“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”-Mahatma Gandhi
Sri Lanka has an ancient culture. We have been told about vehicles that flew, birds that announced the birth of gods: a wonderment of unexpected pleasures. Our myths speak of a land in which all living things flourished, where humans communicated directly with animals and people had learnt that it is the purpose of life to engender more life. As Creation is the supreme force in the universe, the beneficence of life and its comprehension through love, is to facilitate as many expressions of life as possible. We have an ancient tradition that a man may become a god by emulating the qualities of the divine. As the sun is the source of life on the planet, our forefathers recognized it as the fertility symbol nonpareil. As worshippers of Surya, our behaviour would be arya, as elevated and exalted as the source.
Every life is a unique personal undertaking and the only thing an individual can know is itself. Every other knowing is external and it is what Huxley meant when he said we were each an island universe with every experience only conveyable third hand. No one actually can know what it is like to be anyone else. As such, enlightened self-interest is the only personal inquiry we can make, with the all- important caveat that in our self-discovery we may not interfere with anything else’s self-discovery.
Hence ahimsa comes from himsa, and is a crucial aspect of the great or common consensus (Mahasammata) that if Man lives in Dhamma, the land, people, flora and fauna would be safe. This recognition of the sacred nature of life made it incumbent that we live our lives disturbing other living systems as little as possible.
The book, Portuguese Encounters with Sri Lanka and the Maldives, ed. Chandra Richard De Silva, Ashgate, 2009, highlights that there was no slaughter of cattle in Lanka prior to colonisation:
“… In this country there are many false beliefs sown by the devil, and to eradicate them there is a need for much time and trouble. I mention those that I remember, for I do not know them all. There is a class of gentiles who do not kill any living creature, not even the most poisonous snakes, nor any insect or worm whatever. They do not eat anything that has been killed, whether it is meat or fish. They do not eat bread, however hungry or needy they might be. Their food is made up of the leaves of a certain creeper (betel leaves) that climbs other trees like ivy. These leaves are smeared with the same kind of lime that they use for whitewashing their houses…
“…There is another class of people who do not kill any living creatures, except those they themselves need for their food, such as rats and salamanders and lizards of the forests; for they do not eat beef or the flesh of other animals. There is another class of people who kill fish, and this is only the caste they call paravas. These do not kill any poisonous insect they may find in their house. Yet all these people, if they choose and are able to do so, kill men, and their doctrine does not forbid it. There is another class of people that eats fowl and wild boar and deer, but does not eat the flesh of cows, since they believe their souls enter into cows after death; they will never kill a cow and eat its flesh…”
In the Lanka of Mahasammata, one’s duty to one’s village outweighed any perceived duty to oneself. One must make one’s contribution to the society in which one lived. A vocational caste system handed down secrets to successive generations, in a system where one’s knowledge was one’s wealth, with the Divine as the Supreme Master of one’s craft, one performs one’s duty with an aim to perfection in union of mind and spirit so each attempt brought one closer to the Ultimate Prize. In a land ruled by the Unseen King, in both metaphor and practise, the King embodies Mahasammata and sets the standard for the people. The people know that if they live in dhamma, Dhamma would protect them, and the land would be safe. In this milieu of trust and obligation, anyone who broke faith and violated trust was banished from the village. This was the origin of the ahikuntakayas. At this time beef-eating was punished by banishment from one’s caste and village, as edicts stemming from the advent of the Portuguese indicate.
My teacher, farmer Mudiyanse Tennekoon, believed that only a return to Mahasammata could rescue our nation, as it had become clear that the fate of Lanka was drenched in a post-colonial experience that threatened to smother us in the fire of unrighteousness. It seemed to him that the wisdom of our ancients, which vouchsafed consensus as the legitimate form of governance, had been jettisoned for a system based in dissent and acrimonious debate. Further, it seemed that certain elemental forces of globalist origin were cutting swathes to the interior of our country, such that the viability of the essential core of our island’s life was at risk. If the government continues implementing the various sanctions of the globalist agendas, our subsistence farmers are at great risk, and with them the lifeblood of our country and culture. A re-establishment of ahimsa was a necessary step for the restoration of Mahasammata.
As vouchsafed by Arabi Veediya in Anuradhapura, Arabs have been coming to Lanka long before the birth of the Prophet. Though modern Muslims sometimes scoff at customs and rituals of the oral tradition, and seek their answers only in texts, Kataragama has long been associated in Islamic esoterism with El Khidr, the Green Man of Islam. The idea of El Khidr also predates Islam, as he is commonly held to be the person whom Moses met at the Juncture of two rivers and who instructed him in the Tradition. Consequently, if the Muslims of Sri Lanka were doing something so abhorrent to the culture of the island, when the Portuguese came looking for them, the Sinhala kings would not have hidden them but handed them over to the Portuguese.
On Sep 12, 2014, with some friends we began a campaign to end cattle-slaughter in Sri Lanka, and while I went around the country collecting signatures for a petition to parliament one question I was asked over and over again was this: “What did I expect the reaction of the Muslims of Sri Lanka to be to my campaign?” I replied that many people I had spoken to, some in my own family, had been against this campaign, and many others were wholeheartedly supportive of me, all urged utmost caution. I said that I had been able to make my immediate family aware that this was not a scurrilous exercise, but a restoration of ahimsa that colonialism had destroyed. I appealed to the generally accepted personality of the Prophet, as one who loved amity and good manners, and who, as Muslim tradition would have it, was not a person to hurt the feelings or sensibilities of others. In this I spoke to the spirit of the Revelation, which to me is as much about equity and social justice as it is about transcendental reality.
There is no doubt that Muslims are not barred by tradition, custom or revelation from eating beef; however, it is also plain that a claim to a democratic right to kill is a symptom of our postcolonial dystopia. Mahasammata is nothing less than an exhortation to behave well, to have good manners. And good manners, as my late wife Jeanne pointed out, is never more than consideration for other people and making them comfortable. As such, I believe that as a Sri Lankan Muslim, it is incumbent on me to respect the mores of my compatriots and to live in a way that will lead to greater social cohesion, amity and unity of purpose. Perhaps, Muslims should ask themselves why pre-colonial Sri Lanka fitted every description of Paradise in the Qur’an.
Convenor, Saradiel Movement
Buddhism and all beings’ right to life
A large majority of human beings deny the right to life of animals and other sentient beings, including insects. Why? (Sentient being is a living being endowed with mind and consciousness). The late Venerable Narada Thera in his book titled, Manual of Buddhism, states as follows- “The tolerance of the Buddha was not only to men and women but to dumb animals as well. For it was the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and admonished the followers to extend their loving kindness (maithree) to all living beings. No man has the right to destroy the life of another living being, even for the sake of one’s stomach, as life is precious to all” He quotes from the Metta Sutta: “Whatever living beings there be, feeble or strong, long, stout or medium, small, large, seen or unseen, those dwelling far and near, those who are born and those who are to be born, may all beings be happy-minded, without exception. Just as a mother would save her own child, at the risk of her own life, even so let him cultivate boundless love towards all beings.”
Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi in his book, titled “The Noble Eightfold Path-Way to End Suffering” says: “The positive counterpart to abstaining from taking life, as the Buddha indicates, is the development of kindness and compassion for other beings. The disciple not only avoids destroying life, he dwells with a heart full of sympathy desiring the welfare of all beings. The commitment of non injury and concern for the welfare of others represents the practical application of the second path factor “Right Intention” in the form of goodwill and harmlessness. Abstaining from taking life (Panathipatha Veramani) – Herein someone avoids the taking of life and abstains from it. The intention of harmlessness, is a thought guide by compassion (karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive and violent thoughts. Compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering; a wish to be extended to all living beings. It springs up by considering that all living beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering.”
The Lankavatara Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism states: Quote: “For the sake of love of purity the Bodhisatva should refrain from eating flesh, which is born of semen, blood,etc., for fear of causing fear to living beings; let the Bodhisatva who is disciplining himself to attain compassion, refrain from eating flesh. It is not true that meat is proper food and permissible when the animal was not killed by himself. Meat eating in any form, in any manner and any place, is unconditionally and once for all prohibited”
The Surangana Sutra states: “In seeking to escape from suffering ourselves, why should we inflict suffering upon others? How can a Bhikkhu who goes to become a deliverer of others, himself be living on the flesh of other sentient beings? The Buddha forbade Buddhists from engaging in occupations that involve killing of animals, such as Butcher, Fisher, or Animal farmer.”
When it comes to small animals, like rats, and insects, the attitude of the large majority of humans is as if they do not have right to life.
According to Buddhism, they, too, have the right to life as human beings. While some human beings try to prevent cruelty to animals such as elephants, tigers, dogs, etc., I have never heard of any one talking of cruelty to insects. My opinion is that the first precept in Buddhism ( Panathipatha Veramani) applies to all animals, and insects, as well. They too feel pain.
I would like to obtain the observations of other readers of your newspaper on my opinions expressed above.
A Cabinet reshuffle needed
By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
It looks as if the government did not realise the need to take drastic action to stem the tide of public disapproval. Even the most optimistic, who were overjoyed at the election of a non-politician President, followed by that of a government with an unexpected thumping majority, are sighing in despair! Although part of it is due to avoidable own-goals, there seems to be an extremely effective anti-government campaign directed by an unseen hand. Even when toxins are detected in imported coconut oil, rather than laying the blame on errant importers, attempts are made to tarnish the image of the government. All this is possible because the government seems to lack an effective communication strategy. One wonders whether the government has a lax attitude because the Opposition is blundering.
The fracas in the Parliament on the issue of Ranjan Ramanayaka losing his seat was the best illustration of a misguided Opposition not fit for purpose. Critics may argue that RR was given an unfairly harsh punishment but their criticism lacks moral authority because they opted to be silent when a Buddhist priest was given a much harsher punishment for the same offence: in fact, they were delighted! RR stated publicly that most judges were corrupt and defended his stance at every possible turn. He also refused all opportunities afforded for clarification. In spite of the Attorney General informing a while ago that RR’s seat should be declared vacant, to his credit the Speaker waited till RR’s petition for appeal was dealt with. Even though the facts were obvious, the Leader of the Opposition accused the Speaker of removing RR on the basis of non-attendance for three months, which he had to correct the following day! Those who blamed the SLPP for staging unruly protests in Parliament in October 2018, did the same on behalf of RR. Is this not laughable?
Once and for all, the question of the authority of the President was settled with the passage of the 20th Amendment and it is high time the President made use of his new powers. The most important thing he can and should do is a cabinet reshuffle, a mechanism often adopted by British Prime Ministers by way of a course correction. It need not be a major reshuffle but a minor one involving some ministers who are obviously underperforming. I have written in the past about the Minister of Health who demonstrated gross irresponsibility by partaking of an untested and unlicensed medicinal product. She is also responsible for not implementing the Jennifer Perera committee report on the disposal of bodies of unfortunate victims of Covid-19? Had this been implemented in December, much of the adverse publicity the country received could have been avoided. Perhaps, the voting during the UNHRC resolution also may have been very different. The Minister of Public Security talking of banning some face coverings did not help either. Pity he did not realize he was talking of this at the wrong time; during an epidemic when face coverings may be useful.
The Minister of Trade, who was an effective critic in the Opposition, has turned out to be totally ineffective. Even the government gazette has become a joke due to his actions. Perhaps, it is time for him to take a back-seat and allow someone else to have a go at the rice-mafia. etc. Perhaps, ex-president Sirisena may be given a chance to see whether brotherly love is more effective than the gazette in controlling the prices of rice.
The biggest failure of this government is on the diplomatic front. What most diplomats consider to be the most important diplomatic assignment, the post of High Commissioner to India remains unfilled for almost a year. Whether we like it or not, India is fast gaining the status of a world power, and not having our representative to deal with officials acknowledged to be of top calibre is a shame.
The way the UNHRC resolution was handled showed total incompetence of the highest order. We withdrew but the Ambassador decided to take part; we lost and claimed victory! To cap it all, the Foreign Minister announced in Parliament that the resolution was illegal. All the time sinister forces are at work, relentlessly, to undermine the country and force the separatist agenda on us and if we are not sharp, we may end up in disaster. For reasons best known to themselves, the government failed to utilize fully the good offices of Lord Naseby. Statements made by the Foreign Secretary no doubt irked the Indian and US governments.
For all these reasons, the need of the day is a complete overhaul of our Foreign Affairs set up, starting with the Minister. It is high time we made use of our career diplomats, who are well trained for the job and stop sending political ambassadors. The practice of utilizing ambassadorial posts as parking lots for retired service chiefs is abhorrent, as it gives the false impression that Sri Lanka has a military government in all but name.
There is still a chance for reversal of fortunes, if the President decides to act swiftly after returning from Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations. If not, unfortunately, there may not be much left to celebrate!
Alleviating poverty, the Chinese way
China has released a white paper on poverty alleviation which outlines the success of policies implemented, the methods employed and her desire to share the unique social experiment with other developing countries. Sri Lanka being a friendly international partner of China should make use of this opportunity to study the programme and plan a scheme and send a team to China to learn the activities conducted under the scheme so that Sri Lanka will be able to handle the fight against poverty, successfully.
“China achieved the largest scale battle against extreme poverty, worldwide, as 98.99 million people had been lifted out of absolute poverty, creating a miracle in human history.” These people were living in 128 ,000 villages all over in China. China through a sustained program was able to achieve its poverty reduction targets set out in UN 2030 agenda, 10 years ahead of its schedule.
A quote from a report released by the BBC outlines the success achieved by China.
:” In 1990, there were more than 750 million people in China, living below the international poverty line – about two-thirds of the population. By 2012, that had fallen to fewer than 90 million, and by 2016 – the most recent year for which World Bank figures are available – it had fallen to 7.2 million people (0.5% of the population). So clearly, even in 2016 China was well on the way to reaching its target This suggests that overall, 745 million fewer people were living in extreme poverty in China than were 30 years ago. World Bank figures do not take us to the present day, but the trend is certainly in line with the Chinese government’s announcement. (“Another large country, India, had 22% of its population living below the international poverty line in 2011 (the most recent data available) …:”}
The people living in extreme poverty suffer from the lack of extremely basic amenities, such as food. safe drinking water, sanitation, health, shelter, and education. It is a fact that those who come under this category are trapped in a vicious circle and for generations they cannot escape the deprivations.
Some of the policies followed by China in achieving the enviable outcome are discussed in the White paper. The most important condition to be fulfilled is the acceptance of the fact that governance of a country starts with the needs of the people and their prosperity is the responsibility of the government. “To achieve success, it is of utmost importance that the leadership have devotion. strong will and determination. and the ruling party and the government assumes their responsibilities to the people. play a leading role, mobilize forces from all quarters and ensure policies are consistent and stable’.
China has provided the poor with the guidance, direction and tools while educating them to have the ambition to emerge from poverty, Through farmers’ night schools, workshops and technical schools create the improvement of skills. The government identifies the economic opportunities in consultation with the people, then provides finances, loans for the selected projects, and strengthens the infra-structure facilities, including the marketing outlets.
While the macro aspects for the poverty alleviation is planned centrally, the activities are executed provincially and locally.
Sri Lankans living under the national poverty line was 4.1% of the population in 2016 (World Data Atlas). The impact of Covid-19 in 2020-21 has dealt a severe blow to the living standards in Sri Lanka and it is assumed that the people living under the poverty line would have reached approximately 8% of the population by 2021.
President Gotabaya Rajapakasa has realised this gloomy truth in his interaction with the poor in the villages on his visits to the remote areas in Sri Lanka. I would request him to study the success story of China and to work out a similar NATIONAL programme in consultation with China. In the White Paper, China says that she is ready to share her experience with other countries who desire to reduce the poverty levels. The President should appoint a TASK FORCE of capable and nationalist-minded individuals to steer the program with given targets as PRIORITY VENTURE. If Sri Lanka can plan a comprehensive programme for poverty alleviation and implement with determination under the capable, dedicated and willing leadership of the President, nearly two million Sri Lankans who live below the poverty line will benefit and would start contributing to the growth of the nation productively.
Govt. MP Wijeyadasa strikes discordant note on Port City Bill
Buddhism and all beings’ right to life
7-billion-rupee diamond heist; Madush splls the beans before being shot
Unfit, unprofessional, fat Sri Lankans
The Burghers of Ceylon/Sri Lanka- Reminiscences and Anecdotes
Opinion7 days ago
Monumental blunders paralysing Sri Lanka
Features5 days ago
How confidence has been eroded
Sports5 days ago
When failures boast of success
Features6 days ago
A senior cop remembers April 1971
Opinion4 days ago
A Cabinet reshuffle needed
Politics6 days ago
The British will not learn English, let’s not kid ourselves
news7 days ago
SLC funds amounting to Rs 29 mn in US bank: SLC caught lying before COPE
news4 days ago
Proposed law will turn Port City into a province of China – JVP