by Ridley Casie Chitty
“But You Bethlehem of Ephrathah who are one of the little clans of Judah from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Micah 5:2)
MARY shifted her weight uncomfortably atop the little beast of burden. She had been riding for hours. Just ahead, Joseph walked steadily onward, leading the way along the road toward distant Bethlehem. Mary once again felt the stirring of life within her.
Mary was well along in her pregnancy; the Bible describes her at this time with the expressive phrase “heavy with child.” (Luke 2:5) As the couple passed by one field after another, perhaps some of the farmers looked up from their plowing or sowing and wondered why a woman in such a condition would go on a journey. What had led Mary so far from her home in Nazareth?
It all began months earlier when this young Jewish woman received an assignment that was unique in all human history. She was to give birth to the child who would become the Messiah, the Son of God! (Luke 1:35) As the time to give birth approached, the need to take this journey arose. In the process, Mary faced a number of challenges to her faith. Let us see what helped her to stay spiritually strong.
Joseph and Mary were not the only ones on the move. Caesar Augustus had recently decreed that a registration be carried out in the land, and people had to travel to their town of origin in order to comply. How did Joseph respond? The account reads: “Of course, Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to David’s city, which is called Bethlehem, because of his being a member of the house and family of David.”?—Luke 2:1-4.
It was no coincidence that Caesar issued his decree at this time. A prophecy written down some seven centuries earlier foretold that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. Now, it so happened that there was a town named Bethlehem a mere seven miles (11 km) from Nazareth. However, the prophecy specified that it was “Bethlehem Ephrathah” that would produce the Messiah. ( Micah 5:2.) To reach that little village from Nazareth, travelers covered some 80 hilly miles (130 km) via Samaria. That was the Bethlehem to which Joseph was summoned, for it was the ancestral home of the family of King David?—the family to which both Joseph and his bride belonged.
Would Mary support Joseph in his decision to comply? After all, the trip would be hard on her. It was likely early in the autumn of the year, so light rains were possible as the dry season gradually ended. What is more, the phrase “went up from Galilee” is appropriate, for Bethlehem was perched at a lofty altitude of over 2,500 feet (760 m)?—quite a climb, an arduous end to a trek of several days. Perhaps it would take longer than usual, for Mary’s condition might require numerous periods of rest. Now, of all times, a young woman might yearn to stay close to home, where she had family and friends who were ready to help when her birth pangs began. Without a doubt, she needed to have courage to take this trip.
Nonetheless, Luke writes that Joseph went “to get registered with Mary.” He also notes that Mary “had been given [to Joseph] in marriage as promised.” (Luke 2:4, 5) Being Joseph’s wife made a great deal of difference in Mary’s decisions. She viewed her husband as her spiritual head, embracing her God-given role as his helper by supporting him in his decisions. So she met this potential challenge to her faith with simple obedience. What else may have motivated Mary to obey? Did she know of the prophecy about Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Messiah? The Bible does not say. We cannot rule out the possibility, for the fact was evidently common knowledge among religious leaders and even people in general. (Matt. 2:1-7; John 7: 40-42) When it came to the Scriptures, Mary was far from an ignorant girl. (Luke 1:46-55) At any rate, whether Mary decided to travel in order to obey her husband, a secular decree, or Yahweh’s own prophecy?—or because of a combination of factors—?she set a splendid example. Yahweh greatly values a humble, obedient spirit in both men and women. In our age, when submission often seems to be among the most disregarded of virtues, Mary’s example stands as a beacon for faithful people everywhere.
Mary must have breathed a sigh of relief when she first caught sight of Bethlehem. As they mounted the hillsides, passing by olive groves?—among the last of the crops to be harvested—?Mary and Joseph may well have thought about the history of this little village. It was too insignificant to be numbered among Judah’s cities, just as Micah the prophet had said; yet it was the birthplace of Boaz, Naomi, and later David, all more than a thousand years earlier.
Mary and Joseph found the village to be crowded. Others had arrived to register before them, so there was no space for them at the lodging room. They had no choice but to settle down for the night in a stable. We can just imagine Joseph’s concern as he saw his wife suffering a sharp discomfort she had never known, which then intensified. Here, of all places, her birth pangs had begun.
Women everywhere can empathize with Mary. Some 4,000 years earlier, Yahweh had foretold that it would be the common lot of women to suffer pain during childbirth because of inherited sin. (Gen. 3:16) There is no evidence to suggest that Mary was any exception. Luke’s account draws a discreet curtain of privacy around the scene, saying simply: “She gave birth to her son, the firstborn.” (Luke 2:7) Yes, her “firstborn” had arrived?— Not only was he her firstborn but he was Yahweh’s own “firstborn of all creation,” the only-begotten Son of God!?—(Col. 1:15).
It is at this point that the account adds a famous detail: “She bound him with cloth bands and laid him in a manger.” (Luke 2:7) Nativity plays, paintings, and scenes around the world sentimentalize this setting. Consider, though, the reality. A manger is a feeding trough, a bin from which farm animals eat. Remember, the family was lodging in a stable, hardly a place to be noted for good air or hygiene?—then or now. Really, what parents would choose such a spot for childbirth if there were any other options? Most parents want the best for their children. How much more so did Mary and Joseph want to provide the best for the Son of God! However, they did not let their limitations embitter them; they simply did the best they could with what they had. Notice, for instance, that Mary herself cared for the infant, wrapping him up snugly in cloth bands, then laying him carefully in the manger to sleep, ensuring that he would be warm and safe. Mary was not about to let anxiety over her present circumstances distract her from providing the best that she could. She and Joseph both knew, too, that caring spiritually for this child would be the most important thing they could do for him. (Deuteronomy 6:6-8.) Today, wise parents cultivate similar priorities as they bring their children up in this spiritually impoverished world.
A Visit Brings Encouragement
A sudden commotion disturbed the peaceful scene. Shepherds rushed into the stable, eager to see the family and the child in particular. These men were bubbling over with excitement, their faces radiating joy. They had hurried in from the hillsides where they were living with their flocks. They told the wondering parents about a marvelous experience they had just had. On the hillside during the night watch, an angel had suddenly appeared to them. Yahweh’s glory had gleamed all around, and the angel told them that the Christ, or Messiah, had just been born in Bethlehem. They would find the child lying in a manger, swaddled in cloth bands. Then, something even more spectacular happened?—a mighty host of angels appeared, praising God!?—(Luke 2:8-14.)
No wonder these humble men came rushing into Bethlehem! They must have been thrilled to see a newborn infant lying there just as the angel had described. They did not keep this good news to themselves. “They made known the saying . . . And all that heard marveled over the things told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:17, 18) The religious leaders of the day evidently looked down on shepherds. But Yahweh clearly valued these humble, faithful men. How, though, did this visit affect Mary? Mary was surely exhausted from the rigors of childbirth, yet she listened intently to every word. And she did more: “Mary began to preserve all these sayings, drawing conclusions in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) This young woman truly was thoughtful. She knew that this angelic message was vital. Her God, Yahweh wanted her to know and to appreciate her son’s identity and importance. So she did more than listen. She stored away the words in her heart so that she could ponder over them again and again in the months and years to come. Here is an outstanding key to the faith that Mary showed throughout her life.?—( Hebrews 11:1.) Will you follow Mary’s example? Yahweh has filled the pages of his Word with vital spiritual truths. However, those truths can do us little good unless we first pay attention to them. We do that by reading the Bible regularly?—not merely as a work of literature but as the inspired Word of God. (2 Tim. 3:16) Then, like Mary, we need to store up spiritual sayings in our heart, drawing conclusions. If we meditate on what we read in the Bible, contemplating ways that we can apply Yahweh’s counsel more fully, we will give our faith the nourishment it needs to grow. The Christmas story is a story of a family that connects heaven and earth. Each member of Jesus’s earthly family?—Mary, Joseph, and Jesus?—stands as supernal examples of God’s Christmas gift to all mankind. The Christmas story should spiritually motivate us to emulate the attributes of this holy family. This family was unified in seeking God’s glory; unified in serving one another; unified in fulfilling God’s will; and unified in sacrifice, obedience, and love. This holy family provides us a pattern of attributes that, when emulated by our own families, will enable us to enjoy the same blessings of unity and love they enjoyed.
Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Uttareethara Maha Nayaka Thera turns 88
It was in the year 1803 that there was a renaissance within the Maha Sangha (the Great Community of Buddhist Monks) in Sri Lanka thereby adding a fresh chapter to the history of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka. This was when the Most Venerable Welitara Sri Gnanawimala Thera, the Great Prelate received the Upasampada or the Higher Ordination in Burma, returned to Sri Lanka and established the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya. (The name of this monk is embellished with traditional appellations such as Bodhisattva Gunopetha or being imbued with the qualities of a Bodhisattva or Buddha-Aspirant, and Preacher to King and Emperor.)
Thus the Amarapura Nikaya, which began with this Most Venerable Thera, later spread itself very rapidly down five generations of the Sangha spanning the entire Island. These generations of the Sangha organized themselves into 22 Nikayas. This was with the blessings of each of the Mahanayakas. They also preserved the identity of each such Nikaya.
In Sri Lanka, Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha was formed in 1952 with the concurrence of 15 of these subsidiary Nikayas. Presidents of the Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha have been;
1. the Most Venerable Prelate Beruwela Siri Nivasa Thera
2. the Most Venerable Mapalane Pannalankara Maha Nayaka,
3. the Most Venerable Uddammita Dhammarakhita Maha Nayaka,
4. the Most Venerable Balangoda Ananda Maithri Maha Nayaka
5. the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Maha Nayaka.
In the year 1962 all 22 Sub-Nikayas came together to form a more organized and properly constituted Sri Lanka Amarapura Maha Sangha Sabha. It was the Most Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Balangoda Ananda Maithri Thera who was installed as President and has been succeeded by;
1. the Most Venerable Dhammavansha Thera,
2. the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha,
3. the Most Venerable Ahungalla Wimalanandi,
4. the Most Venerable Kandegedara Sumanavansha,
5. the Most Venerable Boyagama Wimalasiri,
6. the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa and
7. the Most Venerable Dodampahala Chandrasiri.
The Most Venerable Chief Prelate Ganthune Assaji Thera is the current chair.
In terms of the Constitution approved in 1992, an Office of Supreme Prelate (Uttareethara Mahanayaka) was created, and the first to hold this office was the Most Venerable Madihe Pannaseeha Mahanayaka Thera who was succeeded by Most Venerable Davuldena Gnaneesara Thera. After his demise the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera, who turns eighty-eight today assumed and continues to be the Uttareethara Mahanayaka.
He was born on 26th January 1933 and ordained as a monk with the permission of his parents, on 17th August 1948. He received his Higher Ordination on 10th July 1954 at the Udakkukhepa Seemamalakaya set up on the River named the Kalu Ganga in Kalutara.
He had his training and primary instruction in the Buddha Dhamma from his Venerable Preceptors, later entered the Paramadhamma Chetiya Pirivena for his education. It was at the Maha Pirivena in Maligakanda where he received his Higher Education in three languages, under the shadow and tutelage of the Most Venerable Pandita Baddegama Piyaratana Thera.
With the demise of his preceptor, Dhammavasa Thera became the Prelate of the Dharmapala-arama Viharaya in Mount Lavinia. By this time he had already become very popular by broadcasting and delivering sermons in temples and in private homes, contributing to articles disseminating the Dhamma, and articles on topical subjects through the full-moon day publication entitled “Budusarana”, then to daily newspapers, and to the Vesak Annuals published by M D Gunasena & Co., Dinamina etc.
The Thera was also engaged in social welfare activities of the area by setting up Children’s and Young Persons’ Societies within the Vihara.
With the passage of time and the demise of remarkably eloquent monks such as the Most Venerable Narada Thera, Prelate of the Vajira-aramaya, Heenatiyana Dhammaloka, Kotikawatte Saddhatissa, Pitakotte Somananda, Kalukondayawe Pannasekera and other such classic preachers, Kotugoda Dhammavasa Thera stands out as a prime orator among those who came to the limelight after the days of the erudite monks of yesteryear.
Owing to the ceaseless invitations to deliver sermons extended to our Venerable Thera he travelled to various regions of the Island, yet fulfilling all his duties pertaining to his own Nikaya and to the work of the Sangha Sabha neglecting nothing whatever. With all this he continued to participate in the discharge of the infinite services expected of all erstwhile office bearers of the Sangha Sabha.
Our respected Thera was gradually chosen to hold various posts within the Amarapura Nikaya. Some such are his appointment in 1970 as an ordained member of the Working Committee and to the Post of Honorary Prelate (Maha Nayaka); in 1981 as the Chief Ecclesiastical Sangha Nayaka; and in 1990 as the Deputy Chief (Anunayaka) of the Amarapura Nikaya. At the same time it is because of his quality of being industrious that he was elected the Secretary (Lekhakadhikari).
The Venerable Anunayaka Thera who served the Maha Sangha Sabha of the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya with great dedication, in order to ensure its unity and advancement, was in 1980 appointed its Co-Secretary (Sama Lekhakadhikari) and in 1992 as its Chief Secretary (Maha Lekhakadhikari) It is only appropriate to place on record that during this period of about fifteen years he performed a very special quality of service to the Sasana by updating the Amarapura Sangha Sabha; by setting up a Kathikavata (Ecclesiastical Edict) for the Amarapura Nikaya (whereby ‘rules governing the discipline and conduct of Buddhist monks including matters related to the settlement of disputes’ together with a Sanghadhikarana Panatha (i.e. an Ecclesiastical Act) were drafted and approved; and finally by drafting a strong, formal Constitution and obtaining approval for same.
It was on 17th December 2016 that the Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Anunayaka Thera became the Mahanayaka of the Amarapura Nikaya, and that on a proposal made by none other than the Most Venerable Agga-maha-panditha Ambalangoda Sumangala Maha Nayaka Thera who, at the time, was himself the incumbent.
On 3rd October 2008 the Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera was appointed to the post of Chairman, and it was on 26th May 2017 that he was elected Uttareethara Maha Nayaka or Supreme Maha Nayaka, which is the highest position within the Sri Lanka Amarapura Nikaya.
He has visited many countries in Asia and Europe disseminating the Dhamma and participating in Conferences thereby earning great international fame. Meanwhile he also serves as the incumbent monk of the Sri Lanka-aramaya in Myanmar and of the Charumathie Viharaya in Nepal.
In the matters of national and religious issues in the country he expresses his views in such a calm and collected manner that he has earned the respect of the Supreme Maha Nayaka Theras of other Nikayas and politicians both in power and in the Opposition and of intellectuals.
He has been honored with the title of “Agga Maha Panditha” by the Government of Myanmar. Although other honorary awards were conferred upon him by foreign countries and foreign institutions he does not use them, entirely because of his humble disposition.
At the end of and exposition of the Dhamma (a Dharma Desana) at Temple Trees His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa (who was then the incumbent President of the country) made an offering to him of about 14 perches of land in Wellawatte. Upon this land stands today, the “Office of the Sangha Sabha of the Amarapura Maha Nikaya”, a three-storied building replete with all conceivable facilities. It is a matter of great joy to us that in honour of the Most Venerable Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nayaka Thera it was possible for us to make an offering of this building to the Buddha Sasana, on the 15th of August 2020.
We offer merit to His Excellency the President and the Honourable Prime Minister who are today attending to each and every need of our Supreme Maha Nayaka Thera in a spirit of extending infinite regard and respect to him, in appreciation of the national and religious service the Maha Thera has rendered.
Let us also gratefully place on record that the Honourable Sajit Premadasa, Leader of the Opposition, has provided an elevator as an offering to facilitate the caring for our Mahanayaka Thera.
I also wish to thank the Doctors, the Staff of the Nawaloka Hospital, Members of the Nikaya-abhivrudhi Dayaka Sabha (Organization for the Advancement of the Nikaya) and the Dayaka Sabha of the Mahanayaka’s Vihara and who are all providing medical care.
Arrangements were made by the Dayaka Sabha and the student monks to offer alms to the Sangha to mark the birthday of our Thera when he reached the age of 88, on 26th January 2021.
On 21st January 2021 at 7.00 p.m. a Bodhi Pooja was organized by the Amarapura Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha at the historic Kalutara Bodhi to invoke blessings upon our Supreme Maha Thera.
May the Supreme Maha Nayaka Agga Maha Panditha Kotugoda Dhammavasa Maha Nahimi live a life free from sickness and sorrow.
Deshamanya Ajita de Zoysa
Sri Lanka Nikaya-abhivruddi Dayaka Sabha
Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation
By Jehan Perera
Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.
Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.
Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”
Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.
The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”
It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.
International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.
In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”
As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.
The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.
Album to celebrate 30 years
Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.
However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.
All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.
Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.
Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.
Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.
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