By Rohana R. Wasala
Most Venerable Mahanayake Theros, I would like to beseech you Reverend Sirs, in all humility and with the deepest respect, to please write to Mahinda Rajapaksa MP or summon him before you, to demand that he explain to the nation why he now supports a measure that is likely to prolong the suffering and insecurity of the people and to endanger the survival of the Buddha Sasana, and, if it is something unavoidable at this stage, how he is going to make the proposed change harmless …
The Most Venerable Mahanayake theras of the Three Nikayas (Siyam, Amarapura and Ramanna) wrote to president Ranil Wickremasinghe admonishing him not to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution two weeks ago, on February 2, as reported in The Island Mahanayakes tell President not to implement 13A’/February 3, 2023). The Buddhist prelates reminded the president that his predecessors did not implement 13A fully because of the devastating consequences this would have on the country, and that the executive presidency was established to safeguard the people’s sovereignty. The Mahanayake theras warned him of public anger rising against him if he carried out activities that tend to weaken the central government. It is evident that the senior monks are aware of the current economic crisis that the country is going through. They understand that Sri Lanka needs the assistance of global powers to overcome these difficulties. However, they correctly point out that proposals that undermine the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country must be rejected. According to The Island report, the Mahanayakes also told the president that the country as a whole.. ….” faced many difficulties during the war. The government must do more to develop the North and East and uplift the livelihood of people who faced the most damage. Politicians who come from those parts hold Cabinet posts and can do a lot to develop these areas. At such a time, fully implementing the 13th amendment will create confusion….”
Is this dabbling in politics on the part of the Mahanayakes? Absolutely not. They are just attending to the hallowed duty assigned to the bhikkhus of our country by a tradition that began 2260 years ago with the official introduction of Buddhism: to come forward/usually to offer advice to the ruler when the country, the people and the Buddha Sasana are in jeopardy. Sri Lanka is a Buddhist majority country. Countries that possess such a long unbroken history of the same spiritual culture are extremely rare. Doesn’t that imply something about the dominant cultural background of the country and the people’s beliefs and ideas about the living of life, worldly happiness, social obligations, spiritual fulfillment, and so on? As the spiritual guides of at least 70% of the Sri Lankan population, they have a historic responsibility to advise the ruler when they realise that the interests of the people of the country (including non-Buddhists) are threatened as understood at present by a large majority of the population.
The Maha Sangha are arguably the most democratic community of clerical men and women on earth. They are averse to totalitarian control of any kind (something hinted at by the president in the Buddha’s admonition to his followers “Be a lamp unto yourself” with which pithy quote he ended his policy statement, though its appositeness in that context may be in question).
In their missive, the Buddhist prelates express their sincere concern about the need to address the current economic issues with special attention to the livelihood problems of the people of the North and the East who faced the brunt of the civil conflict. At the same, they urge the president not to carry out the full implementation of the 13th Amendment. (Though the Venerables didn’t mention it, the 13th Amendment was forcibly imposed on Sri Lanka grossly violating her sovereignty in 1987 in less than ideal, less than democratic circumstances as the older generation of Sri Lankans knew at first hand.)
While presidents, prime ministers, and governments come and go from time to time, changing their powers and policies as appropriate or otherwise, the Mahanayakes who are symbols of wisdom and compassion remain more permanent, like the sovereign state itself. However, hardly ever do they usurp a ruler’s role. The intrinsic secular nature of Article 9 (relating to Buddhism) of Sri Lanka’s existent republican constitution is something that Western observers, and even our own politicians including the nationalists among them do not or do not want to understand; the latter seem to be abysmally ignorant of the term ‘secularism’, and play havoc with it.
Contrary to what people expected, in his ceremonial policy statement from the Speaker’s chair in parliament on February 8, President Wickremasinghe did not seem to respond to the Mahanayakes’ earnest advice conveyed to him nearly a week previously, but he did so by implication, towards the end of his speech. Some of his utterances, probably, increased their apprehensions. He talked about having to take unpopular decisions. “I am not here to be popular!”, he said. Ranil Wickremasinghe can well say that since it was not because he was popular that he became executive president.
He, as a would-be technocrat, can take unpopular decisions, as he thinks fit, in dealing with purely economic issues. But if his economic policies are based on wrong political decisions, it’s a different issue, where his personal moral values get tested (in spite of his indispensability at this juncture).
The president devoted the first half of his speech to dealing with strictly economic matters: Rebuilding the nation, foreign reserves, IMF negotiations, revival of tourism, economic reforms, etc. To properly handle these, it will be helpful for him to keep in mind the concerns raised by the monks. For example, one of the worries of these leading monks, though not mentioned in the letter, relates to the preservation of the Buddhist archaeological heritage of the northern and eastern areas. The archaeological treasures connected with the history of Sinhalese habitation in the northern, north central and eastern parts of the island have been under threat for decades; some of them have been deliberately destroyed, reburied, built over or falsely claimed by non-Buddhists. There is history written on rock in the form of rock inscriptions right across the country from north to south and from east to west that bear witness to the presence of the Sinhalese throughout the island. Archaeological remains and sites are great tourist attractions, which means their preservation is economically very important, too.
Most of the other half is about establishing communal harmony. President Wickremasinghe takes great pains to convince the Tamil and Muslim minorities about his determination to solve their problems.
He had discussed with R. Sampandan MP in 1977 (i.e., 45 years ago) about how to resolve the Tamil ethnic issue. The time has come at long last for them to achieve their goal. Ranil had been made aware of problems of the Muslims by minister A.C.S. Hameed, presumably in the latter 1980s, i.e., 35 years ago. All sensible Sri Lankans appreciate Ranil Wickremasinghe’s desire to resolve minority problems, but he should remember that no politician has a moral right to disregard the human rights interests of the majority community.
While listening to the policy statement streamed live on February 8th, I felt that the president displayed less enthusiasm in talking about the problems that the majority community suffer from. It looked as though he thought those problems were less substantive than the ones that the minorities faced. His single apathetic utterance in this regard was: “The Sinhalese community is also facing issues of their own which require open discussion. We expect to recognize the communities that are marginalized in society especially due to caste discrimination”. This is tantamount to associating the caste issue with the Sinhalese instead of the Tamils, particularly those in the North, who are persecuted by religion sanctioned casteism. The caste problem among the Sinhalese – historically borrowed from Tamil Hindu culture – is very mild, confined perhaps to party politics and matrimonial occasions, and is fast disappearing. Tamil civil society activist Arun Siddharthan often mentions this problem among Tamils. Rear Admiral (Retd) Sarath Weerasekera MP said in Parliament recently stated that blood needed for blood transfusion in Jaffna hospitals was in short supply due to (Hindu religion based) caste discrimination and had to be donated by Sinhalese soldiers. Of course, how seriously the particular form of social injustice affects the Tamil society can’t have escaped the president’s attention.
Paradoxically, though, in stark contradiction with basic Buddhist teachings, caste distinctions are still observed by Sri Lankan Buddhist monks, who have divided themselves into caste-based nikayas, something initiated by the Siyam nikaya in unalterable historical circumstances in the 18th century. It’s an evil that the Mahanayakes could have corrected, at least decades before, had they been less worldly, and more devoted to the Dhamma, and more dedicated to the welfare of the Buddhist laity, and the society in general. At least now, they must bury these undue divisions among themselves, and unite as a single body and realize and demonstrate to the world what the power of the Maha Sangha is. This is urgent for the survival of the Buddha Sasana.
President Wickremasinghe expressed his determination for bringing in maximum devolution of power within a unitary Sri Lanka (not united Sri Lanka as he used to say in the past). How he can secure this is yet to be disclosed. The people must be wary, for the devil is in the details. He says quite correctly that reconciliation alone will not bring about economic development: people’s attitudes must change. (Of course, this should apply not only to the majority, but also to the minorities.) This is perhaps a reference to his decision to get Tamil diaspora entrepreneurs involved in the development of the war-damaged North, for which he will create a separate department. We remember that, even months before, diaspora representatives indicated their readiness to bring in foreign funds to ease Sri Lanka’s dollar crunch, but that was with the proviso that those funds will be utilized exclusively for the economic development of the North.
During his closing words, president Wickremasinghe said:
“,,,,,,,We are all bound to protect the State of Sri Lanka. Any citizen has the opportunity to democratically change Governments through the elections. However, no one has the right to create anarchy in Sri Lanka. Not any political party. Not any group.
“We cannot allow our motherland to become an economic or social colony. Anarchy cannot be allowed. No one who truly loves the nation will allow such a situation. We all should stand on the side that supports the nation and not that which is bent to destroy the country..”.
That is a kind of assurance given that the sovereign Sri Lankan state will remain whole; there will be no division of the country. Governments will be changed democratically through elections. This means that the sort of annihilationist anarchy that the chaotic medley of leaderless directionless political and religious desperados of the foreign funded, anti-national, conspiratorial ‘Aragalaya’ will not be allowed. The president promised that his proposals will be implemented through the National Assembly of the Parliament. What better guarantee can be given than this that the kind of undemocratic coercion that forced the 13th Amendment on a hapless Sri Lanka in 1987 under a dictatorial president who had succumbed to undue Indian pressure will not be applied in the present situation?
If the 13th Amendment must be implemented in full, let it be implemented in that democratic way. But we know that the present parliament doesn’t have a legitimate mandate to achieve that end. The SLPP was returned to power with a near two thirds majority, having fought elections on the platform of ‘One country, One law’. It is still an SLPP government. So they do not have the moral right to pass legislation that is entirely opposed to the original rallying cry that brought it to power. To cut a long story short, it is only Mahinda Rajapaksa MP who can persuade the unelected, president by default, Ranil Wickremasinghe from using the sitting parliament to enact 13A in its entirety without consulting the public regarding it through a referendum or a general election. Of course, in the past, Mahinda Rajapaksa used to repeat that he’d offer a 13A+. But I thought he was just bluffing then. Now Ranil seems to have called his bluff. Almost all members of parliament including Mahinda Rajapaksa, except a small splinter group who have left the SLPP alliance, have expressed agreement to the president’s decision to execute the full implementation of 13A. So, legally, there is no obstacle to his plan. But it is undemocratic and immoral.
It is the conscientious assertion of a nation’s dominant moral values by the three branches of government in a democracy – the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – in their activities that saves that nation from collapse and disaster. In the final analysis, Mahinda Rajapaksa, former president and prime minister, despite his, perhaps, unmatchable past achievements, is responsible for the present unprecedented crisis, especially, the ruinous political chaos. Only he can put an end to it by putting the country before himself, if possible. He used to say that his Priority Number One, Number Two, and Number Three was the same: the Motherland/the Nation. Let him redeem his lost honour and popularity, and also win back the love of the people he tried to serve.
Most Venerable Mahanayake Theros, I would like to beseech you Reverend Sirs, in all humility and with the deepest respect, to please write to Mahinda Rajapaksa MP or summon him before you Reverends, to demand that he explain to the nation why he now supports a measure that is likely to prolong the suffering and insecurity of the people and to endanger the survival of the Buddha Sasana, and, if it is something unavoidable at this stage, how he is going to make the proposed change harmless. Please remind him that he was a former prime minister, president, and a minister for Buddha Sasana.
Sri Lanka cricket: what ails thou?
By a Sports Aficionado
This cricket-mad nation was appalled by the pathetic and blatantly disgraceful performance of its National Cricket Team at the premier event of the game, the World Cup. Even before the event ended, heads rolled over here on the cricket board. Such action should have been taken long ago but what we need now is an honest analysis of the debacle and the remedial measures that need to be taken.
One of the root causes of the problem is that there is far too much money in the game at present. Even in the face of the current economic crisis the money that has been remorselessly thrown around cricket is totally unbelievable. The amount of money that has been paid out to the so-called ‘support staff’ is absolutely mind-boggling. For what, pray we ask? To repeatedly lick the sporting wounds inflicted even by lesser mortals? Shame on the Cricket Board that seems to have completely wasted all that money for years in the past. In recent years we have not gained even an iota of returns for all the money spent on locals and foreigners to supposedly elevate the performance levels.
What we are not told are the most likely princely sums paid out to the players by the Cricket Board. If we are to judge that by the amounts paid to the support staff, the amounts paid to the players must be in a celestial planetary orbit. Those amounts are most likely to be astronomical. It is also a certainty that the Cricket Board Staff too have been at the receiving end of even cosmological amounts. The beneficiaries in the Cricket Board also include various types of managers and other assorted executives and supervisors. Then for good measure, add overriding perpetual corruption and you have the recipe for the disaster that it was. The current situation is nothing new., it has been there for quite a while.
So, for a start, trim down the expenses and most definitely the amounts paid to all and sundry through the Cricket Board. We do not need all kinds of suddhas in the supporting staff brigade to resurrect the game. We have locals who could do even a better job for much less payment. Just take a chapter from the book of India, the nation that is flying sky-high in cricket at present. They do not have foreign managers, foreign coaches, or any other foreign white-skinned ‘experts’ to guide their players. What they have is a home-grown well-knit team of local experts who work behind the scenes to produce the results that they consistently provide. They also have a local medical team that can hold its own against the very best in the world. Their players will interact beautifully with the local experts quite unlike our players who would even venerate the ground those so-called foreign experts walk on, but look down practically murderously at local experts. Our players might even refuse to play if a local expert is put in charge of guiding them.
A good start for enhancing performance up to the highest levels is to have a reasonable monthly retainer for players contracted to the Cricket Administration and to that add appearance fees for matches and substantial rewards for good performance in the field. These could be payments for individual achievements as well as stellar successes by the team to be shared equally amongst the players. There is no harm in paying dearly for proven successes.
Our cricket team is so very poor in adjusting to various situations mentally. In any sport, there are ups and downs. It is only the mentally strong who will be able to come through the setbacks and shine. A sportsperson should first learn to handle defeat before he or she can savour the joys of victory. A winner is just the one who can convert fear into confidence, setbacks into comebacks, excuses into firm decisions and mistakes into learnings. Any sporting person or team needs to adjust to the mental strains of intense competition. A person who can help in such situations is a Sports Psychologist. We have never had a dedicated Sports Psychologist for our cricket team. Apparently, the players are totally against using the services of a Sports Psychologist. They are probably of the mistaken belief that psychologists are needed only by the mentally deranged. The end result is that they become perpetual losers who continue to earn loads of dough. Little do they realise that Sports Psychologists are part and parcel of top-class teams of any sport and even individual high-flying performers.
To add salt to the wounds of our cricket team, many and varied injuries are a real bane for consistent performance at the highest levels by our cricketers. Our players get all the possible injuries in the book., some getting the same injury repeatedly. It has been very clearly demonstrated that in any sport, including those that do not involve muscular exertion, physical fitness is of the utmost importance for stellar performance. It is not necessary to delve too deeply into this as far as our cricket team is concerned. They are probably the most unfit team in the flock of teams playing international cricket. They have only to look at the training programme of 35-year-old Virat Kohli to see what needs to be done. He works extremely hard at his physical fitness and the results are there for all to see. In addition to being a classy batsman, his running between the wickets, together with his fielding and catching are the greatest hallmarks of the cricketer.
There is no proper medical team led by a qualified Sports Team Physician who is in charge of all medical matters related to training, diagnosis of injuries and appropriate management. Unfortunately, it is the physiotherapists and physical trainers who seem to be doing all of that in our cricket team and running the show. When a player gets injured on the field, it is a physiotherapist or a trainer who runs onto the field. It should be a properly qualified sports doctor who should be doing that with the other ancillary service providers following behind him or her. Our players have come to a stage where they trust the ancillary service providers rather than properly qualified sports doctors. Those providers speak a kind of high-flown language that impresses the players. However, those words would fail them miserably if they were to be confronted by properly qualified medical personnel.
The woes of our national cricket scenario are multifactorial. Yet for all that people who are selected to represent our country in cricket should realise what an honour and a privilege it is to represent our country. They should take tremendous pride in that. Then they should try always to give of their best to our beautiful country. There are no simple solutions to the problems of Sri Lankan cricket. The talent is there for all to see. It just needs to be properly nurtured and harnessed. It would be pertinent here to echo the words of the 36-year-old champion tennis player Novak Djokovic after winning the most recent Paris Masters Tournament: “Either you let the circumstances and the feelings that you have at that moment master you or you try to master them in a way. There is no in-between. You either fold, retire, or simply give away the match, or you try to draw the energy from the adrenaline that you are feeling from the crowd, from the momentum that you are feeling on the field.”
Need we say more? With proper guidance and classy management, our cricketers need not be the perpetual losers.
Going ritual mode
The article titled “The distortion of Buddhism and the rise of meaningless rituals” written by ‘Member of the silent majority’, which appeared in The Sunday Island of November 26 is a bold explication of Buddhists’ going ritual mode, which most of them seem to feel as the highpoint of living a Buddhist life. The writer comments on the wanton waste in terms of money, resources and time on revelries that pass as demonstrations of religious fervour: “All this excess is expressed in the form of Katina pinkamas that we are witnessing right now. They may be described as carnivals, not religious practices.” This is the unadorned truth of the matter. What is more harmful is that this sort of ritualistic routine helps perpetuate nothing but mass excitement unwittingly construed as the most certain indication of living a Buddhist life and protecting Buddhism.
It is this very skewed attention to the habitual rites that prevents us from seeking the meaning and, more importantly, the applicability of even the religion’s basic teachings in practical life. Unfortunately, the more festive and adorned our outward expressions of religion are, the more easily we tend to think that festivals are the most reliable guarantors of our religion.
Our elites, who are skilled in the delicate art of exploiting the religious sentiments of people for ensuring self-gain and political stability, make a big fuss about ‘protecting religion’ thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, sowing the seeds of divisive feelings of “self” and “other”. This is a grand way of making Buddhists feel that Buddhism is, more than anything else, something to be protected like personal property. Stating that Buddha discourages rituals, the writer goes on to say that Buddha extolled the practice of virtue: “The path which is simple and direct, is clearly stated by the Buddha, namely: the practice of generosity, virtue and mindfulness for lay people; and the practice of virtue, concentration and wisdom for the monks.” Our rulers seem to continuously maintain that if anyone wishes to ‘protect Buddhism’, he has to protect it from any ‘harm’ coming from outside. The writer challenges this when he says, “The Buddha predicted that the decline of Buddhism would indeed be caused by its corruption from within.”
However, the problem is, for the people, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, etc. there is no escape from the political, economic and social forces that determine their entire outlook on life. The good values like generosity, empathy, tolerance, etc., which are not the exclusive preserve of one religion but virtues that promote the wellbeing of all societies, will remain just rarefied notions in the air until the root causes of greed, corruption and mindless competition propelled by consumerism continue to constitute our criteria of progress.
Most ‘development’ projects that hide corrupt deals bringing enormous jackpots to the elites begin with loud religious ceremonies that help maintain the collective myth of preserving religion. The more we start any programme: opening ceremony, construction project, shramadana, funeral, community meeting and whatnot, the more intense our feeling of religiosity becomes, and the more assured we are of ‘preserving’ our religion. In other words, what we are strongly convinced of as the preservation of our religion is the routine observance of the relevant set of rituals. ‘Protecting’ religion, in this sense is the name of the game and all devotees feel happy that ‘our religion’ is ‘protected’. The whole caravan of religions moves forward satisfying the weekly, monthly or seasonal outpouring of our sense of ‘spirituality’ and our sense of religiosity is well taken care of.
It is this kind of cosmetic religiosity that is easily hijacked by political leaders who never miss a chance of showing their religious fervour whenever there are TV cameras around them. And they are the very people who, unluckily, get exposed at regular intervals for their connivance in all kinds of scams. However, we rarely find time to question how these self-professed guardians of religion have benefitted from being publicly religious and swearing to protect religion.
It would be more beneficial to society if people start asking themselves whether it is possible to envision a good society without religious branding. After all, what everyone wants is a good society where all can live peacefully and work productively for the well-being of all- where ‘peace’ cannot be sold as an election promise.
It matters little whether you label your society as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Moslem, multi-religious or secular.
LIFE IS A FROLIC…. Goolbai Gunasekara’s latest book of humour
Published by BAYOWL Press Sam and Hussein Publishing House
Versatile author, Goolbai Gunasekara’s books are always eminently readable whether they be on History, Education or Humour. Her latest book is hilarious from beginning to end and all Sri Lankan readers will relate to her amusing anecdotes, relationships, and laughable incidents told with a personal chuckle and a genuine sense of laughter.
“Humour is only amusing when you can laugh at yourself” says Goolbai. You must never laugh at other people by saying anything hurtful.” She quotes, “My mother used to tell me never to write about someone who cannot hit back. I have tried to follow this advice and although humour is sometimes exaggerated to make it funnier it is never offensive.”
I recall the KitKat stories of her granddaughter which were such a hit years ago. KitKat was actually a composite of ALL children of that age. Today, Goolbai’s humour ranges over every known topic against a back drop of modern doings The Social life 65 years (ago as a school girl) is compared to social life today. The difference if mind boggling. Visits to the Dentist are particularly funny as one of my best friends is a Dentist. Goolbai asks how a Dentist expects a patient to answer with his mouth open, but still manages to carry on, cheerfully, with his monologue anyway!
Weddings of yesterday are compared to weddings of today. One story ends with a father viewing the unfolding expenses with horror and telling his bridesmaid daughter, “Darling, when you want to marry, do me a favour and elope.”
The story “Bicycle Boom” describes “Our lovely Mayor Rosy” and the Dutch Ambassador (of some time ago,) trying to popularize the use of the bike to help traffic. Another pithy comment describes the place ‘Clothes and Shoe Brands’ have in the life of a complete philistine (herself) who hardly recognizes a Nike from a Bata.
Nothing Goolbai says can ever cause offence. She is witty and kind in all the 58 short episodes and I am both entertained and fascinated by the versatility of this well-known authoress who writes books on Education with the same panache and sense of humour as LIFE IS A FROLIC.
I cannot end these few comments without reference to the drivers of long ago. They were better than Mosad agents in keeping beady eyes on unwanted male attention and were thoroughly trusted by suspicious parents.
Read this book as a complete Mood Lifter. You can’t go wrong
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