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Height of idiocy!

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

 

It is no surprise that ordinary people behave irresponsibly when some members of the noble profession behave idiotically! I do not blame anyone who has come to this inevitable conclusion after the faux-pas in Gampola Hospital. The idiotic behaviour of some doctors have not only brought our profession into disrepute but also inconvenienced the public; perhaps, endangered people’s lives by causing the closure of some services and, thereby, causing patients to travel far for treatment during a raging epidemic.

Whilst the many members of the medical profession fighting to save lives and controlling the epidemic are too busy to communicate with media personnel, others who are partly ‘released’ for trade union activities have ample time and are in the news all the time. At a time when the public expects them to cooperate with the government to tackle a grave public health emergency, they are busy picking holes in everything, never coming up with solutions. Further, spokespersons from different unions give differing opinions. It would be an interesting conjecture how the premier trade union of doctors would have behaved if its President had been appointed the secretary to the ministry of health!

This sort of idiotic behaviour is not the preserve of Sri Lanka. Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister lost public sympathy when he defended his chief of staff who had violated quarantine regulations at the very beginning of the epidemic. Although he did not sack his top aide immediately, he had to do so six months later.

Now comes even greater a tale of idiocy from the UK. Sky News is the only commercial TV channel, other than the public-funded BBC, to have 24-hour coverage of news in the UK and their presenters have been very tough with politicians during news conferences, especially regarding the breaches of quarantine regulations by the PM’s aide. One of Sky News’ star journalists, who presents the breakfast show, decided to celebrate her sixtieth birthday with nine of her senior colleagues breaking not one but many Covid-19 regulations. Their holier-than-thou attitude has turned out to be blatant hypocrisy!

By the way, the only thing UK does better than Sri Lanka during the epidemic is having regular press briefings with appointed representatives whereas in Sri Lanka our politicians who talk at cross-purposes, confusing the public. This was highlighted in the news item “Laboratory scientists ask govt. not to promote untested COVID-19 cures” (The Island, 10 December). President of the College of Medical Laboratory Science, Ravi Kumudesh has said “Twenty-two ‘cures’ for COVID-19 have been introduced by practitioners of alternative medicine in Sri Lanka and they were promoted by both the media and the Ministry of Health. These practitioners of alternative medicine pop up periodically and they have been given unnecessary publicity. The Health Ministry has encouraged these people and this has confused the public.” Well said!

Claims of Covid-19 cures seem to have created mayhem. Just looking at the jostling crowds struggling to receive free doses of the ‘magic potion’ makes one wonder whether what is on the way is a crop than a cure! However, that there is support for purported cures, even from the so-called intelligentsia came as a bit of shock to me but in a way.

One of my close friends, who is a former ambassador, has set up two WhatsApp groups for professionals with an interest in diplomacy and foreign relations. Whilst being very thankful that he included me in both groups, maybe because of our friendship, I have not been an active participant knowing my limitations in these fields. However, by reading the posts I have been able to educate myself by the discussions among some very prominent persons in these fields. Unfortunately, reading the comments of some others has been interesting in a totally different way; at best these have been entertaining but at worst, they have been very depressing; that some educated people show total lack of commonsense.

I am amazed by the attempts of some of these ‘intellectuals’ to propagate anti-vaccine propaganda going to the extent of stating that COVID-19 was engineered and released for the sake of vaccine business. There is no doubt that Big Pharma is out for big profits but that should not take us away from the fact that they are a necessary evil. Maybe, we should find avenues to subdue them. Most of us are waiting for the Oxford vaccine to be approved for use not only because it is a vaccine made out of modified virus than a tiny part of it but also because it is a non-profit venture with Astra Zeneca.

One of the members of the Whatapp group has forwarded a video produced by an extreme religious organisation that opposes abortion questioning the methods of viral modification for this vaccine! I am amazed at the idiocy of these individuals who fail to understand that small pox was eradicated in 1980 thanks to vaccination. Since the WHO started an initiative in 1988 to rid the world of polio, again by vaccination, the number of cases has fallen by 99%. Of the three strains of polio, type 2 was declared eradicated in 1999 and type 3 in 2012. Wild polio type 1 is still in circulation in only two countries: Afghanistan and Pakistan. Until circulation is stopped in them, we cannot consider polio to be completely eradicated but it is within grasp. It is a pity that these pundits fail to realise the continuing damage done to many young lives by parents refusing the MMR jab based on the flawed and dishonest research by a British doctor. Measles has flared up in the West with resultant brain damage in some children.

Talking of smallpox, I am reminded of an interesting episode that occurred in late 1978 or early 1979. At the invitation of the Indian Medical Association, I attended its anniversary session held in Cochin as the representative of the Sri Lanka Medical Association. I was fortunate enough to sit on the podium just behind Prime Minister Morarji Desai, who was the chief Guest for the valedictory session. In one of the most undiplomatic speeches, I have listened to, Morarji attacked modern medicine and claimed that he had his own system of medicine which was greeted with peals of laughter from the audience,

which knew he was referring to his habit of drinking own urine! Not to be outdone, the secretary of the congress who was a Bacteriologist, decided to reciprocate by pointing out that modern medicine had just eradicated smallpox. Irritated, Morarji turned to the President and said “Is this a vote of thanks?” When the President tried to intervene Morarji said, “Let him go on”. Good old Morarji! He was in his centenary year when he died; perhaps, his system of medicine helped him!

Comments by some ‘intellectuals’ in the WhatsApp groups on the much-hyped Ayurvedic cure for Covid-19 are laughable and doubts are raised about their intellectual capacity. The one that takes the cake stated:

“Yes, if it came packed in a bottle with a western name the Western doctors who are a part of the support structure of the pharmaceutical conspiracy would have approved it as a medicine.

A medicine that has no after effects and is a pure cure is not worthy of being approved as a medicine in the country which has a tradition of over fifteen thousand years old medicinal system! Disgusting”

As I mentioned, I simply am a passive reader of these groups but had I been an active contributor, my response would have been:

“We are not western doctors; we are Sri Lankan doctors who practise science-based medicine. We are not a part of any pharmaceutical conspiracy but prescribe drugs that have been extensively tested and approved by regulatory authorities.

Without testing how can you claim that it is a pure cure and that it has no after effects?

Have you read my articles in The Island; “Peddling ‘snake oil’” (17 October), “Gone to pot” (17 November) and “Can ‘alternative medicine’ do harm?” (7 December) you would have understood how drugs are tested and approve, and also that decoctions too can do harm.

Where is the proof that we have an ‘over fifteen thousand years old medicinal system’? What we boast of as our system is a borrowed system. Remember, Ayurveda is from India!”

It is interesting that India, the home of Ayurveda, has not developed an Ayurvedic cure but one of ours has done so, inspired by a Hindu goddess! Maybe, Hindu gods and goddesses are more interested in Sri Lanka’s welfare!

Any cure is most welcome for this dreaded epidemic and if by any rare chance this concoction is proved effective, on top of saving lives it would be able to salvage our economy too. However, giving support and publicity before safety and efficacy is proved is the height of idiocy!

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Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Uttareethara Maha Nayaka Thera turns 88

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It was in the year 1803 that there was a renaissance within the Maha Sangha (the Great Community of Buddhist Monks) in Sri Lanka thereby adding a fresh chapter to the history of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. This was when the Most Venerable Welitara Sri Gnanawimala Thera, the Great Prelate received the Upasampada or the Higher Ordination in Burma, returned to Sri Lanka and established the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya. (The name of this monk is embellished with traditional appellations such as Bodhisattva Gunopetha or being imbued with the qualities of a Bodhisattva or Buddha-Aspirant, and Preacher to King and Emperor.)

Thus the Amarapura Nikaya, which began with this Most Venerable Thera, later spread itself very rapidly down five generations of the Sangha spanning the entire Island. These generations of the Sangha organized themselves into 22 Nikayas. This was with the blessings of each of the Mahanayakas. They also preserved the identity of each such Nikaya.

In Sri Lanka, Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha was formed in 1952 with the concurrence of 15 of these subsidiary Nikayas. Presidents of the Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha have been;

1. the Most Venerable Prelate Beruwela Siri Nivasa Thera

2. the Most Venerable Mapalane Pannalankara Maha Nayaka,

3. the Most Venerable Uddammita Dhammarakhita Maha Nayaka,

4. the Most Venerable Balangoda Ananda Maithri Maha Nayaka

5. the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka.

In the year 1962 all 22 Sub-Nikayas came together to form a more organized and properly constituted Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha. It was the Most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Balangoda Ananda Maithri Thera who was installed as President and has been succeeded by;

1. the Most Venerable Dhammavansha Thera,

2. the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha,

3. the Most Venerable Ahungalla Wimalanandi,

4. the Most Venerable Kandegedara Sumanavansha,

5. the Most Venerable Boyagama Wimalasiri,

6. the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa and

7. the Most Venerable Dodampahala Chandrasiri.

The Most Venerable Chief Prelate Ganthune Assaji Thera is the current chair.

In terms of the Constitution approved in 1992, an Office of Supreme Prelate (Uttareethara Mahanayaka) was created, and the first to hold this office was the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera who was succeeded by Most Venerable Davuldena Gnaneesara Thera. After his demise the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera, who turns eighty-eight today assumed and continues to be the Uttareethara Mahanayaka.

He was born on 26th January 1933 and ordained as a monk with the permission of his parents, on 17th August 1948. He received his Higher Ordination on 10th July 1954 at the Udakkukhepa Seemamalakaya set up on the River named the Kalu Ganga in Kalutara.

He had his training and primary instruction in the Buddha Dhamma from his Venerable Preceptors, later entered the Paramadhamma Chetiya Pirivena for his education. It was at the Maha Pirivena in Maligakanda where he received his Higher Education in three languages, under the shadow and tutelage of the Most Venerable Pandita Baddegama Piyaratana Thera.

With the demise of his preceptor, Dhammavasa Thera became the Prelate of the Dharmapala-arama Viharaya in Mount Lavinia. By this time he had already become very popular by broadcasting and delivering sermons in temples and in private homes, contributing to articles disseminating the Dhamma, and articles on topical subjects through the full-moon day publication entitled “Budusarana”, then to daily newspapers, and to the Vesak Annuals published by M D Gunasena & Co., Dinamina etc.

The Thera was also engaged in social welfare activities of the area by setting up Children’s and Young Persons’ Societies within the Vihara.

With the passage of time and the demise of remarkably eloquent monks such as the Most Venerable Narada Thera, Prelate of the Vajira-aramaya, Heenatiyana Dhammaloka, Kotikawatte Saddhatissa, Pitakotte Somananda, Kalukondayawe Pannasekera and other such classic preachers, Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera stands out as a prime orator among those who came to the limelight after the days of the erudite monks of yesteryear.

Owing to the ceaseless invitations to deliver sermons extended to our Venerable Thera he travelled to various regions of the Island, yet fulfilling all his duties pertaining to his own Nikaya and to the work of the Sangha Sabha neglecting nothing whatever. With all this he continued to participate in the discharge of the infinite services expected of all erstwhile office bearers of the Sangha Sabha.

Our respected Thera was gradually chosen to hold various posts within the Amarapura Nikaya. Some such are his appointment in 1970 as an ordained member of the Working Committee and to the Post of Honorary Prelate (Maha Nayaka); in 1981 as the Chief Ecclesiastical Sangha Nayaka; and in 1990 as the Deputy Chief (Anunayaka) of the Amarapura Nikaya. At the same time it is because of his quality of being industrious that he was elected the Secretary (Lekhakadhikari).

The Venerable Anunayaka Thera who served the Maha Sangha Sabha of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya with great dedication, in order to ensure its unity and advancement, was in 1980 appointed its Co-Secretary (Sama Lekhakadhikari) and in 1992 as its Chief Secretary (Maha Lekhakadhikari) It is only appropriate to place on record that during this period of about fifteen years he performed a very special quality of service to the Sasana by updating the Amarapura Sangha Sabha; by setting up a Kathikavata (Ecclesiastical Edict) for the Amarapura Nikaya (whereby ‘rules governing the discipline and conduct of Buddhist monks including matters related to the settlement of disputes’ together with a Sanghadhikarana Panatha (i.e. an Ecclesiastical Act) were drafted and approved; and finally by drafting a strong, formal Constitution and obtaining approval for same.

It was on 17th December 2016 that the Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Anunayaka Thera became the Mahanayaka of the Amarapura Nikaya, and that on a proposal made by none other than the Most Venerable Agga-maha-panditha Ambalangoda Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera who, at the time, was himself the incumbent.

On 3rd October 2008 the Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera was appointed to the post of Chairman, and it was on 26th May 2017 that he was elected Uttareethara Maha Nayaka or Supreme Maha Nayaka, which is the highest position within the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya.

He has visited many countries in Asia and Europe disseminating the Dhamma and participating in Conferences thereby earning great international fame. Meanwhile he also serves as the incumbent monk of the Sri Lanka-aramaya in Myanmar and of the Charumathie Viharaya in Nepal.

In the matters of national and religious issues in the country he expresses his views in such a calm and collected manner that he has earned the respect of the Supreme Maha Nayaka Theras of other Nikayas and politicians both in power and in the Opposition and of intellectuals.

He has been honored with the title of “Agga Maha Panditha” by the Government of Myanmar. Although other honorary awards were conferred upon him by foreign countries and foreign institutions he does not use them, entirely because of his humble disposition.

At the end of and exposition of the Dhamma (a Dharma Desana) at Temple Trees His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa (who was then the incumbent President of the country) made an offering to him of about 14 perches of land in Wellawatte. Upon this land stands today, the “Office of the Sangha Sabha of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya”, a three-storied building replete with all conceivable facilities. It is a matter of great joy to us that in honour of the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera it was possible for us to make an offering of this building to the Buddha Sasana, on the 15th of August 2020.

We offer merit to His Excellency the President and the Honourable Prime Minister who are today attending to each and every need of our Supreme Maha Nayaka Thera in a spirit of extending infinite regard and respect to him, in appreciation of the national and religious service the Maha Thera has rendered.

Let us also gratefully place on record that the Honourable Sajit Premadasa, Leader of the Opposition, has provided an elevator as an offering to facilitate the caring for our Mahanayaka Thera.

I also wish to thank the Doctors, the Staff of the Nawaloka Hospital, Members of the Nikaya-abhivrudhi Dayaka Sabha (Organization for the Advancement of the Nikaya) and the Dayaka Sabha of the Mahanayaka’s Vihara and who are all providing medical care.

Arrangements were made by the Dayaka Sabha and the student monks to offer alms to the Sangha to mark the birthday of our Thera when he reached the age of 88, on 26th January 2021.

On 21st January 2021 at 7.00 p.m. a Bodhi Pooja was organized by the Amarapura Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha at the historic Kalutara Bodhi to invoke blessings upon our Supreme Maha Thera.

May the Supreme Maha Nayaka Agga Maha Panditha Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nahimi live a life free from sickness and sorrow.

 

Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa

Chairman

Sri Lanka Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha

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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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