by Dr Sarala Fernando
A remark attributed to the US Congress that “Sri Lanka is a valuable piece of real estate” had made the news here hinting at the strategic value of our island location while some had connected the remark to the MCC, an economic project integral to the US pivot to the Indo Pacific.
This sudden interest in Sri Lanka’s land assets made the headlines after Harvard economists in 2016 advised on the incorporation of a land project under the MCC to address constraints to national growth by a re-survey, re-valuation and deed grants on lands around the country. Local experts argued that such a programme would lead to pressure on smallholders to sell land to more powerful entities for commercial exploitation increasing rural poverty, environmental and wild life destruction and water scarcity.
The Harvard economists and the MCC have come and gone. However, it seems the spirit of their view of land as a commodity is still alive judging by recent government decision to release nearly 1.5 million acres of other state forests to be repurposed for development work. This has become a hot topic of discussion and environmentalists have filed court cases to revert to the previous protection provided to unrecognized forest covers.
The silent constituents, the trees and the animals have felt the brunt of this decision with the increased deforestation and destruction of mangroves, the killing of large mammals like elephants and even our prized leopards and most recently hundreds of birds found dead, probably poisoned, off Wilpattu. Are there criminal gangs behind the sudden spate of shooting of tuskers and snaring of leopards, questions still not answered by the authorities? The government focus on land has extended to the urban areas where long standing wholesale markets, social and sports clubs have been taken over by the UDA with scant explanation of the reasons behind the seizures and plans for redevelopment of these valuable lands (urban housing/recreation for the public?). Selling lands, the equivalent of the proverbial “family silver” is to be expected in these extraordinary times where Sri Lanka has heavy foreign debt obligations.
However since the government land acquisition strategy remains opaque, without consultation or explanation of any business plan, public protests are now spreading even to non-agricultural foreign investment proposals ranging from allocating the ECT terminal in Colombo port and the KKS port to India, to mining of titanium from sands in Mannar – a water scarce area – to an Australian company . Land issues came to the fore early when the Tourism authorities set up a one-stop shop for new hotel construction despite the crisis in the hotel industry with the Covid epidemic and drying up of tourist flows. In other countries, empty hotels are being taken over by the government and converted to new uses like urban housing; however our authorities seem more concerned about allocating land in water shortage areas like Kalpitiya and Mirissa for 600 room hotels, so called “foreign” investments promoted by local barons.
In Yala, a new foreign managed hotel has suddenly emerged and is said to be destined for those “high spending” East European tourists irrespective that Yala is suffering from over-tourism and the animals are more in need of food and water. Added to the confusion, in parliament it was announced that the source of the second wave of Covid infection had been traced to a Ukrainian pilot and now the public is in a panic over the pilot project to bring in hundreds of Ukrainian tourists.
Public protests are spreading in agriculture areas with the Mahaweli authorities demarcating lands for large scale foreign investment taking from forest reservations and commons, dislocating animal feeding grounds and overriding even the demands of the local villagers for protection of their rights to customary land and forest use.
A recent news item featured the Agriculture Ministry offering Rs 700 million to local farmers to grow fruit for a foreign multinational company which will provide the plants and drip technology and presumably buy the fruit cheap and retain the export earnings for its own profit! What will be the value addition for the government if they have also provided tax concessions for the foreign investor? Even more serious, what will be the negative impact of these tasteless new hybrids on our heritage varieties of delicious local pineapple and bananas? Once the valuable land is allocated, the promised foreign money transfer may not even take place, the foreign investor’s preference usually being to bring in little foreign exchange and to borrow from local banks. Thus, when there is trouble, the “footloose” foreign investor gets away leaving local banks and insurances saddled with non-performing loans.
From the time of the Greek civilization, people have been lamenting over the vagaries of weather and other threats invariably faced by agriculture, which makes large scale operations a risky business. The problem is that tax concessions are being offered today to promote large- scale agriculture without the safeguards to prevent expensive failures. Even local large plantation companies are finding it difficult to operate today with all their experience, given the issues of soil depletion, non use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer and rising labour costs. Yet it seems an intrepid developer with more experience in seafaring than agriculture had demanded 40,000 acres to grow maize – (mind you he may not have heard about the fallworm crisis). Fortunately those in charge of the Mahaweli lands had allocated only 5,000 acres for a trial project but still this is hardly a good example of due diligence which should look for experience in agriculture rather than the usage of prison labour, as announced by the entrepreneur.
Before it is too late, we should learn from the experience of our neighbour India. I recall a lecture by the eminent Dr M. S. Swaminathan many years ago at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute (then Sri Lanka Institute of International Relations) where he prophesied that the intensive agriculture “green revolution” would eventually render barren productive areas of their country due to heavy chemical applications degrading the soil. In India today, they are returning to traditional farming practices to revive the soil, re-foresting and trying to connect the farmer to the markets.
Instead of cattle grazing on open land, sheds are being constructed within the village and herders encouraged to bring feed to the cattle. Should we not even now look to small, smart and more sustainable practices to make small farmers more independent? Talking with farmers growing organic high value rice varieties on their lands in Wellawaya with support from Jetwing, it seems they still have faith in traditional practices, calling the mechanical harvester “boothaya” and preferring to bring down buffaloes from Bandarawela to the tractor! Bangladesh is tapping the Indian experience in elephant conservation which is a new area of their bilateral cooperation. Private sector investors in India have recently set up a hospital for treatment of sick domesticated elephants with ultra modern equipment.
Here in Sri Lanka, despite the interest of private philanthropists, the government appears unwilling to give land for an elephant sanctuary or “soft” release area for translocated bull elephants. A central question is why, as a Buddhist nation, Sri Lankans have not included into the Constitution, the protection of animals and living creatures as illustrated in every step of the Gautama Buddha’s life journey and his preachings? Even today, many proposals to strengthen the environmental safeguards and ethical treatment for animals have been sent to the Committee to prepare a new Constitution, but no one has even received an acknowledgement! By contrast, the Indian Constitution is way ahead of us, Article 51-A (g) which deals with Fundamental Duties of the citizens states: “It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures.”
Our land endowment also includes the small islands, over 100 around the mainland, enabling extension over expanses of territorial seas. Instead of pushing only commercial fisheries, should the government not think about declaring a marine sanctuary zone all around our island, a domestic security Zone of Peace with proper management safeguards for national land and maritime resources? Sri Lanka received too many multi-day boats after the tsunami, several of which have been converted to nefarious purposes like illicit immigration and smuggling.
Furthermore, why prioritize investment in commercial fisheries at a time when global attention is being called to clean
ing the oceans, replenishing fish stocks, restoring coral reefs and mangroves affected by rising sea waters and ocean temperature rise? Protecting our seas and coastline should be given high priority since our island is in the vicinity of some of the busiest sea lanes in the world and vulnerable to disasters such as New Diamond oil tanker which caught fire off the East Coast.
Cooperation with India has been vital in this regard throughout the years as they have access to both expertise and stocks of fire fighting foam which can be quickly deployed.
While enhancing cooperation with India in addressing marine disasters and security issues such as smuggling, illicit immigration and terrorism/criminal related activities of mutual concern, as a small state with no pretensions for offensive power projection, we should feel free to disagree with India on the imperatives of high defence spending and partnering with the US on security manoeuvres in the Indian Ocean with their latest weaponry.
The recent Malabar naval exercises by the Quad in the Bay of Bengal and naval sonars are believed to have impacted the unprecedented beaching of some 100 pilot whales in Kalutara around the same time, rescued after a marathon effort by our navy and volunteers.
(Sarala Fernando, retired from the Foreign Ministry as Additional Secretary and her last Ambassadorial appointment was as Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva. Her Ph.D was on India-Sri Lanka relations and she writes now on foreign policy, diplomacy and protection of heritage).
Banana: the everyday super fruit
by Randima Attygalle
Be it visiting loved ones for the new year or on any other occasion, taking a comb of bananas along is a time-honoured practice among Lankans. We are not alone in our love for this delectable fruit relished over centuries by mankind and herbivorous animals alike. One of the most widely grown fruit crops in the world, banana occupies a top place in the fresh fruit trade, second only to orange. Banana (Musa spp.) is native to South Asia and Western Pacific Region. The wild ancestors of cultivated banana Musa acuminate Colla and Musa balbisiana Colla are distributed in South and South East Asian countries including Sri Lanka.
The earliest written reference to bananas in Sri Lankan history goes back to about 341 A.D. the time of King Buddhadasa who is reputed to have been a skilled physician. The king had recorded in his Sarartha Sangragaha, the medicinal values of various parts of the banana plant. There is also evidence that the prehistoric inhabitants of the island, over 12,000 years ago had eaten wild bananas. The seed remains of ati-eta kesel which had been found in a carbonized state in the stone-age cave sites of Batadombalena in the Ratnapura District prove the long existence of banana in Sri Lanka.
“Botanically known to be a kind of berry, banana is the only fruit crop equally recognized as a fruit and a vegetable. Although ‘bananas’ and ‘plantains’ are commonly used to name the fruit, there is a distinction between them. The two major types of edible banana cultivars in the country are classified into banana and plantain each with different morphological characters and uses. “While banana is considered to be the ‘dessert’ type, plantains are the cooking type,” explains Dr. Kalyani Ketipearachchi, former Principal Scientist (Fruit Agronomy), Fruits Crops Research and Development Station of the Department of Agriculture in Gannoruwa, Peradeniya. Today what is known as ‘ornamental banana species’ have also found a place in home gardens, she adds.
While almost 1,000 varieties of bananas are found across the world, there are around 50 varieties locally found, says Dr. Ketipearachchi. Other than a few varieties introduced scientifically through international research projects such as Ambun types, Cavendish type, recommended varieties of Kandula and
Pulathisi, almost all the others are indigenous to the country, she adds.
Sri Lankan bananas are found in three main groups: the Mysore, the Kolikuttu and the Cavendish. Ambul and seeni bananas are of Mysore group. Kolikuttu, suwendel, puwalu and rath kehel belong to the Kolikuttu group, while embun, anamalu, nethrampalam and bim-kesel belong to the Cavendish group. While all these are popular dessert bananas, alu-kesel or ash plantain is a cooking variety. Among the cooking types are Kithala, Mondan, Etamuru, and Marathamana which are however not as common as alu-kesel. Nethrampalam, she says, is the most expensive local variety. “This is not commonly available as it is not yet cultivated on a large scale. Nethrapalam is believed to help improve eyesight and contains aphrodisiac qualities. Bimkesel or Navkesel is also a Cavendish type known as Sri Lankan Cavendish. The tree is of dwarf size and its fruit bunch almost touches the ground.
Bananas are a popular fruit crop ensuring high economic returns throughout the year. “This is the fruit’s biggest attraction, as it could be grown across the country even at very high elevations unlike other seasonal fruits such as rambutan or mango. Moreover, banana can be harvested in shorter periods, bearing fruit in about ten months,” notes Dr. Ketipearachchi. The economic life span of a tree is about four years.
Nearly 50,000 hectares of land are under banana in Sri Lanka – that’s about 54% of the total fruit cultivation extent, according to the Department of Agriculture. It is also our highest export fruit crop. According to the Export Development Board’s numbers, Cavendish has a high demand in the international market and ambul and rath kesel are also exported in small quantities. Middle East countries are the largest buyers of Lankan bananas, (largely Cavendish) followed by several European countries including Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands and the UK. Japan and New Zealand are also among lead buyers.
Along with its everyday presence in Lankan homes, the fruit is also part of the country’s religious and cultural fabric. All of it, be it leaves, flower bud, pseudo stem or corm, no part of this plant goes unutilized. It is also a popular weaning food for infants as it is easily digestible, soft and palatable. Rice and curry wrapped in banana leaves, popularly known as kesel-kola buth is much relished, giving a special flavour to a meal apart from its packaging function.
Harvard School of Public Health in their literature alludes to banana as the ‘iconic golden fruit’ which carries the title of the ‘first super-food endorsed by the American Medical Association in the early 20th century as a health food for children and a treatment for celiac disease. Rich in potassium, vitamin A and C, banana can easily fulfill the minimum daily fruit requirement of 100gms, says Dr. Renuka Jayatissa, Head of the Department of Nutrition at the Medical Research Institute and President of the Sri Lanka Medical Nutrition Association.
An advocate of ‘a banana a day keeps the doctor away,’ she remarks that banana is a natural intervention for tropical lands like ours to supplement the minerals lost due to heat. “It’s actually a wonder fruit with many advantages – nutrition value, affordability, availability and its natural peel-wrapper, makes it a safe and a practical fruit that could be eaten at any time without interfering with our meal patterns.”
Nearly 50% of Lankan adults have high blood pressure says the Clinical Nutritionist. Rich is potassium, the fruit is recommended for maintaining blood pressure levels. However, those with potassium-related health issues need to be conscious of how much of the fruit they eat, says Dr. Jayatissa. As it is rich in calories and carbohydrates, it should be eaten in moderation by diabetics and other high risk groups such as the overweight and the obese, to prevent glycemic overloading. “People unnecessarily fear banana which should not be the case. Eating in moderation is the key,” she notes.
The nutritional level of different kinds of bananas varies but this is not very significant, so people have the advantage of enjoying their preferred variety, Dr. Jayatissa says. “Ambul has more citric acid, and that’s the reason why it doesn’t agree with those who have citric acid intolerance. But such cases are now not very common. Rath-kesel has more beta-carotenes and is good for those with Vitamin A deficiency. Anamalu is recommended to treat diarrhea as well as constipation,” she explains emphasizing that this fruit can also meet the recommended daily dose of vitamin C as a buffer against COVID-19.
Citing Thailand’s example, she says that the wastage of this wonder fruit must be avoided. “In Thailand, hardly any bananas are thrown away. Overripe fruit is sun-dried and diced into small pieces which they enjoy with ice cream or smoothies. We can learn from this and even add it to our much loved curd. Banana peel soaked in water for three days is a good fertilizer”, Dr Jayatissa says, encouraging Lankans to be more creative with this abundant fruit.
Rock it with FROK !
by Rochelle Palipane Gunaratne
FROK, the brainchild of the innovative fashionista and trend setter, Natalie Jayasuriya blazed into the online shopping platform with a desire to provide locally designed haute couture for the young and trendy fashion conscious youth. Its marketing has been designed to target a young demographic of 16 upwards, however the products available on the site are for the Perpetually Youthful, whether it be Female or Male, those who are fiercely spirited and live in a realty where filters are key. As online purchasing dynamics have reportedly proven, an influential image or persona fuels and secures consumer decisions.
The platform offers a mix of FROKE Signature designs and select collections from local designers who will showcase their interpretation of the authentic FROK Feel.
“Guilty as charged,’ admitted the enthusiastic entrepreneur who admitted to shopping overseas for her ultra- chic clothing, adding that she has perennially faced a brick wall when hunting for that, “little black dress,” or clothes that accentuate and enhance the unique individuality of a person. Thus the lockdown paved the way for some research among the retro teens and young adults who expressed their views, adding that online shopping has grown stealthily due to a dearth in clothing stores that cater to their taste. Thus the wheels were set in motion and together with Mario Gooneratne, Natalie established FROK, a Contemporary Fashion Forward Online platform with a pragmatic and conscious brand ethos.
Forming bonds through FROK
The backbone of FROK is a scalable e-commerce platform that captures vast amounts of data points from the shoppers so that we can use machine learning to bring out hyper-personalized experiences to our valued clients” says Natalie Jayasuriya “expect to make use of valuable data that we capture so that we can offer a great shopping experience.” We possess the ideal recipe for morphing fast fashion into high fashion, without altering the price point.
FROK is completely customer centric. “The customer will actually be able to reach out and speak to a member of the FROK Family, who will assist them as we believe it is essential to retain close bonds with our customers. The HUMAN Element is our strongest USP”.
Trendy fashions at your fingertips
All the user journeys of the FROK platform are mobile optimized. “We’re catering to the mobile savvy customers who demand best in class experiences while on the go. Each page is designed carefully by taking new age design concepts that are optimized for all form factors of mobile phones. A mobile app which is native to Apple and Android will be launched within this year”.
Founders of FROK
Mario Gooneratne, Director of FROK is also the founder and CEO of LinearSix (PVT) Ltd, a boutique technology and consulting company with a strong focus in helping banks, finance and insurance companies be better by implementing cutting edge software solutions to digitally transform them.
The independent business woman, Natalie has earned due respect and awe for her successful repertoire in PR and Marketing. She has always had an interest in entertainment and F&B ventures which lead her to be at the forefront of the conceptualization and development of immensely popular nightclubs, bars and restaurants in Sri Lanka over the last decade. The wonder woman, has carved her own path from get go, thanks to the strong work ethics and values wish were inculcated by her parents since her formative years. Since childhood she found herself being immersed in an effervescent culture in which growth was closely associated with the freedom to explore new possibilities. This creative streak coupled with an intense passion to bring Sri Lankan creations which appeal to the specified age group into the mainstream, making it easily accessible resulted in the founding of FROK!
IN A FROKSHELL:
• To be the Sri Lankan hybrid of ASOS or SHEIN for Sri Lanka
• Support and market home grown vendors and adapt to Global trends to fit within OUR cultural context
• Help young Fashion Designers do what they love, and design and we will take care of the rest.
• To Provide Trendy, fast fashion products on an efficient and easy to use platform, essentially, making aspirational wear affordable and attainable, locally, regionally and eventually globally.
• Aim to keep revenue within our aisle instead of channelling it overseas
• To start by regulating sizing for Sri Lankan products
• FROK will be positioned as a forerunner for fashion forecasting, utilizing a relatable online platform.
Pix by Dharmasena Welipitiya
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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