there is far too much money in the game at present. Even in the face of the current economic crisis the money that has been remorselessly thrown around cricket is totally unbelievable. The amount of money that has been paid out to the so-called ‘support staff’ is absolutely mind-boggling. For what, pray we ask? To repeatedly lick the sporting wounds inflicted even by lesser mortals? Shame on the Cricket Board that seems to have completely wasted all that money for years in the past. In recent years we have not gained even an iota of returns for all the money spent on locals and foreigners to supposedly elevate the performance levels.
What we are not told are the most likely princely sums paid out to the players by the Cricket Board. If we are to judge that by the amounts paid to the support staff, the amounts paid to the players must be in a celestial planetary orbit. Those amounts are most likely to be astronomical. It is also a certainty that the Cricket Board Staff too have been at the receiving end of even cosmological amounts. The beneficiaries in the Cricket Board also include various types of managers and other assorted executives and supervisors. Then for good measure, add overriding perpetual corruption and you have the recipe for the disaster that it was. The current situation is nothing new., it has been there for quite a while.
So, for a start, trim down the expenses and most definitely the amounts paid to all and sundry through the Cricket Board. We do not need all kinds of suddhas in the supporting staff brigade to resurrect the game. We have locals who could do even a better job for much less payment. Just take a chapter from the book of India, the nation that is flying sky-high in cricket at present. They do not have foreign managers, foreign coaches, or any other foreign white-skinned ‘experts’ to guide their players. What they have is a home-grown well-knit team of local experts who work behind the scenes to produce the results that they consistently provide. They also have a local medical team that can hold its own against the very best in the world. Their players will interact beautifully with the local experts quite unlike our players who would even venerate the ground those so-called foreign experts walk on, but look down practically murderously at local experts. Our players might even refuse to play if a local expert is put in charge of guiding them.
A good start for enhancing performance up to the highest levels is to have a reasonable monthly retainer for players contracted to the Cricket Administration and to that add appearance fees for matches and substantial rewards for good performance in the field. These could be payments for individual achievements as well as stellar successes by the team to be shared equally amongst the players. There is no harm in paying dearly for proven successes.
Our cricket team is so very poor in adjusting to various situations mentally. In any sport, there are ups and downs. It is only the mentally strong who will be able to come through the setbacks and shine. A sportsperson should first learn to handle defeat before he or she can savour the joys of victory. A winner is just the one who can convert fear into confidence, setbacks into comebacks, excuses into firm decisions and mistakes into learnings. Any sporting person or team needs to adjust to the mental strains of intense competition. A person who can help in such situations is a Sports Psychologist. We have never had a dedicated Sports Psychologist for our cricket team. Apparently, the players are totally against using the services of a Sports Psychologist. They are probably of the mistaken belief that psychologists are needed only by the mentally deranged. The end result is that they become perpetual losers who continue to earn loads of dough. Little do they realise that Sports Psychologists are part and parcel of top-class teams of any sport and even individual high-flying performers.
To add salt to the wounds of our cricket team, many and varied injuries are a real bane for consistent performance at the highest levels by our cricketers. Our players get all the possible injuries in the book., some getting the same injury repeatedly. It has been very clearly demonstrated that in any sport, including those that do not involve muscular exertion, physical fitness is of the utmost importance for stellar performance. It is not necessary to delve too deeply into this as far as our cricket team is concerned. They are probably the most unfit team in the flock of teams playing international cricket. They have only to look at the training programme of 35-year-old Virat Kohli to see what needs to be done. He works extremely hard at his physical fitness and the results are there for all to see. In addition to being a classy batsman, his running between the wickets, together with his fielding and catching are the greatest hallmarks of the cricketer.
There is no proper medical team led by a qualified Sports Team Physician who is in charge of all medical matters related to training, diagnosis of injuries and appropriate management. Unfortunately, it is the physiotherapists and physical trainers who seem to be doing all of that in our cricket team and running the show. When a player gets injured on the field, it is a physiotherapist or a trainer who runs onto the field. It should be a properly qualified sports doctor who should be doing that with the other ancillary service providers following behind him or her. Our players have come to a stage where they trust the ancillary service providers rather than properly qualified sports doctors. Those providers speak a kind of high-flown language that impresses the players. However, those words would fail them miserably if they were to be confronted by properly qualified medical personnel.
The woes of our national cricket scenario are multifactorial. Yet for all that people who are selected to represent our country in cricket should realise what an honour and a privilege it is to represent our country. They should take tremendous pride in that. Then they should try always to give of their best to our beautiful country. There are no simple solutions to the problems of Sri Lankan cricket. The talent is there for all to see. It just needs to be properly nurtured and harnessed. It would be pertinent here to echo the words of the 36-year-old champion tennis player Novak Djokovic after winning the most recent Paris Masters Tournament: “Either you let the circumstances and the feelings that you have at that moment master you or you try to master them in a way. There is no in-between. You either fold, retire, or simply give away the match, or you try to draw the energy from the adrenaline that you are feeling from the crowd, from the momentum that you are feeling on the field.”
Need we say more? With proper guidance and classy management, our cricketers need not be the perpetual losers.
Going ritual mode
The article titled “The distortion of Buddhism and the rise of meaningless rituals” written by ‘Member of the silent majority’, which appeared in The Sunday Island of November 26 is a bold explication of Buddhists’ going ritual mode, which most of them seem to feel as the highpoint of living a Buddhist life. The writer comments on the wanton waste in terms of money, resources and time on revelries that pass as demonstrations of religious fervour: “All this excess is expressed in the form of Katina pinkamas that we are witnessing right now. They may be described as carnivals, not religious practices.” This is the unadorned truth of the matter. What is more harmful is that this sort of ritualistic routine helps perpetuate nothing but mass excitement unwittingly construed as the most certain indication of living a Buddhist life and protecting Buddhism.
It is this very skewed attention to the habitual rites that prevents us from seeking the meaning and, more importantly, the applicability of even the religion’s basic teachings in practical life. Unfortunately, the more festive and adorned our outward expressions of religion are, the more easily we tend to think that festivals are the most reliable guarantors of our religion.
Our elites, who are skilled in the delicate art of exploiting the religious sentiments of people for ensuring self-gain and political stability, make a big fuss about ‘protecting religion’ thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, sowing the seeds of divisive feelings of “self” and “other”. This is a grand way of making Buddhists feel that Buddhism is, more than anything else, something to be protected like personal property. Stating that Buddha discourages rituals, the writer goes on to say that Buddha extolled the practice of virtue: “The path which is simple and direct, is clearly stated by the Buddha, namely: the practice of generosity, virtue and mindfulness for lay people; and the practice of virtue, concentration and wisdom for the monks.” Our rulers seem to continuously maintain that if anyone wishes to ‘protect Buddhism’, he has to protect it from any ‘harm’ coming from outside. The writer challenges this when he says, “The Buddha predicted that the decline of Buddhism would indeed be caused by its corruption from within.”
However, the problem is, for the people, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, etc. there is no escape from the political, economic and social forces that determine their entire outlook on life. The good values like generosity, empathy, tolerance, etc., which are not the exclusive preserve of one religion but virtues that promote the wellbeing of all societies, will remain just rarefied notions in the air until the root causes of greed, corruption and mindless competition propelled by consumerism continue to constitute our criteria of progress.
Most ‘development’ projects that hide corrupt deals bringing enormous jackpots to the elites begin with loud religious ceremonies that help maintain the collective myth of preserving religion. The more we start any programme: opening ceremony, construction project, shramadana, funeral, community meeting and whatnot, the more intense our feeling of religiosity becomes, and the more assured we are of ‘preserving’ our religion. In other words, what we are strongly convinced of as the preservation of our religion is the routine observance of the relevant set of rituals. ‘Protecting’ religion, in this sense is the name of the game and all devotees feel happy that ‘our religion’ is ‘protected’. The whole caravan of religions moves forward satisfying the weekly, monthly or seasonal outpouring of our sense of ‘spirituality’ and our sense of religiosity is well taken care of.
It is this kind of cosmetic religiosity that is easily hijacked by political leaders who never miss a chance of showing their religious fervour whenever there are TV cameras around them. And they are the very people who, unluckily, get exposed at regular intervals for their connivance in all kinds of scams. However, we rarely find time to question how these self-professed guardians of religion have benefitted from being publicly religious and swearing to protect religion.
It would be more beneficial to society if people start asking themselves whether it is possible to envision a good society without religious branding. After all, what everyone wants is a good society where all can live peacefully and work productively for the well-being of all- where ‘peace’ cannot be sold as an election promise.
It matters little whether you label your society as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Moslem, multi-religious or secular.
LIFE IS A FROLIC…. Goolbai Gunasekara’s latest book of humour
Published by BAYOWL Press Sam and Hussein Publishing House
Versatile author, Goolbai Gunasekara’s books are always eminently readable whether they be on History, Education or Humour. Her latest book is hilarious from beginning to end and all Sri Lankan readers will relate to her amusing anecdotes, relationships, and laughable incidents told with a personal chuckle and a genuine sense of laughter.
“Humour is only amusing when you can laugh at yourself” says Goolbai. You must never laugh at other people by saying anything hurtful.” She quotes, “My mother used to tell me never to write about someone who cannot hit back. I have tried to follow this advice and although humour is sometimes exaggerated to make it funnier it is never offensive.”
I recall the KitKat stories of her granddaughter which were such a hit years ago. KitKat was actually a composite of ALL children of that age. Today, Goolbai’s humour ranges over every known topic against a back drop of modern doings The Social life 65 years (ago as a school girl) is compared to social life today. The difference if mind boggling. Visits to the Dentist are particularly funny as one of my best friends is a Dentist. Goolbai asks how a Dentist expects a patient to answer with his mouth open, but still manages to carry on, cheerfully, with his monologue anyway!
Weddings of yesterday are compared to weddings of today. One story ends with a father viewing the unfolding expenses with horror and telling his bridesmaid daughter, “Darling, when you want to marry, do me a favour and elope.”
The story “Bicycle Boom” describes “Our lovely Mayor Rosy” and the Dutch Ambassador (of some time ago,) trying to popularize the use of the bike to help traffic. Another pithy comment describes the place ‘Clothes and Shoe Brands’ have in the life of a complete philistine (herself) who hardly recognizes a Nike from a Bata.
Nothing Goolbai says can ever cause offence. She is witty and kind in all the 58 short episodes and I am both entertained and fascinated by the versatility of this well-known authoress who writes books on Education with the same panache and sense of humour as LIFE IS A FROLIC.
I cannot end these few comments without reference to the drivers of long ago. They were better than Mosad agents in keeping beady eyes on unwanted male attention and were thoroughly trusted by suspicious parents.
Read this book as a complete Mood Lifter. You can’t go wrong
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