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For Devoted And Selfless Services To Vidyalankara Pirivena And The Nation



Felicitating Most Venerable Welamitiyawe Kusaladhamma Nayaka Thero on His 84th Birthday

by Lakshman Wickramasinghe,
Vice President of Vidyalankara Sabhawa

December 26, 2004, cannot be easily erased from the memory of Sri Lankan people. It was the day when the Tsunami struck. The country was in mourning. The Government of Sri Lanka moved rapidly to provide assistance. The United Nations began to offer emergency aid.

Almost as quickly, the Most Venerable Welamitiyawe Kusala Dhamma Nayaka Thero, the Director and the Chief Monk of the Vidyalankara Pirivena called a meeting of teacher monks of the Pirivena, the lay devotees and the ‘Vidyalankara Sabhawa,’ the management support group of the Pirivena, established by Statute.

At the meeting the chief monk displaying a somber countenance explained that the Community Development Society of the Vidyalankara Pirivena should rapidly organize a programme to help the displaced and the affected families. The large congregation under the guidance of the Nayaka Thero exchanged ideas on types of assistance to be provided, logistics, coordination mechanisms, etc. When the topic of geographic areas that would be served by the Vidyalankara Pirivena was taken up for discussion, some in the congregation including the writer, perhaps moved by the traumatic television images of the havoc caused by the Tsunami around the Galle bus stand, proposed that we go South. Ven. Welamitiyawe Kusaladhamma Nayaka Thero’s response was prompt, firm and final. His interjection went along these lines- ‘Why only the South? Why not go to the East too, where we can help all communities and people of all religions. They too are affected ’.

Some days later Vidyalankara Pirivena Tsunami assistance reached identified areas both in the South and the East as promised by our Nayaka Thero. I was reminded of Lord Buddha’s words in the Karaniya Metta Sutta- ‘Sabbe Satta Bhavantu Sukhitatta’- May all Beings Be Happy. How true to those words were the Venerable Thero’s action.

The most venerable thero was also in the forefront of protecting rights of Sinhala Buddhists when these came under threat from time to time. As done by the monks of yore, our nayaka hamuduruwo supported the protection of territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and blessed State leaders who acted against such attempts. He also blessed village lads who enlisted in the armed forces to protect the country against such break-up. He not only advocated for the protection of Buddhist temples in the north and east when they came under threat but also provided material assistance to these temples as feasible. In summary, the Most Venerable nayaaka thero acted as a ‘Mura Devatawa’ ( closest being ‘guardian angel’ in English) of the Nation (along with other illustrious Buddhist monks ) during those dark days of trauma, public fear and destruction.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a message to ‘Saddha’- the Academic Felicitation Volume published to commemorate the thero’s services to mark his 73rd birthday, refers to the role that the Buddhist clergy performed in strengthening Sri Lanka’s President’s hands for the achievement of the historical duty that was cast upon him by the country and its constitution. Following is an English translation-‘While I acknowlege that my success therein was to a large extent due to the blessings I received from the Magha Sangha, I should also state that a substantial portion of that blessing also came from Ven. Welamitiyawe Kusaladhamma Thero’. It should be mentioned that Kusaladhamma Nayaka Thero earned the respect of all recent Heads of State.

I now wish to back-track 70 years into history to recount how Kusaladhamma Nayaka Thero had the samsaric predisposition and fortune to become a monk and to serve the Vidyalankara Pirivena. He hailed from a respected family in Welamitiyawa in the distirict of Kurunegala and was named Palihawadana Aratchchilage Tikiri Banda. He was the fourth in a family of seven. His father was Palihawadana Arachchilage John Singho and mother Ratnayaka Mudiyanselage Gunamal Ethana.The much venerated Nayaka Thero that we know today, had set foot at Vidyalankara Pirivena in 1950, as a mere 13-year-old. The boy had been identified as a suitable candidate for monkhood by the Most Venerable Yakkaduwe Sri Pragnnarama Nayka Thero, the scholar monk (who was later destined to become the fifth head of Vidyalankara Pirivena).

Tikiri Banda had spent four years in lay training in preparation to become a Buddhist monk at the Pirivena. In 1954, he was admitted as a ‘samanera’ (trainee monk) under the tutelage of the then Head of Vidyalankara Pirivena, the Most Venerable Kiriwaththuduwe Sri Pragnnasara Nayaka Thero. In May 1959 Kusaladhamma samanera received ‘Upasampada’ -higher ordination at the historic Malwatta Temple in Kandy.

The Nayaka Thero, the seventh head of the Vidyalankara Pirivena, has devoted his whole ilife in robes in one way or another to the upliftment of the Vidyalankara Pirivena, the Buddha Sasana, and the nation as a whole.

The thero’s loyalty to the cause of Vidyalankara Pirivena was well exhibited in the ‘Patisothagami’ model of decision making he used as a young monk( i.e. taking decisions that go against popular trends, which approach was also advocated by the Buddha). This can also be expressed as – ‘swimming against the tide’. In the mid-sixties he passed the BA degree with a class from the Kelaniya University. He was offered a lecturership at his university. The young thero declined the offer. Later, he was offered a scholarship to pursue higher studies overseas. He declined that offer too.

His inner feeling, it seems, was to serve Vidyalankara Pirivena directly. The Thero, was given a third option. That was to administer and develop the lesser-known Vidyalankara (Branch) Pirivena at Pannipitiya. The challenge was accepted. As the young monk rose through the ranks to become the Head of the Pannipitiya Vidyalankara Pirivena, it’s fame as a high quality educational institution, had also risen simultaneously.

In 1983 Kusaladhamma Thero was appointed as the Director of the main Vidyalankara Pirivena at Peliyagoda, Kelaniya and in 1989 it’s Principal. For the Thero, a life’s phase of total dedication to the Vidyalankara cause and tradition had begun.

While the he worked diligently to enhance the quality of training of future monks through the Pirivena, he also strived tirelessly to spread the dhamma and support religious activities of big and small temples in many parts of the Island. In this respect the Thero would have been guided by the famous words of Lord Buddha – ‘ Charatha Bhikkhawe Charikam, Bahu Jana Hithaya Bahu Jana Sukhaya’ – ‘Travel forth O monks for the welfare and happiness of the public.’

Ven. Kusaladhamma Thero travelled the length and breadth of the country to cater to the needs of brother monks, and dissemination of Dhamma among lay persons. The Thero attended both national level religious ceremonies as well as little pinkamas organized by villagers. His sermons were looked forward to by many Buddhists, both urban and rural. He accepted invitations from Heads of State, and Ministers as well as of ordinary folks. He went to prominent temples as well as to little known temples. Our Nayaka Thero’s active participation and wise counsel at meetings and pinkamas and thought–provoking sermons on how a person can become a better Buddhist and a human being, also helped to elevate the profile of the Vidyalankara Pirivena. He has also been invited to many overseas conferences, international Buddhist institutions and temples. Consciously and as a personal code of conduct, he has continued to hold high the noble traditions and wholesome practices of the Founder Heads of the Vidyalankara Pirivena and his teachers.

Our Nayaka Thero also started few innovative activities which now over time had begun to be considered as Vidyalankara traditions. One such is the holding of ‘Vidyalankara Day’ through which the founders, principals, teachers, scholar-monks attached to the Vidyalankara Pirivena and the lay leaders who had played key roles in setting up and developing the Pirivena would be remembered and merit offered. This has now become a key religious event in the Gampaha district.

Another group of activities he has enhanced and widened is providing assistance to the disadvantaged and the handicapped members of society. The main activity in this area is the distribution of artificial limbs to handicapped persons. This has become an important part of the agenda of the Vidyalankara Day. Helping students from low income families living in remote districts and assisting old person’s homes in and around Kelaniya are also part of the programme.

His dedicated and selfless services offered to Vidyalankara Pirivena according to the Dhamma and Vinaya (Doctrine and Disciplinary rules)set forth by the Buddha, should be a shining example for the young aspiring monks attached to Vidyalankara Pirivena as they look towards the future.

On his 84th birthday the entire Vidyalankara Community wish to offer blessings to our most respected Nayaka Thero thus :

” Sabbitiyo Vivajjantu- Sabba Rogo Vinassatu

Ma’te Bhavath Antarayo- Sukhi Dighayuko Bhava

May You Be Free From Distress-May All Sickness Be Healed

May There Be No Dangers-May You Be Happy; May You Live Long

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From a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ to a ‘Dialogue among Civilizations’



A meeting of BRICS leaders

As the world continues to reel from the ‘aftershocks’ as it were of the October 7th Gaza Strip-centred savagery, what it should guard against most is a mood of pessimism and hopelessness. Hopefully, the international community would pull itself together before long and give of its best to further the cause of a political solution in the Middle East.

It is plain to see that what needs to be done most urgently at present is the prolongation of the current ceasefire, besides facilitating a steady exchange of hostages but given the present state of hostilities between the warring sides this would not prove an easy challenge.

Considering that there are no iron-clad guarantees by either side that there would be a longstanding ceasefire followed by a cessation of hostilities, what we have at present in the Middle East is a highly fraught ‘breather’ from the fighting. There are no easy answers to the currently compounded Middle East conflict but the external backers of the warring sides could alleviate the present suffering of the peoples concerned to a degree by bringing steady pressure on the principal antagonists to drastically scale down their hostilities.

If they mean well by the communities concerned, these external backers, such as the US, as regards Israel, and those major Middle Eastern states backing Hamas and other militant groups, would set about creating a conducive climate for a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

De-escalating the supply of lethal military hardware to the warring sides is a vital first step towards this end. External military backing is a key element in the prolongation of the war and a decrease in such support would go some distance in curtailing the agony of the peoples concerned. The onus is on these external parties to prove their good intentions, if they have any.

Meanwhile, major states of the South in increasing numbers are making their voices heard on the principal issues to the conflict. One such grouping is BRICS, which is now featuring among its prospective membership, countries such as Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran. That is, in the foreseeable future BRICS would emerge as a greatly expanded global grouping, which would come to be seen as principally representative of the South.

Since the majority of countries within the BRICS fold are emerging economies, the bloc could be expected to wield tremendous economic and military clout in the present world order. With China and Russia counting among the foremost powers in the grouping, BRICS would be in a position to project itself as an effective counterweight to the West and the G7 bloc.

However, the major challenge before the likes of BRICS is to prove that they will be a boon and not a bane to the poorer countries of the South. They would be challenged to earnestly champion the cause of a just and equitable world political and economic order. Would BRICS, for instance, be equal to such challenges? Hopefully, the commentator would be able to answer this question in the affirmative, going ahead.

The current issues in the Middle East pose a major challenge to BRICS. One of the foremost tasks for BRICS in relation to the Middle East is the formulation of a policy position that is equitable and fair to all the parties to the conflict. The wellbeing of both the Palestinians and the Israelis needs to be staunchly championed.

Thus, BRICS is challenged to be even-handed in its managing of Middle Eastern questions. If the grouping does not do this, it risks turning the Gaza bloodletting, for example, into yet another proxy war front between the East and West.

Nothing constructive would be achieved by BRICS, in that the wellbeing of the peoples concerned would not be served and proxy wars have unerringly been destructive rather constructive in any way. The South could do without any more of these proxy wars and BRICS would need to prove its skeptics wrong on this score.

Accordingly, formations, such as BRICS, that are genuine counterweights to the West are most welcome but their presence in the world system should prove to be of a positive rather than of a negative nature. They need to keep the West in check in the UN system, for example, but they should steer clear of committing the West’s excesses and irregularities.

More specifically, the expanding BRICS should be in a position to curtail the proliferation of identity politics in the present world order. The West has, thus far, failed to achieve this. The seismic convulsions in the Gaza re-establish the pervasive and pernicious presence of identity politics in the world’s war zones, so much so, one could say that US political scientist Samuel Huntingdon is being proved absolutely right in his theorization that world politics over the past 30 years has been essentially a ‘Clash of Civilizations’.

After all, current developments in the Middle East could be construed by the more simple-minded observer as a pitting of Islam against Judaism, although there are many more convoluted strands to the Middle East conflict than a violent clash of these religious identities. More so why the influence of identity politics needs to blunted and eliminated by the right-thinking.

One way in which this could be achieved is the through the steady espousal and practise of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ theory. While the existence of a ‘Clash of Civilizations’ cannot be denied on account of the pervasive presence of identity politics the world over, the negative effects of this brand of politics could be neutralized through the initiation and speeding-up of a robust dialogue among civilizations or identity groups.

Such an exchange of views or dialogue could prove instrumental in facilitating mutual understanding among cultural and civilizational groups. The consequence could be a reduction in tensions among mutually hostile social groups. Needless to say, the Middle East is rife with destructive politics of this kind.

Accordingly, there needs to be a paradigm shift in the way cultural groups interact with each other. The commonalities among these groups could be enhanced through a constant dialogue process and the Middle East of today opens out these possibilities.

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Their love story in song…



The duo in the company of Dinesh Hemantha and Jananga

It’s certainly encouraging to see Sri Lankan artistes now trying to be creative…where songs are concerned.

Over the past few weeks, we have seen some interesting originals surfacing, with legendary singer/entertainer Sohan Weerasinghe’s ‘Sansare,’ taking the spotlight.

Rubeena Shabnam, Sri Lankan based in Qatar, and Yohan Dole, living in Australia, have teamed up to produce a song about their love life.

‘Adare Sulagin’ is the title of the song and it’s the couple’s very first duet.

Says Rubeena: “This song is all about our love story and is a symbol of our love. It feels like a dream singing with my fiancé.”

Elaborating further, especially as to how they fell in love, Rubeena went on to say that they met via social media, through a common friend of theirs.

The song and video was done in Sri Lanka.

Rubeena and Yohan with lyricist Jananga Vishawajith

“We both travelled to Sri Lanka, in August this year, where we recorded the song and did the video, as well.

‘Adare Sulagin’ was composed by Dinesh Hemantha (DH Wave Studio, in Galle), while the lyrics were penned by Jananga Vishwajith, and the video was handled by Pathmila Ravishan.

It is Dinesh Hemantha’s second composition for Rubeena – the first being ‘Surali.’

“It was an amazing project and it was done beautifully. Talking about the music video, we decided to keep it more simple, and natural, so we decided to capture it at the studio. It was a lot of fun working with them.”

‘Adare Sulagin,’ says Rubeena, is for social media only. “We have not given it for release to any radio or TV station in Sri Lanka.”

However, you could check it out on YouTube: Adare Sulagin – Rubeena Shabnam, ft. Yohan Dole.

Rubeena lives and works in Qatar and she has been in the music industry for almost five years. She has done a few originals but this one, with Yohan, is very special to her, she says.

Yohan Dole resides in Australia and is a guitarist and vocalist.

He has a band called Rhythmix, in Australia, where they play at various events.

He has been doing music for quite a while now but doing an original song was one of his dreams, he says

Rubeena and Yohan plan to get married, in December, and do more music together, in different genres.

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Mathematics examinations or mathematics curriculum?



Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams. 

by Anton Peiris

R. N.A. De Silva has, in a recent article, provided some useful tips to students as regards preparation for mathematics examinations. Trained teachers and graduates with professional qualifications are familiar with this topic.  All mathematics teachers have a duty to help the students with revision.

The more important task is to salvage the Sri Lankan O/Level mathematics students from the abyss that they have fallen into, viz. the implications and the retarding effect of the use of obsolete Log Tables. The Minister of Education, Senior Ministry Officials and the NIA are oblivious to the important and interesting things that have happened in Grades 10 and 11 mathematics in the UK, other parts of Europe, Japan, Canada, China and elsewhere. They have been like frogs in a well for almost half a century. Here are two important facts:

1. O/Level mathematics students in Sri Lanka are 46 years behind their counterparts in the UK and in other developed countries. Ordinary Scientific calculators were introduced to the O/Level mathematics classrooms in the UK way back in 1977. Prior to that those students used Slide Rules to facilitate their mathematical calculations. Ordinary scientific calculators give the values of Sine, Cos, Tan and their Inverses, Log, LN, exponential powers, square roots, squares, reciprocals, factorials, etc., at the press of a button, in addition to performing arithmetic functions. There is no memory to store mathematical formulae, etc. It is an invaluable tool for solving sophisticated and interesting mathematical problems and also problems in ordinary statistics. It has paved the way for achieving high standards in O/Level Mathematics in those countries.

Just compare the maths questions in the Cambridge IGCSE or the London O/Level Maths Exam with the questions in the Sri Lankan O/Level maths exam and you will see how far our students have fallen behind.

The Cambridge O/Level examination was replaced by the GCSE and the IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) a few decades ago.

I am not referring to Programmable Calculators and Graphic Display Calculators (GDC), meaning devices with a small screen that can display graphs, perform statistical calculations like the Z- Score for large samples, show Matrix calculations, provide solutions to algebraic equations, etc., at the press of a few buttons. GDC is a compulsory item for A/Level mathematics students in the UK and in all developed countries.

Some teachers say that by using ordinary scientific calculators in Grades 10 and 11, students will not acquire the ability to carry out mental arithmetic calculations. This is not true because

(i). Calculators are introduced in Grade 10. Maths teachers have five years of Primary School and three years of Middle school (Grades 7, 8 and 9) i.e. a total of eight years to inculcate sufficient mental arithmetic skills in their students before the calculators are introduced in Grade 10!

(ii). In the IGCSE and in the London O/Level Mathematics Exams calculators are not allowed for Paper 1. Preparation for Paper 1 requires the acquisition of mental arithmetic skills, e.g., one lesson per week in class in Grades 10 and 11 in which calculators are not allowed. Sri Lanka could follow suit.

Some people say that it is not necessary for a Grade 10 student to buy an ordinary scientific calculator because they have smartphones with built-in calculators. If not, it is easy to install a calculator app on mobile phones. A smartphone should not be used as a calculator during a mathematics test or a mathematics exam because it can be used for cheating. In the UK and other developed countries students have to keep their smartphones in their school bags or in their lockers outside the classroom during mathematics tests and exams.

An ordinary scientific calculator costs less than 10 % of the price of a smartphone.

Sri Lankan students in International Schools sit the IGCSE or the London O/Level mathematics exams where ordinary scientific calculators are allowed. These students have made big strides in learning mathematics by using the calculators. Only the rich can send their children to International Schools in Sri Lanka. Millions of poor Sri Lankan students do not have calculators.

Our Minister of Education has announced that the government was planning to transform the country’s education system by introducing ‘’STEAM’ (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics). Maintaining high standards in O/Level Mathematics is the key to a successful implementation of STEAM programme. Unfortunately, the Education Minister and top education official are not aware of the fact that the only way to improve the standard of O/Level Mathematics is to do what the developed countries have done, i. e., revamping the O/Level mathematics syllabus and to introducing the ordinary scientific calculator in Grades 10 & 11. If they do it, it will be an important piece of curriculum development.

Bear in mind that the UK and other developed countries have taken another important step during the last 20 years; they have introduced the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) to the O/Level Mathematics class and by providing a Core Exam and an Extended Exam. In the Cambridge IGCSE Mathematics Exams, Papers 1, 3, and 5 constitute the Core Exam. Papers 2 ,4 and 6 constitute the Extended Exam. Calculators are not allowed in Papers 1 and 2.

The Core Exam is a boon to students who have very little or no mathematical ability. More on this in my next article.

By using Log Tables, our Sri Lankan O/Level students have to spend a lot of time to solve an IGCSE (Extended Syllabus) exam problem or a London O/Level mathematics exam problem because the use of Log Tables takes a long time  to work out the Squares, Square Roots, exponential powers, reciprocals , LN , factorials, etc., and that is tedious work while their counterparts in developed countries do that in a few seconds by pressing a couple of buttons in an ordinary scientific calculator.

The Calculator has given them more motivation to learn mathematics.

O/Level students in the UK have graduated from the ordinary scientific calculator to the Graphic Display Calculator (GDC) thereby improving their ability to solve more sophisticated, more important and more interesting problems in mathematics, statistics and physics. Sri Lankan O/Level students are compelled to use obsolete Log Tables.

Hats off to that Minister of Education who introduced the ordinary scientific calculator to the Sri Lankan A/ Level Mathematics classroom and to the A/Level Mathematics Exam a few years ago. That was a small step in the right direction. Minister Susil Premjayantha, please revamp the O/Level mathematics syllabus and introduce the ordinary scientific calculator to Grades 10 and 11 now. That will ensure a big boost for your STEAM programme and yield benefits for the Sri Lankan economy.

(To be continued. Topic 2:  The necessity for introducing an O/Level Mathematics Core Exam and an Extended Exam. The writer has taught O/Level and A/Level Mathematics and Physics for 45 years in Asia, Africa and Europe and is an Emeritus Coordinator for International Baccalaureate, Geneva.)

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