All temples have by now completed their katina pinkamas concluding the three months vas observed by their monks from July through September or August through October, depending on poya dates. This year unfortunately, like all other occasions in our lives, this ceremony too was curtailed. In fact the temple I take a monthly dane to and observe sil in, had its Katina pinkama in a branch temple away from Colombo. Otherwise it’s a full night’s pirit preceding the processional carrying of the civara (robe) to the temple at dawn with a dane to follow, inclusive of all lay persons present.
What directed my thoughts this week to this custom or ritual come down to us from Buddha’s lifetime is a niece turning incommunicado. She telephones me every other day to enquire after my well-being. Three weeks ago she told me she would curtail her calls as it was impossible to carry on a telephone conversation “with all the racket going on here.” Her neighbour, in a transport business, was reconstructing or modifying his large house in preparation for being the focal point of the Katina ceremony of a temple in the locality. This went on continuously for two and a half weeks with their lane blocked by his parked lorries and trucks. My niece’s husband could not take his car out; windows had to be kept shut all day to prevent dust from the next house entering in. But of course it did, with the noise, causing irritation in throat and ears. For five days previous and the night of the event, lights blazed along the drive.
Thus the disturbing thought that the Katina pinkama of reverence, piety, continuing a solemn tradition, was being marred and adulterated with too much spending, show and glitz. I am not wrong in saying its mostly new money lavishly spent by the nouveau riche. Temples and their monks can be no choosers of their devotees and cannot censor the manner of ceremonies associated with the temple being conducted. They are advisors only. The vas observance and its culminating gifting of a newly sewn and dyed robe by those devotees who cared more diligently for the monks, is a beautiful tradition and one connecting the Sangha and the third and fourth ‘supports’ – lay men and woman. It is also a tangible and to be preserved link between the time of Gautama Buddha’s life to present times and our lives.
Vas three months
The Esala Poya brings in the three month vas period for Buddhist monks, when they stay in their aranyas and temples and while renewing their vinaya vows, devote more time to self purification and meditation. It is a time when the symbiosis between the ordained and laity is heightened. The monks, who depend on their dayakas and dayakis for their sustenance and physical wellbeing, during the vas three months depend more heavily. Lay persons too who serve a temple gravitate more to it to see to the welfare of the monks. In return for this and as a gesture of appreciation, there are more programmes planned for the welfare of the people: weekly if not daily bodhi poojas and bana preachings. This fulfills somewhat the monks’ aim at making their supporters get to know better the Path that needs to be followed.
Soon after the Buddha formed his Sangha around the five meditators to whom he preached his first sermon setting in motion the Wheel of Dhamma in Sarnath, the saffron clad monks went about preaching the new teaching. The Jains, followers of the teaching of Nataputta Mahvira (599-527 BC) abhorred most the killing of creatures and it being the monsoon season in July to October in India, they would reduce their going about to not trample worms and other creatures that emerged from the rain sodden earth. When they saw the new band of Buddhist monks walking about during the rainy season they objected and fault-found. And so it is said the Buddha forbade monks from going outdoors during the three monsoonal months. But his ruling was the result of a more significant reason than the Jains’ censor. Noticing how drenched monks were, returning to their abodes of residence, even after the daily pinna patha (alms receiving) round, the Buddha imposed restriction on their journeying forth, to prevent ill health. This resulted in stronger and closer ties between devotees and monks, as food and other necessities had to be brought to the monks. The Buddha advocated his newly formed Sangha to renew vows and generally refresh their minds and bodies in meditation, while remaining indoors.
Wondering whether my condemnation of extravagant katina pinkamas was unjustified, I asked a learned monk for his opinion. He replied: “Your concern is that the kathina has deteriorated and become a sort of scandal. I may agree with you up to a point. However, there are not well endowed temples that wait for kathina robe ceremony to get a dire need of the temple accomplished. It is because during the vas period the laity are prone to be more generous than usual and are keen to do something tangible for the sasana. It is a sort of win-win situation.
“At the end of the rainy season both parties are extremely happy and the Katina is the grand finale. The cloth or robe offered is to the community of monks who spend the Vas season there and the Sangha meet and decide as to who should get it. It is a great privilege to get the Katina civara because it’s a decision of the community.”
This learned and pragmatic monk gave me another thought that had not entered my mind. He said that in Thailand for instance, devotees too make a promise or vow to desist from indulging in one or more acts that may contribute to their not being fully sila or blameless, equating basically to one or more of the five precepts. Hence men vow to stop imbibing intoxicants while women may vow a simpler way of living or reducing vanity and such like. Thus there is constraint, more meditation, a kind of sacrifice and the resultant purification to both the Sangha and laity consequent to the three months of retreat.
So it is again a more inward looking attitude that we Buddhists should observe. While outwardly concerned about the monks in the temple we go to, and seeing more closely to their welfare by being active devotees, we should also consider our behavior and take note of where improvement is needed to be more Buddhistic. The Buddha preached much about minding one’s behaviour, becoming an island to oneself. Hence the three months should be used by us laity to better ourselves. The Christians observe Lent, the Muslims a month of fasting and Hindus frequently observe self purification fasting and poojas. Here is an addition to the process of moral self improvement by observing sil on poya days and fasting on that one night each month. We could make a resolution for a three month period come the Vas session.
I myself will try not to get irritated when I hear of extravagant Katina pinkamas commencing in rich homes. I regret now having got all het up when I saw a woman dayaki carrying a huge arrangement of roses to place at the Buddha statue before the pirit ceremony in the temple I go. I thought of what she could have done for a poor family with the Rs 3,000 (at least) she had spent on flowers and thus also making a show of it. Live and let live is the policy to follow; looking inward and reflection thereof is to be promoted. Also being thankful to the dedicated monks who live in all parts of Sri Lanka keeping alive the true Dhamma of the Buddha.
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.
LET’S DO IT … in the new normal
The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)
Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.
But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.
Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.
Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.
However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.
And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.
Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.
“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”
The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.
“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”
Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.
In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.
Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.
Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!
Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.
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