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Polgasduwa Island Hermitage and Parappaduwa Nuns’ Island

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A death is always sad, unless the person was terminally ill and alone or the family had to struggle to care for him/her. When an old person dies, the sorrow has to be less because death is the one sure happening in life and when it is time to die it is much better to die, more so for the old person.

The sadness is greater when a person from a foreign land makes his home here and gives his all to religion and then dies. When the death looks like murder, or even if it is proved to be suicide, the sadness is further deepened. This is how it is with the recent death of Ajahn Jinawamso also known as Jinarathana Thera. As the host country to this devout monk, we need to be perturbed. This was how it was when I heard that the body of a Dutch monk who had lived long in Sri Lanka at the Polgasduwa Island Hermitage was found floating in the Ratgama lake.

The Ratgama Lake off Dodanduwa, Polgasduwa Island Hermitage, and the adjacent Parappaduwa Nuns’ Island are well known to me. Ayya Khema got constructed a fine nunnery with three kutis for ten preceptors, a dormitory of six twin-occupancy rooms just by the water’s edge, an open half walled meditation hall with a skeleton hanging in it and a library, kitchen, dining room and servants’ quarters. She had visited Polgasduwa Hermitage since she wanted to build herself an island aranya from which to propagate the Dhamma to foreign women and locals seeking the peace of Buddhist meditation. A teacher who was a devout Buddhist – Ms Gnanawathi – who accompanied her was very glad when she selected an island close to the monks’ hermitage. With immense help from Mr and Mrs Silva living by the lake and Gnanawathi, Ayya Khema realized her dream.

Ratna Dias and I were very frequent visitors to Nuns’ Island, invited by Ayya Khema to participate in meditation retreats of a couple of days, sometimes with a few others, when foreign women were not in residence. The Australian ten preceptor – Ayya Vayama – was a great help. Ayya Khema received higher ordination in San Francisco and we addressed her as Bhikkhuni Khema. Ayya Vayama returned to Australia much later when Ajahn Brahmavamso invited her to be head nun of a centre for women being envisaged in Perth. She received higher ordination as a Theravada Bhikkhuni from him, and is now addressed as Ajahn Vayama.

When Bhikkhuni Khema decided to give up Parappaduwa and return to Germany in 1999 due to the JVP uprising, a committee of us took over the island, tried to maintain it as a nunnery for many years but failed; even as a last resort having a foreign monk in residence. Nuns’ Island was given over to Polgasduwa. For many years incapacitated Ven Gnanawimala who was famed for walking all over Sri Lanka and always to and from Colombo, resided in Parappaduwa with two monks to care for him. I heard from Ven Mettavihari Thera that at present 13 monks reside on the island of Parappaduwa with 11 in Polgasduwa.

Polgasduwa Island Hermitage in the Ratgama Lake was built by Ven Nyanatiloke – German Jew monk – in 1911. Parappaduwa Nunnery was built in the 1970s. From that time to the early 2000s much assistance was given by the Head Monk of Polgasduwa – Ven Anuragoda Piyaratana Mahathera, even ferrying us in his motorized boat when we arrived from Colombo; sometimes with a van or bus load of women. We would often cross over in the Nuns’ Island boat to Polgasduwa for bana or dane or just to pay our respects to Ven Piyaratana. He was so generous in overlooking the nunnery from Ayya Khema’s time, to closer supervision when just a single Dutch nun and later a Sinhala woman took residence. He died a premature death of a heart attack, but the young monk who took his place continued to help maintain the nunnery until it was given over to Polgasduwa

 

Seeking information

Ven Mettavihari who resides in the Narada Bauddha Dharmayatanaya, Colombo 7,

and conducts the Buddhist channel Dharmavahini, said he had met Ajahn Jinawamso and passed on information he had received from a monk who knew the deceased monk very well. I quote:

“There are many rumours going around and the media has put out some false reports so I want to convey what I heard from the abbot of the monastery where Ajahn Jinawamso lived the last few years.

“Ajahn Jinawamso was found on Dec. 8 floating in the lake around island hermitage, not far from the island of Parappaduwa. He had a stone or small rock bound to each of his legs when he was found. His hands and head were free and not bound as is said in the media which would make it an obvious crime if that was true.

“As he was living mostly alone and not associating with the other monks on the island, the monks didn’t realize that he was missing until he was actually found. Again the media falsely reported that he was reported missing since Dec. 6. However the calendar in his kuti was ticked off until the 6th so it is likely that he left on that day.

“The police is now investigating if it was suicide or if he was murdered. Later today there will be an autopsy. I probably will attend that with the abbot of the monastery.

“He had (strong) arguments with the local fishermen in the past but recently it was better according to the abbot. They are building a big meditation hall not far from his kuti and there was sometimes (again strong) arguments about sound and cutting trees. It seems unlikely it was murder but the police is not ruling it out as yet.

“I know Ajahn Jinawamso already more than 30 years from his early years in Nanachat Monastery (Thailand) and he seemed very happy and doing very well the last few years. He often said his practice was going well and he was never so happy before.

 

Another monk who had trouble with depression said Ajahn Jinawamso too could be depressed, under cover of cheerfulness.”

My mind is crowded with images and anecdotes and memories of Polgasduwa and its adjacent smaller island – Parappuduwa Nuns’ Island, along with grief at the monk’s death.

By the time you read this you may know the verdict given by medical authorities at the Karapitiya Teaching Hospital, and know for certain whether Ajahn Jinawamso was murdered or committed suicide. A rumour on social media is that unscrupulous businessmen plotted to build a hotel in such a revered Buddhist place. Farfetched reason for murder!

Suicide is looked upon as an act that goes against the teaching of the Buddha. However there was the brilliant monk Ven Nanavira (Harold Edward Musson) of Britain who came to Ceylon with friend Osbert Moore. They were ordained by Ven Nanatiloke at Polgasduwa, the latter taking the name of Nanamoli. Ven Nanavira authored many intellectual books on his interpretation of the Dhamma and chose to live as a forest monk in Bundala. The spicy food left for him by the villagers caused a severe stomach condition. I heard from the wife of a person who was very close to the monk and communicated with him that the monk was greatly troubled by fantasies and wrote “it has to be wife or knife.” He committed suicide by tying a plastic bag around his head and suffocated to death.



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Terror figuring increasingly in Russian invasion of Ukraine

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In yet another mind-numbing manifestation of the sheer savagery marking the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a shopping mall in Ukraine’s eastern city of Kremenchuk was razed to the ground recently in a Russian missile strike. Reportedly more than a hundred civilian lives were lost in the chilling attack.

If the unconscionable killing of civilians is a definition of terrorism, then the above attack is unalloyed terrorism and should be forthrightly condemned by all sections that consider themselves civilized. Will these sections condemn this most recent instance of blood-curdling barbarism by the Putin regime in the Ukrainian theatre and thereby provide proof that the collective moral conscience of the world continues to tick? Could progressive opinion be reassured on this score without further delay or prevarication?

These issues need to be addressed with the utmost urgency by the world community. May be, the UN General Assembly could meet in emergency session for the purpose and speak out loud and clear in one voice against such wanton brutality by the Putin regime which seems to be spilling the blood of Ukrainian civilians as a matter of habit. The majority of UNGA members did well to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine close on the heels of it occurring a few months back but the Putin regime seems to be continuing the civilian bloodletting in Ukraine with a degree of impunity that signals to the international community that the latter could no longer remain passive in the face of the aggravating tragedy in Ukraine.

The deafening silence, on this question, on the part of those sections the world over that very rightly condemn terror, from whichever quarter it may emanate, is itself most intriguing. There cannot be double standards on this problem. If the claiming of the lives of civilians by militant organizations fighting governments is terror, so are the Putin regime’s targeted actions in Ukraine which result in the wanton spilling of civilian blood. The international community needs to break free of its inner paralysis.

While most Western democracies are bound to decry the Russian-inspired atrocities in Ukraine, more or less unambiguously, the same does not go for the remaining democracies of the South. Increasing economic pressures, stemming from high energy and oil prices in particular, are likely to render them tongue-tied.

Such is the case with Sri Lanka, today reduced to absolute beggary. These states could be expected ‘to look the other way’, lest they be penalized on the economic front by Russia. One wonders what those quarters in Sri Lanka that have been projecting themselves as ‘progressives’ over the years have to say to the increasing atrocities against civilians in Ukraine. Aren’t these excesses instances of state terror that call for condemnation?

However, ignoring the Putin regime’s terror acts is tantamount to condoning them. Among other things, the failure on the part of the world community to condemn the Putin government’s commissioning of war crimes sends out the message that the international community is gladly accommodative of these violations of International Law. An eventual result from such international complacency could be the further aggravation of world disorder and lawlessness.

The Putin regime’s latest civilian atrocities in Ukraine are being seen by the Western media in particular as the Russian strongman’s answer to the further closing of ranks among the G7 states to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the issues growing out of it. There is a considerable amount of truth in this position but the brazen unleashing of civilian atrocities by the Russian state also points to mounting impatience on the part of the latter for more positive results from its invasion.

Right now, the invasion could be described as having reached a stalemate for Russia. Having been beaten back by the robust and spirited Ukrainian resistance in Kyiv, the Russian forces are directing their fire power at present on Eastern Ukraine. Their intentions have narrowed down to carving out the Donbas region from the rest of Ukraine; the aim being to establish the region as a Russian sphere of influence and buffer state against perceived NATO encirclement.

On the other hand, having failed to the break the back thus far of the Ukraine resistance the Putin regime seems to be intent on demoralizing the resistance by targeting Ukraine civilians and their cities. Right now, most of Eastern Ukraine has been reduced to rubble. The regime’s broad strategy seems to be to capture the region by bombing it out. This strategy was tried out by Western imperialist powers, such as the US and France, in South East Asia some decades back, quite unsuccessfully.

However, by targeting civilians the Putin regime seems to be also banking on the US and its allies committing what could come to be seen as indiscretions, such as, getting more fully militarily and physically involved in the conflict.

To be sure, Russia’s rulers know quite well that it cannot afford to get into a full-blown armed conflict with the West and it also knows that the West would doing its uttermost to avoid an international armed confrontation of this kind that could lead to a Third World War. Both sides could be banked on to be cautious about creating concrete conditions that could lead to another Europe-wide armed conflict, considering its wide-ranging dire consequences.

However, by grossly violating the norms and laws of war in Ukraine Russia could tempt the West into putting more and more of its financial and material resources into strengthening the military capability of the Ukraine resistance and thereby weaken its economies through excessive military expenditure.

That is, the Western military-industrial complex would be further bolstered at the expense of the relevant civilian publics, who would be deprived of much needed welfare expenditure. This is a prospect no Western government could afford to countenance at the present juncture when the West too is beginning to weaken in economic terms. Discontented publics, growing out of shrinking welfare budgets, could only aggravate the worries of Western governments.

Accordingly, Putin’s game plan could very well be to subject the West to a ‘slow death’ through his merciless onslaught on the Ukraine. At the time of writing US President Joe Biden is emphatic about the need for united and firm ‘Transatlantic’ security in the face of the Russian invasion but it is open to question whether Western military muscle could be consistently bolstered amid rising, wide-ranging economic pressures.

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At 80, now serving humanity

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Thaku Chugani! Does this name ring a bell! It should, for those who are familiar with the local music scene, decades ago.

Thaku, in fact, was involved with the original group X-Periments, as a vocalist.

No, he is not making a comeback to the music scene!

At 80, when Engelbert and Tom Jones are still active, catering to their fans, Thaku is doing it differently. He is now serving humanity.

Says Thaku: “During my tenure as Lion District Governor 2006/2007, Dr Mosun Faderin and I visited the poor of the poorest blind school in Ijebu Ode Ogun state, in Nigeria.

“During our visit, a small boy touched me and called me a white man. I was astonished! How could a blind boy know the colour of my skin? I was then informed that he is cornea blind and his vision could be restored if a cornea could be sourced for him. This was the first time in my life that I heard of a cornea transplant. “

And that incident was the beginning of Thaku’s humanity service – the search to source for corneas to restore the vision of the cornea blind.

It was in 2007, when Dr Mosun and Thaku requested Past International President Lion Rohit Mehta, who was the Chief Guest at MD 404 Nigeria Lions convention, at Illorin, in Nigeria, to assist them in sourcing for corneas as Nigeria was facing a great challenge in getting any eye donation, even though there was an established eye bank.

“We did explain our problems and reasons of not being able to harvest corneas and Lion Rohit Metha promised to look into our plea and assured us that he will try his utmost best to assist in sourcing for corneas.”

Nigeria, at that period of time, had a wait list of over 70 cornea blind children and young adults.

“As assured by PIP Lion Rohit Mehta, we got an email from Gautam Mazumdar, and Dr. Dilip Shah, of Ahmedabad, in India, inviting us for World Blind Day

“Our trip was very fruitful as it was World Blind Day and we had to speak on the blind in Nigeria.”

“We were invited by Gautam Mazumdar to visit his eye bank and he explained the whole process of eye banking.

“We requested for corneas and also informed him about our difficulties in harvesting corneas.

“After a long deliberation, he finally agreed to give us six corneas. It was a historical moment as we were going to restore vision of six cornea blind children. To me, it was a great experience as I was privileged to witness cornea transplant in my life and what a moment it was for these children, when their vision was restored.

“Thus began my journey of sight restoration of the cornea blind, and today I have sourced over 1000 corneas and restored vision of the cornea blind in Nigeria, Kenya and India till date.

“Also, I need to mention that this includes corneas to the armed forces, and their family, all over India.

“On the 12th, August, 2018, the Eye Bank, I work with, had Launched Pre-Cut Corneas, which means with one pair of eyes, donated, four Cornea Blind persons sight will be restored.”

Thaku Chugani, who is based in India, says he is now able to get corneas regularly, but, initially, had to carry them personally – facing huge costs as well as international travel difficulties, etc.

However, he says he is so happy that his humanitarian mission has been a huge success.

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Health services face imminent collapse due to fuel crisis

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A file picture of a recent doctors’ protest

By Dr B. J. C. PERERA

MBBS(Cey), DCH(Cey), DCH(Eng), MD(Paed), MRCP(UK), FRCP(Edin), FRCP(Lon), FRCPCH(UK), FSLCPaed, FCCP, Hony FRCPCH(UK), Hony. FCGP(SL)

Specialist Consultant Pediatrician and Honorary Senior Fellow, Postgraduate Institute of Medicine, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Our free National Health Service is something that brings succor to the poorest of the poor, as well as even the well-to-do, and everybody in-between. As a country and a nation, we are so proud of our health services. In fact, as a developing country, we have shown the entire world how much can be accomplished, even with our meager resources, and with so few facilities made available to us in our health facilities. Our healthcare personnel are second to none anywhere else on the planet, and they try to do their best, even under trying circumstances.

There are shortages of medicines, disposable articles and equipment in our healthcare institutions. It has really gotten worse during the current economic crisis. Yet, we have managed to rise above all that, innovate, beg, borrow and do our best for the patients who come to us. Generally, our health workers will not allow a life to be lost without a fight. A case in point is how these personnel, from the lowest-ranked to the highest, rose and fought tooth and nail during the current COVID-19 pandemic. They worked without any worthwhile rest, even foregoing their meals when things had to be done to save lives. Our countrymen and countrywomen hailed us as their saviours, singing hosannas to all of them for so selflessly handling the crisis. The healthcare personnel showed results and they sacrificed many things and went through hell on earth, to save lives.

However, there is a looming dragon that is likely to inflict telling blows to cripple this hallowed service that is provided for our people. It is not due to shortages of drugs or equipment. Those can be handled to the very best of our abilities. The problem is due to severe human resource depletion that is the likely result of the current fuel shortage. It is a looming catastrophe, as large as life, where our healthcare personnel will not be able to get to their places of work, and they will not be able to respond to sudden emergencies, as there is no transport. The government, ministers and all other stupid politicians do not seem to realise this, and perhaps could not even care less about that. That is of course to be expected, as they have their agendas. They will somehow get their things done, but the people who suffer would be the poor who come to our hospitals.

However, the most distressing thing about this entire fiasco is how among our general public, the thugs, ruffians, desperados, those engaged in nefarious hoarding of fuel and all kinds of Mafias, are beginning to treat healthcare personnel at fuel queues and fuel sheds. Healthcare personnel are not asking for special treatment at fuel stations. They are an absolutely essential service, and all they are asking is for some fuel to enable them to attend to their essential service provisions. Even ambulances have to wait in queues, and are not allowed by the irate public to get priority for fuel.

A couple of weeks ago we saw in the news that a lady doctor driver was driven away from a fuel station by a mob. The most distressing thing about that entire episode was the bravado of a non-health staff lady driver, who shouted with powerful gesticulation of her arms that she had children in the car and could not make concessions to lady doctors. God forbid, but what if one of those children suddenly fell ill and the person to attend to them was the very same lady doctor who was chased away, and that person was not able to get to the hospital due to the lack of fuel?

Starting from Friday the 24th of June 2022, there was a lukewarm arrangement made to provide fuel to essential services, from certain designated fuel stations. every Friday. This was not communicated properly through all the media, and in very many places the public vehemently objected to this. The Borella junction Ceypetco fuel shed was one of the stations which were allocated for this purpose, where the essential services people, including healthcare personnel, queued up in their vehicles from around 6.00 am. The bowsers of fuel arrived only in the late evening, after a 12-hour long wait. There was hardly any security cover and virtually a free for all, with the sparse security personnel turning a blind eye to all the misdemeanors of the general public. There were loads of nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers from the National Hospital, Lady Ridgeway Hospital for Children, National Eye Hospital, De Soysa Maternity Hospital and the Castle Street Hospital for Women, who were in these vehicle queues, twiddling their thumbs and being forced to keep away from their places of work. No doubt, these hospitals worked with only minimal skeleton staff. All these hospitals have a collective staff strength running into very large numbers, all working in an absolutely vital essential service. In some outstation areas, the incensed public insisted on the healthcare personnel queuing up with the general public, even on that dedicated Friday, and at least in one area, the hospital had to be closed as most of the hospital staff had to be in fuel queues. For whatever it is worth, this writer has not been able to see his patients for more than a week due to lack of fuel.

Unless a proper system to provide fuel to essential services is implemented by this impotent government, this situation will go from bad to worse. Many hospitals will have to be closed, not due to strikes or trade union actions, but due to a lack of human resources to run the hospitals. Medical personnel will not be able to attend to emergencies, especially outside working hours, and many lives will be lost. Our inability to provide timely treatment could also lead to some patients being maimed for life.

So be warned, our people of our own country. Selfishness and scant regard for law and order on the part of the general public will lead to an unprecedented catastrophe. There will be riots inside and outside the medical institutions with damage to public property. Innocent lives will be lost and blood will necessarily have to be on the hands of the decision-makers and the powers-that-be.

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