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‘Pride and ego’ cannot enter birth place of Jesus



Holy Land Tour (Palestine and Israel)

by Lalin Fernando

We were a group of 48 that visited the Holy Land (Palestine and Israel) in mid- September 2018. Guided by Bishop of Galle Dr. Raymond Wickremasinghe the group, now sadly 47 as one died on the tour, came back bonded by an experience of a lifetime with a spiritual predisposition. This was in the land of the three Aramaic religions with over 5,000 years of history dating back to Greek, Roman, Persian, Byzantine, Islamic; Crusader, Turkish and British mandate times. Much of it was violent, bloody but more was epochal and inspiring in an exceptional Mediterranean land.

We arrived in Amman, Jordan from Abu Dhabi on a Monday morning. The Israeli border crossing check point palaver which apparently could at times be a six hours ordeal, took us only about 45 minutes. This was most probably due to our tour manager Ms. Thusahari’s tremendous experience (over 20 tours), confidence and efficiency and of course the Bishop’s personality.

Crossing over to the Israeli side we had what was to be a trade mark warm greeting from Sonia, who some thought at first was one of our tour party. An Arab Christian born in Nazareth in Northern Israel, she was our very able guide. With a never failing sense of humour and politeness she kept us closely engaged. At the churches she made sure she was heard above other guides briefing their groups, while Bishop Raymond would translate into Sinhala and elaborate if necessary. Her briefings were delivered in precise and clear English. She asked us to note that much of the land was below sea level, a novel experience.

Our coach driver was gentleman Jameel. On our return to Jordan, it was ebullient Hussein who we were told was not from the Royal family! Both were excellent drivers especially when negotiating the spectacular mountain roads.

This is a fascinating land divided unequally and by force between Jews and Arabs. The UN in 1994 ordered Israel (Resolution 142) to hand back Arab land taken by conquest in 1967.This has not happened. Instead the Arabs were given certain areas designated as Palestinian Authority A and B. One, like Bethlehem, is policed by Arabs and the others like Gaza by Israelis. Provisions for the status quo of the holy places in Palestine are governed by the Treaty of Berlin (1878), so fortunately Israel is bound by it too. While there are parts that look like any first world country, some others saddened us.

We crossed over the Allenby (General, later Field Marshal) Bridge. It was Allenby, called ‘Bull,’ that led the British Army into Palestine during WW1 with the help of Colonel TE Lawrence’s Arab Forces. They had defeated the Ottoman Turks who had ruled most of Arabia for 400 years (1517-1918).The Arabs however were betrayed by the Brit ‘Bloody Balfour’.

We had a tasteless lunch in a restaurant overlooking the northern end of the Dead Sea that is about 300 feet below sea level. As we proceeded inland the scenery was breathtaking. Soaring mountains, bare of trees and greenery were interspersed with deep valleys in this part of the Levant (Cyprus, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria). Later on we were amazed to see Israeli plantations with mangoes the size of coconuts and four ft tall coconut trees despite geography and rock hard soil. However due to overuse of scarce ground water, the Sea of Galilee which is the main source for Israel’s water, is drying up rapidly.

We saw armed soldiers in many places reminding us sadly of SL pre-May 2009. It excited some who photographed them despite warning notices not to do so. These were clearly young reservists of the crack Israeli Forces. They looked scruffy and bored.

We arrived in the late evening Monday at the impressive four-star Orient Palace Hotel, Al Sahel St, Bethlehem in Palestine. It is pronounced Bethlaham from Bait (House) laham (lamb). Apparently a butcher ran a mutton shop there centuries ago. We showered and struck out for the small shops close by. Our favourite was the Hezar sweet shop run by Issa and his son. We made friends and quickly struck bargains for an assortment of exotic nuts and Arabic and Turkish sweets. US dollars were the preferred currency. Nobody wanted Palestinian dinars!

Our wake up calls were at 5 am on the first three days after arriving, 4 am on one day and 3 am on the Nazareth (longest day) visit. This was necessary in order to be at the religious sites before hundreds of other tourists swarm in. The churches are open even at 5 am. Late arrival could result in considerable delay in entering the churches. As SL is two and a half hours ahead of their time, getting up early wasn’t much of a hassle from our normal waking up times.

The weather was glorious with clear blue skies, if also hot. It was ideal for the climbing and walking that we had to do daily. We drank a lot of water having been warned of heat stroke.

We set off each morning with inspirational Catholic piety, the Bishop leading in prayers and the singing of hymns. (The group had about three Anglicans and one Buddhist too) His Lordship was stern occasionally to make sure we did not waver in focus and purpose. We ended each day with Mass at the last church visited.

The churches made up in atmosphere, character and awe what they may have lacked in Western grandeur. The mosaics, stained glass windows with limestone or marble floors and columns were there but in dark, ‘moody, broody’ churches, lit with an assortment of brightly coloured lamps. Some were in humble stone buildings but they attracted pilgrims from all corners of the world in their thousands throughout the year. The Chinese were the most numerous from Asia.

On Tuesday we visited The Basilica of the Nativity, the birth place of Jesus. One enters it through the 4-foot by 2-foot Door of Humility. It is to make sure that by ‘pride and ego’ cannot enter. It was first built in the fourth century by Queen Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman ruler, Constantine. Burned down in a fire, it was rebuilt by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixh century.

A 14 point silver star marked the place where Jesus was born. This was removed, probably by the Greeks in 1847, but was later replaced in 1853 by order of the ruling Ottoman Turks. It was a bit underwhelming as it was in urgent need of repairs, said to cost US$ 17 million. The Palestinian Authority (98% Muslim) and many countries including Jordan have contributed.

When the Persians invaded in 614 AD and torched almost all the churches, they spared this church as they believed the mosaics there depicted three women in Persian dress. Co-located is the Church of St Catherine where Christmas midnight Holy Mass is celebrated with teeming crowds.

We followed the Pilgrims route that included Shepherd’s Field, Manger Square and the Milk Grotto where Mary hid the infant Jesus from the Roman soldiers before her flight to Egypt. Apparently the white rock nearby indicates drops of milk.

We visited Mount Zion the site of the Last Supper Room, below which is King David’s tomb. The one mile ridge of the Mount of Olives that used to be covered with olive trees has a breathtaking view of Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock covered in gold leaf, dazzling. The Garden of Gethsemane where some of the olive trees are over 900 years old lies at the bottom of the ridge in the Kidron Valley

The Basilica of Agony (Church of All Nations) is by Gethsemane. It is built over the rock on which Jesus spent the night in prayer before his betrayal by Judas and crucifixion. Its interior is purposely dark and the ceiling, painted dark blue, evoking the night time of agony.

We also visited Emmaus Abu Ghosh, seven miles from Jerusalem where Jesus appeared before his two disciples after his death and resurrection and had a meal. We saw the Church of St Peter in Galllicantu where the cock crowed for the third time as Peter thrice denied Jesus. The dungeon where Jesus was humiliated, assaulted and imprisoned by the Jewish High Priest Caiphas before he was tried is under the church. We also went to the Dormition Abbey on Mt Zion where Virgin Mary’s statue lies in peaceful slumber.

In the gorgeous hillside neighbourhood on the road to Jericho was the Franciscan Basilica of Visitation in Ein Karem, commemorating the visit of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. This is where Mary sang her hymn of praise, the Magnificat (Latin-‘My Soul’). It is inscribed on its walls in 62 languages. It was banned in three countries as being revolutionary!

We saw the Golden Gate that is permanently closed but through which it is believed by all three religions that the Messiah will enter in latter days, the Chapel of Ascension (the caretakers are two Muslims), Pater Noster the church of the Lord’s Prayer (now in 140 languages), Pool of Bethesda where Christ cured a man who was crippled (with a noisy Indian tour party disturbing everyone). What is said to be the print of the right foot of Jesus can be seen at the Chapel of Ascension.


The left foot print is in the Al Aqsa shrine, apparently not a mosque, which is where the Muslims believe Mohamed made his Night Journey to Heaven, having arrived from Mecca.

On Wednesday we visited beguiling, bewildering and wonderful Jerusalem. There was over-excitement in presence of history, beauty and belief. Yet it is a city under tension as a 400 mile long 84 foot high wall cruelly encircles the West Bank Palestinians. Jerusalem’s name came from the Hebrew ‘Yerushalayim’ meaning the City of Peace.

We entered the walled Holy city after the Church of St Anne, dedicated to the mother of Virgin Mary, via St Stephen’s gate (Lion’s Gate).This is where the first Christian martyr was stoned to death. We walked on the Via Dolorosa (The Way of Sorrows – Way of the Cross) to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (Calvary). The Jews (who else?) believe the route was different. The tour party, three at a time, took turns to carry the Cross (brought disassembled from SL) from station to station.

Sadly, the death of 80year old Mrs. Violet Perera due to a heart attack occurred in front of the Church just before noon. She had carried the cross twice. Her sister was present. The Bishop joined the paramedics in desperate resuscitation efforts. He and tour manager Thushari completed all formalities with the Israeli police including contacting the next-of-kin of the deceased in Negombo, all within two hours. Regrettably the SL Embassy did not take the many calls from the Israeli police during those two hours. They Embassy denied receiving any calls!

A pall of grief descended. The Bishop sensing despondency immediately revived everyone by reminding them that as we mourn for the dear departed lady, we should not let grief overcome purpose in the Holy Land.

The Church is the most venerated site in Christendom. It has very many chapels of all denominations. Four, some say five Stations of the Cross are within it. There is the lavishly decorated site of the crucifixion, Calvary (Golgotha), the Stone of Anointing and the (empty) tomb where Christ was buried, the traditional site of Resurrection of Christ at the Greek chapel of Anastatis, that has an altar over the rock of Calvary (12th station), the Catholic chapel of Nailing on the Cross (11th station). Underneath the Golgotha chapel is the statue of Mary (13th station).

The Church with a capacity of 8,000 opens at 4 am. About 15,000 visit daily. The Orthodox Greek start Mass, (2 am) followed by the Armenians and then the Catholics at 6 am. There is also a Copt who has to pray alone while Ethiopians do so from their roof top monastery. Priestly brawls over territory occur several times a year.This is despite the ‘firman’ (decree) by the Ottoman rulers in 1852, confirmed by the Treaty of Paris (1856) that binds the various denominations. Roof repairs and even shadows cause problems!

Questions were asked about the Arc of the Covenant where the Word of God, the Ten Commandments, in stone inscriptions inside a box apparently lies buried somewhere in the Temple Mount according to the Jews. Rumours are many and hoaxes a few but the Bishop reminded us not to worry about it as the Covenant is in the hearts of believers. The Jews however are digging for it close to Al Aqsa shrine, posing a problem to its foundation. They believe Al Aqsa was built over King David’s burial site. They insist a discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls proves where the location is and it would finally prove that Jerusalem belongs only to the Jews. When Israeli General Moshe Dayan’s troops swept into Jerusalem after defeating the Jordanians in 1967, he prohibited attempts to raze Al Aqsa shrine.

The Church was lost to the Christians for 700 years. Saladin, a Kurd from Tikrit (Saddham Hussein’s birth place) who conquered Jerusalem from the Crusaders (1198) gave the 30 cm long keys to it to two Muslims whose direct descendants Aded al Judeh (aged 89) and Nusseibeh (69-years) are the Custodians today. They open it at 4 am daily. They hold the ‘newer’ key that is 500-years old. They have the original that is 800 years old too! There is even an unused ladder in place from 1728 on the first floor.

We also visited the Western wall that is the foundation of the Temple Mount, the holiest place in the Jewish faith where King Solomon built their sacred temple. It came under Jewish control in 1967 after about 1,000 years. The Jews do not call it the ‘Wailing Wall’, a term coined by Westerners.

Jerusalem is also Islam’s third holy city.The Al Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount is the third holiest Islamic site. It is where at one time Muslims turned in its direction to worship. It was to Mecca later. It is out of bounds to non Muslims. The Dome of the Rock is also there.

Coming down hill from the last church for the evening, we stopped at a place where everyone quenched their thirst with juice from massive pomegranates. An Israeli who had found out we were a happy talkative crowd from Sri Lanka said he had been an Air Force officer who had been in SL to fix guns on helicopters in 1988. He said he had an SLAF corporal as driver. This Corporal apparently pointed out Tamils on the streets as he drove in and out of Colombo. He said he too could always recognize an Arab anywhere, snidely suggesting we had something in common. I told him I was 78-years old but had never been able or wanted to look for racial or other differences between the Tamils and Sinhalese.

We had a 5 am start on Fri 14th to go to Nazareth, Jesus’ home town and the Arab ‘Hi Tech capital’ of Israel. It has 70% Muslims and 30% Christians. It nestles on a craggy hillside with tall trees. Its layout reminded one of Nuwara Eliya, where in fact there is a ‘Nazareth’ hotel.

We visited the Church of Annunciation where Angel Gabriel appeared before Mary, and told her she would give birth to a child, Cana, where water was turned into wine, the Church of St Joseph where Joseph had his carpentry workshop, Mount of Beatitudes (Eight Blessings) that is the site of the Sermon on the Mount, with its arches of marble and alabaster, Church of Multiplication, Church of Primacy of St Peter and the Franciscan Wedding Church at Kfar Kanna. Here married couples were overjoyed to be able to repeat their vows. Cana wine was bought by all with the promise of Christmas looming. Unfermented, it is sweet grape juice. Both are tempting.

We then descended to the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias) where it is said Jesus walked across its waters. The shore line was luxuriant with tall trees. Inland is the wateless plain of Hattin where the Arabs in 1187 under Saladin defeated the Crusaders under King Guy de Lusignan in one of the most decisive battles of history.

We each had an enormous Galilee Talapilla fish with rice and vegetables in a restaurant overlooking this fabled fresh water lake (sea). Our Hostess said the meal was specially prepared for us and asked if she could sing for us too. She did so sweetly. When she finished we persuaded Michelle who had sung in a Jerusalem church two days previously too, to respond. She obliged with a stunning and electric rendering of ‘O Jerusalem’. The hostess like the other over 100 guests, clearly inspired, sang once more.

We then had a boat ride on the Galilee. The crew at once ran up the Sri Lanka flag and played cassettes of Sinhalese songs as we motored in the emerald green waters overlooked by the Golan Heights with Mt Hermon, dominating and often snow capped, as we looked at the hills of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan

On the way back at Jericho we also saw the Sycamore tree that Zachariah, the short pitiless tax collector for the Jewish rulers, climbed to view Jesus. Overwhelmed at being recognized by Jesus, he reformed himself.

We had a 7am start on Saturday. Most of us wallowed in the turquoise waters of the Dead Sea that is 427m below sea level, the lowest point in the world. It is 35% salt. It keeps one completely buoyant, an unforgettable experience. It also has the lowest bar in the world!

We went to Jericho (Arab territory) and by cable car to the Mount of Temptation (Qurantico) 350m above sea level to have lunch in a restaurant carved into the rock. Qurantico is where Jesus defeated the temptation of the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights. The word ‘quarantine’ so familiar to us now, is derived from it. There is a Greek monastery up there too.

Jericho is said to be the oldest city in the world at 10,000 years. One mosque Omar is 258m (846 ft) below sea level. Just one percent of just one percent of its population is Christian. There is no proof that Jericho fort’s very old walls fell to Joshua’s legendary trumpet calls.

While waiting for the cable car for the return ride, a Palestinian policeman told us how very difficult Israel makes it for Arabs to get a passport or visit another country. Evil.

After lunch we went to Bethany near Al Maghtas where John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. The very pretty Arab and friendly Israeli girl soldiers caused a diversion- mainly for the ladies – who outnumbered the men in our group! The Israeli’s (who else?) say the actual baptismal place is further north under their control where hotels and guest houses reap the benefits. The river is just a muddy stream here. Its middle, marked by floats, marks the border between Jordan and Israel. The Bishop conducted the baptism ritual for those who wanted it. Jordanian soldiers like the Israelis were seen helping visitors. There is a Jewish ritual bathing too called the mikvah. The Arabs call it ‘immersion’.

As we were leaving an Israeli lady asked us where we were from. Having been told she said she was very happy to see people from SL and hoped that we enjoyed our visit there.

A final mass was in held in Bethlehem This time it was a Palestinian lady who having asked where we were from, thanked us for coming to Bethlehem. Tourism is the life blood of the Arabs in Palestine. There are over 600 hotels in Bethlehem.

All our lunches were at prearranged restaurants but the best was one we chose. At one, after lunch, its management distributed fez hats and organized a crocodile dance with rollicking Arab music. The best dancer cannot be named!

Every night at dinner in the shared Arab and Jewish tradition there were vegetables in plenty with various meats and kebabs and an abundance of fruit. Bishop Raymond unobtrusively sat at a different table every day, getting to know everyone in the group.

On the last night there was a delightful Arab pre-wedding women only party. There was music and dancing. They were all incredibly pretty with peaches and cream complexions and fashionably dressed.

At a short farewell ceremony, Sonia and Jameel were thanked profusely by the group as were the Bishop and Thushari. Individual donations were then given to Sonia and Jameel who became a bit emotional.

We left at 9.30 am on Saturday for our return to Jordan by coach. We were taken up to the heights of Mt. Nebo in Madaba where Moses, after 40 years of wandering to get to the Promised Land, died without being able to do so. He was a prophet of the Jews, Christians and Bhais. We saw the church that is built over his resting place. We had a stunning view of Palestine, the river Jordan and the Dead Sea as we climbed into the mountains.

We returned to SL on Monday with fond memories of a never-to-be-forgotten experience in splendid company. It had been a wonderful, delightful and charming few days. Not only Jews say ‘Next year in Jerusalem’.

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Life style

The Place of the Physician in Sri Lanka’s Society



“The Best Physician is also a Philosopher”

Galen of Pergamon (c.129 –  216 AD )

An institution, a learned society and a body of practitioners, the Ceylon College of Physicians stands at the apex of medical learning and practice in Sri Lanka. For over half a century, the College has fulfilled an integral role in medical education and the maintenance of professional standards. As an institution, it has played a valuable part in the building of our nation. As a scholar, a historian and a Sri Lankan, it is a privilege and an honour to address its 52nd assembly.

In a thought provoking conclusion to the 50th Anniversary Commemorative Volume, Dr Panduka Karunanayake, President Elect for 2017, explores new horizons. In an increasingly technological age, he underlines the great need to master the human and social aspects of healing. A profession that truly cares for its patients in every sense of the word, must seek to understand and shape the future. This demands that the physician not only advise patients but that he guide society. If as Dr. Karunanayake suggests, the physician is to shape the future, he must endeavor to understand the human being, his society and his environment.

This was a philosophy which was articulated by one of the fathers of western medicine Aelius Galenus better known as Galen of Pergamon. The most celebrated medical authority of the Roman empire, Galen was one of the greatest physicians and surgeons of the ancient world. He has authored more books still in existence than any other ancient Greek. With the exception of Aristotle and Plato, he ranks as one most influential intellectuals in the classical west.

Born into the intellectual and social elite, Galen was son of a wealthy architect with scholarly interests and he received an excellent education. He travelled and studied widely, spending several years at Alexandria in Egypt, the greatest medical centre of the age. Returning home he spent four years tending a troupe of gladiators, eventually become the personal physician to a succession of Roman emperors.

Described by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius as “First among doctors and unique among philosophers,” Galen strongly believed that science and medicine must be practised in the context of human desires and needs. For him, medicine was an interdisciplinary field where science, ethics and the arts were all interwoven He saw himself as both a physician and a philosopher and believed that the study of philosophy would make for a better scientist, hence his short treatise The Best Physician is also a Philosopher.

In an eerie evocation of a contemporary dilemma Galen attacks the medical culture of his day which

“…encourages people to value wealth over virtue. For, “it is impossible to pursue financial gain at the same time as training oneself in so great an art as medicine; someone who is really enthusiastic about one of these aims, money or medicine, will inevitably despise the other.”

Galen advocated the study of arts and letters as an essential component of scientific study. In another work An Exhortation to Study the Arts, he warns against specialized isolation and lists several arts which he categorizes as divine gifts because they are useful to life. Alongside natural science and medicine, he also lists poetry, music, and philosophy. This underlines his belief that physicians must be specialists who were not only technically competent but also humane and morally responsible. According to Galen, proper, precise scientific inquiry was indeed ‘useful for life’. However, it could not be accomplished by scientists who were not properly trained in the other arts, because they would not then possess the humanity, the sensitivity, to do that science properly.

There does not appear to be a great distance between Galen’s creed and the requirements of contemporary medicine. A modern day physician like a philosopher is trained to think, to inquire and to ask questions. It is perhaps one of the foundations of his long and rigorous education. A good physician, like a good philosopher is always asking questions. It is by asking the best possible questions that he can make conclusions and diagnose.

A real philosopher is always open to question. This is even more the case with medicine. The danger is that answers shut down questions. Therefore the physician must always be open to question. As it is a question of wellbeing, of life and death, these questions are always shifting, changing with the time and the moment. If as a physician one must come to a conclusion, one can only do that by becoming a philosopher. To do that the physician must be able to listen, to observe, to think and to question. He must have time and make time. Time to listen, time to ponder, time to think, to analyze and evaluate.

It is a dilemma which still lies at the core of modern medicine. In an age where the internet and artificial intelligence have made vast inroads into the credibility of the physician, what makes him special is that although modern technology can make diagnoses, it cannot take a judgement call. That judgement call still rests on the human element, the physician’s understanding of the social context- on factors such as belief, culture, environment, sustainability and cost. This will determine the success of the cure. As Dr. Karunanayake foresees, if the physician is to play a role in the future, he must endeavor to understand the human being, his society and his setting.

The history of medicine reveals that physicians have occupied a special role in many parts of the world. Classical scholars have always regarded the ancient Greeks as the fathers of western medicine. However recent research suggests that the ancient Egyptians practised medicine long before the Greeks. The Edwin Smith Papyrus, an Egyptian surgical treatise dating from 1600 BC suggests that medical practice was well established in Egypt 1,000 years before Hippocrates. This documents 48 injuries which were described, diagnosed and treated rationally through observation and examination. It is thought to be a copy of a much earlier work dating from the 3rd millenium BC by the Egyptian polymath Imhotep. Chief Minister to the pharaoh, a priest, a sage and an architect, over the ages Imhotep was gradually glorified and became a god of healing.

His counterpart in the Greek world was Asklepios, the son of Apollo. The legend goes that Asclepius become so skilled that Zeus, the king of the gods, feared that he might render men immortal. To prevent this Zeus slew him with a thunderbolt and over time like Imhotep, he too became a God. His shrine at the sanctuary of Epidaurus became known as the Asklepieion and it grew into the most important centre of healing in the Greek world. The legacy of Asklepios looms large in the Greek tradition of healing. Hippocrates formal name was Hippocrates Asclepiades, “the “descendant of Asclepios.” Galen too, we are told was not destined to become a physician and only took up medicine after the God Asklepios appeared to his father in a dream.

In Ayurveda, the system of medicine and lifestyle developed in Ancient India, the pre- eminent figures are Sushruta and Charuka. Sushruta is thought to have lived near Varanisi during the 6th-7th century BC. Regarded as the father of Indian medicine, he was the main author of the Sushruta Samhita, one of the most important surviving ancient treatises on medicine. The other medical text to have survived from ancient India, the Charaka Samhita, was authored by Charaka, who is thought to have practised throughout the Punjab between the 2nd -3rd century BC.

One of the oldest medical systems in the world is traditional Chinese medicine. This tradition has produced many leading figures. In the 5th century BC Bian Que (Pien Ch’iao) was the first to rely primarily on pulse and physical examination for the diagnosis of disease. He was followed by Hua Tuo (Yuanhua) the greatest surgeon in Chinese history. In 2nd century AD he became the first person in China to use anesthesia during surgery.

Throughout the ancient world the practice of medicine was associated with learning and skill, over time it become a divine gift. The physician was the incarnation of Imhotep, Asklepios, Hippocrates, Galen; he was a god, a seer, a sage, a skilled and deeply learned practitioner, a guide and a philosopher. Only in Sri Lanka however, was the physician a king.

The place of the physician in Sri Lanka’s society is documented in the island’s great historical chronicle, the Mahavamsa. Compiled in Pali by Buddhist monks, the Mahāvaṃsa and its successor, the Cūlavaṃsa, charts the history of Lanka from the 5th century BC to the 18th century AD. It is a remarkably accurate record, of seminal value for the history of India and Sri Lanka.

King Buddhadasa reigned between 341 – 370 AD. The Culavamsa recounts how he diagnosed, treated and cured patients from all walks of life. The chronicle devotes several whole sections to the practice and establishment of medicine and documents at least seven detailed case studies. This suggests that the physician had a very special place in this society and that his story was as important as the great warriors, builders, saints and the monks who shaped the history of Lanka. Each of these case studies tells us different things. Each concerns a different situation and elicits a deeply and carefully thought out remedy, based on reasoned analysis and evaluation.

In one case, it tells of how a man drinking water swallowed the eggs of a watersnake. The egg gradually grew into a snake. As it grew sucked at the man’s intestines, torturing the victim with pain. The man sought out the king, who questioned him. When he described the pain and related what had happened the king realized that a reptile must have formed inside the man. However as the reptile was lodged deep inside the intestines, the king refrained from cutting it out.

Instead he made the man fast for a week, starving the reptile within him. He then had the patient, bathed and rubbed with oil. This calmed and soothed him and he eventually fell asleep. The king knew that when he was asleep that his mouth would open. He tied a piece of meat to a string and dangled it over his mouth. Lured by the smell and driven by hunger, the watersnake reached for the meat. The king however, held the string fast and drew on it, gradually pulling the reptile out.

Another case concerned a Bhikku or Buddhist priest, the most venerated member of society. The bhikku had gone begging for alms and was given milk which had worms in it. The worms grew and fed on his bowels, causing agonizing pain. The king then asked leading questions. At what meal did the pain arise? What kind of meal was it and what was the nature of the pain? When the bhikku told him that it was a meal that he took with milk, the king recognized the symptoms.

Taking the blood from a horse, he gave it to the monk to drink. He then waited until he had drunk it all. Then he told him that was horse’s blood. The reaction was what he had anticipated. On hearing that he had drunk the blood of a horse, the monk vomited, spitting out the blood. The worms which had caused him such pain, came up with the blood.

Compassion and feeling made up an essential part of the King’s healing skills. There is a deep feeling for life in all its forms. This applied even to the most dangerous animals. Galen had concluded that even dumb animals are not entirely devoid of reason. In Buddhadasa’s most wellknown case, the king cobra, one of Sri Lanka’s most venomous reptiles, becomes a willing patient. As the king passed by, the cobra turned over onto his back to expose his underbelly so that the king could see the tumour growing on it. After observing the growth, the king reasoned with the reptile. Although he understood its pain, he dared not touch it. Understanding the king’s dilemma, the snake stuck his whole neck into anthill so that he could not hurt the king. Whilst the cobra was immobilized, the king slit open his belly, removed the diseased growth and applied a healing remedy.

This episode suggest a high level of surgical skill. It is underlined by another. A young man had drunk water which was full of frog’s eggs. Through his nostrils an egg had penetrated into his skull and evolved into a frog. As the monsoon approached the frog became more and more agitated, causing unbearable headaches. In this case the king appears to have resorted to immediate surgery. Performing a complicated and dangerous operation, he split the skull and removed the frog and then put the parts of the skull back together.

Ancient Indic society was dominated by caste and social taboos. Despite this and ignoring own his royal status, Buddhadasa cut across every social barrier and boundary to serve the suffering. In Indian society the lowest and most menial of tasks were performed by the Caṇḍālas, outcastes who worked as sweepers and scavengers. A Candala woman who had already had seven children, became pregnant for the eighth time. This time however, her unborn child was facing the wrong way in the womb. When Buddhadasa learned that this, he intervened to save the woman’s life. In the ancient world, birth and reproduction were the preserve of women and midwives. Socially this is a unique case. It is also a complex gynecological procedure.

The understanding of the human mind is an integral part of the physician’s craft. More often than not it holds the key to the patient’s condition and his recovery. In ancient times leprosy was a common condition. Lepers were shunned and regarded with horror and leprosy deemed a curse of the Gods.

The king noticed a leper, who upon seeing him, became enraged, striking the ground with his staff. In a previous birth the king had been the leper’s slave, it maddened him to see him riding his elephant and all he wanted to do was to kill him. Learning of this, Buddhadasa set his mind to winning him over. He sent one of his men to befriend the leper and share his anger. Pretending that he too was against the king, he invited the leper to stay at his house and help him destroy his enemy. The leper was bathed, fed and given beautiful clothes and a comfortable bed to sleep. One day, when he had become happy, contented and calm, Buddhadasa’s man served him food and drink, saying, “This is the gift from the king.” At first the leper refused and then refused again. Finally he accepted. Reaching out to the most diseased and most deeply troubled member of his community, the king was able to heal his mind. It is a clear demonstration of the power of empathy, feeling for and feeling with. It is from empathy that re assurance comes. So much of healing is in the mind. If the physician can take the time and make the effort, he has the power to do great good.

All these cases make one point. The physician truly cares and feels for all his patients, no matter who they are or where they are from. In his posthumous work Galen and Galenism (2002) the Spanish historian and Physician, Luis García Ballester (1936-2000) quotes Galen as saying: “In order to diagnose, one must observe and reason.” This is the dictum which King Buddhadasa embodies. He observes closely, listens carefully and questions keenly, making every attempt to form a picture of the condition. It is then he makes his diagnosis and decides on course of action. A demonstration of the power of the mind, sustained thought and inquiry, it is characterized by understanding and feeling.

The Cūlavaṃsa praises King Buddhadasa as a “Mine of Virtue and a Sea of jewels.” This perception is based on the king’s understanding of the human and social aspects of healing, his ability to care and feel. It is probably this tradition which lies at the roots of the well known Sri Lankan saying “If you cannot be a king, become a healer.”

This is the challenge which western science and learning faces in one of the world’s oldest living cultures. This context demands that the physician be conscious of the rhythms of a society, whose needs, values and way of life are often quite distinct from western norms and practices, often very much older. If as an invited guest, I can make one suggestion, it is that Sri Lanka’s physicians begin to study their past. For it is through comparative traditions that we learn deeply about ourselves.

If he is to truly guide as well as “Cure, Relieve And Comfort,” the Physician must also strive be a Philosopher.

He must not only ask the best possible questions, most of all like King Buddhadasa, he must care, be concerned and compassionate. For that he must have time.


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Life style

Amunugama’s book on Anagarika captures international review interest



SARATH AMUNUGAMA: The Lion’s Roar: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Making of Modern Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019; pp. ix + 556.

Sarath Amunugama’s The Lion’s Roar: Anagarika Dharmapala and the Making of Modern Buddhism offers a comprehensive yet very readable account of the life and influence of Anagarika Dharmapala (1864–1933). In Sri Lanka, Dharmapala is revered for reviving Sinhalese Buddhism and for restoring Sri Lankan pride during a period of colonial domination. He is also admired for his lifelong struggle to establish Buddhist management of Buddhist sacred sites in India. Scholars of religion have tended to identify Dharmapala as the founder of “Protestant Buddhism,” that is to say, of a form of Buddhism heavily influenced by “Protestant” thinking in its doctrines and forms and thus rendered acceptable to the modern mentality.

Dharmapala has also been branded as an early proponent of the kind of chauvinistic and nationalistic Buddhism evident in Sri Lanka in the recent conflict between Sinhalese Buddhists and Tamil Hindus. A great merit of Amunugama’s book is that it provides a sound basis to arrive at a more complete picture of Dharmapala than has been heretofore possible. The author first locates Dharmapala (born Don David Hewavitarne) in the context of social and economic changes in Sri Lanka during the colonial period, particularly as these relate to the revival of Buddhism in the late nineteenth century. Dharmapala’s family belonged to the new merchant class who had prospered through the opening of commercial plantations by the British. Elements of this new nativist elite, with Dharmapala’s father at the forefront, formed strong bonds with the Buddhist sangha and laid the foundations for the early Sinhala-Buddhist revival and resistance to missionary influence and colonial paternalism.

Although educated in missionary schools (which gave him deep knowledge of Christian scripture and Western thought), Dharmapala was given special instruction in Buddhism and Sinhala language at home. When the Theosophical delegation headed by Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott arrived in Colombo in 1880, the young Dharmapala was present along with his father and uncle to welcome them. (Olcott and Blavatsky publicly adopted the Buddhist faith soon after their arrival in Sri Lanka.) Dharmapala’s relationship with the Theosophists and the influence they had on him is an important and very interesting aspect of Amunugama’s book. It was Madame Blavatsky who encouraged Dharmapala to master Pali. (He was later instrumental in establishing a department of Pali at Calcutta University.) Blavatsky also encouraged him to make a pilgrimage to Bodhgaya, the site of the Buddha’s Great Awakening (mahabodhi) in northern India.

The 19-year-old Dharmapala travelled through southern Sri Lanka as Olcott’s translator and learnt the art of public speaking and the importance of education and role of the printing press in spreading the message. The importance these aspects assumed in Dharmapala’s “mission” is covered in detail in the book. It was also under the influence of the Theosophists that Dharmapala envisioned a new role for himself as a celibate “homeless one” (anagarika): neither a layperson pursuing worldly goals nor a monk enmeshed in rituals and cultural prescriptions, limited by the caste and other restrictions on the Sri Lankan clergy of his day. Fortunately, his wealthy parents supported his new vocation.

The book provides insight into Dharmapala’s thinking and motivation through detailed attention to his diaries and hitherto unpublished letters. Surprisingly, Dharmapala spent the greater part of his life in India. His first visit came about because of his involvement in the Theosophical Society, which had established its headquarters in Madras (Chennai). A substantial portion of the book considers Dharmapala’s establishment of the Mahabodhi Society and his efforts to return the sacred site in Bodhgaya and the site of the Buddha’s first teaching in Sarnath to Buddhist hands. It also details his relationship with the Bengali intelligentsia (the bhadralok) and discusses the impact of nascent Hindu nationalism on his thinking and his links with Hindu revivalists. (Swami Vivekananda and Dharmapala were both prominent figures at the world Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.)

Dharmapala’s international connections with Japan, Britain, and the United States are explored in some detail. Readers interested in the broader influence of Dharmapala and his ideas on political and social movements beyond his lifetime will also find much of value in this book. Amunugama suggests that Dharmapala was more of an internationalist than a nationalist. He argues that Dharmapala’s Sri Lankan nationalism needs to be seen in the context of colonial oppression and British condescension to Sri Lankan cultural and spiritual values. One of Dharmapala’s goals was the restoration of Sinhalese selfrespect. More broadly, he believed that Buddhism had a message for all humanity.

After his first visit to Bodhgaya in 1891, Dharmapala committed himself to work towards the re-establishment of Buddhism in aryavarta (northern India) and the propagation of the word of the Buddha in Asia and the West. It is evident that Dharmapala’s mastery of Pali and his study of original Buddhist texts were as much responsible for the direction of his moral and religious thinking, as was Protestant influence. Amunugama makes clear that Dharmapala’s position did not involve a repudiation of traditional Buddhism. It was also the reading of original Buddhist texts that led Dharmapala to reject Theosophy. Certainly, he was critical of the laxity of monks and encouraged lay religiosity, but he aspired to be a bodhisattva working for the good of humanity in all his future lives.

Dharmapala died in Sarnath a fully ordained monk. There is value in the detailed analysis provided by Amunugama, but the book is longer than it needs to be. Considerable repetition could have been avoided by some reorganisation. Some sections of the book would perhaps have been better left to journal articles, for example, the chapter on John de Silva and the Sinhala Nationalist Theatre and the chapter on the role of the printing press in the Buddhist revival.

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Extract of article published under the title ‘The Lambent Lad from Ganemulla’ in the FB blog of Menaka Ashi Fernando

The year was 2008, and the majority of the 94th entry at RAF College Cranwell were contemplating retirement, except for one dynamic individual — Dhanapala Jayakody Arachchige. At 61, Dhanapala or Danny as he is popularly known had plans that were 180 degrees opposite to that of his cohort. He had won an international PhD scholarship to study Air Cargo Safety at the Air Transport Department at Cranfield University, and that shelved his retirement plans forever and a day. Danny was sponsored by the engineering and physical sciences research council, UK CAA and The International Air Cargo Association (TIACA) to research airworthiness risk assessment for large old cargo and passenger aircraft. His PhD thesis was titled “Bayesian Model for strategic level risk assessment in continuing airworthiness of air transport’.


In 1962, Danny joined the 102 entry at RAF Halton as a trainee engine fitter, on a commonwealth scholarship from Ceylon. At Halton, it quickly became apparent that Danny was academically gifted. Many of his cohort buddies benefitted from his help in maths, science and English homework. This scenario, coupled with his infectious smile gradually broke down the social barriers in the entry. During this time, Danny won the national prize for the lecturette competition organized by the Royal Aeronautical Society. He topped the batch and went on to win the English prize too, despite it not being his first language!


“My arrival at Halton, a small UK rural community was a great cultural shock for me. The military environment of the sixties was far from ‘politically correct’. I was the only non-white face in the entry, and had far greater cultural differences to assimilate” — Danny


Rolls Royce was so impressed with Danny’s paper on rocket propulsion that they invited him to visit Spadeadam and witness a static firing of a Blue Streak missile. “Workshop sessions, particularly the basic Fitting exercises, showed a different characteristic; a dogged determination. Blood was repeatedly drawn as the hammer hit hand more than the chisel! That perseverance, and the patient coaching of George Edwards, our civilian instructor and father figure, hel

ped me through the final lap” — Danny Danny’s academic and engineering ability were soon recognised by the RAF, and he was commissioned to be an Engineering Officer at RAF College Cranwell (1968), where he gained his BSc, after which the RAF also funded his MSc in aircraft design at Cranfield. All this was put to good use in a succession of RAF engineering and Ministry of Defence and Industrial management posts.



Danny was born in a village near Ganemulla, Ceylon, in December 1945. The youngest boy in a family of 4 boys and 3 girls, Danny studied at the Galahitiyawa Primary School (1949–54), and then at Galahitiyawa Central (1955–62). Danny’s entire life can be characterised by his continued learning and the application of knowledge. He gained his teaching talents and experience from the Sunday schools that he attended. Being a bright student, he was initially entrusted to teach at the Sunday school. He later progressed to teaching higher level classes. He had no formal teacher training; but simply observed adult teachers and followed suit. Danny was just 16, and studying for his GCE Advanced Level, when he embarked on his first serious job — a most creative and satisfying task. He started a tuition school, initially with only 2 students and went on to develop it to accommodate up to 80 students! The school taught English, Maths and Science to GCE Ordinary Level students and had teaching facilities for pre-school kids. The school had 7 teachers (all Danny’s friends), the oldest being just 20. Danny was the principal, accountant, publicist, purchaser, teacher and paymaster all rolled into one!



There are not many who can combine the practical with high academic ability in engineering proud of his exceptional achievements — Peter Allen In mid-2012 Dr Jayakody worked as a Senior Systems Engineer initially for Cyber Security related work. He then moved on to Airworthiness and Certification, mainly in the Chinook MK 6 delivery programme, and subsequently in strategic and policy work, setting up long term A&C infrastructure and internal processes — Boeing Defence UK “The application of Dr Jayakody’s work to the air cargo industry is most relevant. The hull loss rate of cargo aircraft is several times higher than for passenger aircraft. The most obvious reason is that the cargo fleet is considerably older than its passenger counterpart. The aircraft are very maintenance intensive and are thus more exposed to maintenance error. This makes all the more reason to concentrate on aligning cargo fleets with the new European Aviation Safety Agency-type processes.” – John Snow, senior lecturer, Cranfield “Our largest annual scholarship award attracted a number of excellent submissions. However, air safety is the most compelling issue for our industry and the outcome of Dhanapala’s study will help identify further ways to enhance the global reputation of our industry.” – Dora Kay, chair of TIACA’s education committee.

Despite his 56-years of work Dr Danny still feels restless and yearn for work. Yes, he is no longer driven by the clock and recurring deadlines. Yet he aspires to plough back his knowledge for the benefit of the younger generation.

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