Today, our routine life is detached from what we conceive to be religion. Our engagement with religion is, mostly, formal, ritualistic and ceremonial. This is not surprising for two reasons. Firstly, our earliest and fondest relationships with religion are weaved through formalities like visiting places of worship with grown-ups, recitation of precepts, saying prayers, listening to narratives and sermons, meeting one’s peers, neighbours and relations, and, of course, excited preparations for celebrating special religious events such as Vesak, Christmas, Diwali, Ramadan and many others of varying solemnity.
Secondly, young children in their formative years, with their unripe cognitive faculties, are ill-equipped to critically understand the ethics and the teachings about their religion’s ‘transcendental’ content, so that such complicated concepts are essentially acquired like the first language with no critical engagement.
In a sense, both the first language and the (first) religion serve the child to ‘perceive’ and ‘interpret’ the world, and both leave a permanent mark on him. However, there is a difference. The acquisition of a language is a primary requirement of the child’s socialisation process, but this is not so with regard to the acquisition of religion. A child can do without much of it – namely, the ‘transcendental’ content, which includes non-negotiable claims about the ‘beginning and end’ of the world, and an ‘existence beyond death’, as pronounced in the scriptures of the respective religion. As we know, religions don’t have convergence of opinion on such ‘metaphysical’ issues. Therefore, as the child grows up gaining sharper cognitive skills, he/she reconciles with the idea that religion is a unique variety of ‘knowledge’, which you may interrogate at your own peril, and you have a right to be offended, if questioned by somebody else. This perception is reinforced as years pass, because you realise it to be the order of the day. When you, as an adult, come to know of other religious ‘interpretations’, which are incompatible with yours, you tell yourself that it’s not your business.
This mutually arranged ‘studied disinterest’ about the other’s opinion occasionally makes you feel awkward. What is worse, history has proved it to be a brittle contract. However, all this unnecessary embarrassment can automatically be corrected, if the part of religion that the child is exposed to during one’s early childhood is limited to moral instruction. Everyone who considers ‘morality’ to be the essence or the distilled wisdom of every religion, can easily agree with this proposition. However, unfortunately, the way the acquisition of religion is made to take place in all societies and cultures, the “moral content” is invariably knit with the ‘transcendental content’.
This is unfortunate because the ‘moral content’ of almost all religions is, by and large, similar; whereas the ‘transcendental content’, which no child can comprehend, is different from religion to religion. In other words, almost all religions have an invaluable moral kernel, which applies to all humans irrespective of all their ‘differences’, but our traditions have made it impossible for children to get it without the draping; which gives them an artificial, and, more worryingly, a harmful sense of aloofness.
If religion is a means to an end, and if that end is to help the individual to live a fruitful life contributing to the wellbeing of all, then most certainly, it is best if it be rid of all divisive elements that militate against the very purpose it is intended to serve. This is easier said than done for a few reasons.
Firstly, in a sense, we are all ‘prisoners’ of our culture, tradition, and even language. As we know, engineering, medicine or technology thrives on change because each is in a constant struggle to better itself in terms of ease, grace and efficacy. Incidentally, this is not so with language, religion, customs, traditions, social, political or economic systems, for different reasons. For example, words, spelling, grammar or the gender bias in language cannot be wished away to improve it in terms of ease, grace or efficacy. Likewise, various forms of irregularities or injustices entrenched in social, political and economic systems can perpetuate for centuries with little change. Religion is no exception, because it shares with the others mentioned above an essential element of an acquired inflexibility.
Secondly, and regrettably, many people cannot think of morals without them being couched in their familiar religious formulae, and framed in their ‘esoteric’ formalities. In fact, as we know, all religions concur on promoting goodwill and discouraging all evil. However, as we can expect, they have been codified in specific cultural and historical contexts, and thus appear ‘alien’ to those who are not exposed to them in childhood. Unfortunately, this sense of ‘otherness’ grows as we grow and, as adults, we readily let the unalterable wrappings create divisions, ignoring the similarity of the message. This is plain irony, because religion is supposed to make us broadminded rather than intolerant. As mentioned earlier, premature indoctrination makes the child develop a dogmatic attitude towards all aspects of religion.
The neuroscientist, Sam Harris says, “…dogmatism is still granted remarkable scope on questions of both truth and goodness under the banner of religion” (The Moral Landscape). Like cultures and social systems, we have to be prepared to take religion, warts and all. It is only then we can honestly discuss the ways of avoiding the hazards inherent in a social context, where there are diverse religions with followers of varying levels of devotion, ranging from moderation to zealotry. Isn’t it pathetic to let our dogmatic attitude to religion make room for tension and discord leading to mindless violence?
If we are to reap the full benefits of the advances in science, technology, arts and humanities, we have to be ‘religious’ in a nonsectarian way, and be less insular about dissenting views. Religion will be a great asset if we can be more sober about it. Honest and clear-headed discussion will be the only way out; but it will be a remote possibility till we continue to believe that our religion is superior to all the others, and that it is the only way to a so-called ‘ultimate truth’.
The challenge before us is formidable, because religious indoctrination of children has cultural sanction in every society, and the momentum of tradition does not seem to allow us to agree on adopting a more sensible and neutral way of instilling moral values in children, irrespective of their parents’ faith. For this to happen, it is vital to realize that disinterested discussion of morality should replace the age-old tradition of indoctrination; which tends to produce religious bigotry. There should be a shift of emphasis from mass-producing insular and self-righteous people, to directing individuals to be sensitive, honest and open-minded.
The survival of the human race should take precedence over the survival of this or that religion. Obviously!
Sri Lanka cricket: what ails thou?
By a Sports Aficionado
This cricket-mad nation was appalled by the pathetic and blatantly disgraceful performance of its National Cricket Team at the premier event of the game, the World Cup. Even before the event ended, heads rolled over here on the cricket board. Such action should have been taken long ago but what we need now is an honest analysis of the debacle and the remedial measures that need to be taken.
One of the root causes of the problem is that there is far too much money in the game at present. Even in the face of the current economic crisis the money that has been remorselessly thrown around cricket is totally unbelievable. The amount of money that has been paid out to the so-called ‘support staff’ is absolutely mind-boggling. For what, pray we ask? To repeatedly lick the sporting wounds inflicted even by lesser mortals? Shame on the Cricket Board that seems to have completely wasted all that money for years in the past. In recent years we have not gained even an iota of returns for all the money spent on locals and foreigners to supposedly elevate the performance levels.
What we are not told are the most likely princely sums paid out to the players by the Cricket Board. If we are to judge that by the amounts paid to the support staff, the amounts paid to the players must be in a celestial planetary orbit. Those amounts are most likely to be astronomical. It is also a certainty that the Cricket Board Staff too have been at the receiving end of even cosmological amounts. The beneficiaries in the Cricket Board also include various types of managers and other assorted executives and supervisors. Then for good measure, add overriding perpetual corruption and you have the recipe for the disaster that it was. The current situation is nothing new., it has been there for quite a while.
So, for a start, trim down the expenses and most definitely the amounts paid to all and sundry through the Cricket Board. We do not need all kinds of suddhas in the supporting staff brigade to resurrect the game. We have locals who could do even a better job for much less payment. Just take a chapter from the book of India, the nation that is flying sky-high in cricket at present. They do not have foreign managers, foreign coaches, or any other foreign white-skinned ‘experts’ to guide their players. What they have is a home-grown well-knit team of local experts who work behind the scenes to produce the results that they consistently provide. They also have a local medical team that can hold its own against the very best in the world. Their players will interact beautifully with the local experts quite unlike our players who would even venerate the ground those so-called foreign experts walk on, but look down practically murderously at local experts. Our players might even refuse to play if a local expert is put in charge of guiding them.
A good start for enhancing performance up to the highest levels is to have a reasonable monthly retainer for players contracted to the Cricket Administration and to that add appearance fees for matches and substantial rewards for good performance in the field. These could be payments for individual achievements as well as stellar successes by the team to be shared equally amongst the players. There is no harm in paying dearly for proven successes.
Our cricket team is so very poor in adjusting to various situations mentally. In any sport, there are ups and downs. It is only the mentally strong who will be able to come through the setbacks and shine. A sportsperson should first learn to handle defeat before he or she can savour the joys of victory. A winner is just the one who can convert fear into confidence, setbacks into comebacks, excuses into firm decisions and mistakes into learnings. Any sporting person or team needs to adjust to the mental strains of intense competition. A person who can help in such situations is a Sports Psychologist. We have never had a dedicated Sports Psychologist for our cricket team. Apparently, the players are totally against using the services of a Sports Psychologist. They are probably of the mistaken belief that psychologists are needed only by the mentally deranged. The end result is that they become perpetual losers who continue to earn loads of dough. Little do they realise that Sports Psychologists are part and parcel of top-class teams of any sport and even individual high-flying performers.
To add salt to the wounds of our cricket team, many and varied injuries are a real bane for consistent performance at the highest levels by our cricketers. Our players get all the possible injuries in the book., some getting the same injury repeatedly. It has been very clearly demonstrated that in any sport, including those that do not involve muscular exertion, physical fitness is of the utmost importance for stellar performance. It is not necessary to delve too deeply into this as far as our cricket team is concerned. They are probably the most unfit team in the flock of teams playing international cricket. They have only to look at the training programme of 35-year-old Virat Kohli to see what needs to be done. He works extremely hard at his physical fitness and the results are there for all to see. In addition to being a classy batsman, his running between the wickets, together with his fielding and catching are the greatest hallmarks of the cricketer.
There is no proper medical team led by a qualified Sports Team Physician who is in charge of all medical matters related to training, diagnosis of injuries and appropriate management. Unfortunately, it is the physiotherapists and physical trainers who seem to be doing all of that in our cricket team and running the show. When a player gets injured on the field, it is a physiotherapist or a trainer who runs onto the field. It should be a properly qualified sports doctor who should be doing that with the other ancillary service providers following behind him or her. Our players have come to a stage where they trust the ancillary service providers rather than properly qualified sports doctors. Those providers speak a kind of high-flown language that impresses the players. However, those words would fail them miserably if they were to be confronted by properly qualified medical personnel.
The woes of our national cricket scenario are multifactorial. Yet for all that people who are selected to represent our country in cricket should realise what an honour and a privilege it is to represent our country. They should take tremendous pride in that. Then they should try always to give of their best to our beautiful country. There are no simple solutions to the problems of Sri Lankan cricket. The talent is there for all to see. It just needs to be properly nurtured and harnessed. It would be pertinent here to echo the words of the 36-year-old champion tennis player Novak Djokovic after winning the most recent Paris Masters Tournament: “Either you let the circumstances and the feelings that you have at that moment master you or you try to master them in a way. There is no in-between. You either fold, retire, or simply give away the match, or you try to draw the energy from the adrenaline that you are feeling from the crowd, from the momentum that you are feeling on the field.”
Need we say more? With proper guidance and classy management, our cricketers need not be the perpetual losers.
Going ritual mode
The article titled “The distortion of Buddhism and the rise of meaningless rituals” written by ‘Member of the silent majority’, which appeared in The Sunday Island of November 26 is a bold explication of Buddhists’ going ritual mode, which most of them seem to feel as the highpoint of living a Buddhist life. The writer comments on the wanton waste in terms of money, resources and time on revelries that pass as demonstrations of religious fervour: “All this excess is expressed in the form of Katina pinkamas that we are witnessing right now. They may be described as carnivals, not religious practices.” This is the unadorned truth of the matter. What is more harmful is that this sort of ritualistic routine helps perpetuate nothing but mass excitement unwittingly construed as the most certain indication of living a Buddhist life and protecting Buddhism.
It is this very skewed attention to the habitual rites that prevents us from seeking the meaning and, more importantly, the applicability of even the religion’s basic teachings in practical life. Unfortunately, the more festive and adorned our outward expressions of religion are, the more easily we tend to think that festivals are the most reliable guarantors of our religion.
Our elites, who are skilled in the delicate art of exploiting the religious sentiments of people for ensuring self-gain and political stability, make a big fuss about ‘protecting religion’ thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, sowing the seeds of divisive feelings of “self” and “other”. This is a grand way of making Buddhists feel that Buddhism is, more than anything else, something to be protected like personal property. Stating that Buddha discourages rituals, the writer goes on to say that Buddha extolled the practice of virtue: “The path which is simple and direct, is clearly stated by the Buddha, namely: the practice of generosity, virtue and mindfulness for lay people; and the practice of virtue, concentration and wisdom for the monks.” Our rulers seem to continuously maintain that if anyone wishes to ‘protect Buddhism’, he has to protect it from any ‘harm’ coming from outside. The writer challenges this when he says, “The Buddha predicted that the decline of Buddhism would indeed be caused by its corruption from within.”
However, the problem is, for the people, be they Buddhists, Christians, Muslims, etc. there is no escape from the political, economic and social forces that determine their entire outlook on life. The good values like generosity, empathy, tolerance, etc., which are not the exclusive preserve of one religion but virtues that promote the wellbeing of all societies, will remain just rarefied notions in the air until the root causes of greed, corruption and mindless competition propelled by consumerism continue to constitute our criteria of progress.
Most ‘development’ projects that hide corrupt deals bringing enormous jackpots to the elites begin with loud religious ceremonies that help maintain the collective myth of preserving religion. The more we start any programme: opening ceremony, construction project, shramadana, funeral, community meeting and whatnot, the more intense our feeling of religiosity becomes, and the more assured we are of ‘preserving’ our religion. In other words, what we are strongly convinced of as the preservation of our religion is the routine observance of the relevant set of rituals. ‘Protecting’ religion, in this sense is the name of the game and all devotees feel happy that ‘our religion’ is ‘protected’. The whole caravan of religions moves forward satisfying the weekly, monthly or seasonal outpouring of our sense of ‘spirituality’ and our sense of religiosity is well taken care of.
It is this kind of cosmetic religiosity that is easily hijacked by political leaders who never miss a chance of showing their religious fervour whenever there are TV cameras around them. And they are the very people who, unluckily, get exposed at regular intervals for their connivance in all kinds of scams. However, we rarely find time to question how these self-professed guardians of religion have benefitted from being publicly religious and swearing to protect religion.
It would be more beneficial to society if people start asking themselves whether it is possible to envision a good society without religious branding. After all, what everyone wants is a good society where all can live peacefully and work productively for the well-being of all- where ‘peace’ cannot be sold as an election promise.
It matters little whether you label your society as Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Moslem, multi-religious or secular.
LIFE IS A FROLIC…. Goolbai Gunasekara’s latest book of humour
Published by BAYOWL Press Sam and Hussein Publishing House
Versatile author, Goolbai Gunasekara’s books are always eminently readable whether they be on History, Education or Humour. Her latest book is hilarious from beginning to end and all Sri Lankan readers will relate to her amusing anecdotes, relationships, and laughable incidents told with a personal chuckle and a genuine sense of laughter.
“Humour is only amusing when you can laugh at yourself” says Goolbai. You must never laugh at other people by saying anything hurtful.” She quotes, “My mother used to tell me never to write about someone who cannot hit back. I have tried to follow this advice and although humour is sometimes exaggerated to make it funnier it is never offensive.”
I recall the KitKat stories of her granddaughter which were such a hit years ago. KitKat was actually a composite of ALL children of that age. Today, Goolbai’s humour ranges over every known topic against a back drop of modern doings The Social life 65 years (ago as a school girl) is compared to social life today. The difference if mind boggling. Visits to the Dentist are particularly funny as one of my best friends is a Dentist. Goolbai asks how a Dentist expects a patient to answer with his mouth open, but still manages to carry on, cheerfully, with his monologue anyway!
Weddings of yesterday are compared to weddings of today. One story ends with a father viewing the unfolding expenses with horror and telling his bridesmaid daughter, “Darling, when you want to marry, do me a favour and elope.”
The story “Bicycle Boom” describes “Our lovely Mayor Rosy” and the Dutch Ambassador (of some time ago,) trying to popularize the use of the bike to help traffic. Another pithy comment describes the place ‘Clothes and Shoe Brands’ have in the life of a complete philistine (herself) who hardly recognizes a Nike from a Bata.
Nothing Goolbai says can ever cause offence. She is witty and kind in all the 58 short episodes and I am both entertained and fascinated by the versatility of this well-known authoress who writes books on Education with the same panache and sense of humour as LIFE IS A FROLIC.
I cannot end these few comments without reference to the drivers of long ago. They were better than Mosad agents in keeping beady eyes on unwanted male attention and were thoroughly trusted by suspicious parents.
Read this book as a complete Mood Lifter. You can’t go wrong
Advantage Bangladesh after Shanto ton
Uganda create history, qualify for 2024 T20 WC
Earliest Sri Lanka can recover from bankruptcy is in 2027 – Dr Bandula Gunawardena
‘Dates have the highest sugar content to fight Coronavirus’
Sunday Island 27 December – Headlines
#Sundayisland Sunday Island- 31 January- Headlines
News5 days ago
SHMA ties up with NYC to increase trained personnel in hospitality industry
News5 days ago
RW says Jay Shah is not running Sri Lanka Cricket
News5 days ago
Shani A claims Rs billion from IGP, SDIG and others
News6 days ago
Sirisena demands action against Rajapaksa economic hitmen for triggering worst financial crisis
Business6 days ago
Janashakthi Group’s innovation shines at the National ICT Awards 2023
Business6 days ago
Wait-and-see approach by most stock investors following interest rate decline
Business5 days ago
AkzoNobel initiative to give local painters more opportunities at home and abroad
Business6 days ago
World Bank Managing Director of Operations meets ComBank’s Anagi customers in Jaffna