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Labour standards, human rights?

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Stranded garment workers in Jordan

By Gomi Senadhira

(Specialist in Trade and Development Issues)

Recent news items about the tear gas attack by the Jordanian police on stranded Sri Lankan garment workers in Amman has once again turned the spotlight on the problems faced by the migrant garment workers in Jordan. Unfortunately, the United States and the European Union, the two main proponents of the use of trade policy instruments to uphold the basic labour standards and human rights continue to turn a blind eye to gross violation of the basic rights of these poor migrant garment workers working under conditions similar to those of indentured labourers.

The tear gas attack, last month, by the Jordanian police on Sri Lankan garment workers stuck in their overcrowded dorms without adequate food and water, thousands of miles away from their families and loved ones, illustrates the plight of the migrant garment workers in Jordan. According to the available reports, these workers along with migrant workers from several other Asian countries laid off by their employers with the onset of COVID 19, had remained unemployed for the last five months. Naturally, all of them want to go back to their countries immediately but are unable to do so due to the non-availability of flights.

In the case of Sri Lankan workers, three staff members from the embassy had visited a hostel attached to the garment factories to look into their welfare were held hostage by the workers for over five hours. During the five-hours period the hostages were even forced to eat the food the stranded workers have been eating for the past five months. Finally, the Jordanian police intervened to rescue the hostages had attacked the workers, and had even fired tear gas on them.

 

The Incident and Sri Lanka Bashing

by the Usual Suspects

This incident had triggered fresh round of Sri Lanka bashing by the usual suspects. “Migrant workers … looking to be repatriated to Sri Lanka were teargassed earlier today, as they stand a protest outside the Sri Lankan embassy in the country. Jordanian police reportedly intervened after an escalation between Sri Lankan Embassy authorities and protesters, with the workers fleeing after being tear-gassed” reported the “Tamil Guardian”.

Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice (Sri Lanka bashing business of Charu Lata Hogg et el) tried to hog the limelight by launching an email campaign against the government as illustrated in their post below;

To maximise the damage, these groups have also used websites like that of the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) for their campaign. The CCC in its blog on “How the Coronavirus affects garment workers in supply chains” tagged the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA) Sri Lanka Coordinator’s discussion on the Globe Tamil’s Facebook page about the situation of Sri Lankan garment workers in Jordan. Quoting AFWP, the CCC also reported “Sri Lankan migrant (garment) workers …. in Jordan, have not been paid wages since April and are not receiving adequate food and water. When they tried to meet Sri Lankan embassy officials, workers were brutally beaten and tear-gassed…. over 20 workers have been hospitalised…. Meanwhile, … women’s rights groups in Sri Lanka and relatives of the stranded migrant workers are currently protesting in front of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) demanding urgent support for Sri Lankan garment workers in Jordan.”

These were deliberate attempt to defame the government of Sri Lanka as a government which is insensitive to the plight of the poor migrant garment workers. One cannot expect anything better from them. So, we can leave aside the issue of Sri Lanka bashing by these people. Even then, the question “why are Sri Lankan workers in Jordan going hungry?” is a valid one. It needs to be answered. Actually, we need an answer slightly more detailed question, that is;

“Why are stranded migrant garment workers in Jordan going hungry, not been paid wages, brutally beaten and tear-gassed?”

Before I try to do that, let me start with a true story of a migrant worker in the Middle East. Many years ago, when I was posted in Kuwait, my neighbour, a highly paid Filipino engineer, experienced a minor car accident. He had stopped at a traffic light when the car behind him took a little too long to stop and “bumped” his rear bumper. The driver admitted that he misjudged stopping distance. My neighbour requested that the Kuwaiti arrange to pay for the repairs as it was his fault. “No. It was your fault. This is my country. If you were not here, this accident wouldn’t have happened. So, it’s your fault.” the Kuwaiti said very firmly before he drove away into the sunset.

So, as our friendly Kuwaiti said, this teargas attack was the migrant garment workers’ fault. If they were not there this wouldn’t have happened. Actually, I too believe, they should have never been there. Or for that matter, there shouldn’t be a garment industry in Jordan in the first place, for them to be employed in. Jordan, after all, doesn’t have indigenous experience in garment manufacturing or trading, doesn’t grow cotton, or produce textiles. In Jordan, the female participation rate in labour force is very low (garment workforces are predominantly female) and the salaries are relatively high. In other words, Jordan doesn’t have any of those “factors of production” which provide a comparative advantage for her to develop a garment industry. Hence, Jordan is not a country that would usually attract investments from the global garment industry. Not even from those “fly-by-night” types. Yet, garment production has become a major component of Jordan’s export. How did they achieve that miracle?

 

The U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement

(USJFTA) and the Sweatshops

The Jordanian garment industry is a creation of highly generous tariff and other concessions extended by the United States and the European Union and cheap migrant labour from South and Southeast Asia (countries which do not have such preferential tariff in the American market) working under conditions equivalent to those of indentured labourers

The American tariff concession to Jordan, through the United States – Jordan Free Trade Agreement (UJFTA), provide Jordan substantial tariff advantages in certain product categories over more competitive countries in South and Southeast Asia. When the agreement was signed, one of the main incentives for signing it was the possibility of reducing the high level of unemployment in Jordan, which was impacting on her economic, political, and social stability. Given the high female unemployment, the development of the garment industry was touted as an important means of realising that objective.

Though the Jordanian garment industry grew rapidly as a result of the FTA and reached all -important billion-dollar mark by 2006 it did not reduce the unemployment rate in the country as the Jordanian women were not willing to work in garment factories. The industry grew by employing a large migrant workforce (from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, China, India, or Nepal) who were working under conditions similar to those of indentured labourers. In May 2006, the National Labor Committee (NLC), an American advocacy group for workers’ rights, published a report exposing a series of labour rights and labour law violations in Jordanian garment factories, some of which were at the level of serious human rights abuses. These include, among others, compulsory work shifts that extended from 38 to even 72 hours, inhumane living conditions, beatings, torture, and even rape of young female workers by factory managers.

This report was given wide publicity by American media. “…dismal conditions — of 20-hour days, of not being paid for months and of being hit by supervisors and jailed when they complain…” reported The New York Times. The NLC report also published a list of major brands/ companies that were sourcing from the factories described in its report. It included Wal-Mart, Disney, Jones Apparel, K-Mart, Gloria Vanderbilt, Kohl’s, JC Penney, Liz Clairborne, Victoria’s Secret, Perry Ellis, and Mossimo. This had a devastating impact, particularly on the buyers.

The Jordanian Government was highly concerned about the possibility of losing market share or even the entire industry and acted rapidly to address the allegations. It admitted some weaknesses in the system and, with the assistance of the USAID commissioned a third party report to verify the NLC report. Apparently, his report while confirming many of the NLC’s allegations, had watered down the gravity of most of them. For example, the allegations about sexual harassment, the USAID funded report has stated “could not be confirmed”.

The International Labour Organization too continuously promoted the Jordanian garment industry with major international buyers through their promotional materials and business forums despite many credible reports about inhumane living conditions, beatings, torture, and even rape of young female workers.

To assist Jordan to improve the image of the garment industry, particularly in the eyes of the buyers, the International Labour Organization and the International Finance Corporation, with generous assistance from western donor agencies, set up a shop called, Better Work Jordan (BWJ). The BWJ produced a promotional video on Jordan’s garment industry (Jordan’s Garment Industry: Migrating to Better Work – ILO) painting a rosy picture of the industry. The video even shows an election in a factory to elect worker representatives and comments “it is the first democratic opportunity in which they (the workers) have participated.” In other words, they never had such opportunities in their own countries, namely, Sri Lanka, India, or Bangladesh. This ILO video fails to mention that these migrant workers are not allowed to be full members of the trade unions or whether Jordan has ratified the core ILO convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise! How can the ILO justify the application of such double standards, half-truths, and lies to promote the Jordanian garment industry? How can the ILO deliberately mislead buyers? More importantly, how can the ILO mislead these poor workers (particularly young vulnerable girls) with such claims, so that they migrate thousands of miles for “better jobs” and to go hungry, get teargassed, beaten up, and even get raped?

 

Forced labour and modern day slaves

Due to the seriousness of these allegations Jordan was also placed in the US forced labour list and the country report on Jordan confirmed; “Chinese, Bangladeshi, Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepali, and Indonesian men and women encounter conditions indicative of forced labor in a few of the Jordanian garment sector’s factories, including unlawful withholding of passports, delayed payment of wages, forced overtime, and, to a lesser extent, verbal and physical abuse.”

In August 2019, Bangkok based Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW), presented a research report on the working and living conditions for the migrant garment workers in Jordan. The conditions reported were not much different from what was reported in the National Labor Committee report in 2006. The report also claimed, “…in Jordan, woman migrants routinely face sexual harassment and physical assaults by male supervisors.” In an interview with a Bangladesh newspaper on the GAATW report, Bangladeshi workers’ rights activist Nazma Akter correctly summed up the situation in Jordan when she said, “(in) Jordan migrant workers were often treated as modern day slaves.”

Why do major global brands continue to source from Jordan?

Despite such reports, the Jordanian garment industry continues to thrive due to the availability of the preferential tariff in the United States and the European Union and easily manageable indentured workforce. Then, what about those lofty CSR standards of the major buyers. Why do they continue to buy from Jordan? That because the International Labour Organisation the necessary cover at the Annual Buyers’ Forums organised by the Better Work Jordan. Yes, in Jordan the ILO even organise annual business forums! These forums bring together major international buyers, as well as local and international garment sector stakeholders. At these meetings, the ILO- BWJ assures the buyers that the Jordan’s garment industry is a wonderful place for the workers. If not for the ILO’s continued assurances, most of the major international buyers would have walked out of Jordan many years ago.

 

BWJ’s unified contract

At the Annual Better Work Jordan Buyers’ Forum in 2015, a new unified contract for all migrant workers in Jordan’s garment sector designed by the ILO experts, was proudly unveiled in the presence of the Jordanian trade minister and the American Ambassador. By 2020 the migrant garment workers in Jordan should be covered by these contracts which requires the employer to provide return air ticket as well as with accommodation and meals until his/her travel proceedings are completed. Largely as a result of these measures Jordan was removed from the forced labor list in 2016.

Now, the factories have terminated some of these contracts, and the workers have not been paid wages for many months and they are held up in the hostels without adequate food and water, beaten and teargassed by the Jordanian police, doesn’t ILO- Better Work Jordan to has responsibility to intervene and assist these workers. These workers should be adequately compensated, provided safe accommodation, food, water and medical assistance until their travel proceedings are completed. The ILO and the IFC as the promoters of these contracts and the industry have a greater responsibility and (certainly) more resources than governments of the labour exporting countries to look after these workers’ welfare. After all, if not for them or the BWJ these workers would not have been there to go hungry and to be teargassed.

. The Government of Jordan also has a major responsibility. That certainly does not include brutal police actions. This is not the first time these workers were beaten and teargassed by the Jordanian police. The United States and the European Union have a responsibility to ensure that their attempts to link trade, labour and human rights policies are not mere rhetoric. The buyers also should demonstrate that there is no deviation between rhetoric and reality of what they call “corporate social responsibility” principles. Under the prevailing conditions, those countries and the organisations are in a position to provide assistance to these workers, more than the governments of Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh or Cambodia.

Then the organisations like the Clean Clothes Campaign should have a better fact-check and refrain from adding credibility to fake news circulated by Hogg and others. They should direct their appeals to the governments and the organizations which are responsible for the plight of these migrant workers. For example; the European Commission, the United States, the Jordanian government, the ILO, the leading international clothing brands and the large garment factories which employed these poor workers

 

Way forward

Finally, as and when supply chains restart fully, they should be radically restructured. Production should be taken to factories closer to where workers live. The supply chains should not be based on models that force workers to migrate thousands of miles away from their homes, that too after paying many thousand rupees, takas, renminbis or rials, to work as indentured labourers, to go hungry and get beaten. The trade instruments,like FTAs, should not be used to suppress human rights and labour rights of these poor workers.



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Impact of security considerations on foreign policy crafting

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To be sure, Sri Lanka is in a tight policy bind as a result of initially granting the Chinese high tech vessel, ‘Yuan Wang 5’, permission to dock at its Hambantota Port for a week, beginning today. The decision did not prove divisive until India objected to it; apparently, over questions relating to its national security.

Consequent to India raising objections, Sri Lanka has requested China to defer its vessel’s Hambantota Port visit, but quite understandably the Chinese side has taken offence at this change of stance by Sri Lanka. Among other things, China has called on India to ‘stop pressuring’ Sri Lanka over the vessel’s visit, which it claims is for purely scientific exploration purposes.

Essentially, the Indian position is that its security interests could be compromised as a result of the Chinese high tech vessel being in a position, once it docks in Hambantota, to bring under close surveillance vital Indian infrastructural assets on the country’s southern coast in particular, such as nuclear power plants and ports. Sri Lanka reportedly received messages of protest by India to the effect that the Chinese vessel possessed the capability ‘to track satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles’, besides other strengths.

China, for its part has explained, among other things, that the vessel’s visit is part of ‘the cooperation process’ between China and Sri Lanka, which is ‘independently chosen by the two countries and meets common interests. It does not target any third party.’ It added that: ‘Sri Lanka is a sovereign state. It can develop relations with other countries in the light of its own development interests.’

Sri Lanka is bound to see the merit in China’s argument but given its regional policy compulsions it cannot afford to be seen as being at cross purposes with India either. India and China are number one powers and considering Sri Lanka’s geographical proximity to both states, besides its dependence on them in a number of vital areas, it cannot be seen by either of these global powers as being insensitive to their best interests.

A classic small state dilemma, the commentator is prompted to observe. Bluntly expressed, however, Sri Lanka is in a state of utter helplessness in this situation where it cannot afford to offend either of these major powers. But in fairness to Sri Lanka it needs to be said that she has tried to be as ‘Non-aligned’ as possible while relating to the big powers concerned; it’s simply that, given her degree of dependence on them, she is in no position to say ‘No’ to either of them.

Sri Lanka’s damage controllers, if there are any, may need to act swiftly, positively and proactively. They will need to use their best diplomatic skills to facilitate an empathetic response from China in particular to the policy quandaries confronting Sri Lanka in the Yuan Wang 5 connection. Essentially, the message to both countries should be that no wilful harm has been intended to them by Sri Lanka.

This is not going to be the first occasion on which a worrisome tangle of this acuteness in the regional policy sphere is likely to confront Sri Lanka. Going forward, how will it manage quandaries of this magnitude? This is an issue of the highest urgency and complexity. It is compounded by the fact that being in an utterly helpless economic situation, Sri Lanka does not possess any rescue options worth speaking of. While the country needs to persevere with Non-alignment as best as it could, and as the saying goes, be ‘a friend of all’, it would be only working against its best interests by being unaware of the priorities of its closest neighbours and shaping its relations with them accordingly.

Needless to say, India is our closest neighbour and merits extra-carefulness and sensitivity on Sri Lanka’s part when dealing with it. The lessons of the late seventies and early eighties should be fresh in the minds of Sri Lanka’s policy and decision-makers, lest past regional policy blunders are repeated. Put briefly, security concerns prompted India to figure prominently in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict in those times.

Ideally, Sri Lanka should have been left alone to sort out the issues that grew out of its ethnic conflict. But Sri Lanka’s then rulers opted to seek the assistance of some Western intelligence agencies in their fight against the LTTE, which was seen by India as posing a threat to its security interests. Thus, was set in motion a period of antagonistic relations between India and Sri Lanka. This troublesome spell was defused somewhat with the signing of the 1987 Indo-Lanka peace accord.

There are some fundamental truths in foreign policy formulation that need to be addressed by Sri Lankan policy and decision makers, along with the local public, as the country moves into the future, particularly in the face of the current crisis situation. These truths need recalling particularly on account of the fact that some local sections see China and India as dealing with foreign policy questions in basically different ways. For example, China is seen as non-interfering in the internal affairs of countries in this context, while India is perceived as taking ‘a political stance’ on the relevant issues.

This is a misleading understanding of the reasons that compel these countries to adopt the seemingly different stances on the issues in question. To be sure, China is generally ‘non-interfering’ in the affairs of countries but this policy position grows out of what it sees as its best interests.

China prefers non-intervention in the internal politics of countries, for example, because it wishes the world to adopt a hands-off policy with regard to its own affairs as well. That is, China’s policy of non-involvement in the domestic affairs of other countries is dictated by its self-interest, which translates into its national interest. A country’s foreign policy is best understood as an instrument that serves its cherished interests. In China’s case its foreign policy revolves around ‘non-involvement’.

On the other hand, it is in India’s best interests to be concerned about developments in the South Asian region, since being the largest country in the region, it has a phenomenal and wide-ranging asset base to look after. Thus, national security is very much an integral part of India’s foreign policy. Accordingly, an ideal foreign policy is non-existent. Foreign policies are as diverse as the numerous states’ best interests are diverse. Thus, facile labeling of countries is difficult when it comes to foreign policy.

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Right Thought (Samma Sankappa ) in Buddhism

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by Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara

Buddhism rests on the pivot of suffering. Lord Buddha declared ‘the world is established on suffering, it is founded on suffering’ (Duke loko patititthhito).

All problems in life bring about suffering (Dukka or unsatisfactoriness) and as we attempt to put an end to them, they give rise to another. Solution of one problem leads to another problem, in many other diverse ways. We are constantly confronted with fresh problems, in our daily life, and problems go on incessantly and interminably. Such is the nature of suffering, and it is the universal characteristic of sentient existence. Suffering can be either physical or psychological. Dukka is inescapable and ubiquitous and it constitutes the first of the four Noble Truths in Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths, which the Buddha himself discovered, and revealed to the world, are the chief characteristics and unshakable foundations of Buddhism.

In the first Noble truth, the Buddha defines the truth of dukka, thus. “What monks, is the Noble Truth of Dukka? Birth is dukka, decay is dukka, death is dukka, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure and despair are dukka; union with the unpleasant dukka, separation from the pleasant dukka, not what one wants is dukka; in brief, the five aggregates of clinging are dukka. These monks, is the Noble Truth of Dukka”.

The solution for the aforesaid problems of dukka (unsatisfactoriness) of life is the Noble Eightfold Path, propounded by Lord Buddha more than 2600 years ago. This is the only way to the cessation of suffering and also a vital step in emancipating ourselves from an interminable cycle of rebirths.

It is said that the Noble Eightfold Path leads to the cessation of dukka. This path consists of a set of eight interconnected factors, or conditions, that when developed together, leads to the cessation of dukka.

The eight factors of the paths are 1. Right Understanding (sammaditthi) 2. Right Thought (sammasankappa) 3. Right Speech (sammavacca). 4. Right Action (sammakammanta) 5. Right Livelihood (sammaajiva) 6. Right Effort, (sammavayama). 7. Right Mindfulness (samma sati) 8. Right concentration (samma samadhi).

These eight factors aim at promoting and perfecting the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline. For the purpose for coherent and better understanding of, the eight divisions of the path have been grouped according to the under-mentioned three headings.

The first two are classified as Wisdom (panna), the second three as Morality (sila) and the last three as Concentration (samadhi). These three stages in the Eightfold Path are encapsulated in a Buddhist stanza (sabba papassa akaranan – kusalassa upa sammapada – sacitta priyo dapanan – etan buddhanu sasanan). To cease from all evil to cultivate good, in order to purify one’s mind, that is the advice of all Buddhas.

The eight steps of the path are not expected to be realised in sequence, one after the other. Rather, they are considered a unity and an organic whole. They are interdependent and interrelated. All eight factors are preceded by the word “Right” classified as Right, which means perfect. It is a mode of transcendence that leads to sotapanna sakadagami, anâgâmi and arahant. No doubt, it is a difficult feat to be achieved. The Noble Eightfold path is in effect the path to Nibbana. It is a path which avoids the extreme of self-mortification that weakens the intellect and the extreme of self-indulgence that retards moral progress. Although it is generally spoken as a path to be treaded, in actual fact the eight steps signify mental factors to be practised. All eight factors should converge simultaneously, each supporting the other in order to reach a sufficient level of development to experience of sotapanna, sakadagame, anâgâmi or arahant. It is said that the path proceeds from a lower state of purity to higher state and factors of the path should coalesce at a certain level of perfection. Path is not meant to be practiced a little each day.

The Buddha taught the eightfold path in virtually all his discourses, and his directions are clear and practical to his followers, today, as they were when he first disclosed them.

According to Walpola Rahula, the divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path should be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible, according to the capacity of each individual. They are linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others.

The second factor of the noble Eight-fold Path, with which this article deals, is called in Pali; samma sankappa, (Right Thought) which is sometimes identified as “Right Intention” in Buddhist literature. In this instance, the word specifically refers to the purposive or conative aspect of mental activity, as the first factor in the Noble Eightfold path (samma ditthi or right understanding) encompasses cognitive aspect of the mental activity. Nevertheless, no clear demarcation can be made between these two divisions because, from the Buddhist perspective, the cognitive and purposive sides of the mind intertwine and interact in close correlation, inducing them into activity. Right Thought is important because it is one’s thoughts which either defile or purify a person. It is one’s thoughts and nature that control one’s destiny. Evil thoughts tend to debase one just as good thought tends to elevate one. Sometimes a single thought can either destroy or save a world. Right Thought serves the dual purpose of eliminating evil thoughts and developing pure thoughts.

Our thoughts are as important to us as our actions because they make up who we are, thus it becomes imperative that we keep thoughts pure.

Buddha, emphasising the value of Right Thought, declared “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded. But once mastered, no one can help you as much, not even your father or your mother”.

Right Thought (right intention) is threefold. It is comprised of 1. Nekkamma: Renunciation of worldly pleasures, which is opposed to attachment, selfishness and self-possessiveness. 2. Avyapada: Loving Kindness, goodwill, or benevolence which is opposed to hatred, ill will or aversion and 3. Avihimsa: Harmlessness or compassion which is opposed to cruelty and callousness. In a moment of insight, the Buddha, at the time of his enlightment, saw that everything contains all these opposites. He saw the duality in nature and realised that everything can be replaced by the opposite. For instance, each kind of Right Thought counters the corresponding kind of wrong thought or intention, the thought of renunciation (Nekkama) counters the intention of desire, the thought of goodwill counters the intention of ill will and the thought of harmlessness counters the intention of harmfulness.

Buddha declared if one acts and speaks with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him and if he acts or speaks with an impure mind then suffering follows as the hoof of the ox. Right thought means avoiding desire and ill will. The importance of wisdom is evident from this, as the cause of suffering is described in terms of desire, ill will and ignorance. Right understanding removes ignorance and Right thought removes desire and ill will.

Renunciation (Nekkama) is often a difficult task. Grappling with the power of desire and attachment may require a great deal of personal struggle, as the mind does not want to relinquish its hold on the objects to which it has become attached. But that struggle yields many benefits, as putting an end to dukkha depends on eliminating craving thereby directing the mind to renunciation. We develop the inner strength to overcome temptation and compulsion. Attachment coupled with ignorance are the chief causes of all evil prevalent in this deluded world. One can either be attached to desirable objects or is repulsed with aversion if the objects are found to be undesirable. The word “Nekkamma” generally conjures up the idea of leaving your household life for the monastic life by discarding all sensual pleasures completely. But it is not so, as renunciation can apply to lay practice as well. Real renunciation does not require you to give all things inwardly cherished but changing our perspective on them so that they no longer bind us. It is letting go of whatever that binds us to ignorance and suffering. It is only an abandonment of overly material comforts for spiritual enlightment. The degree to which a person renounces depends on his disposition and situation.

It is the attachment or desire that put us on an endless cycle of grasping and keeps us unsatisfied. Therefore, it is important that we maintain an attitude of detachment from worldly pleasures and realise the ephemeral nature of our possessions and to not be selfishly attached to them.

The Buddha says unfulfilled desire is the root cause of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, and the way to overcome such unhappiness is to eliminate the craving or desire by eradicating the root of unwholesome desire through renunciation. The Mind is in the habit of grasping. We have to break this habit and strive to let go of grasping.

When we look realistically at the desire and unhappiness that eventually follows in its wake, it is constantly shadowed by dukkha (unsatisfactoriness). When desire is not fulfilled there is always frustration, disappointment, sometimes despair. Even if the desire is fulfilled it does not a guarantee of happiness and it might not last long and sometimes we lose the object of desire. This is called grasping. When we hang on too hard this becomes a cause of unhappiness. It is important to realize the fulfillment of desire is impermanent, nothing lasts whether it be height of sensual delight, or the achievement of wealth or fame or power. The pursuit of such pleasures brings the pain of separation from the object of desire, which increases in intensity in proportion to the degree of attachment.

Our mental states such as happiness or sadness and consequent actions are determined by our thoughts. The cause for endless suffering, conflict, discontent and injustice does not lie outside the mind. They are all just manifestations of intentions, outcroppings of thoughts propelled by greed, driven by hatred and delusion.

Right thoughts can mean different things and it is essentially directed towards shunning away from the vicious cycle of craving and desire by committing to a life style of self improvement and ethical conduct. The Buddha identified two types of thought: wandering thought(vicara) and logical or directed thought. Normally our mind is filled with scattered, random and wandering thoughts. For instance, when we are asked to perform a task our thoughts are directed towards in a particular direction. Once that task is over our thoughts are directed towards another direction and begin their erratic wandering again. The Buddha making an important observation in this connection and declared “Whatever one thinks about and ponders on often the mind gets a leaning in that way” (M.I)

The Buddha broadly defines Right Thoughts as thoughts of detachment, of love and of helpfulness. Therefore, an important aspect of Buddhist training is to cultivate Right Thought, not to let negative thoughts persist in our mind and to encourage positive thoughts.

Right Thought basically refers to wholesome thoughts, which is closely linked to Right Understanding because it results eventually through the practice and attainment of wisdom.

The first two verses of the first chapter of the Dhammapada by the Buddha would also be relevant in this connection. “All we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him”.

Avyapada as the second constituent of Right thought literally means non-enmity and corresponds to the most important virtue of Metta. In Sanskrit Maittri is loving kindness or goodwill towards all without any distinction or discrimination. The Pali word Metta also connotes loving kindness, goodwill, benevolence friendliness. A person whose mind is full of loving kindness can harbor no hatred towards anybody just like a mother who makes no difference between herself and her only child and protects it even at the risk of her own life. Metta is the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others and devoid of self interest. It is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love. Metta is opposed to hatred, ill will or aversion. A person who radiates metta refuses to be offensive and renounces bitterness, resentment and animosity of every kind. It is a love that has no ulterior motive. Metta does not make a distinction among beings. It embraces all and no one falls outside of its domain. Ill will is countered by Metta. The kind of love implied by Metta should be distinguished from sensual love and also from the love involved in personal affection.

The third and the last of the three constituents of Right Thought is Avihimsa or Karuna. It is guided by compassion (Karuna) which is opposed to cruelty, aggressiveness and violent thoughts. Like Buddhist Mettta, Karuna too is limitless and boundless. Karuna (compassion) is a virtue which makes the tender hearts of the noble quiver at the sufferings of others. The characteristics of Karuna are comparable to that of loving mother whose thoughts, words and deeds always tend to relieve the distress of her ailing son. (Narada). Karuna complements loving kindness (Metta). While loving kindness has the quality of wishing for the happiness and the wellbeing others, Karuna (compassion) has the quality of wishing that others be free from suffering. Bhikkhu Bodhi describing the thought of harmlessness (avihimsa) in the context of Right Thought states “The intention of harmlessness is thought guided by compassion (Karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive, and violent Thoughts. Compassion supplies the complement to loving kindness. Whereas loving loving kindness as the characteristic of wishing for happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings. Like Metta, compassion arises by entering into the subjectivity of others, by sharing their interioty in a deep and total way. It springs up by considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue to be harassed by pain, fear sorrow and other forms dukkha.

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Can Priyanka Chopra do it for Sri Lanka!

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Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra is one celebrity who has actively supported, and worked with charities, and nonprofit organizations, throughout her adult life.

Most recently, the 40-year-old actress completed an emotional trip, working with UNICEF to help mothers and children, in Poland, who fled from the war in Ukraine.

In 2010, Priyanka became the National Ambassador of UNICEF and played a significant role in fostering awareness of children’s needs in India. Additionally, she raised funds, advocated and educated people on UNICEF’s goals, and featured in numerous videos to create awareness about child rights.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Priyanka and husband, Nick Jonas, donated to several organisations, to help fight the outbreak of coronavirus.

Since both Priyanka and Nick Jonas are internationally known celebrities, and their charity work is generally connected with children, it certainly would be a good idea to try and get their attention focused on the situation, in Sri Lanka, especially where hundreds of children are reported to be going without meals, on a daily basis.

If we can get them involved in our scene, I’m sure we would have more support coming our way, from other well-known celebrities…especially those big names, in showbiz, who have been appointed as Ambassadors for UNICEF.

And, who knows, we may have another ‘Live Aid’ concert, put together, very specially for Sri Lanka!

Sri Lankans, based in Australia, are very concerned about the situation, in their land of birth, and some are working on projects to help the needy, back home.

I’m told that a few individuals are trying to work on the possibility of sending some bicycles to their friends, in Sri Lanka, to help them overcome the fuel crisis.

In the meanwhile, Chopra used her social media presence to deliver an emotional message on Instagram about her trip, to Poland, shared alongside photos of herself spending time with refugee children.

A few pictures show Chopra laughing and doing activities with the kids, while the rest focus specifically on the children creating art, or blowing bubbles outside.

The accompanying message focused on the psychological impact of war on refugees, especially children, describing how UNICEF made teams of psychologists available to the refugees.

Chopra wrote: “One of the most effective tools in helping children regain a sense of normalcy is playful interaction. It sounds so simple, but through play, children can find safety and respite, while also being able to explore and process what is happening in their lives.”

She continued by describing specific ways the children use play and art as therapy, saying, “The kids I met, on this mission, love working with art. Coffee beans, salts and regular household items are used for art therapy and sensitivity therapy. When they work with different materials, as well as paints and colours, the therapists are able to understand their emotions.”

Chopra also mentioned the handmade dolls the children made and gifted her, which are “believed to have the power of protection.”

The actress shared another post, on Instagram, soon after, telling the story of one mother who was forced to leave behind her husband, and parents, in Ukraine, to get her son to safety.

Perhaps, UNICEF Sri Lanka can make Priyanka Chopra’s visit here a reality.

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