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Jerome Fernando and his profane gimmicks – II

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Jerome Fernando

By Rohana R. Wasala
(Continued from yesterday May 24, 2023)

Some well-meaning, erudite, but very naive and innocent, young bhikkhus are challenging Paster Jerome Fernando to a debate over his deprecatory remarks about Buddhism; that, I think, is ridiculously ingenuous and unnecessary, because that is giving that man a measure of dignity that he doesn’t deserve, and also because he cannot be credited with a decent understanding even of Christianity, let alone anything additional outside that domain. These young monks are being eclipsed in their calm but determined attempt to react to Jerome’s disinformation and deception without any ill will. By whom? They are getting overshadowed by a few yellow-robed imposters who are themselves Buddhist versions of pastor Jerome Fernando. Actually, those few false monks and the fake prophet are birds of a feather probably fed by the same hands, as some say.

It has also been observed that certain discredited politicians are exploiting the opportunity that came their way through this obviously well-rehearsed Jerome Fernando episode to take a dig at each other for the heck of it, without utilising it to repair the damage it is causing to reconciliation. Last but not least, where are the Ven Mahanayake theras? Their silence in crisis situations has often aggravated issues affecting the Buddha Sasana. The online media I normally consult have nothing in this regard. However, one can’t blame the Ven Mahanayakes because they avoid politics, as they have done down the centuries. They used to advise the monarch only in spiritual matters, and the monarch took responsibility for looking after the Shashanaya. The most senior monk or monks, close to the royalty, offered their opinion in succession matters on rare occasions, and also when the ruler failed in his duties or when there were foreign threats to the nation. The Sangha never took part in ruling, but remained above the ruler. The Buddhist Sangha is a very democratic community, where one monk has no control over another. Times have changed. It is urgent that the Mahanayakes do more to save the Buddha Shasanaya including the Fourfold Assembly of Followers (Sivvanak Pirisa) of male and female lay Buddhists and bhikkhus and bhikshunis.

Back to the topic. Meanwhile, a complaint was lodged with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) by the propaganda secretary of the political party, Pivituru Hela Urumaya (PHU), Iranga Vidvath Mendis, in connection with the relevant offensive statements made by Jerome Fernando who calls himself a prophet, which are derogatory to the Buddha, Buddhism, and other religions. This is the only meaningful reaction I have seen so far to Jerome Fernando’s outrage (up to the time of writing). The complainant demands that the law be applied to the (suspect) offender in this case in terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007.

The aforementioned petition to the CID was published in a news report in the online lanka c news. It quoted the following fromJerome Fernando’s importunate harangue:

 “This is what separates Christianity from Buddhism. Because for a Buddhist in their mind, it’s like, okay, අනුන්ට කලදේ තමන්ට පලදේ in a sense, it’s true, especially if you do something to a prophet. Anyways. Now, but in the Buddhist mind, they never hear the love of Buddha. Are you hearing this? Their focus is enlightenment. But to be enlightened, you need light. The Buddha himself, the name Buddha means enlightened one. Ladies and gentlemen, what is greater, light or enlightened? Jesus said, I’m the light of the world. so i tell you now, jesus didn’t said I’m the enlightened one, No, no, no, no. Jesus came from a different wavelength. Jesus said I’m the light. So, I submit to you, the Buddha was looking for light. He was actually looking for Jesus. This is why every Buddhist needs Jesus.”

I came across a YouTube video clip of the relevant part of Jerome Fernando’s coercive religious rant against the Buddha, Buddhism and Buddhists that contained more. There was a singing part to it too, that ridicules such traditional curative and protective magical remedies as tying charmed threads, anointing charmed oil, etc., usually found among rural folk, as superstitious practices based on Buddhist teachings. Those are cultural things and should not be confused with Buddhism. Buddha did not advocate such things. He himself visited a physician called Jeevaka when he fell ill, according to the known life of the Buddha. He preached no religion, and never prescribed blind-faith based devotional practices or mindless rituals. Even the most ignorant Buddhists know that magical cures like charmed threads, oils, and chants are not part of the doctrine they actually follow. Instead, those ritual performances are part and parcel of the established holistic native healing culture which maintains the vital balance between the physical and mental aspects of the patients’ health. These ancient healing arts have survived, particularly among villagers, into modern times. Jerome also staged some faith healing episodes, not different from them. Such magical fake cures are daily performed in many hundreds of devales dedicated to local deities found across the country which are patronised not only by gullible villagers, but by superstitious city dwellers including politicians and businessmen among others of the same ilk seeking divine assistance with their nefarious projects. Why should a ‘prophet’ demean his god by descending to the level of a village kapurala unless he was a genuine fake?

 In the letter to the CID referred to above, Mendis has left out (probably, as irrelevant to the point of his plaint) Fernando’s disparaging references to Hinduism and Islam and relevant sacred figures, which are equally outrageous, such as that Hindus venerate animals. A common allegation he raised against the leaders of all three non-Christian religions did not preach Love! But this fake prophet’s real target is the Buddha, his teaching and the Buddhists, his followers, whom he demeans, by implication, as a spiritually misguided lot. Though it is evident that Jerome is proficient enough in Sinhala for preaching to them, he speaks only in English and has himself interpreted in Sinhala. That, I think, is just an act he puts on to further impress his apparently mesmerised audience, whose awed gazes were fixed on his constantly beaming beatific smile.

What is Jerome Fernando saying in the snatch of speech quoted above? Simply, nonsense. He appears to be ignorant of his own religion of Christianity and its truly great founder Jesus Christ. Christianity came five or six hundred years after Buddhism. The latter is definitely beyond pastor Fernando’s power of understanding. What did Buddhists do to him (if he means himself by ‘prophet’) for him to say “anunta kala de tamanta pala de” (which would be equivalent to the English proverb ‘Curses come home to roost’)? (When he said this, though, he seemed to be mocking his own ‘prophet’ act!) This idea of ‘retaliatory justice’ is not part of the Buddhist concept of karmic causation. People from different cultural backgrounds accept the idea that bad deeds earn you bad results and that good deeds bring you good results, as a self-evident truth. The Karma concept taught in Buddhism is much more profound and complex than ‘Curses come home to roost’.

A word about the idea of love that Jerome finds missing in Buddhism. Buddhism is nothing if it is not about wisdom and compassion. The Buddha does uphold love as a positive emotion, but says that it is ultimately based on selfishness/the illusion of ‘self’. The Buddha’s teaching recognises a difference between love (that you feel for a person) and unconditional universal compassion or loving-kindness (maitri, friendliness) towards all sentient beings, something that is completely selfless. I think Christian love is also very close to or identical with the Buddhist concept of loving-kindness. To me it looks like the highly intelligent Jerome Fernando has not so far cared to grasp at least a faint idea of the Buddha’s profound dhamma. He has no sense of history, for he doesn’t know that the Buddha lived five to six centuries before Jesus was born. Otherwise, if he is in his right senses at least temporarily, how can he say that the Buddha was looking for Jesus? What do you know about the Enlightenment concept taught in Buddhism, Jerome? Obviously, NOTHING! You equate enlightenment to lighting up or illuminating something. That is stupid. An Australian YouTuber of Sri Lankan origin says that he had some slight acquaintance with Jerome as a young Burgher with a different name doing modelling work for commercial firms about twenty years back. It’s plausible information. He uses both Sinhala and English equally fluently. Oops! I almost forgot. At the end or thereabouts of his Buddha bashing, quite paradoxically, like a true Christian preacher or a genuine Buddhist monk for that matter, he admonishes his congregation: “Never persecute anybody, never shame another person’s faith”.

I will wind up with a reference to the Buddha’s famous Kalama Sutta discourse. The Buddha advised his disciples to question and examine even the Tathagata (Buddha) himself to find the trustworthiness, the authenticity, of the teacher they chose to follow. A group of young men called the Kalamas came to the Buddha with a question. They wanted to learn from him how they could separate truths from falsehoods uttered by the various venerable recluses and brahmanas who visited their village of Kesaputta from time to time and preached their different doctrines that disagreed with each other. Obviously, the young men had heard of the fame of the Buddha who himself had studied under the most famous teachers of the time and exhaustively analysed their teachings, and dissatisfied, had embarked on his own long and assiduous search for the Truth and eventually attained Enlightenment. The Buddha’s advice to them was: “Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic and inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But…when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up… and when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them”. (I am quoting here from Ven Walpola Rahula thera’s classic dhamma compendium ‘What the Buddha Taught’ first published in London in 1959, and reprinted many times since, which Jerome Fernando may profitably read and still remain, or learn to be, a pious and virtuous Christian, which, I am afraid, he is not at present.)

I can easily answer your criticisms of Hinduism and Islam, but it is better for you to learn by yourself their moral essence that is as noble and as ennobling as Christianity.

(Concluded)



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Opinion

Change is good: Provided it is for better and not for worse

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Aragalaya

by Jayasri Priyalal

Many Sri Lankans may have joined in commemorating the 2568 years of Buddha Parinirvana with much discourse about the fundamental truth, the core teaching of Buddhism about impermanence, last week. As we all realise the fact, that there is nothing permanent in this world; everything is subject to change. Change is the only permanent constant in the universe. This essay focuses on change from socio, political and economic angle.

Sri Lanka is undergoing its worst ever economic crisis without any hope of getting it into a recovery track soon. There is a clarion call from the masses aspiring for a system change as a springboard towards chalking out a recovery path to overcome the crisis. Yet, no one knows or discusses what that system should be to put in place.

One fact remains as an acceptable analogy. Those who cannot cope with change will never be able to initiate change in any circumstances. This applies to all stakeholders including those who caused and contributed to the current crisis. Fair share of responsibilities falls on the electorate who got carried away with populism engineered by a few; with an ultimate aim of state and regulatory capture for their advantage leaving the country into a dire state grappling with debt. Therefore, capacity and capability to initiate that essential change is absent in the DNA of politicians who deceived their constituents.

This year 2024, is remarkable for those countries where representative democracy functions. Over 2 billion voters are expected to cast their votes at polls. As per predictions in 70% of the elections a change in government is anticipated. Some elections are already over and results are known. In Sri Lanka there are two main elections in the pipeline namely the Presidential and parliamentary polls.  The UK gets ready for polls on 4th July 2024. Change is the campaign theme of the Labour Party led by Sir. Keir Starmer. Chase or change dilemma will be an option for the electorate in the USA to test in upcoming presidential elections in November 2024.

Change and the Chase Countercyclical in Sri Lanka

In the last presidential election in 2019 Sri Lankan electorate rallied with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa giving him an absolute mandate with 6.9 million votes, anticipating a change for the better. It was too late for Sri Lankans to realise that their bet was on the wrong horse.  That change triggered the public to rally towards a chase. People’s power proved greater than those who come and hold political power.

The so-called people’s movement Aragalaya forced the Prime Minister to resign with the ipso facto resignation of the cabinet of ministers. Amongst many wrong doings President Gotabaya Rajapaksa nominated an unelected PM to lead the cabinet without dissolving the parliament with the reluctance to test the pulse of the people to secure the right mandate to govern. Rest is history, and finally the people’s power chased out President Gotabya Rajapaksa culminating the grand achievement of the GoHomeGota campaign. Thereafter, people’s aspiration and hope for a change short lived and shortchanged, widening the mistrust between policy makers and electorate further.

Have we learnt from similar power struggles from the past?

Our present has direct links in many ways to the past. The island nation has been deceived by many egocentric figureheads -as they cannot be named as true patriotic leaders- misjudged the public sentiments and aspirations and surrendered the sovereignty of the country to Colonial Masters. Does history repeat itself? Have we forgotten the bitter lessons learnt from history is what is discussed in the next few paragraphs?

This writer is enthusiastically influenced by the historical knowledge shared by Prof. Raj Somadeva via Neth FM radio and the YouTube programme. Due credit should be given to the Professor for all his extensive historical studies and the efforts to share them with the rest of the Sri Lankans in and outside the country. Prof. Somadeva narrates the stories very well with an appeal to draw parallels to the contemporary political power struggles with a warning not to repeat the past mistakes.

Coronation of Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, last King of Kandyan Kingdom   1798

Having defeated the British Army battalion sent by the Governor Frederick North badly in 1803, the powerful Kandyan Kingdom fell to the British by 1815. Internal power struggles between the Kandyan elites to capture the throne from the Nayakkar clan paved the way for colonials to step in effortlessly to end the 2300 of historical royal lineage, to govern. Finally, Ceylon became a colony of the British Empire under King Gorge III.

Maha Adikaram Pilimatalawe engineered the coronation of Kannasamy Naidu a nephew of Sri Rajadhi Rajasinghe over the legitimate claimant to the throne Muttusamy. Pilimatalawwe was ambitious of becoming the Kandyan King, worked closely with the British and installed Kannasamy in the throne assuming he can control the King to meet his egoistic goals.

The change he anticipated never happened. Then he conspired to kill the King. Pilimatalawwe and the conspiring gang were beheaded by the King. Pilimatalawwe engineered the change and had to work on a chase and he got eliminated by the person whom he elevated to power.

Power crazy Maha Adikaram installed a weaker character in the throne so that he could overthrow him with the help of the British. The whole strategy backfired ultimately sacrificing the nation on a platter to the British ending a royal lineage of over two millennia.  The miscalculations of those close to political power to serve their selfish needs have ruined many countries bringing in misery, hardship and colossal loss of lives and property to its citizens. The island nation has many such cases throughout its history.

Putting a Wrong Guy in a Critical Position – Are we repeating the same mistake?

Throughout history we Sri Lankans have repeated the same mistake and disrupted the nation’s progress leaving the plight in the hands of outsiders.  Although there aren’t any competing empires in the current context, there are clear indications that the local political expectations are gravitating towards the emerging geo-economic-political centres.

The current political leadership or the conventional thought processes are not spurred with an organic strategic growth trajectory with originality backed thought process. None of the political parties have identified the right causes that led to the current crisis.

Moreover, they are getting ready to deceive the electorate to secure the mandate to govern to continue to repeat ill-conceived policy tools without coming up with viable policy options to break the vicious debt trap. Adage goes on to remind that – right diagnosis is half of the solution. Instead, many are getting ready to prescribe the failed remedies with a strong dosage as prescribed by the defunct cold war institutions. It appears that the healer itself is the disease leaving the patient bewildered and leaving the disease into an uncontrolled debt pandemic. We Sri Lankans need to think locally and act globally and not the other way around. In the absence of original ideas and remedies, local politicians are happy to swallow the bitter medicines prescribed on the basis of diagnoses.

Since Independence the ideology of various political parties were developed based on systems and discourses practiced in other countries introducing a welfarist socio economic system. Now, it has turned towards the aspirations of the emerging geo-economic centres. Sri Lankans need to forge a unique turnaround strategy to serve the best interest of its people, and not to become subjects of other countries.  Therefore, the Sri Lankan electorate needs to collate its political mandate in the hands of a leadership who will change the destiny of the country for the better and not for the worst.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

Colonial masters connived with the power crazy Kandyan elites and captured the last King of Ceylon, Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, dethroned, imprisoned and deported to India. Once you fast track the historical events, we can extrapolate the current situation drawing many parallels. Unlike in the past, the leaders who mislead and mismanage the future of the nation without any original thinking and being subservient to foreign advice will never be deported. They will be facing a prisoner’s dilemma remaining on the island, having given away ports, harbours, airports and other critical infrastructure to foreigners to manage and own.

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Opinion

A poser to Sajith and Anura

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Sajith and Anura

Just one question to both of you. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to the country if both of you set aside your political ambitions and personal differences and make a bold decision to join hands to face the forthcoming presidential elections as an alliance?

You are aware that the present government will leave no stone unturned to introduce controversial legislation, irrespective of the fact whether they are constitutional or not. It engages in controversial projects, on the pretext of privatisation, detrimental to the interests of the country. It suppresses protests through high-handed undemocratic actions. It abuses democratic practices to further its interests.

Politically your views may differ but your goals are the same. As things stand, both of you enjoy popular support. You have talented intellectuals in your parties. Most of the current corrupt politicians are in the process of forming either with or in support of the incumbent government with a view to hoodwinking the masses.

Your unity will certainly be advantageous to the country but divided you both could fail in achieving your ultimate goal.

Let’s hope that wisdom will prevail over their political ambitions.

WILLIAM PHILLIPSZ 

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Death of a people’s doc

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by Krishantha Prasad Cooray

The Buddha, elaborating on the notion of sorrow (dukkha) in the first sermon he delivered after attaining Enlightenment, observed that having to associate with those who are repugnant is sorrowful and being apart from those who are loved is also sorrowful — appiyehi sampayogo dukkho, piyehi vippayogo dukkho. So, we choose to avoid and insulate ourselves from the distasteful while we seek the company of people we find agreeable. When they leave, we are saddened. When they depart, never to return, we are distraught.

A few days ago, I realised that while any kind of separation from someone who is likeable is never a happy thing, there are instances when it is devastating. I had just received a text from my friend Prof Arjuna De Silva, and he wanted to know ‘if the story about Dr Siri was true.’ I called two of Dr Siri’s closest friends, Ranjith Page and Dr Harindu. Both confirmed that he had passed away in Dubai. I am shocked and saddened beyond belief.

Dr Siri Kannangara was a rheumatologist, best known by Sri Lankans for the immense services he rendered in sports medicine. To me, he was either ‘Doc’ or ‘Siri’. But I know for a fact that this was how almost all Sri Lankans, whether patients or otherwise, addressed or referred to him. He was a physician who made his patients believe that he was a friend. He was always self-effacing and treated all Sri Lankans as though they were close relatives in an immense extended family.

He never charged any of his Sri Lankan patients. Even when he visited Sri Lanka, he treated patients free of charge and was particularly concerned about the welfare of patients of modest means. In his case, it was not only about diagnosis and prescription; he would always follow up.

I can never forget how he responded to an urgent request regarding the son of a close friend. He didn’t know the patient or the father. When I called, he was with a patient but promised to call me back. He did, and having got all the details, told me that it was a serious matter. I told him that I was sorry for imposing, but he interjected, ‘Putha, you can call me any time; if it is urgent, I will walk out of the room and talk to you.’

He told me that it was not his subject but he would get an opinion from doctors who were experts on the subject. Thereafter, he consulted surgeons who could offer expert opinions and advice. Subsequently, he would call me to inquire after the boy. He would ask, Kolla kohomada? or Podi kolla kohomada (how is the little boy doing)?’ He went further, wanting to know how the boy’s father was doing. He made me realise how easy and normal it is to be kind to someone you know, a friend or a relative, but that it is very rare for someone to go out of their way to be kind and generous to a total stranger, and rarer still to inquire after that person.

Perhaps he will be remembered most for the way he supported Sri Lankan sports, especially cricket. Arjuna Ranatunga, speaking at a felicitation dinner for Siri, recalled how he had treated a wrist injury and gave the assurance that he would be able to play and field — ‘don’t worry, I will be here all five days.’

‘I know for sure that he sacrificed his practice to be with us,’ Arjuna remembered. Those were tough days, without money or sponsors, and Dr Siri used to keep, feed, train, and give them medical advice. ‘It was a home away from home for all of us.’ Arjuna also recalled how Dr Siri was instrumental in obtaining the services of specialists to help clear Muttiah Muralitharan’s name during the infamous no-balling episode in Australia.

Aravinda de Silva echoed his skipper’s sentiments. ‘Whenever we visited Australia, Dr Siri would treat the injured. He kept them in his home and was like a father to them.’ Indeed, every single member of Arjuna’s team and dozens of others would probably concur. He was appreciated, respected, and loved.

Dr Siri was very well known outside of Sri Lankan circles as well. He was the first Australian to serve on the FIFA Medical Committee (1999 to 2006) and was also involved as the Physician and Consultant to the Australian teams at the Barcelona (1992), Atlanta (1996) and Sydney (2000) Olympics. He had the honour of carrying their flag at the last event. He was inducted into the Football Australia Hall of Fame in 2002, and in 2013 he was honoured with a Member (AM) in the General Division of the Order of Australia for significant service to medicine, particularly in sports medicine and rheumatology.

He was nevertheless a Sri Lankan through and through. He never forgot his roots. He loved visiting Sri Lanka, meeting Sri Lankans, and helping them in whatever way possible. He always had time to train Sri Lankan doctors. I have myself taken many friends and acquaintances to him when he happened to be in Sri Lanka. He checked them out and offered advice. Advice that changed lives. There have been occasions when patients who had been prescribed surgery consulted him. He advised them against it, and he was right, saving many from the knife.

He thought a lot about Sri Lanka. He worried about his countrymen. He would ask me, Mokadda ape ratate venne? Mokadda venna yanne? (What’s happening to our country? What will happen to our country?).’ He did what he could, and that’s a lot more than most chest-beating patriots have done or do. He would volunteer without reservation to offer any favour to any Sri Lankan. In an interview given to News First more than ten years ago, he explained simply, ‘yuthukama (duty).’

‘My mother and father did much for our village. I prospered thanks to their pin (merit acquired). And so it is my duty to do whatever I can for Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans,’ he once said.

Having first attended the Bandaragama Rambukkara Vidyartha Vidyalaya, he joined Royal College, Colombo and left for Australia in 1971. He left his heart behind, it seems, for he would often say ‘mama game kollek (I am but a village boy).’ He added, ona ekakata lasthiy (I’m ready for anything!)’ This great man, if I took time responding to a text, would write, tongue-in-cheek, ‘Hi! I must have done something to annoy you!!!?’ He was such a bubbly personality, and this is probably why I find it so hard to come to terms with his sudden demise.

I will always remember that he could be sensitive at times, but he was someone who would stand by his friends in a crisis. He appreciated loyalty and friendship. He was constantly in touch with me in the most difficult times. I read again a text message he sent me regarding my father’s illness and am moved all over again by his kindness, compassion and humility.

‘We hear that father is unable to recognise the grandkids. We hope he would somehow improve by grace of God. Please keep your chin up as the thinking person leading the team now. Count on us for anything we may be able to help you with. Keep your chin up and keep batting the best way you know. — Siri’

He always said, ‘Krisha, anything I can do for you anytime, please let me know.’ He has done all he can. He has gone the extra mile. Most importantly, he left an indelible mark on my life. He will continue to inspire me.

We have to bat now without the insurance of knowing that Siri is there in case anything goes wrong. I try to console myself by thinking that Siri has, simply by batting well, taught us all the strokes that truly matter in life — friendship, loyalty, kindness and humility. But he’s gone and got himself out. The stadium is in shock. All his friends are devastated.

But what an innings it was; his healing and teaching permeate every stroke those who knew him play. While being apart from those we love is sorrowful, in Siri’s case we have the comfort of knowing we are never fully apart, for his healing and teaching remain within us.

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