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Eminent Indians in Galle



In November 1927, Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturbai Gandhi arrived in Galle. They were the chief guests at the prize-giving of Mahinda College, on the 24th. The Olcott Memorial Assembly Hall of the College was filled to capacity. Never was there such a large gathering of Buddhists, Hindus and Christians. The speech given by Gandhi is excerpted from the Mahinda College Magazine of 2002:

“It has given me the greatest pleasure to be able to be present at this very pleasant function. You have paid me, indeed, a very great compliment and conferred on me a great honour by allowing me to witness your proceedings and making the acquaintance of so many boys.

I hope that this institution will progressively expand as, I have no doubt, it deserves. I have come to know enough of this beautiful Island and its people to understand that there are Buddhists enough in this country, not merely to support one such institution, but many such institutions. I hope, therefore, that this institution will never have to pine for want of material support, but having known something of the educational institutions both in South Africa and India, let me tell you that scholastic education is not merely brick or mortar. It is true boys and true girls who build such institutions from day to day. I know some huge architecturally perfect buildings going under the name of scholastic institutions, but they are nothing but whited sepulchres. Conversely, I know also some institutions which have to struggle from day to day for their material existence, but which, because of this very want, are spiritually making advance from day to day. One of the greatest teachers that mankind has ever seen and one whom you have enthroned as the only Royal Monarch in your hearts, delivered his living message not from a man-made building, but under the shadow of a magnificent tree. May I also venture to suggest that the aim of a great institution like this should be to impart such instruction and in such ways that it may be open to any boy or girl in Ceylon.

“I notice already that, as in India, so in this country, you are making education daily more and more expensive so as to be beyond the reach of the poorest children. Let us all beware of making that serious blunder and incurring the deserved reproach of posterity. To that end let me put the greatest stress upon the desirability of giving these boys instruction from A to Z through the Sinhalese language. I am certain that the children of the nation that receive instruction in a tongue other than their own commit suicide. It robs them of their birth right. A foreign medium means an undue strain upon the youngsters; it robs them of all originality. It stunts their growth and isolates them from their home. I regard therefore such a thing as a national tragedy of first importance, and I would like also to suggest that since I have known Sanskrit in India as the mother language, and since you have received all religious instruction from the teachings of one who was himself an Indian amongst Indians and who had derived his inspiration from Sanskrit writings that it would be but right on your part to introduce Sanskrit as one of the languages that should be diligently studied. I should expect an institution of this kind to supply the whole of the Buddhist community in Ceylon with text books written in Sinhalese and giving all the best from the treasures of old. I hope that you will not consider that I have placed before you an unattainable ideal. Instances occur to me from history where teachers have made Herculean efforts in order to restore the dignity of the mother-tongue and to restore the dignity of the old treasures which were about to be forgotten.

“I am glad indeed that you are giving due attention to athletics and I congratulate you upon acquitting yourselves with distinction in games. I do not know whether you had any indigenous games or not. I should, however, be exceedingly surprised and even painfully surprised, if I were told that before cricket and football descended upon your sacred soil, your boys were devoid of all games. If you have national games, I would urge upon you that yours is an institution that should lead in reviving old games. I know that we have in India noble indigenous games just as interesting and exciting as cricket or football, also as much attended with risks as football is, but with the added advantage that they are inexpensive, because the cost is practically next to nothing.

“I am no indiscriminate superstitious worshipper of all that goes under the name of ‘ancient’. I never hesitated to endeavour to demolish all that is evil or immoral, no matter how ancient it may be, but with this reservation. I must confess to you that I am an adorer of ancient institutions and it hurts me to think that a people in their rush for everything modern despise all their ancient traditions and ignore them in their lives.

“We of the East very often hastily consider that all that our ancestors laid down for us was nothing but a bundle of superstitions, but my own experience, extending now over a fairly long period of the inestimable treasures of the East has led me to the conclusion that, whilst there may be much that was superstitious, there is infinitely more which is not only not superstitious, but if we understand it correctly and reduce it to practice, gives life and ennobles one. Let us not therefore be blinded by the hypnotic dazzle of the West.

“Again, I wish to utter a word of caution against your believing that I am an indiscriminate despiser of everything that comes from the West. There are many things which I have myself assimilated from the West. There is a very great and effective Sanskrit word for that particular faculty which enables a man always to distinguish between what is desirable and what is undesirable, what is right and what is wrong, that word is known as ‘Viveka’. Translated into English, the nearest approach is discrimination. I do hope that you will incorporate this word into Pali and Sinhalese

“There is one thing more which I would like to say in connection with your syllabus. I had hoped that I should see some mention made of handicrafts, and if you are not seriously teaching the boys under your care some handicrafts, I would urge you if it is not too late, to introduce the necessary handicrafts known to this Island. Surely, all the boys who go out from this institution will not expect or will not desire to be clerks or employees of the Government. If they would add to the national strength, they must learn with great skill all the indigenous crafts, and as cultural training and as the symbol of identification with the poorest among the poor, I know nothing so ennobling as hand spinning. Simple as it is, it is easily learnt. When you combine with hand spinning the idea that you are learning it not for your own individual self, but for the poorest among the nation, it becomes an ennobling sacrament. There must be added to this sacrament some occupation, some handicraft which a boy may consider will enable him to earn his living in later life.

You have rightly found place for religious instruction. I have experimented with quite a number of boys in order to understand how best to impart religious instruction and whilst I found that book instruction was somewhat of an aid, by itself it was useless. Religious instruction, I discovered, was imparted by teachers living the religion themselves. I have found that boys imbibe more from the teachers’ own lives than they do from the books that they read to them, or the lectures that they deliver to them with their lips. I have discovered to my great joy that boys and girls have unconsciously a faculty of penetration whereby they read the thoughts of their teachers. Woe to the teacher who teaches one thing with his lips, and carries another in his breast.

“Now, just one or two sentences to boys only and I have done. As father of, you might say, many boys and girls, you might almost say of thousands of boys and girls, I want to tell you, boys, that after all you hold your destiny in your own hands. I do not care what you learn or what you do not learn in your school, if you will observe two conditions. One condition is that you must be fearlessly truthful against the heaviest odds under every circumstance imaginable. A truthful boy, a brave boy will never think of hurting even a fly. He will defend all the weak boys in his own school and help, whether inside school or outside the school, all those who need his help. A boy who does not observe personal purity of mind and body and action, is a boy who should be driven out of any school. A chivalrous boy would always keep his mind pure, his eyes straight and his hands unpolluted. You do not need to go to any school to learn these fundamental maxims of life, and if you will have this triple character with you, you will build on a solid foundation.

“May then true ahimsa and purity be your shield forever in your life. May God help you to realize all your noble ambitions, I thank you once more for inviting me to take part in this function!”

The following day Gandhi was to entrain at the Galle Railway Station, when he was informed that large crowds had gathered along the route to see him. Then he asked, “What am I to do?” “People will be delighted, if you could walk to the Railway Station.” “All right,” said Gandhi. “I will then walk the distance.” It was an uphill task for the police to manage the crowds.

In 1922, Dr. Rabindranath Tagore of Shantiniketan fame also visited Mahinda College. Here is an excerpt from the Mahinda College magazine. ‘The poet arrived at Mahinda College by car, about 2 pm on October 17th, 1922 accompanied by Mr. C. F. Andrews and Dr. W. A. de Silva. The boys had been eagerly looking forward to his visit, for it had been arranged many months before, when it had been first known that he was to come to Ceylon.

After about an hour’s rest, the poet came into the big Olcott Hall, where all the boys were assembled to greet him. He was then garlanded by the oldest member of the staff, Pandit G. Sagaris de Silva, and, in order to avoid his having to speak loudly, all the younger boys came up close to the dais and sat on the floor around his feet.’

The speech delivered by him on the occasion is given below.

“My young friends, I do not like to stand on a high platform and speak to you as a distinguished guest. I want to move freely amongst you and be your companion. I wish I could stay a week in this lovely place and sing to you, and play with you in these beautiful grounds; then I am sure you would not be in the least afraid of this old man with a long beard.

“I have heard much about your College from my friend, Mr. Kalidas Nag, one of your former Principals, whom I met recently in Paris. He told me of the pleasant days he spent with you here.

“You are just like my boys at Shantiniketan, features, behaviour, everything. When I look into your faces, I think of them. They are not afraid of me. They drag me to their dormitories and make me take part in their plays, sing songs to them, and play parlour games with them in the long evenings.

“They can act plays beautifully, those marvellous boys, they sometimes write their own plays and act them, or act the plays written by their elders. Recently they acted a play in Calcutta, and some of my friends told me that they had not seen such acting anywhere, so perfectly natural.

“I do not want to inflict good advice on you. Why should I? You have not done any wrongs to me! I know that when I was a boy, we also used to have visits from many distinguished visitors, who gave us good advice, and told us to be good, and obedient, and to learn our lessons well. You know all that sort of thing. I do not want to repeat that. I am not a teacher really, though I have sometimes taken classes in my school, and it is not in my nature to give you good advice. I want to play with you and be your friend and companion.

“Let me describe to you what we do at Shantiniketan. We have plenty of open ground and fresh air and freedom. There are no restraints of any kind put upon the boys.

“They grow in perfect freedom and imbibe the beauties of the landscape, the sky and the seasons. Sometimes they go to swim in the tanks, and play their games when they like. They teach what they learn to their less fortunate brethren in the villages around. It is true we have no hills like yours, and we miss the great sea, but we are happy in our freedom and peace. In the long evenings we go out for walks or sit under the trees and sing songs, and we act plays in the dormitories on winter nights. Our classes are mostly held out-of doors under trees, though of course there are classrooms to be used in bad weather. The boys learn to love what is beautiful, good and true, for they imbibe these things from great Nature, who is their teacher.

“Again, I tell you that your Motherland is India, and that you have my invitation to come there whenever you like.”

According to the school magazine, Principal, F.G. Pearce then briefly thanked Dr. Tagore. He said that the great regret, especially of those who had had the experience of being for some time in the company of Dr. Tagore, among students, was that instead of staying the hoped-for week at Mahinda College, he was only able to remain for one night. However, as they knew what was the object of the poet’s visit to Ceylon, they would not grudge the shortness of his stay but be deeply grateful for his presence among them. He thought the best way to make up for it was to try to arrange, as he intended to do, for one or two of the older students to finish their education at Shantiniketan and Vishwa Bharati, and return to Mahinda College as teachers.

“You must not think that you belong exclusively to this small island; do not forget that you have unbreakable ties of language, culture and religion, with India, that ancient land! The great Mother, India, wants to clasp you to her bosom again, and I come as her messenger to claim you once more. I invite you to my Ashram at Shantiniketan. You will be welcome at any time. You will not be asked to do anything, you will be allowed to do just what you like, we shall not ask you to give our boys good advice! We shall extend our hospitality to you and make you at home among us. You may not be able to come there just now perhaps, that does not matter, but remember that if you want to come to Shantiniketan at any time, you have my invitation.”

In 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru, his wife Kamala Devi, daughter Indira and his sister Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit visited Galle. One their way to Galle, a reception was held in their honour at the Rathgama Devapathiraja College, by Sir Ernest de Silva who founded the college. At this reception, Nehru said, “Ernest is a friend of mine who was with me at Cambridge University. I am happy to see him engaged in serving the people.” At Galle, they visited Mahinda College where another reception was held in their honour.

Some of the other distinguished visitors to Galle, from India were: Dr. Annie Besant, the President of the Theosophical Society, in 1922; Sarojini Naidu, the Indian poetess, in 1922 and Harindranath Chattopadhyay, the musician and poet, in 1931.

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Another legend bids farewell…



The pandemic is bad enough, but the past few months have also brought us further shocks.

In September, last year (2021) the death of Sunil Perera, of the Gypsies, shocked the nation, and music lovers, the world over. And, then, last week, it was the demise of another veteran singer-entertainer, Desmond de Silva.

Desmond’s death was equally shocking as he had arrived, from Sydney, in high spirits, for his 31st night gig in Melbourne.

His death, they say, was due to a stroke.

And, this is how many have expressed their feelings…

Mignonne & The Jetliners, and Suyin and Michael:

I was shocked, and deeply saddened, to hear of the passing away of dear Desmond – ‘Des’ to us.

Affable and kind to most, he was a much loved entertainer and singer with whom we, too, shared many successful years of making music together, with my band, Mignonne & The Jetliners, and, on a few occasions, with my kids, Suyin and Michael, at the Taj, in Mumbai.

He was passionate about his performances, be it ballads or bailas, and he truly rocked the stag, both here and abroad, for over four decades.

Always dressed impeccably, he had the audience clamouring for more.

Des has surely carved a name for himself, as a legend, and will be remembered for his contribution as one of our best entertainers in Sri Lanka’s popular music history.

How can I say goodbye to dearest Des! He was one of a kind…and so special, and regrettably gone too soon. We will miss him dearly.

Our love and prayers go out to Phyllis and all his loved ones.

May he rest in the peace of Christ.

*  Brad Stevens (Australia):

I last met Desmond at an Old Joes dance, in Sydney, a few years back.

He had an absolutely brilliant personality; had the art of getting everyone joining him in his act…whether it was at a dance, or whether it was a performance, at a concert. Even a simple phone conversation with him was so good.

I feel bad as I could not accept his invitation to visit him and Phyllis at their home, in Sydney.

And, then, since December 2020, Desmond was a regular on The Brad & Kiara Show. In fact, we had him on our Christmas Edition, just a few weeks back, which might have even been his last voice clip, on radio….

It was nice to hear him always give credit to Phyllis – the love of his life.

Sri Lanka has lost yet another great entertainer, and all of us will miss his superb performances on stage, with his wonderful singing. But, let’s celebrate his amazing life – he would not want it any other way….

He will always live in our hearts. May His Soul Rest In Eternal Peace.

Rob Foenander (Australia):

I wasn’t a close friend of Desmond, but did share the stage with him on a few occasions. He knew Cliff Foenander (‘A Little Bit Of Soap’) very well and always spoke glowingly about Cliff. He also sang one of my songs at a wedding last September.

Yes, Desmond was well respected in the community. No question about that.

He gave himself no titles, just continued to create work for himself, around the world, which, in itself, has to be commended.

Joey Lewis (England):

Desmond was a blue-blooded stage performer, of international standard.

When I joined the Jetliners, I was 17, and Des was about 29. It felt surreal, at that time, to find myself getting such respect, and praise, from this guy who was one of my childhood heroes…(but, that was Des though, always full of encouragement for his fellow musicians). All of us, had a wonderful and crazy time together, on and off the stage.

He was a beautiful artiste, with the incredible ability to be as suave and debonair as Dean Martin one minute, and then as crazy and wild as Ozzy Osborne or Oliver Reed the next. Never a dull moment, there was, when hanging out with him.

I have not heard any crooner sing some ballads like ‘Danny Boy,’ and ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You,’ like he did, and I know now, I will never hear them sung like that again.

I share the deep sadness of my fellow Sri Lankans, all over the world, as we join together to mourn the loss of our greatest singing star, in both scenes, the Western and the Oriental..

Rest in Peace Des

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A Good Guide to the Omicron Variant



By M.C.M. Iqbal, PhD

Despite the WHO adopting a neutral system to name the variants of the coronavirus that keep emerging (using letters of the Greek alphabet), the Omicron variant is associated with South Africa. The last variant of the virus to emerge was the Delta variant, which surfaced in December 2020, in India. There are two more letters between Delta and Omicron in the Greek alphabet that the WHO decided not to use. These are ‘Nu’ and ‘Xie’, which the WHO thought could be confused with ‘new’ while Xie is a common surname in China.

The Omicron variant is spreading in many countries. With the number of infected persons rising and another wave expected, many countries in Europe have imposed the usual methods to arrest the spread, with immediate lockdowns. However, scientists are still collecting data to find out how bad Omicron is, since the data seems to indicate that in South Africa, the disease is not as bad as the Delta variant. At the same time, in Europe, there is no significant change in the number of persons hospitalized. Of immediate concern to health authorities are, is the Omicron variant spreading faster than the earlier variants, does it cause more or less severe disease, and can it bypass the vaccines available?


Scientists in South Africa announced on 25 November the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus. On 26 November, the WHO named it Omicron. Although South Africa has been labeled as the country of origin, the virus was identified in neighbouring Botswana. In addition, there are reports of an earlier detection of this variant in the Netherlands.

PCR tests look for four markers on the virus genome to identify it as the coronavirus. The tests in Botswana showed a reduced sensitivity because one of the four targets was not being detected. These samples were sent to South Africa, where scientists have state-of-the-art facilities to look for changes in the genome of the virus. Changes are found by reading the ‘letters’ of the virus genome (called sequencing) and comparing it to the already available genome of the virus. The new Omicron variant had many more changes than the Delta variant.

Global status

By 14th January, the Omicron variant had spread to 116 countries in all six continents since its discovery on 26 November 2021. The figure below shows the gradual replacement of the presently dominant Delta variant by the Omicron variant; at present global data on the coronavirus, maintained by Nextstrain (https:// shows a decline of the Delta variant from 88% on 30th October 2021 to 42% on 8th January 2022, while correspondingly the Omicron variant has increased from less than 1% to 56%. Nextstrain is a global database presenting a real-time view of the evolution of the genomes of the coronavirus and other globally important pathogens. The interactive platform provides information to professionals and the public to understand the spread and evolution of pathogens, including information on individual countries.

Distribution of Delta and Omicron variants on 1st January 2022 from Nextstrain. (Please see graph)

What’s unique about Omicron?

Unlike the previous variants of the coronavirus, this variant has over 30 changes (mutations) to its spike (a protein), the characteristic flower-like protrusion on its surface. It was these changes to the spike, one of the four targets of the PCR test that raised alarm bells in Botswana. This spike makes the coronavirus special – it is the key it uses to gain entry into the cells in our throat and lungs. The previous variants, Alpha and Delta also had changes in their spike protein, enabling them to enter cells more efficiently and thus making them more infectious. The vaccines against the virus are based on this spike, and the antibodies produced by our immune system are specific to the spike protein. Thus, any significant changes to the spike means the previous vaccines may not be effective against the newly changed spikes on the Omicron variant.

While the Omicron variant can spread rapidly, it appears to cause milder disease compared to the Alpha and Delta variants. Scientists believe this is because Omicron infects the upper airways or the throat, and not the lungs further down. Based on experiments done on hamsters and mice, scientists found the concentration of the virus was much lower in the lungs than in their throat. The earlier variants of the coronavirus caused severe damage to the lungs of the infected people, with extreme cases needing oxygen. This does not seem to be the case with Omicron. Scientists believe the changes to the spike enables the virus to enter cells in the throat more easily than in the lungs.

It can spread rapidly

The virus is quickly expelled into the air if it infects and multiplies in the throat. Since it causes a milder form of the disease, infected persons may be unaware that they carry the virus. They would be moving about socially and at work, spreading the virus. Thus, the obvious means of slowing or preventing the spread of the virus is to strictly wear the mask at all times, and avoid social gatherings.

Studies have suggested that the period between exposure to the virus and onset of symptoms has also reduced to three days for Omicron. At the pandemic’s beginning, this was more than five days, and for the Delta variant it was four days.

What is of immediate concern?

Of concern to scientists is the better ability of the Omicron to spread rapidly in the population and its suspected ability to bypass our immune system. Our immune system is our internal defense system, using antibodies and an arsenal of chemicals and cells. The available vaccines are designed on the coronavirus variants circulating in the population. Thus, major changes to the coronavirus can reduce the efficiency of the available vaccines. Both these concerns have been observed in the past month: Omicron can spread more rapidly than the presently dominant Delta variant, and observations on vaccinated people show a reduced ability by the vaccines to prevent infections, compared to the Delta variant. This has called for booster doses for people who have already received the two mandatory doses. In Israel, even a fourth vaccination is being administered.

How could the variant have evolved?

Variants of the coronavirus result from changes to the virus’s genome, called mutations. What is troubling about the Omicron variant is that it has many mutations in its spike. Mutations happen spontaneously as the virus multiplies in our bodies and spreads to others. Thus, the virus gradually accumulates small changes to its advantage. These advantages are infecting us more efficiently, spreading to others more easily, and multiplying more rapidly. Scientists believe that one possibility is that the virus circulated in a small isolated group of people (say a village), piling up the mutations over time, and then escaping into a broader population, and then eventually crossing borders.

Another possibility is that it developed in a single individual and spread to others. This happens when a person has low immunity, resulting in a prolonged infection because the immune system cannot eliminate the virus. This leads to the virus developing changes (mutating) to overcome the mild immune response. Answering this question needs scientists to painstakingly reconstruct the history of the virus, using tools from molecular biology. Unfortunately, locating patient zero is difficult since it is impossible to analyze the virus (or sequence its genome) of all the persons infected with the Omicron variant. What is usually possible is to determine a general area or community and the time of origin.

What can we do about it?

Vaccinate! This is the primary tool we have to prevent the spread of the virus and not give it opportunities to multiply. In addition, we should rigorously follow the simple rules we are familiar with – wear the mask when outside, physically distance ourselves, and follow hygienic practices by washing our hands with soap, and avoiding touching our nose and face with possibly contaminated hands.

The good news

The coronavirus has been with us for over two years. Many were infected and have recovered from the virus during this period, providing natural immunity. Others have acquired immunity through vaccinations. When a new variant infects these people, they will manifest a milder form of the disease. This may explain the reduced hospitalisation of Omicron patients.

A booster dose to those already vaccinated or were naturally infected by the coronavirus, appears to provide reasonable protection against the Omicron variant.

And the bad news

The Omicron variant can evade immunity from previous infections. A recent analysis of surveillance data from South Africa, involving over two million persons, indicated suspected reinfections of those previously infected. This is in contrast to Beta and Delta variants, which did not lead to reinfections on such a scale.

The Future

The coronavirus is here for the long haul. Variants will keep emerging, and it seems unlikely it can be eradicated. The media should help counter vaccine hesitancy and the spread of misinformation. As individuals, we need to understand the biology of the virus to avoid spreading the virus and infecting ourselves and others. Science has to be supported in a broad sense to develop strategies by the health authorities and policymakers.

Further reading

S. Wild. How the Omicron variant got so many scary mutations. Scientific American, 3rd December 2021.

Michael Chan Chi-wai.

G. Vogel and K. Kupferschmidt. Early lab studies hint Omicron may be milder. But most scientists reserve judgment. Science, 20th December 2021.

K. Kupferschmidt and G. Vogel. Omicron threats remain fuzzy as cases explode. Science, 7 January 2022.

(The writer is a scientist in Plant and Environmental Sciences, National Institute of Fundamental Studies, Hanthane Road, Kandy. He can be reached at

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Rebirth in Buddhism



By Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara

The question of what happens after death naturally arises in the mind of thoughtful people, as we do not know what lies beyond death, because no one has ever returned to the living to recount his experiences life after death. Almost every religion across the world has a defined belief on what happens when a person dies, yet the question is still widely debated and discussed without any finality being reached on the issue. Most of the religious teachers from the earliest times, have been unanimous in affirming that life continues beyond the grave, but they differ widely on the question of what form and in what manner the survival takes place. Nevertheless, mankind continues to believe in some form of survival after death.

Regarding the question of survival after death, thinkers have generally followed one of two philosophical concepts. That is to say annihilationism and eternalism (in Buddhist, ucchedavada and sassatavada). First view is held by nihilists who claim that there is no life after death. They hold the view with the disintegration of the physical body the personality ceases to exist. This view accords with materialistic philosophy, which refuses to accept knowledge of mental conditionality. Those who hold the second view think that there is an abiding entity which exists forever and individual personality persists after death in a recognizable form as an entity called soul, spirit or self. This belief in some form or another is the basis of all theistic religions.

If you stick to the first view and deny that there is no continuity of life after death there would not be no moral law and vipaka (actions and results) operating in the universe enunciated by Lord Buddha and there would be no object in practicing self-restraint or endeavoring to free ourselves of the craving thanha which brings suffering in its wake. The cardinal teachings of the Buddha such as path to nibbana, Four Noble Truths and the eightfold path would be rendered nugatory and meaningless if death is followed by complete extinction. Similarly, those who believe eternalism which presupposes that individual personality persists after death in the form of soul or self as an enduring personality by means of transmigration is also rejected by Buddhism. This view runs counter to the very essence of Buddhism which denies existence of soul. This is the teaching of anatta doctrine, which distinguishes buddhism from other religions and marks it out from all other religious concepts.

In view of the virtual impossibility of establishing the truth of survival after death through empirical methods, question arises what is the attitude of science to this important and abstruse question which has baffled the minds of many people. Although, it is not possible to posit ‘rebirth’ as a scientific fact many men of science are of the opinion that mental, moral and physical inequalities can be accounted for on no other hypothesis than ‘rebirth’ hypothesis.

The idea of a cycle of birth and ‘rebirth’ is part of the teachings of the Lord Buddha. For many Buddhists death is not seen as an end, but rather as a continuation. Buddhists believe a person goes from life to life and see it another part of their long journey through samsara.

Buddhists do not regard ‘rebirth’ as a mere theory but as fact verifiable by evidence and it forms a fundamental tenet in Buddhism along with the concept of karma. Therefore, two principles-kamma and ‘rebirth’ are fundamental to understanding the teachings of Buddha. Kamma and ‘rebirth’ go in arm in arm. According to Buddhism there is no life after death or life before birth independent of kamma. Kamma is an immutable law of cause and effect, and we cannot avoid its consequences. Where there is kamma there must be ‘rebirth’. Most experiences in our present life are the results of our previous actions. Our actions of body, speech and mind (volitional activities) rebound back to us either in the present life or in some future life. It is the karma that conditions ‘rebirth’, past kamma conditions the present birth, the present kamma in combination with past kamma conditions the future. The present is the offspring of the past, and becomes in turn the parent of the future. For Buddhist death is not complete annihilation of a being though that particular life span ended, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed. After death the life flux of man continues ad infinitum as long as there is ignorance and craving. Man will be able to put an end his repeated series of births by realizing nibbana, the complete annihilation of all forms of craving (Narada Thera).

The Buddhist doctrine of ‘rebirth’ should be differentiated from the theory of reincarnation, which implies transmigration of a soul and its invariable ‘rebirth’, as it is enunciated in Hinduism.

In his book What the Buddha Taught, Walpola Rahula Thera posed the question “if we can understand that in this life we can continue without a permanent, unchanging substance like self or soul, why can’t we understand that those forces themselves can continue without a self or soul behind them after the non-functioning of the body? ‘When this physical body is no more capable of functioning, energies do not die with it, but continue to take some other shape or form, which we call another life… physical and mental energies which constitute the so called being have within themselves the power to take a new form, and grow gradually and gather force to the full: King Milinda questioning venerable Nagasena asked: “Venerable Nagasena, does ‘rebirth’ take place without anything transmigrating? Yes, O king, ‘rebirth’ takes place without anything transmigrating? “Give me illustration, venerable Sir. Suppose, O king, a man were to light a light from light pray, would the one light have passed over to the other light?” “Nay, indeed, Venerable Sir. “In exactly the same way, O king, does ‘rebirth’ take place without anything transmigrating.

In this connection, it should be mentioned the word ‘rebirth’ is not a satisfactory one, as it implies that there is something that after death takes on flesh again. It connotes transmigration of soul or other entity consequent to a death of a person. The Pali Word used in buddhism is arising or Phunabba.

As there is no soul or self in Buddhism, question arises if there is no soul or self what is there to be reborn. This has been most vexed question among many religious scholars. This has been a topic of debate for centuries. According to buddhism there is no enduring, substantial or independently existing entity that transmigrates from life to life instead there is simply an apparent continuity of momentary consciousness from one life time to the next that is imbued with impressions or traces (samskaras)of the actions one has committed in the past. For Buddhists everything is changing and nothing is permanent. So, when a person dies not he but his energies that shape him take a new form. New life is connected to previous life through kamma. There is rapid succession of thoughts throughout the life continuum.

The Buddha is our greatest authority on ‘rebirth. Therefore, for Buddhist no other evidence is necessary is prove ‘rebirth’.

On the very night of His enlightenment during the first watch, enlightenment, Buddhas mind travelled back through all of his unaccountable past lives. This was facilitated by the development of retro cognitive knowledge. Though his mind stretched back to countless eons he never saw a beginning to his past existence. He found no beginning and no end. He also saw all the beings in the universe being born, living dying and being reborn over and over again without end, all trapped in a web spun by their past actions. This process is the round of ‘rebirth’ known as samsara, which means wandering from life to life with no particular direction or purpose.

The Buddha before his enlightenment as bodhisattva was born in different forms of existence. As such Buddhist have a firm belief in many realms of existence, both above and below the human realm. Therefore, we can safely assume we all have lived through countless different lifetimes before being born in the world and our birth here as a human being is the result of predominantly good kamma we have committed in the past life. Those good kamma may have been done in many life times before, or more likely done in the previous life. Therefore, the quality of future births depends on the moral quality of our actions now.

In Dhammachackka Sutta too in his first discourse referring to second noble truth, Buddha declared this very craving is that leads to ‘rebirth’.

In ancient Greece philosophers like Empedocles and Pythagoras too taught the doctrine of ‘rebirth’ and Plato made it an important assumption in his philosophy, as pointed out by Ven Piyadassi Thera.

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