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Our worthy traditions on visiting temples



The article in The Island, dated 15th March 2021 – “Buddhists must visit temples regularly – PM” – takes us back to the pre-Independence era when we Buddhist children, in the 1930s, observed ‘Ata Sil,’ on Poya days, boys in shorts and girls in white frocks, with a piece of white cloth as a shawl, representing the ‘Sil Redda’, around our shoulders, go to the temple early morning, recite ‘Pan Sil’ the five Precepts, and the memorized ‘Gathas’ in ancient Pali or Sanskrit, not knowing their meanings; worship the Buddha in the ‘Budu Ge, and then squatting on mats on the soft sand covered ground to worship at the foot of the Chaithya ‘Pagoda,’ then a few prayers at the Bo Tree, light ‘pol thel panas’ and handun kurus., forego lunch as a ritual, and later listen to Bana, and, in the evening, disrobe that shawl, have dinner and attend to our normal routine work.

Those days, during the colonial era, Poya was not a government holiday. Only Sunday was observed as a day of rest and hence a non-working day. Of course, when someone falls ill and needs blessings for a quick recovery, or before one sits for the annual promotion exam., one goes to the temple to worship the Buddha and seek blessings for success.

During our childhood, there were no radio and TV providing news and entertainment. Never heard of politicians going to temples, and no one spoke about them. But now, It is a common sight to that the Heads of Government, Ministers, Deputies and their retinue of back scratchers, and cameramen, visit the Chief Monks of popular temples, going down on their knees, offering ‘Ata Pirikaras and huge fruit trays, seeking advice, get holy ‘Pirith Noolas’ tied on their wrists and come out , ignoring the advice and announcing to the public around them what they propose to do to elevate the suffering of the poor by building expensive highways, harbours, etc. One wonders whether these politicians do care to visit temples privately, to pray without their TV and security staff around them?

In the good old days, one could hear, at dawn, in the distance, the beautiful toll of the temple bells, and the beating of drums, to indicate it was Poya. It was like the Christian Sabbath. Even at home, neither fish nor meat was cooked, but only Kiribath with sambol for breakfast. Temples were holy places for worship. The monks were well respected and one would go on one’s knees to worship them. The yellow robe represents holiness. Long ago, it was a familiar sight that monks, long before noon, go on Pindapatha, piously walking barefoot, from house to house, with their begging bowls wrapped with the edge of the robe, where they were served food and whispered “Budu Saranai’ and the monk saying ‘Suwapath Wewa’, seeking blessings of peace and happiness by the offerings. Those days, the Buddhist monks were venerated and the preachings of the Buddha was sacred. The monks wore the sacred golden yellow robes, known as the ‘Sivura’, with shaved heads. Now the robes are tinted shades of yellow, brown, purple and almost red, which has robbed its holiness.

Of late, everything has changed where monks are given prominence at public meetings and are in the forefront of strikes, forgetting their religion, behaving like thugs, even uttering filthy. Long ago, they received teachings in Privenas, but now they enter Universities, join the disgruntled, sit with the female students, and I suppose do not behave as monks, and, finally, leave the monkhood, bringing disrepute to the yellow robe.

It is imperative the Maha Sanga should never be allowed to dabble in politics. Their opinion could be sought. Most TV channels have Bana preaching programmes on Poya days and there are several Buddhist TV channels, too. No parent should let their children listen to anti-religious, anti-communal preaching. It should be Karuna, Metha, Upeksha. In the modern science-dominated world, children have hardly any time to visit the temple, even on Poya. There shouldn’t be any compulsion, but encourage a child to pray at a temple, in addition to reciting prayers every evening, and kissing or worshipping their parents, and elders, saying ‘Thun Saranai,’ and good night before going to sleep.

Parents should spend more of their free time with their children, be vigilant about their behaviour and company they keep. Children, without parental love,are prone to take up to drugs and crime. Religion to a child is very essential, whatever religion they belong to. Our beautiful country of mixed races and religions, needs patriotic religious politicians like the ones during the pre-independence era; who sacrificed their wealth and time to eradicate poverty and make Sri Lanka a beautiful and a peaceful country.



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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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Billion-dollar carrot



The IMF successfully coerced the government into falling line with its instructions on debt restructuring and increasing of revenue, among others, and in all probability will release the first tranche of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) during the course of this week. Regrettably, the IMF is not coercive where the violations of fundamental rights of a country, vis a vis universal franchise, is concerned. On its part, the government flaunted this invaluable tool on the public, as the only remedy for all its financial ailments. It was least worried of the consequences that would necessarily follow.

Taking the cue, professionals and trade union activists dangled the carrot of carrot of strikes to restrain the government on its implementation, the results of which are still in abeyance. Not to be outdone, the powers that be has refused to relent on the grounds that the economy has to be strengthened at whatever costs.

Now that the IMF loan has materialized, the government is already focusing its attention on securing further assistance from other lending agencies. How will the IMF monies be expended, and for what purposes? Naturally, the people would want to know since it is they who have to foot the bill at the end. The Treasury insists that it has no funds to provide for the conduct of LG polls. Just 10% of the rupee equivalent of the first tranche of US $ 300 million will suffice for the successful completion of the elections. Provided the government wants to.

The President has assured that no sooner the Agreement is signed with the IMF, he would submit a copy of it to Parliament. It would be prudent if he would also submit (without plucking figures from thin air) a comprehensive expenditure account on the disbursement of the first tranche. And continue to do so for the rest.

Being fully aware of the country’s top priority needs, attention should be focused on providing them at reasonable prices. Besides them, agriculture, fishing and domestic industries should also be given due consideration. Merely dangling of carrots before them will not suffice.

Non-essential development projects should be shelved until the dreamed of economic stability is achieved. Of special note is that upkeep and interests of politicians should not be addressed with these funds.Can the people expect some sort of genuine transparency even at this late stage?


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Death penalty – another view



In his article, (The Island, 8th March), Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne, would have us believe that the Death Penalty is not an effective deterrent and it should be abolished in Sri Lanka. Similar arguments are presented in India, home to some of the most horrendous crimes of violence against Women and children, and also in South Africa, where the death penalty was abolished despite strong opposition from the vast majority of the population.

Use of the Death Penalty purely for political purposes is always bad, but that’s not what the public are calling for. The public want the Death penalty implemented RIGOROUSLY, against those who have undeniably murdered children, and also serial killers whose victims are invariably women. Their crimes are gruesome but unfortunately need to be detailed to counter the pseudo- academic arguments of Death Penalty abolishonists. For example:

South Africa abolished the death penalty despite vigorous opposition. In South Africa one of its worst serial killers, led the police to the remains of 38 of his victims all of them women and all from the poorest class (mostly domestic servants).

On 12 March, India’s National Broadcaster NDTV reports the case of a man in Kashmir, whose marriage proposal was refused. He murdered his prospective young bride, cut up her body and disposed the remains in several places to avoid detection. A few days ago, a similar incident in India was reported by NDTV, where a 17-year-old was stabbed and dragged through s crowded street and murdered with no public intervention! In Sri Lanka a few years ago, four-year-old Seya fell victim to a murderer, rapist, a person known to her family, whom the child trusted. Likewise, a 17-year-old girl miss Sivaloganathan was raped and murdered in the North by a gang led by an individual known as “Swiss Kumar” a porn film maker of Sri Lankan origin, living in Switzerland. (One wonders whether he subsequently received the benevolent “Presidential Pardon”!

Other arguments used in Dr Wickremeratne’s article, are out of date. For example, he refers to wrongful convictions in a bygone age where DNA testing did not exist. DNA tests enable identity to be established and tie a murderer to the crime, beyond any doubt. Elsewhere he cites a Table where Murder rates are calculated as follows- “divide the number of murders by the total population, in death-penalty and non-death penalty states”. This methodology is patently flawed. It assumes that the populations of ALL 50 States in the USA are homogeneous in demography and other characteristics- it equates the violent State of New York with relatively peaceful Alaska.

Dr W advocated “long term imprisonment” in lieu of death penalty. Frankly this is the academic argument of a person removed from everyday life and steeped in Academia, “the social cost of rehabilitation” is Immense! It has been estimated that the cost of keeping a person on death row is at least Rs 50,000 per month – for the rest of the murderers’ life! It should ALSO be pointed out that in Singapore and other countries where the death penalty operates, murder rates are significantly low.


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