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Restoring Afghanistan’s Largest Stupa

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Bhante Dhammika of Australia

According to the Samyutta Nikaya, a group of monks once approached the Buddha and told him they had decided to travel to the western region and stay there for a while. He advised them to consult with Venerable Sariputta before leaving, which they did. Having told Sariputta of their intentions, he said to them: “There are inquiring nobles and brahmans, householders and ascetics who are likely to question a monk when he goes to foreign parts because such people are learned. They will ask, ‘Who is your teacher?’ and ‘What does he teach?’ So I hope you have learned the teachings well, studied, grasped, thought about and gone deep into them so that when you answer you will say what the Lord has taught and not misrepresent him.” Sariputta then suggested to them some salient aspects of the Dhamma that they could use to introduce it to people they would meet.

It is quite probable that the “western region” (pacchabhumam janapadam) that the monks planned to visit was what is now Pakistan’s Punjab region and parts of north- eastern Afghanistan, then known as Gandhara and that these monks were the first Buddhist missionaries to go there. Very early in Buddhism’s history Gandhara became a major center of the religion – works such as the Milindapanha (the Questions of King Milinda) were composed there, the monks who took Buddhism first to Central Asia and later to China were mainly from there, and of course the sculpture of Gandhara is still admired for its great beauty.

It has been estimated that there some 500 stupas in Afghanistan – all of them ruined, some no more than piles of rubble – but the biggest of them all is to be found near the village of Topdara some 50 km. north of Kabul, the capital. It overlooks Bagram where extensive Buddhist ruins and artifacts have been discovered. Almost nothing is known about Topdara’s stupa as most records were lost during and in the centuries after the Islamic invasion, and no inscription has been found in or around the stupa itself. It was probably built in the 2nd century BCE but why and by who is unknown. The dome of the stupa is 29 m. high and has a diameter of 22 m. and its drum is decorated with a row of arched niches each of which originally would have held an image. There is an impressive stairway leading up to the platform the stupa rests on and the circumambulation path around it. When complete with its umbrella atop its dome and its white painted exterior it must have been a most impressive sight. The whole side of the hill where it sits has other ruins as well – three monasteries each with a stupa, and a large mound suggesting a very large monastery with two stupas a short distance away at Qala-i-Khalifa. A small stream and a spring nearby would have provided the monks with adequate water and the site has a marvelous view over Bagram and the rugged mountains beyond.

In 1833 the intrepid British traveler Charles Masson visited the stupa and left a detailed description of it, including several drawings. He dug into it and found small bone fragments, probably what were believed to be relics of the Buddha. At that time no one knew what this and the many other stupas in the region were or were for, so thoroughly had Buddhism been forgotten by the Afghani people themselves.

In 2016 the Afghanistan Cultural Heritage Consulting Organization teamed up with the Afghan Institute of Archaeology and began a project to restore and conserve the Topdara stupa. The job was recently finished and now we have at least some idea how this grand monument once looked like.



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THE DEMOCRATIC PARADOX OF SRI LANKA

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by R.J. de Silva, Attorney-at-law

In the distant past, there were many approaches to running civilizations. Cruel and ruthless dictators perpetrated assault on human rights, with impunity. The best known among these tyrants were ATTILA the HUN (AD 434-453 of present day Hungary ), GENGHIS KHAN ( 1206-1227 in Central Asia and China ), TIMUR ( 1370-1405 of modern Syria, Iran , Afghanistan) and QUEEN MARY alias ‘Bloody Mary’(1553-1558 in England ).

The combination of divine or absolute power and lack of contact with people made Dictators and Autocrats fascinating as well as terrifying. It is unclear if such characters suffered from mental illness as defined by current standards or whether their lives were marked by incidents that made them ruthless.

Hadenius and Teorell ( 2007 ) identified distinct dictatorships in monarchies, military regimes, one party regimes and restricted multiparty regimes. Studies have revealed that many dictatorial regimes, have democratic facades or some functioning democratic institutions, some holding regular elections and some having operational political parties and legislatures.

Dictatorships are a form of government in which all power remains in the hands of one person enjoying unlimited governmental power obtained by force or fraudulent means in sham elections. Dictatorships are often characterized by deaths or killings because of greed, hatred, pride and yearning for power. For instance, Hitler caused millions of deaths of Jews, Pol Pot killed millions of Cambodians to forcibly change its culture and Idi Amin was responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of Indians in Uganda.

Autocracy is very similar to a dictatorship. Here too, the supreme power lies in the hands of an individual with some supported by a slavish political party. Autocrats use little or no consultation when making decisions and exercise independent authority over policies and procedures. Their decisions are not subject to any legal restraints. The system suppresses public debate and makes criticism of the government, a criminal offence.

Like in dictatorships, autocracies also use force and punishments to those who disobey the leader’s commands. Autocrats manifest in many ways in despotism, oligarchy and fascism.

In the ideology of benevolent or enlightened despotism (popular in the 18th Century Europe),a absolute monarchs enacted a number of changes in political institutions and enlightened governance. Most of the despots started their careers as “freedom fighters”. Many of them amassed wealth abroad while the world was in denial.

An oligarchy is a form of government where power is in the hands of a small group of elite people, holding wealth or family or military prowess. Oligarchies are where a small minority rules the government and exercise power in corrupt ways. Such governments are frequently ruled by prominent families whose children are raised and coached as oligarchy’s heirs.

Fascism is a political ideology that elevates the nation and race above the individual and advocates a ‘Consolidated Autocratic government’ led by a dictator under strict economic and social regulation while suppressing the opposition. Fascist administrations were seen in Italy’s Fascist Party under Mussolini ( 1925-1945 )and the National Socialist German Worker’s Party ( Nazi Party ) under Adolf Hitler ( 1925-1943). Interestingly, the majority of the modern dictatorial regimes refer to their leaders by a variety of titles such as President, King and Prime Minister.

The 20th and 21st Century dictators and autocrats ruled with tyrannical power and never tolerated dissent. Some of them were VALDIMIR LENIN ( 1917-1924 Russia ), JOSEPH STALIN ( 1924-1953 Russia ), BENITO MUSSOLINI ( 1925-1945 Italy ), ADOLF HITLER ( 1933-1945 Germany ), FRANCISCO FRANCO ( 1939-1975 Spain ), MAO ZEDONG (1949-1976- China ), IDI AMIN (1971-1979 Uganda), AUGUSTO PINOCHET ( 1973- 1990 Chile ), GEOGIS PAPANDUPOULUS ( 1967-1974 Greece ), COL MUAMMER GADAFI ( 1969-2011 Libya ).

Dictator led countries are also associated with severe poverty, repression, decreasing health and life expectancy, famine, poor education and rising mental illnesses. Eight of these brutal and repressive autocracies which caused poverty in their countries were : KIM JONG UN since 2011 ( North Korea- 40% poverty ), NICOLAS MANDURO since 2013 with his Presidency in dispute ( Venezuela – 82% poverty ) , BASHA AL ASSAD since 2020 ( Syria -82% poverty ), PAUL KAGME since March 2000 (Rwanda -39.1% poverty ), RECEP ERDOGAN since 2014 ( an elected President in Turkey- 21.9% poverty ), and NGUEMA MBASOSGO longest standing President in the world since 1979 for 40 years to date ( Equatorial Guinea -76. 8% poverty). Two of them – PIERRE NKURUNZIZA ( Burundi ) and IDRIS DEBBY ( Chad ) died in June 2020 April 2021 leaving 64.6% and 46.7% poverty respectively, in their impoverished countries. However, VADIMIR PUTIN (since 2000 Russia ) and XI JING PING ( since 2013 China ) are leading economic powers, but these two countries have also never tolerated dissent.

It is common to see dictators and autocrats appointing prominent members of armed forces in civilian positions and show disrespect towards the independence of the judiciary and freedom for the media. Such systems and their rulers show no concern for human rights or dissent. For instance in China, when a popular national movement for democracy was precipitated by Chinese youth and students calling for greater accountability, constitutional due process, freedom of the Press, speech and association drawing about one million people to the Tiananman Square and about 400 other cities, China’s Paramount leader Deng Xiaoping violently suppressed the movement in one day on June 4, 1986, similar to what happened in Rathupaswela in Sri Lanka, subsequently.

The suppression of the Pro- Democracy movement by the use of the army was followed by the wide spread arrest and deportation of foreign journalists and the strict control of the Press. In Russia, VADIMIR PUTIN, characterized his rule with endemic corruption, jailing political opponents, intimidating media freedom and free and fair elections. When Russia invaded Ukrain in February 2022, Putin ordered the arrest of thousands of its own citizens for protesting against the war. Tsarist minded Putin decreed that the independent media and journalists will be will be given 15 year jail terms if the cruel destruction of Ukrain’s infrastructure, historical monuments, hospitals and bombing civilian targets are reported to the Russian people.

Dictators and Autocrats are prone to create personality based autocracies surrounded by family members. Family bandyism weakened State infrastructure in Sri Lanka after 2005. The Rajapaksa family based autocracy weakened the State, democratic practices and institutionalized corruption. Family members and lackeys of Iraq and Libyan leaders weakened the State apparatus of Iraq and Libya. The weakened States of Iraq and Libya were such that, it failed to produce nuclear weapons as planned, to meet the threat of Israeli expansion. Saddam Hussain ( Iraq ) appointed his son- in- law and notoriously brutal Hussein Kamil, to fast track the production of nuclear weapons. That resulted in scientists in Iraq intentionally further slowing down the programme and nicknamed it the “unclear power”.

In contrast, the tyrant Gadaffi ( Libya ) was surrounded by ‘yes men’ and female bodyguards and an ego trip as a result of which, had no inclination to produce scientists and engineers for the country capable of dealing with complex technicalities associated with the production of nuclear power.

Dictators and Autocrats are prone to interfere with the sovereignty of other countries. Chinese dictator XI JING PING despite being an economic power, is accused of subtle problematic debt trap diplomacy since 2018 in many poor countries in Africa and Asia ruled by corrupt and mismanaging leaders. PUTIN is facing credible allegations of gross violation of human rights in Ukrain and widespread calls for investigation leading up to a trial for war crimes.

Citizen tired of being oppressed and controlled made widespread demands for democracy and the creation of independent Nation States in Europe. Those revolutions popularly known as the ‘Peoples Spring’ in 1848, brought upheavals in Europe mainly due to the dissatisfaction with monarchies, which were at the helm of each country. The revolution started in Sicily and spread to France, Netherlands, Italy and Hungary, Austrian Empire, German Empire and the whole of Europe. Monarchies were replaced by Republics. Old leaders were forced to grant liberal constitutions.

Caught off guard, aristocracy and their allies plotted to return to power and many leaders of the revolutions went into exile. In the decades after 1848, little had changed. Many historians considered the “People’s Spring” a failure, due to the seemingly lack of permanent structural changes. Karl Marx, disappointed with the bourgeois character of the revolution, expressed the theory of a permanent revolution according to which the proletariat should strengthen democratic bourgeois revolutionary forces, until the proletariat itself was ready to seize power.

The Autumn of Nations between 1981 and 1991 (143 years after the political upheavals in Europe), brought down the former Soviet Union (USSR) which was beset with economic stagnation, mismanagement and excessive dogmatism of the Communist Party. It disintegrated USSR without bloodshed to endorse democratic reforms in their countries. Poland was the first to shrug off communism in 1989 after almost a decade of struggles. It was followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

Another wave of pro- democracy uprisings began in Muslim countries such as Morocco, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Bahrain in 2010/2011. It was named the “Arab Spring” and started in December 2010 from Tunisia. However, not all the nations that witnessed such social and political upheaval changed for the better. Some of the very same leaders who fought for democracy in the Muslim world (and in many other parts of the world), presided over the gradual decline of democratic rule in their countries.

In Egypt for example, despite the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, authoritarian rule returned after the controversial election of Morsi in 2012 leading to a coup by his Defence Minister Abdel Fatah El-Sisi in 2013 and he remains in power till today. Libya, since Col Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown violently in October 2011, has remained in a state of civil war with two opposing governments ruling separate regions of the country. The civil war that began in Syria with the Arab Spring has lasted for several years due to ISIS declaring a CALIPHATE governed by Islamic Law in North East of Syria. The ISIS has been effectively defeated, but the oppressive regime of BASHAR AL ASSAD continues with Russian support.

Democracy

In modern times, generations have rebelled against dictatorships and autocrdacy and fought for human rights and respect for the Rule of law. DEMOCRACY is the method of rule most countries have begun to approve. Although democracy is vulnerable it is very resilient. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Democracy and violence go ill together. States that are today minimally democratic have either to become frankly totalitarian or if they must become fully democratic, they must become courageously nonviolent” and Langstone Hughes ( 1902 – 1967 ) wrote “Democracy will not come today, this year, not ever through compromise and fear. I tire so of hearing people say, let’s things take its own course. Tomorrow is another day. I do not need any freedom when I am dead. I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.”

To be continued

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My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment says Beyonce

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Beyonce, shown attending the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, is slated to release a new album in July 2022

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, r Six years after she shook the culture with her powerful visual album “Lemonade,” Beyonce’s seventh solo studio work is a pulsating, sweaty collection of club tracks aimed at liberating a world consumed by ennui.

Beyonce, the paradigm-shifting music royal whose art has long established her as one of entertainment’s seminal stars, released her hotly anticipated album “Renaissance,” a house-tinged dance record primed for its summer needle drop

Eminently danceable and rife with nods to disco and EDM history — Queen Bey interpolates Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder along with James Brown and the archetypal synth line from “Show Me Love,” the 1990s house smash by Robin S — the 16-song album is poised to reign over the season.

Prior to releasing her opus Beyonce had dropped “Break My Soul” to acclaim, setting the tone for her house revival that highlighted the Black, queer and working-class artists and communities who molded the electronic dance genre, which first developed in Chicago in the 1980s.The megastar has indicated that “Renaissance” is but the first act of three, in a project she said she recorded over the course of three years during the pandemic.

“Creating this album allowed me a place to dream and to find escape during a scary time for the world,” Beyonce on her website.

“It allowed me to feel free and adventurous in a time when little else was moving,” she continued. “My intention was to create a safe place, a place without judgment. A place to be free of perfectionism and overthinking.”

“A place to scream, release, feel freedom. It was a beautiful journey of exploration.”

– ‘Expansive listening journey’ –

In the weeks preceding the release of “Renaissance” Beyonce teased the album with the steady stream of glossy, curated portraits of herself that over the past decade have become her signature.But though she’s received wide praise for keeping the world of music videos on the cutting edge, Beyonce put out her latest record sans visuals (they’re promised at a later date.)

In a statement her label Parkwood Entertainment and Columbia Records lent insight into the decision, saying the artist “decided to lead without visuals giving fans the opportunity to be limitless in their expansive listening journey.”

Beyonce’s soaring vocals have their place on “Renaissance” but it’s the rhythmic, urgent call to the dance floor that stands out, with a tapestry of influences paying homage to pioneers of funk, soul, rap, house and disco.

“Unique / That’s what you are /Stilettos kicking vintage crystal off the bar,” she sings on “Alien Superstar,” which samples Right Said Fred’s “I’m Too Sexy” in a sonic ode to voguing, the stylized house dance that emerged from the Black LGBTQ ballroom culture of the 1960s.

That song closes by sampling a speech from Barbara Ann Teer, who founded Harlem’s National Black Theatre.

On “Virgo’s Groove” Beyonce gets raunchy with an unabashed sex anthem, adding a titular nod to her star sign — the Virgo turns 41 on September 4.Along with a smattering of deep house cuts as well as tributes to gospel, funk and soul, Beyonce’s collaborators on “Renaissance” include Nile Rodgers, Skrillex, Nigerian singer Tems, Grace Jones, Pharrell and, of course, her rap mogul husband Jay-Z.

– Album leaks, Beyhive stings –

Beyonce has long bucked music’s conventional wisdom, and is credited with popularizing the surprise album drop.She later made waves by releasing “Lemonade” — the groundbreaking work that chronicled her own emotional catharsis following infidelity within a generational and racial context — first on cable television, and limiting its streaming availability.

Since “Lemonade” she’s released “Homecoming,” a live album and film featuring footage from her mythic 2018 Coachella performance, as well as the critically acclaimed song “Black Parade” — which dropped amid mass protests ignited by the police murder of George Floyd.

That song saw the megastar, who first gained fame as a member of Destiny’s Child, become the winningest woman ever at the Grammys with 28, and the gala’s most decorated singer.But for all her cultural clout and an indisputable throne in music’s pantheon, Beyonce’s songs have not seen the same commercial dominance as other contemporary global stars — her last number one solo hit was 2008’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

That’s poised to change with “Renaissance.”

The album’s release saw Queen Bey return to music business as usual, deploying pre-sales, a lead single drop, a tracklist and polished social media fodder.But it wasn’t without a hitch — in the days prior to the official release, the album leaked online.

Bey thanked her hive for waiting, and added that “I appreciate you for calling out anyone that was trying to sneak into the club early.”

“We are going to take our time and Enjoy the music,” the megastar told her fandom. “I love you deep.”–AFP

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Are we to burn borrowed dollars just to cook a meal?

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Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe

How many of the consumers who opt to use LPG for cooking, realize that they are burning the dollars borrowed with difficulty, just to cook a meal, while the use of LPG hardly brings in any foreign exchange? The reality is that while the country is struggling to raise the dollars even through loans to import adequate supplies of transport fuel, taking loans to import LPG, which will not result in any Forex earnings could hardly be considered ethical or a priority.

The CBSL data below shows the immense amount of dollars drained out of the country in the past years, purely due to the high powered promotions to coerce and trap the consumers to this non sustainable consumption.

With the escalation of world market prices and the depreciation of the rupee , the impact in rupee terms in year 2022, if we are to import the same quantities, would be much greater as estimated. The Governor of the Central Bank has quite rightly stated that

Sri Lanka will have to manage with available dollar inflows, not bridging finance: CB Governor

By Economy Next • Issue #391

However, the attempt by the government appears to be determined to continue this practice at whatever cost and detriment to the economy, to perpetuate a practice foisted on the people by unscrupulous officials, and thereby try and pretend that the gas queues are over. This has been achieved for the present, thanks to a further loan of $ 70 Million from the World Bank, to import 30,000 tons of LPG recently. Perhaps the daily visuals of the gas queues, that the electronic media took pleasure in broadcasting, may also have pushed the government to this short sighted move.

The other side of the coin is that, before the arrival of this load of LPG, while the empty cylinders remained in the queues, the people were absent. No doubt they sought and found alternative means of cooking their meals, albeit with less convenience than using gas. Obviously they would also have been helped in this by the intrepid efforts of many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs who designed and manufactured cooking stoves to use either fuel wood or charcoal, which do not require any dollars.

The novel stoves are yet to be available in adequate numbers in the market, although the manufacturers are running long waiting lists. As such some consumers may have been forced to revert to direct use of fire wood, accepting the disadvantage of smoke and soot. But Sri Lanka has already introduced most acceptable models of cooking stoves to use wood and wood charcoal, devoid of any smoke and soot. These have proved to be acceptable alternatives to the use of gas stoves for the daily cooking needs, even in high rise apartments.

The reality is that the consumers have recognized the fact that the government or the officials cannot be relied upon to provide their essential needs, and their salvation lies in seeking indigenous alternative solutions themselves which have proven to be equally effective.

But shouldn’t this positive change have been noted by the authorities and fostered with the same vigour with which the use of the imported LPG was promoted? What about the media? They diverted their cameras to the petrol and diesel queues, obviously the emerging negative scene of news value.

The officials of the Litro gas company are heard to give assurances of continued supply of LPG in the future, while they admit the loan received is adequate for supplies up to October only. According to their web page their customer base exceeds 4,000,000. The consumption in 2020 was 437,000 tons, purchased at a cost of $ 236 Million. By now it would exceed 450,000 tons annually. How far would the $ 70 Million loan go at present day gas prices? What happens next? Are they hoping to get yet another loan, when the Ministry of Power and Energy is forced to restrict the issue of essential transport fuels to a minimum, due to lack of dollars? Isn’t this a willful deception of the consumers?

Therefore, the discerning consumers are well advised to consider the following points in their decision making for the future.

  • = The import of LPG is possible only through loans which will have to be paid by our children and grandchildren
  • = Continued dependence on LPG is a never ending problem and will need more and more loans with no chance of the LPG used leading to any foreign exchange earnings
  • = The loans taken have to be repaid by the entire country ,while the benefit is enjoyed by only a limited section of the society, which is morally unacceptable
  • = For those fortunate to get even a cylinder of LPG, adopting the already available options of stoves using either charcoal or wood , for the cooking of the main meals , would substantially reduce the monthly expenditure as shown below. This would preserve the LPG cylinder bought with difficulty, to be available for any limited usage in between and for any emergencies for many months
  • = The consumers can be the drivers of the change which would reduce the demand for LPG and thus save the country millions of dollars year after year
  • = This would create a significant indigenous industry whereby the millions of dollars sent out would flow to the local industrialists and rural communities supplying the charcoal and wood. Even a 50% reduction of the imports could result in a local industry worth over Rs 80 Billion annually.

These are indeed practical and worthwhile contributions to resolve a national problem. Are each of us ready to commit to extend the use of our LPG cylinder to last several months, thereby reducing the demand to 50% or even to 25% in the coming year? This should be considered a national duty by all of us.

Just to assuage any fears of deforestation, contrary to popular belief, Sri Lanka already has adequate renewable and sustainable biomass resources formally counted as over 12,000,000 tons annually, contributing to 50% of the total primary energy demand. Simultaneously, a practical program of social reforestation has to be encouraged where the user of charcoal, plants wherever he can, plants trees to compensate for the charcoal he uses. In this way the next generation will also be assured of their own sustainable supply with absolutely no impact on the forest cover. A plant that can be recommended is Gliricidia Sepium among others, which can be harvested in two years, and thereafter every eight months.

(The writer is past president of the Bio Energy Association of Sri Lanka www.bioenergysrilanka.lk
Email: parajayasinghe@gmail.com)

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