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Sat Mag

‘Jathaka Stories Retold’ (in English)

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Book Review:

By P G Punchihewa and Mallika Karunaratne
ISBN No: 978-955-54441-1-8: 186 pages: Price Rs 360.
Reviewer: Jolly Somasundram

Hinduism and Buddhism, the world’s oldest practised religions, have similar salvation mechanisms. Their believers could achieve Moksha or Nirvana through numerous re-births there are no 19A term limits for them. Their re-birth workout is spread over aeons of time. In these re-births, self-correction takes place, eventually making them suitable to achieve the ultimate. Against this hypothesis, in Abrahamic religions- Judaism, Christianity and Islam salvation is through a one-shot operation. After closure of a one term life on Earth- the minimum that 19A makes possible- Divine Judgment is delivered, and, rewards and punishments apportioned. Many are called but a few are chosen. There is no opportunity for self-correction of drop-outs, neither is there an appeal against Divine Judgment. It is not known what happens to residuals. In the re-birth option there are no residuals or drop-outs since each has to industriously work on their own deficit balancing strategies.

The founder of Buddhism is Gautama Buddha. In consonance with his propositions, he also had re-births. Because of his very advanced mental capability he could recollect them. It was not time travel but mind travel, where the arrow of the mind could go forward or backward. There are 547 birth stories (Jathakas) which deal with the births of Gautama Buddha. These relate to his work-in-progress at transit stops also called births in Buddha’s moral upward mobility towards Nirvana. Narrated with animal and human forms, these Jathakas have a vividness and immediacy which captures the attention of both child and adult alike. The authors have sifted through the entire compendium of Jathakas and selected 32 of them, for publication in English. While doing so, they have simplified the original, but not made them simplistic. In publication, the authors aim was to appeal to all readers.

Puncihewa and Karunaratne are eminently suitable for this task. Both, who are Buddhists, have a mastery of the necessary languages, Sinhala, English and Pali. Both are Honours graduates of the University of Peradeniya, one in Sinhala and the other in Geography. Both joined the senior public service immediately on graduation, and, while in service, continued their academic interests, each gaining a Ph D, a rare achievement for a busy, serving public officer. They are also writers, having won several national literary prizes.

The authors had introduced an interesting innovation in their publication, that of heading each Jataka tale with a title, which captures the essence of that particular Jathaka. The 32 headings are worth repeating, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, The Honest Trader, The Power of Loving Words, Hypocrisy, Wise Counselling, Canine Wisdom, A Sagacious Vow, A Valuable Lesson, Heedlessness, Laziness Leads to Failure, Gratitude 1 and 2, Revenge, Crafty Jackal, Greedy Crow, Smart Monkey, Guard Your Tongue, Unfounded Fear, Two Different Encounters, Filial Affection, A Magnanimous Act, Genuine Friendship, Neck to Neck, The Foiled Trick, Respect for Elders, Strength in Unity, Friendship, Compassion, A Clever Trick, Hoity-Toity, Naughty Parrot. At the end of each tale, they pose a few incisive questions, stimulating further thought on the subject, the answering of which would reveal the deeper meaning of the relevant tale. The Jathakas, appeal at different levels, as straight forward tales that grip the imagination of children- similar to Sinbad the Sailor and Cinderella- devoured by children with relish. These Jathakas also served as templates for moral enhancement. A statement from the Mahavamsa, written almost a millennium later, could be retro-fitted “it was written for the serene joy of the pious.”

The second tale in the book is on Entrepreneurship. The tale draws from Cullasetthi Jataka. Though the tale is two and a half millennia old, it has contemporary resonance. A young lad, Cullasetthi, saw a dead mouse on the road, fed it to a cat and was rewarded with a few cents. (Those who feel squeamish might reflect that the protein humans consume, are also dead meat- beef, chicken, pork, venison, sushi raw fish!) Using this money, he set in line an upwardly mobile business career, gradually increasing his capitalist ventures, shifting gears from small entrepreneur to a medium term one. Then he went big time, using information as a factor of production. Getting inside information that a horse trader was expected by ship, he surmised that the horses would need fodder which was in short supply. He brought up all the fodder available, cornering the market. He was in clover: no exit, he was able to reap monopoly profits. On another occasion, he pitched camp at a strategic spot (location, location, location) which commanded the entry point to the palace and erected a barrier to exit, unless a cess was paid. On another occasion, he got a Royal Decree for a monopoly and gained rentier income, a precursor of the licence raj. Business is the management of risk. In a world where there was no insurance to download part of the risk, he bore the entirety of the risk himself: he had no moral hazard to contend with. In Sri Lanka, there were similar entrepreneurs, Hiniappuhamy (Malibans) and Gnanam (Mascons) were some of them. They started life by pounding the pavements, hand carrying their goods and grew into millionaires like Culasseti. Each Jataka tale has a message to impart.

Sri Lanka is a community that hegemonises learning. At age two to three, parents give the child their first lesson, accompanied by religious blessings, by getting the child to draw the first letter of the alphabet on the sand. The education continues in temples for Buddhist children. This publication would be an excellent introduction to the Jataka Tales. It should on the book-shelf of every English speaking Buddhist family.

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Sat Mag

After Bandung:

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The revenge of modernity

By Uditha Devapriya

This is the second in a series of essays examining the Bandung Conference, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the latter’s eventual dissolution.

Asked for his opinion of Western civilisation, Gandhi famously replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” There were many things Rabindranath Tagore agreed with Gandhi. His estimation of the West was not one of them. When the father of India’s independence struggle implored everyone to use the charka, the soul of the Bengali Renaissance begged to differ: “The charka,” he said, “does not require anyone to think; one simply turns the wheel of the antiquated invention endlessly, using the minimum of judgment and stamina.”

For Tagore, Western civilisation could be a source of liberation; for Gandhi, it could only be the object of amusement. To borrow an analogy by Isaiah Berlin, Gandhi was a hedgehog, a believer in the superiority of one way of life all others, while Tagore was a fox, a believer in the potential of human reason, individual freedom, and modernity. The latter is of particular significance and relevance, and forms the subject of my piece.

One of the most perplexing dilemmas of the 20th century has been the issue of modernity. Just what is it? Particularly for the postcolonial world order, the search for modernity has been coterminous with the search for identity. Western scholars, understandably, would pin it down to a clash of civilisations between East and West, and point out that modernisation inevitably involves Westernisation. Others, derided as “nativists”, would look to the East, at home-grown ideologies. The conflict between these two schools of thought has dominated the narrative throughout the Cold War, surviving its very end.

Francis Fukuyama believed that the collapse of the Soviet Union would usher in the end of history, transforming a bipolar world into a unipolar one: all world systems would flow into one, with the West dominating. For some time, the optimism of the West at the fall of the Berlin Wall and the transition from Communism to capitalism in the Soviet bloc seemed to confirm this thesis. Modernity had returned, in the form of the marketplace. “Since 1991,” wrote Fareed Zakaria in 2008, “we have lived under a U.S. imperium, a unique, unipolar world in which the open global economy has expanded and accelerated.”

Samuel Huntington discounted such optimism. To him the collapse of a bipolar world could only lead to the rise of diametrically opposed ideologies, clashing with one another. Implicit in his view was a pragmatic belief in the withering away of nation states: now ethnicity, not nations, would reshape history. Nationalism, in other words, would transcend borders, and defy sovereignty. Huntington named eight cultures which would triumph over national borders in that manner: Latin American, African, Islamic, Sinic, Hindu, Orthodox, Japanese, and Buddhist. No wonder Gunadasa Amarasekara, the enduring symbol of the Sinhala Buddhist intelligentsia, referred to Huntington in his essays: it validated his own thesis of a world of competing civilisations, cultures, and worldviews.

Western civilisation continues to evoke hatred and infatuation among nationalist elites, and not just in countries like ours. Post-war Japan teetered, for instance, between adulation of Western culture, including forms of dress, with displays of exclusionary nationalism at times bordering on xenophobia. Thus when Marlon Brando rode a motorbike in The Wild One and Audrey Hepburn cut her hair short in Roman Holiday, Japanese teenagers followed suit, yet when cafes popped up in Tokyo, many of them actively excluded foreigners. The situation was certainly not as stark in other parts of Asia, least of all here: as with India, our tryst with the West has historically been a less complicated affair. In general though, we’ve been as ambiguous in our encounters with modernity as them.

For some, it would seem that modernity is white, male, bourgeois, and European. I hate to put it so bluntly, but that’s the truth. A corollary to this argument is the view that if we must embrace modernity, we must embrace the West. The only exception to that I can think of, from the last century, has to be the Non-Aligned Movement: it tried to forge a modernity acceptable to the ex-colonies of the Third World. That vision was many things: progressive, liberating, yet traditionalist. Anchored to the past, it sailed towards the future. It held the promise of growth, minus the dictates of Bretton Woods; an exit from underdevelopment that wouldn’t involve, much less depend on, the IMF and the World Bank.

Until the revival of neoliberalism in periphery countries (Sri Lanka included) in the late 1970s, this way out for developing societies seemed to work. Yet wrecked by differences in culture, growth and development potentials, resource endowments, and a frustrating lack of political consensus, it gradually fell apart. When Fouad Ajami wrote his critique of it (“The Third World Challenge: The Fate of Nonalignment”, Foreign Affairs, Winter 1980/1981), he began, fittingly enough, by quoting J. R. Jayewardene: “[t]he only real nonaligned countries in the world are the United States and the Soviet Union.”

To me it’s one of the biggest ironies that an outfit committed to neutrality between capitalism and Communism should come to be influenced by both camps. The capitalist bloc, led by the US, helped rightwing authoritarian elites, particularly in the military, to overthrow democratically elected leftwing governments; the Communist bloc, led by the USSR, supported reformist nationalist elites, often but not always in the military, who had overthrown or defeated at the polls dependent, compradore rulers.

Each believed that history was on their side, and ironically both were wrong for the same reason: they assumed that the regimes they supported would respond to the people. In this, however, the socialist bloc proved to be more correct of the two in the long run: opposed as leftwing reformist nationalists may have been to a socialist revolution in their front yards, they nevertheless did manage to fulfil the aspirations of the peasantry, something rightwing compradore elites could never hope to do or achieve.

Meanwhile, the Non-Aligned Movement’s vision of modernity was being buttressed by culture. “Islamic lands,” Fouad Ajami wrote in his obituary of it, “had developed a powerful consensus in favor of Islamizing modernity.” As with these Islamic lands, so with Buddhist, Hindu, and the other non-Christian nonaligned societies of the world: Pan-Africanism, the Bhoomiputra movement in South-East Asia, and over here, the Mahajana Eksath Peramuna and the Sinhala Basha Peramuna among other outfits. These appealed to a nationalist petty bourgeoisie. By pandering to them, the governments of their societies contributed to the Movement’s very demise. Not owing to what they had, but owing to what they lacked: a cultural consensus on which such a group could build a political consensus.

As much as I disagree with much of what the Jathika Chintanaya ideologues say and write, the likes of Nalin de Silva got it right when they claimed that almost all forms of Western culture and philosophy, including rationalism, were rooted in a Judeo-Christian framework. Fernand Braudel also made this claim: “Western Christianity,” he wrote, “was and remains the main constituent element in European thought.” From classical antiquity to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, encompassing the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the Enlightenment – from Thomas Aquinas to Adam Smith – the paradigm shifts of Western society never actually swerved from the faith of Abraham and Moses.

From Galileo to Descartes, and from Einstein to Hawking and Dawkins, the growth of Christianity hence paralleled that of Western civilisation. Post hoc ergo, propter hoc: these in turn paralleled the evolution of Western modernity. A deeply unified culture, nourished by over four centuries of exploitation of colonies across Asia and Africa, the West gradually came to monopolise the idea of growth, progress, liberty, and modernity. Added to this was the formation of the colonial bourgeoisie, which in most colonies displaced the traditional ruling elites. Their thinking was no different to that of European officialdom, and even the most radical among them conformed to the decrees of the colonial bureaucracy.

That sped up the Westernisation of these societies even more.

 

The Non-Aligned Movement lacked that kind of unifying culture, and with it the rudiments of a political consensus. Ergo, its vision of modernity could not hold. Once it unravelled, the ideal of modernity had to revert to its assumed homeland: the West.

It’s not surprising that the descent of the Movement should coincide with the fall of the Berlin Wall and of Communism. The fortunes of the Non-Aligned Movement had been built on the Cold War: while it represented countries from both capitalist and socialist camps, it overwhelmingly represented the latter. If there’s one legacy of the Soviet Union’s support for these countries, it was the enrichment of a nationalist petty bourgeoisie. Yet as I wrote in my earlier essay, the Soviets vastly overestimated the potential of bourgeois democratic nationalist leaders to take forward the revolution in these societies. In Egypt as in Sri Lanka, the dalliance between bourgeois nationalists and leftists soured: Egypt with the dissolution of Communist parties in 1965, Sri Lanka with the expulsion of the LSSP in 1975.

The faith which Marxists placed in Third World bourgeois nationalists was hence, if not misplaced, then misaligned. Their main electorate, despite their efforts at land reform in favour of the peasantry, remained the petty bourgeoisie. Nationalism is by no means petty bourgeois dominated – that is a crass simplification – but in their hands, it invariably turns into the dominant political ideology. That is exactly what happened here.

The experience of the Non-Aligned Movement shows that even with Moscow’s support, this petty bourgeoisie consistently prevented the leaders of their countries from transcending a nationalist political framework, thereby preventing that much needed cultural and political consensus in the Movement. What it led to, firstly, was the defeat of the socialist project in favour of a neoliberal restoration – Jayewardena after Bandaranaike in Sri Lanka, Sadat after Nasser in Egypt – and secondly, the widening of cultural division.

With the dissolution of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Soviet bloc, the contradictions of globalisation and market fundamentalism led ethno-religious nationalism to erupt in and fracture these societies. Huntington called this the clash of civilisations, though it remains a reductionist and deeply cynical diagnosis to me. In any case, modernity has had its revenge: after a full four decades of “the East” endeavouring to come up with a tenable alternative to what Nalin de Silva refers to as “Judeo-Christian values”, it has returned to its assumed land of birth, leaving one half of the world reeling in chaos. Modernity, Gandhi could well have said today, thus remains, at best, a good idea for us. I doubt Tagore would retort.

Note: In my previous article on the Non-Aligned Movement (“After Bandung: Marxism’s exit from the Third World”), I wrote that J. R. Jayewardene made his facetious remark on the organisation at the 1979 Havana Summit. In reality, he mentioned it in an interview with the New York Times, which quoted him in the May 22, 1979 issue.

(The writer can be reached at udakdev1@gmail.com)

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Sat Mag

A FASCINATING SELECTION OF ESSAYS

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“String of Archeological Sites on the East Coast and Other Articles”

P.G.Punchihewa
[Review by Tissa Devendra]

Readers of this most interesting collection of  articles should not be misled into thinking it is a learned discourse on Sri Lanka’s ancient history. Far from it. The author brings to bear his experience as a scholar, administrator and traveller on subjects as varied as ancient ruins,  primitive tribes, fading traditions and administrative systems. The first few articles deccribe the once forgotten Buddhist temple complexes on our eastern seaboard, once buried in forests and later vandalized by terrorists aand religious extremists. A few courageous bhikkus are  now battling to restore them as places of worship.

However, all is noi lost of the Great Tradition founded by Ahubudu Mahinda, Theri Sanghamitta and the Sri Maha Bodhi. The author illustrates  these traditions with his accounts of the Tulabara donation and the sculpting of thr massive sedent Buddha of Rambodagalla..

He draws on his experience as a senior administrator in his accounts of the exploitation of Vellassa, the Veddas of Pollebadda, judicial executions, encounters with politicians and the role of administrators in the establishment of the Peradeniya University. Moving further afield as an internatiomal expert, he describes his experiences in Indonesia and  enlightens the reader about Coconut cultivation in Asia. During this period he paid an emotional visit to RL Stevenson’s’ last home in Samoa. He also gives us articles he wrote to Indonesian publications referring to that countyu’s historic links with Buddhist Sri Lanka.

The author’s deep appreciation of our nation’s culture  is evident in his reviews of books and the appreciations of the many scholars with whom he had interacted. An altogeher fine collection af writings to read and digest.

 

 

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Sat Mag

Sustainable paddy cultivation through effective waste management

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By Ishara Wijesinghe
Uva Wellassa University

The map of Sri Lanka shows a large number of blue colour reservoirs and channels against a greenish background. This is because of the well-distributed irrigation system and the availability of agricultural and forest lands. Ancient kings who ruled Sri Lanka gave priority to agriculture and irrigation because paddy cultivation was one of the most vital sectors in the country. At present, the government of Sri Lanka offers fertilizer subsidies, agricultural loans at low-interest rates and good quality seed to the farmers while assuring that the harvest is purchased by the government at good price margins. Not only the government but also some reputed private organizations are engaged in paddy cultivation in various ways.

Paddy cultivation was an art and culture in earlier days, now it is purely a business which always combines with science and technology. Therefore, the stakeholders in the paddy sector invest a considerable amount of money, time and manpower focusing a big volume of quality paddy harvest. According to the Central Bank Report 2019, among all the agricultural lands, paddy had been cultivated in about 1.12 million hectares during both Yala and Maha seasons and harvested 4.6 million metric tons of paddy. On an average, 20-25% by weight of the paddy is the husk which gives an annual total production of about 1 million metric ton of husk according to the annual paddy production of Sri Lanka in 2019. But the methods to manage and use the paddy husk waste innovatively is lacking though it represents some part of the investment. In another way, the accumulation (large heaps of husks) and mismanagements (open burning) of paddy husk waste cause a big environmental issue. The emission of carbon dioxide and other volatile compounds during burning is a big issue once open burning takes place everywhere in the country. As a country which has an agriculture-based economy, to what extent the people know about the value of this waste is problematic. Therefore, this effort is, to discuss the importance and management of paddy husk waste and to make aware of how society should think of waste material.

 

Why is paddy husk important?

Simply, it is a waste material which has an economic value. Also, it contains various natural compounds like silica and lignocellulose. The composition of paddy husks shows that it contains approximately 15−30% of silica, 70−85% of lignocellulose (35−40% of cellulose, 15−20% of hemicellulose and 20−25% lignin) and trace amounts of metal ions. These lignocellulosic materials and silica should have a monetary value because the inputs of the paddy production have converted into these forms through a natural process. In terms of energy, this material has high heat value which is sufficient to use as a renewable raw material to generate energy. From an economical point of view, this is a conversion of the investment and on the other hand, a loss of money if it is not utilized for any beneficial uses. Thus, the given facts indicate how important the paddy husk and how diverse the potential uses of it.

How can the paddy husk be used?

 

To generate energy…

It can be used in different applications as a bulk i.e. paddy husk is largely used as a fuel on a small scale, and on a large scale for electrical power and thermal energy generation. In some occasions, it is used as a fertilizer in agricultural fields. The high heat value (15MJ/kg) of paddy husk facilitates the use of it to generate electrical and thermal energy. Once the energy is generated, it can be used for heating and drying purposes i.e. the fossil fuel in industrial boilers can be substituted by paddy husks.

Some countries make briquettes and pellets of paddy husk by pressing at high pressure. This facilitates more efficient transportation compared to that of loose bulk. The use of paddy husk briquettes having comparatively high density (550kg/m3) can efficiently be used for energy production and this is a growing business in some paddy cultivating countries. For example, these briquettes and pellets are used in Myanmar and Cambodia to generate electricity. They have supplied the power generated through paddy husk to operate their rice mills while cutting down the amount of fossil fuel used for the same purpose earlier. Therefore, the paddy husk can be identified as a renewable and eco-friendly material which is efficient in generating energy.

 

In agriculture…

Soil properties in agricultural lands are important for the growth of crops and to receive high yield. But with the time, the physical and chemical properties of soil are reduced due to intensive agricultural practices. Therefore, the conditioning of soil in agricultural lands is required. In some countries, the paddy husk is usually used as a fertilizer in the same fields. However, biochar can be made by burning paddy husk with a limited supply of oxygen at temperatures less than 700°C. This biochar can be used as a conditioner of soil, storage of carbon, and filter for percolating water through the soil. Further, the biochar can increase the water-holding capacity, aeration and stimulate growth activity of plants while increasing the organic carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels in the soil. According to one author, the sequestration of carbon by biochar can help to mitigate climate changes. Likewise, paddy husks itself and as biochar have a number of benefits when considering the soil properties and climate change.

A combined approach to manage paddy husk waste; an example from the construction and tyre industries…

Complete combustion of paddy husk facilitates extraction of silica from it with simple chemical reactions. The concentration of silica in paddy hush ash is more than 90% by weight. This silica can be used as an additive in cement production, a green filler for rubber components, i.e. tyres, an absorbent material, a drug carrier and a medical additive, etc. Compared to other industries, more volume of silica is consumed in rubber and construction industries. In construction industries silica is used as an additive in cement, but synthetic silica is commonly used. So, there is a possibility to replace synthetic silica in cement with paddy husk ash silica. This can be a long term solution for managing paddy husk waste because most of the cement-based structures are built for a long period. Apart from this, the silica extracted from paddy husks can be used in rubber products at large volumes. Usually, rubber products are reinforced with carbon black, that is why people see them in black. However, in the recent past, the silica made of synthetic roots was used to improve the properties of rubber components. Now, silica-reinforced tyres which give low fuel consumption are highly used in vehicles. Therefore, this provides two advantages such as replacement of carbon black which causes various environmental issues and opening a new window to replace synthetic silica with silica extracted from natural sources such as paddy husks. Interestingly, the construction industry is now seeking methods to use waste tyres (in powder form) in cement composites to improve the shock absorbance and comfortability like properties. Thus, this provides a green light for tyre waste management also.

All in all, if technologies for extraction of silica like material from agricultural wastes (paddy husk, wheat straw) are scaled up to industrial level, these materials will effectively be utilized in different industries, meanwhile integrating the technologies and industries for sustainable economic development conserving the environment for future.

 

How should we think of wastes?

Before that, what does the term ‘waste materials’ stand for? The common understanding is, it is a material that has to be discarded with no use or a byproduct of a particular production process which cannot be used further or a thing has no value and use. All of these opinions are negative and this is a good platform to change the attitudes of the community. I also have heard such negative answers for the same question even from undergraduates who are considered as the cream of knowledge of the society. I believe that this is not a problem of their knowledge but the attitude of the society has gone into their minds. However, if we define the waste as a ‘valuable resource at a wrong place in a wrong form or wrong media’ it will imply that there are a number of uses of it as well as how the waste is converted into an effective form of use.

Changing of such established traditional attitudes of a society is big business, but top to bottom approach (from leaders to general society) can trigger such changes. There is enough number of acts, regulations and conventions in the world to manage the wastes. However, until we reach a philosophical change, the management of wastes will be a dream. Thousands of scientific research studies are going under the theme of waste management and effective findings are being used in various applications. The collaboration between researchers and the industry is vital to attain the goals of research and development. In Sri Lanka, the Universities and Research Institutes have established units to collaborate with the industry and this is a good approach to take the society towards an innovative direction. The waste management principles and methodologies like ‘Cleaner Production’ approach and ‘3R’ (Reduce, Recycle and Reuse) concept, etc., should go to the grass-root level of the society. The general community should be enlightened on the new concepts through extension services. If not the gaps between the expected goals of the country and the actual situation will increase and the development of the country will only be stagnated to concepts and policies printed on the papers. Overall, it is obvious that the integration of the whole society with positive attitudes is essential to accomplish the development of the country through knowledge and skills.

(The writer is a lecturer in Rubber Processing Technology, Department of Export Agriculture, Faculty of Animal Science and Export Agriculture, Uva Wellassa University, Badulla)

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