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Held opinion: Buddhist countries spared worst of Covid 19 infection

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A young woman I know, extra pious and believing in the paranormal aspects attached by believers to Buddhism, made the pronouncement that Sri Lanka was spared a blitz from the Covid 19 pandemic because it is a country with a large Buddhist population. We smirked privately but pointed out to her that we are a tropical country and direct sunlight is a destroyer of the corona virus. Also the spices we lace our curries with, and kottamalli we drink, also immune aiding kola kenda we often have for breakfast, would help to keep contagion low and death rate almost negligible. Yes, she conceded but stuck to her theory that the benevolent gods (surely Buddhist!) and the presence of the Tooth Relic and the sacred Bo Tree made for greater protection of the country and its people. Yes, true again, she said, when we pointed out the excellent public health services we have and the presidential task force that worked day and night (literally) counting no cost to themselves, to contain the infection.

But to her the gods played a larger part and I suppose the refuge 70 percent take in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha (of arahants), though the majority admittedly only parrot the intro to the five precepts, had protective powers, at least psychological, which is significant in resistance to disease. She insisted our being Buddhist was why we got off easily, though of course now we are holding our combined breath with the sudden increase in cases, as I write this in late July. So I ask her, how do people who are so corrupt and up to all sorts if evil ruses to amass wealth or satiate their baser desires continue to live so well? They too are parasitic viruses, and most profess to be Buddhists!
Quoting the article And then I read Paul Pateman’s article ’ in The Economist of July 11, 2020 – ‘Why has the pandemic spared the Buddhist parts of South East Asia?’

Patemen begins his essay thus: “One of the bigger riddles of the global pandemic lies in South-East Asia. Despite being close to the source of covid-19 in China, and to one of the current hotspots of the outbreak, India, the partly or largely Buddhist countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam have scarcely sneezed.
“Vietnam is the standout: with 97m people, it claims no deaths from covid-19. Thailand, with 70m, has seen just 58 fatalities. Impoverished Myanmar claims just six deaths from 317 cases, while Cambodia (141 confirmed cases) and tiny Laos (19 cases) also have no deaths apiece and no local transmission since April. Compare that with the nearby archipelagic nations of Indonesia (some 68,100 cases and 3,400 deaths) and the Philippines (50,400 cases and 1,300 deaths), where the pandemic still rages.”

He goes on to dissect situations and make assertions. “Set aside karmic grace as an explanation, especially given that Vietnam’s communist dictatorship is atheist. Vietnam’s success, indeed, is easiest to explain. The country has a suspicion of its big northern neighbour, China, rooted in millennia of historical interaction. At the start of the year it instinctively distrusted China’s reassurances about the disease and even launched cyber-attacks to get better information on the epidemic’s course. It closed its border and used authoritarian powers to lock down the population and trace and isolate cases. That, in essence, is what China’s communist authorities were also doing….. , but Thailand, a sham democracy overseen by generals, perhaps comes closest. The quality of its health care makes Thailand a popular destination for medical tourism. Moreover, the government was quick to set up a vigorous covid-fighting task-force…. But in Laos, which is too small to resist China’s blandishments” and the other countries continued close ties with China: “Myanmar, which is awash with Chinese traders and smugglers, or Cambodia, whose strongman, Hun Sen, is the region’s biggest cheerleader for China. Chinese construction is reshaping these countries, which all came under pressure not to close borders with China even as the pandemic spread. One widespread suspicion is that they did, but these were not reported.” Testing is severely limited in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. but there was no evidence of widespread transmission, such as hospital care seekers. It must be admitted that many of these countries are under near military rule.

Even the poorest countries adopted measures that must have helped check the spread of the corona virus. For instance migrant workers returning from Thailand to their villages in Myanmar often had to quarantine for 14 days in shacks outside their villages. Other beneficiary factors were more rural dwellers than urban slums; more fans or natural ventilation with little use of air conditioning; also the populations being generally younger and masks worn even at ordinary times. We all know that the greetings now advised are the namasthe (wai in Thai) borrowed from our eastern countries and knocking elbows (seen at the recent prolonged EU summit). Additionally I add: we are conservative and practice social distancing most of the time as a customary habit. We keep our distances, even among siblings. I remember a disciplinarian of a vice principal in my Kandy school derogating carefree hand holding of friends as “silly, sentimental slush!” There was never any dating allowed then, even for engaged-to-be married couples and inducements and coaxing were needed by a boy to get a girl to move closer, she modestly holding back due to conservative notions drilled into her.

The Economist article ends thus: “The question now is whether South-East Asia’s Buddhist successes can weather second or third waves. … reduced transmission from China was not the miracle some divine—the giant neighbour, after all, quickly got on top of its epidemic. Now, transmission routes are changing. Across Asia, infections are being imported from all round the world.” So true in Sri Lanka.
A national trait that helped, at least among the elders and educated I strongly feel that a personality trait or behaviour pattern we older people display and is followed by those, I dare say, with good upbringing is – being amenable to discipline. Whenever discussion of how we were spared the worse of the Covid so far, I bruit this idea. We older ones were obedient and took advice and observed rules and regulations. We respected those who advised us or even ordered us. And so we brought up our children to think and decide for themselves so they were also amenable to discipline. Thus when told by the government task force to wear masks, we donned them, adding gloves too. When ordered to stay locked down, we stayed strictly indoors. And thus we helped the efficient health services and medical personnel to contain the infection.
This in sharp contrast to what has happened, and continues to happen in the US, for example. They go crazy in summer with spring sap flowing and want to get to beaches, pubs, parks, often pasted together. The US has an additional impediment: a commandeering president who contravenes all the doctors’ warnings and says, probably believes too, that the US is doing well.

Now here comes in Buddhism. The religion lays great importance on self-isolation, discipline (sangwara bhavaya), contentment, reducing wants and greed, often seeming to advocate ascetism. Hence our compliance with lockdowns and shut-ins. We were content as long as we got our bare necessities, the government efficiently providing/allowing vendors to visit homes. It’s only the less educated and those with no true religiousness who run amok – the thugs and near thugs. They very nearly caused the pandemic to turn severe. There also can be an element of the paranormal. Pirit chanting has a positive effect and can boost fellow feeling and even immunity. Metta sent forth by the many can purify the atmosphere and probably curb the danger of Covid 19. Other religious leaders too were up front in leading their flocks to obey strictures laid down.



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South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and what it means for SL

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At the head table (L to R): High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya and Executive Director LKI Dr. D.L. Mendis.

State circles in Sri Lanka have begun voicing the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the country, on the lines of South Africa’s historic TRC, and the time could not be more appropriate for a comprehensive discussion in Sri Lanka on the questions that are likely to arise for the country as a result of launching such an initiative. There is no avoiding the need for all relevant stakeholders to deliberate on what it could mean for Sri Lanka to usher a TRC of its own.

Fortunately for Sri Lanka, the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI), Colombo, took on the responsibility of initiating public deliberations on what a TRC could entail for Sri Lanka. A well-attended round table forum towards this end was held at the LKI on November 25 and many were the vital insights it yielded on how Sri Lanka should go about the crucial task of bringing about enduring ethnic peace in Sri Lanka through a home-grown TRC. A special feature of the forum was the on-line participation in it of South African experts who were instrumental in making the TRC initiative successful in South Africa.

There was, for example, former Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Communication of South Africa Roelf Meyer, who figured as Chief Representative of the white minority National Party government in the multi-party negotiations of 1993, which finally led to ending apartheid in South Africa. His role was crucial in paving the way for the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. Highlighting some crucial factors that contributed towards South Africa’s success in laying the basis for ethnic reconciliation, Meyer said that there ought to be a shared need among the antagonists to find a negotiated solution to their conflict. They should be willing to resolve their issues. Besides, the principle needs be recognized that ‘one negotiates with one’s enemies’. These conditions were met in South Africa.

Meyer added that South Africa’s TRC was part of the country’s peace process. Before the launching of the TRC a peace agreement among the parties was already in place. Besides, an interim constitution was licked into shape by then. The principle agreed to by the parties that, ‘We will not look for vengeance but for reconciliation’, not only brought a degree of accord among the conflicting parties but facilitated the setting-up of the TRC.

Meyer also pointed out that the parties to the conflict acted with foresight when they postponed considering the question of an amnesty for aggressors for the latter part of the negotiations. If an amnesty for perceived aggressors ‘was promised first, we would never have had peace’, he explained.

Meanwhile, Dr. Fanie Du Toit, Senior Fellow of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africa, in his presentation said that the restoration of the dignity of the victims in the conflict is important. The realization of ethnic peace in South Africa was a ‘victim-centric’ process. Hearing out the victim’s point of view became crucial. Very importantly, the sides recognized that ‘apartheid was a crime against humanity’. These factors made the South African TRC exercise a highly credible one.

The points made by Meyer and Du Toit ought to prompt the Sri Lankan state and other parties to the country’s conflict to recognize what needs to be in place for the success of an ethnic peace process of their own. A challenge for the Sri Lankan government is to ban racism in all its manifestations and to declare racism a crime against humanity. For starters, is the Lankan government equal to this challenge? If this challenge goes unmet bringing ethnic reconciliation to Sri Lanka would prove an impossible task.

Lest the Sri Lankan government and other relevant sections to the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict forget, reconciliation in South Africa was brought about, among other factors, by truth-telling by aggressors and oppressors. In its essentials, the South African TRC entailed the aggressors owning to their apartheid-linked crimes in public before the Commission. In return they were amnestied and freed of charges. Could Sri Lanka’s perceived aggressors measure up to this challenge? This question calls for urgent answering before any TRC process is gone ahead with.

Making some opening remarks at the forum, State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said, among other things, that the LKI discussion set the tone for the setting up of a local TRC. He said that the latter is important because future generations should not be allowed to inherit Sri Lanka’s ethnic tangle and its issues. Ethnic reconciliation is essential as the country goes into the future. He added that the ‘Aragalaya’ compelled the country to realize its past follies which must not be repeated.

In his closing remarks, former Minister of Public Works of South Africa and High Commissioner of South Africa to Sri Lanka ambassador Geoffrey Doidge said that Sri Lanka’s TRC would need to have a Compassionate Council of religious leaders who would be catalysts in realizing reconciliation. Sri Lanka, he said, needs to seize this opportunity and move ahead through a consultative process. All sections of opinion in the country need to be consulted on the core issues in reconciliation.

At the inception of the round table, Executive Director, LKI, Dr. D. L. Mendis making some welcome remarks paid tribute to South Africa’s former President Nelson Mandela for his magnanimous approach towards the white minority and for granting an amnesty to all apartheid-linked offenders. He also highlighted the role played by Bishop Desmond Tutu in ushering an ‘Age of Reconciliation’.

In his introductory remarks, High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in South Africa Prof. Gamini Gunawardena said, among other things, that TRCs were not entirely new to Sri Lanka but at the current juncture a renewed effort needed to be made by Sri Lanka towards reconciliation. Sri Lanka should aim at its own TRC process, he said.

During Q&A Roelf Meyer said that in South Africa there was a move away from authoritarianism towards democracy, a democratic constitution was ushered. In any reconciliation process, ensuring human rights should be the underlying approach with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights playing the role of guide. Besides, a reconciliation process must have long term legitimacy.

Dr. Fanie Du Toit said that Bishop Tutu’s commitment to forgiveness made him acceptable to all. Forgiveness is not a religious value but a human one, he said. It is also important to recognize that human rights violations are always wrong.

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Cucumber Face Mask

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*  Cucumber and Aloe Vera

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel or juice • 1/4th grated cucumber

Method

Mix the grated cucumber and aloe gel, and carefully apply the mixture on the face and also on your neck.

Leave it on for 15 minutes. Wash with warm water.

* Cucumber and Carrot

Ingredients

• 1 tablespoon fresh carrot juice • 1 tablespoon cucumber paste • 1 tablespoon sour cream

Method

Extract fresh carrot juice and grate the cucumber to get a paste-like consistency. Mix these two ingredients, with the sour cream, and apply the paste on the face.

Leave it on for 15 to 20 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water. (This cucumber face pack is good for dry skin)

* Cucumber and Tomato

Ingredients

• 1/4th cucumber • 1/2 ripe tomato

Method

Peel the cucumber and blend it with the tomato and apply the paste on your face and neck and massage for a minute or two, in a circular motion.

Leave the paste on for 15 minutes. Rinse with cool water. (This cucumber face pack will give you brighter and radiant skin)

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Christmas time is here again…

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The dawning of the month of December invariably reminds me of The Beatles ‘Christmas Time Is Here Again.’ And…yes, today is the 1st of December and, no doubt, there will be quite a lot of festive activities for us to check out.

Renowned artiste, Melantha Perera, who now heads the Moratuwa Arts Forum, has been a busy man, working on projects for the benefit of the public.

Since taking over the leadership of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha and his team are now ready to present their second project – a Christmas Fair – and this project, I’m told, is being done after a lapse of three years.

They are calling it Christmas Fun-Fair and it will be held on 7th December, at St. Peter’s Church Hall, Koralawella.

A member of the organizing committee mentioned that this event will not be confined to only the singing of Christmas Carols.

“We have worked out a programme that would be enjoyed by all, especially during this festive season.”

There will be a variety of items, where the main show is concerned…with Calypso Carols, as a curtain raiser, followed by Carols sung by Church choirs.

They plan to include a short drama, pertaining to Christmas, and a Comedy act, as well.

The main show will include guest spots by Rukshan Perera and Mariazelle Gunathilake.

Melantha Perera: Second project as President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum

Although show time is at 7.30 pm, the public can check out the Christmas Fun-Fair scene, from 4.30 pm onwards, as there will be trade stalls, selling Christmas goodies – Christmas cakes and sweets, garment items, jewellery, snacks, chocolate, etc.

The fair will not be confined to only sales, as Melantha and his team plan to make it extra special by working out an auction and raffle draw, with Christmas hampers, as prizes.

Santa and ‘Charlie Chaplin’ will be in attendance, too, entertaining the young and old, and there will also be a kid’s corner, to keep thembusy so that the parents could do their shopping.

They say that the main idea in organizing this Christmas Fun-Fair is to provide good festive entertainment for the people who haven’t had the opportunity of experiencing the real festive atmosphere during the last few years.

There are also plans to stream online, via MAF YouTube, to Sri Lankans residing overseas, to enable them to see some of the festive activities in Sri Lanka.

Entrance to the Christmas Fun Failr stalls will be free of charge. Tickets will be sold only for the main show, moderately priced at Rs. 500.

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