The Olcott Oration delivered to the Old Boys Association of Ananda College (November 2020, Perth, Western Australia)
by Dr D Chandraratna
(Continued from Midweek Review
Buddhist Schools and Col Olcott
With Col Olcott’s initiative and guidance, the theosophists were convinced that the decline of Sinhalese Buddhists was the lack of proper education facilities, and the best solution was to make available educational institutes with a solid Buddhist religious background. Starting from the metropolitan centres, leading Buddhist colleges was established all over the country. A brief look at a few major Schools reveals the salient features. The endeavour united the Buddhists, Philanthropy flourished. A sense of pride galvanized the people and it gave an opportunity to bring the common folk and elites together.
Following a meeting of Buddhists at, Pettah, under the patronage of Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala Thera, an English-Buddhist school was inaugurated at 19, Prince Street on 1 November, 1886, by the Buddhist Theosophical Society. Thirty -seven students attended the first session. In 1888, when about 130 boys were attending, it moved to 61 Maliban Street, C. W. Leadbeater was appointed the first Principal of Ananda. In March 1890, the school’s proximity to a Catholic school led to controversy—and a move to 54, Maliban Street, where further growth ensued, and student enrolments rose to 200 in 1892. In 1894 the school was relocated in the suburb of Maradana. On 17 August 1895, the former English Buddhist School was renamed to Ananda College Colombo. By 1961, the college had officially become a government school.
After setting up a branch of the BTS in Galle, Col. Olcott opened up the B. T. S. English school at Pettigalawatta on 15 September 1880. This school had a short existence and later with the arrival of Dr. Bowles Daly (LLD), an Irish clergyman and a theosophist, Mahinda College was opened on 1 March 1892 at Pedlar Street in Galle, Fort. The school was named after Arhant Mahinda Thera, the Buddhist monk who brought Buddhism to Sri Lanka. Frank Lee Woodward, born in England (1871-1952) and trained as a schoolmaster arrived in Sri Lanka and assumed duties as the Principal of Mahinda College, Galle.,
In 1887 Col Olcott visited Kandy and expressed his wish to start an English-medium Buddhist School with the help of Sumangala Thera and the Mudaliyar of Kandy at that time. In June 1888, a new school with one student was opened at a place in Bodhiraja Mawatha near the present Central Bus Stand in Kurunegala, by Semenaries A. Bamunu-Arachchige The school was named Maliyadeva College after Arhat Maliyadeva. In 1946 the girls’ section was separated from the original mixed Maliyadeva College and became a separate institution for girls.
Buddhist Girl’s Education
Kumari Jayawardena argues that ‘as a result of neglect, if not gender bias, we know little about either the role of women in the Buddhist revivalist movement or of their efforts to promote Buddhist female education. As part of the Buddhist revival and as counter to the education offered by missionary schools, revivalists spoke mostly of the necessity of giving Buddhist boys a secular education whereas education of girls did not receive the same emphasis’ and early efforts to give girls a modern education had even led to bitter controversies and quarrels in the Buddhist Theosophical Society.
Jayawardena points out that there were few Buddhist women with formal education, and no local women graduates or trained teachers were available to sustain a school, Col Olcott made overtures to foreign Theosophist women to come to Sri Lanka as teachers and principals. Many of them were the early beneficiaries of women’s university education in the West, who had given up Christianity for Theosophy and Buddhism. As qualified ‘white’ principals, they gave immediate ‘status’ to Buddhist schools. They arrived at a time when ‘white women’ were being demonized by nationalists as suddis (‘immoral, promiscuous, and shameless white women’), foreign women. In the fullness of time however Theosophists like Higgins were referred to endearingly as sudu ammas (‘white mothers’) who were giving Buddhist girls an education in English, and rescuing them from the clutches of the missionaries. Up till then Buddhists desiring a modem education in English for their daughters had no choice except the Catholic and Protestant schools such as Good Shepherd Convent, Colombo (started in 1869), the Methodist Girls’ High School, Colombo (1886), the Girls’ High School, Kandy (1879), and many others established subsequently.
The lack of Buddhist schools for girls was noted by Col. Olcott (the founder of the Theosophical Society), who often spoke of the need for schools where girls could be educated in a Sinhala Buddhist atmosphere, based on the view that “the mother is the first teacher,” and “from daughter to wife, from wife to mother” . By the late 19th century, Buddhist middle-class men were looking out for companions who could stand shoulder to shoulder with the educated Sinhalese. Marrying Christians or non-Sinhalese was perceived to be a threat to Sinhala Buddhist identity.
Women theosophists who encouraged the Ceylonese to start girls schools were many.
Sarah A. English, a Theosophist from Massachusetts (who later taught in Sri Lanka); she spoke of the importance of education for women, described the progress of women’s education in the USA and urged Buddhist women to resist Christianity
The Women’s Education Society started four small schools teaching in Sinhala at Wellawatte, Kandy, Gampaha and Panadura, and in 1890 one in Ambalangoda, but its ambitious project was the Sanghamitta School (teaching in English) started at Maradana with 20 pupils. Olcott who recruited Katherine Pickett to lead the project died soon after arrival, was later instrumental in getting Marie Museaus Higgins, (1855-1926), a German widow of an American Theosophist, to become the next principal.
According to Kumari Jayawardena, ‘there were serious differences of opinion over the running of the Sanghamitta School in 1894 and Higgins then left to start another school, Museaus College, on land donated by a Buddhist philanthropist. The fortunes of Sanghamitta School fluctuated. In 1896 its management was transferred to the Buddhist Theosophical Society, and in 1898 to the Mahabodhi Society (founded by Anagarika Dharmapala). The Sanghamitta School, under Dharmapala became more religious and conservative and was linked to a religious order started by one of Dharmapala’s friends. Internal acrimony led to a rival breakaway school, Museaus College, which became the more fashionable one for Sinhala Buddhist women. Having given her own maiden name to the school, Marie Museaus Higgins had a personal stake in its success. There were a few early academic successes; by 1897 Elsie de Silva passed the Junior Cambridge examination and Lucy de Abrew was the first Sinhala woman to enter Medical College in 1902, also winning the Jeejeebhoy Scholarship’.
By 1910 there was the need for a good Buddhist girls’ high schools, on the lines of missionary schools to be established in the important towns of Ceylon. This move may have been influenced by the example of Ramanathan College, which started with much fanfare in 1913 by P. Ramanathan. While most of the leading Buddhists were content merely to deplore the lack of good Buddhist girls’ schools, Selestina Dias stepped in to change the situation. Born in 1858, she was the daughter of Solomon Rodrigo of Panadura, a leading liquor merchant and landowner of his time. She married Jeremias Dias of Panadura who was a member of the powerful Arrack Syndicate and at a time when it was unusual for women to run businesses, she did so very effectively, and was known popularly as ‘Rainda Nona,’ (Lady Arrack Renter). Many referred to Mrs. Dias as Mahopasikava (Great Lady Devotee) and compared her to Visakha, the famous benefactor of Buddha’s time, also the wife and daughter of a leading merchant.
With the Dias money, the Buddhist Girls’ College was begun in 1917 with 47 pupils; Dr. Bernice Thornton Banning, an American Theosophist (with an M.A. and Ph.D.) was the principal for the first year. In the period up to 1933, Visakha Vidyalaya had a succession of eight foreign principals. From 1933 to 1945, the principal was an American, Clara Motwani, nee Heath, married to an Indian Theosophist; she was succeeded by Susan George Pulimood of Kerala who was principal from 1945 to 1967. It was only in 1967 that the first Sinhala Buddhist Woman Hema Jayasingha became the principal.
The opening up of secular education to those who were deprived of had tremendous consequences for the Sinhalese in particular and the country in general. Col Olcott’s efforts produced in the country all different forms of men and women. Buddhist Colleges produced seers and saints, philosophers and scientists, technocrats and researchers, writers and politicians among the Sinhalese that a pirivena education could never accomplish. Visionaries cannot carry out metaphysics and religion because it is not a rational pursuit and even religious knowledge cannot be furthered in rational conversation without a secular institution. In so far as a future democratic society with a democratic political process cannot be ushered in unless by reason of its general affinity to scientific process, a Buddhist middle class took up the challenge. For women in particular there was much discussion on the need for educated Buddhist wives, presentable in bourgeois and colonial society, become enterprising managers as well as educated mothers who would reproduce and correctly socialize the next generation of Sinhala Buddhists. The theosophists and Buddhists working together bequeathed to the country a secular education, pluralist liberal values, which an imperial power will never impart by example. Ananda College and Vishaka with all the other Buddhist schools in the island furthered a vision for Sri Lanka as evidenced by the products that yielded over the years.
Use existing resources for agri-food sector in Mahaweli areas
By MAHINDA PANAPITIYA
Irrigation Engineer who has worked for Mahaweli Project since 80s
As originally planned, the present phase of the Mahaweli Project should be focused on social and economic development of the families settled in Mahaweli areas. It could be done by promoting food production in a sustainable way, to gain the return on investment of capital cost incurred on the infrastructure constructed for delivering water to fertile lands in the dry zone. The potential available in lands under Mahaweli Project, which cover about 1/3 of farming areas of the Dry Zone, could easily help the country to become self-sufficient in healthy foods, deviating from monotonous rice cultivation, provided it is managed with a right vision.
According to the concept explained below, there is a need to change the present management approach to a role focusing food production using limited water resources in the Dry Zone. For example, the term “Block Manager” in the Mahaweli Management System was used during the construction phase in the 70s, because areas were blocked for the purpose of managing construction and settlement activities. There are five such blocks, each of about 3,000 Hectares, under Kalawewa Reservoir. Now the project is in the production phase. Therefore, the Block Managers appointed earlier should now be named as Regional Production Managers, because the very word BLOCK implies negative at the production phase.
The role of a Production Manager replacing Block Manage is a completely different discipline from what was adapted during the construction phase. In the current production phase, Irrigation projects should be perceived as a Food Producing “Factory” – where water is the main raw material. A Production Manager’s focus should be to maximize food production, deviating from Rice Only Mode, to cater the market needs earning profits for farmers who are the owners of the “factory”. Canal systems within the project area are just “Belts” conveying raw materials (water) in a Typical Factory. Farm labor, fertilisers etc. are other inputs.
Required Management Shift
In order to implement the above management concept, there is a need for a paradigm shift at national level in managing large scale irrigation projects. In the new management paradigm, the farmers would be treated as clients, not the servants at the mercy of receiving water, according to rigid schedules decided by irrigation management staff. In this approach, the main purpose of managing irrigation systems is to deliver water to the farm gate at the right time in the right quantity.
It is also very pathetic to observe that main clients of irrigation projects (farmers) are now dying of various diseases caused by indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals. Therefore, there is a need to minimize the damages caused to the ecosystems where these food production factories are located. Therefore, the management objectives should also be focused on producing multiple types of organically grown crops, profitably without polluting the soil and groundwater aquifers.
Existing Engineering staff should either be trained or new recruitments having Production Engineering background, should be made. Water should be perceived as the most limited input, which needs to be managed profitably with the farming community – jointly. Each Production Manager could be allocated a Fixed Volume of water annually, and their performance could be measured in terms of Rupees earned for the country per Unit Volume of water, while economically upgrading a healthy lifestyle of farmers. Staff of agencies such as Central Engineering Consultancy Burro (CECB), established in 80s at construction phase of the Mahaweli Project, can be trained to play the role of Production Engineering. CECB could be renamed as Central Food Production Burro (CFPB).
In addition to the government salary, the staff should also be compensated in the form of incentives, calculated in proportion to income generated by them from their management areas. It should be a Win-Win situation for both farmers as well as officers responsible for managing the food production factory. In other countries, the term used to measure their performance is $ earned per gallon of water to the country, without damaging the ecosystem. Another advantage of this approach is that the young generation of the farmers automatically get attracted to commercial agriculture because of high income generation.
We were able to introduce some of the concepts explained in this note during 2000 to 2004, under a program called Mahaweli Restructuring and Rehabilitation Project (MRRP) funded by the World Bank. It was done by operating the Distributary canals feeding each block as elongated Village Tanks. Recently we tried to modernize the same concept at Pilot Scale in System B, by independently arranging funds from ICTA. In that project, called Easy Water, we introduced an SMS communication system to the farmers, so that they can order water from the Maduru Oya Main Reservoir by sending a SMS, when they need rather; than depend on time tables decided by authorities as normally practiced.
The World Bank also recognised the above concept in 2003, as the best water management approach suitable for South Asian countries. Due to the lack of vision of existing managers in the irrigation sector focusing on food production, the above approach has not yet reaped the full benefits. What we need in Sri Lanka, is a political leadership to create challenges for irrigation officials to play a role of educated profit-oriented farmers, deviating them from Rice only mode, by promoting concepts similar to above. Also note that while I worked for a project in Azerbaijan funded by the International Fund for Agriculture Development, I was able to introduce the same concept and they are now using it successfully. I do not see any reason why we could not practice here.
Would anyone in power and sure to lose an election call for an election?
If she/he would, why don’t tyrants seek election periodically?
(no kerena deege hevnallath adai! Even the shadows of a failing marriage are misaligned.)
I was mightily amused by the demands of several astute political leaders in and outside parliament that president Wickremasinghe uses his constitutional discretionary power and dissolve the parliament, after February 2023. Consider for a moment reasons why he simply cannot.
Wickremasinghe ignominiously lost an election to parliament from his district, after 45 years and after perhaps ten elections, all of which he had won handsomely. Not one member of the party he led, the oldest in the country and which unconventionally had made a president in 2015, won election to parliament in 2020. The party, as a whole, collected enough votes from the entire country to entitle it to nominate one person to sit in parliament. Bhikkhu Ratana’s hurriedly put-together party did equally well! Bhikkhu Ratana was as well entitled to be installed as president as Wickremasinghe. He had distinguished himself by advocating the production of crops without chemical fertilisers and pesticides (vasa visa nati kema). After 12 months of prevarication, Wickremasinghe decided to sit in parliament. He pleased himself in the House with some occasional clever witticisms. After more than two years, a vastly popular Prime Minister was forced out of office. Suddenly, this lone pine in the wilderness grew so tall that Wickremasinghe was appointed Prime Minister. Two months later he was President of the Republic, all constitutionally proper. But the framers of the constitution had made fools of the people, in whose name the constitution was made. In the constitution, there is no office of a vice-president who would be elected to the office along with the president and who would assume office as president for the rest of the period of five years, in the event the office of president felt vacant for any reason Nor was there a provision that in the event that a person not expressly elected by the people as president of the republic were to come to hold that office within the constitution, that he/she would hold the office of the president no longer than it was necessary to elect a new president, to wit, four calendar months. The great republic to the north of us has a vice-president and so has the oldest republic in the world, the United States of America. In our country, the lack of that provision paved the way for a politician who failed to win a seat in parliament in 2020 to decide the fate of that same parliament in 2022. How bizarre? Is that ironic or tragic? Do we laugh or do we cry?
There are two forces contributing to an equilibrium where it is in the interests of the president and a large group of members of parliament to avoid dissolving parliament. The first force is exerted by Wickremesinghe who is abundantly aware that he would lose in an election for president. Recall that two years ago, he could not win a seat in parliament. The other force comes from a majority of members of parliament who are sure to lose their seats in an election, any time soon. Among them, there is a large number of MPs who entered parliament for the first time and would lose the right to a lifetime pension which they would not earn if they did not complete five years in parliament. To most of them, this is a valuable asset which they loth to lose. I am advised that according to the Constitution, the president has the discretion to dissolve the parliament after a minimum of two and half years from the date of their election to office. Parliament itself has the power to request the president to dissolve parliament, provided more than two-thirds of all members of parliament adopt a resolution asking the president to do so. The second force discussed earlier prevents such motion. These two forces ensure that no matter the commotion created by those that seek the president to resign and parliament to dissolve itself, there is sufficient inertia to make the status quo stable. They are each perfectly dependent on the other for survival and they dearly crave survival. The president cannot dissolve parliament and survive. Nor can members of parliament survive without Wickremasinghe a president who, on his own, would not dissolve parliament. This hysteresis can last for about another 3 years legally and longer illegally. I would not rule out the latter probability.
Prime Minister Rajapaksa and President Rajapaksa were both thrown off their perches by forces outside parliament.
Science vs religion – II
Of course, there are many shortcomings and limitations of the scientific method. Scientific knowledge alone is certainly not enough to make humans attain their full potential. The human values we live by, and questions of meaning and purpose, morality or ethics. are not amenable to hypotheses, modelling, and mathematical equations. They rely on methods that are interpretive, speculative, and philosophical.
By GOVIND BHATTACHARJEE
(The first part of this article reproduced from our Asia News Network partner in India, The Statesman, appeared on 25 Nov.)
“The known is finite, the unknown infinite”, the British biologist Thomas Huxley wrote in 1887, “Intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.”
Before the last century, the vast unknown territory of inexplicability was ruled by religion.But the last century has seen a tremendous explosion of scientific knowledge, and ever since, science has been reclaiming more and more territory from religion so that scholars started predicting a diminishing relevance and eventual disappearance of religion from human society.
While it is true that religion’s stranglehold has been remarkably weakened in most countries during the last half-century, except in the diehard Islamic states which stubbornly refuse to reform Islam, the resurgence of religion in our contemporary socio-political life negates the prediction of religion’s demise.
There is too much religion on the streets now that is increasingly intruding unto our lives. It is not the spirituality that Sagan had talked about, it is religion in its crudest original form – bloodthirsty, demanding total and unquestioning allegiance from its followers who would not shy away from spilling the blood of non-believers. While science continues to conquer ever newer frontiers and invents technologies that are revolutionising our society, a full transition to a scientific society is not possible without the complete displacement of religion.
From medicine to biotech, from electronics to telecommunication, from AI to nanoscience, the progress of science during the last 50 years has completely transformed the way we organize society, conduct business, and connect with people for ideation.
The paradox is that while we are exploring the frontiers of science and technology driven by limitless human yearning and thirst for knowledge, we are also reinforcing the prejudices, bigotry, and intolerance of contrary ideas and beliefs in our social and public life with renewed vigour and pride. Of course, there are many shortcomings and limitations of the scientific method.Scientific knowledge alone is certainly not enough to make humans attain their full potential. The German philosopher Edmund Husserl argued against recurrent tendencies of applying the methods of natural science in the research of human affairs, which are essentially outside empirical scientific approaches.
The human values we live by, and questions of meaning and purpose, morality or ethics, etc. are not amenable to hypotheses, modelling, and mathematical equations. They rely on methods that are interpretive, speculative, and philosophical. This is always an epistemological problem in social sciences, and this is where religion is supposed to supplement the techno-scientific worldview of science to understand how Nature works her laws in the universe and in human society.
But Nature also includes her children and us humans, and her well-being depends on their activities. No one knows that better than us, especially at this juncture of time when the world is precariously poised between sustainability and irreversible devastation from uncontrolled human greed.
Religion was supposed to impart and promote morality, ethics, love, and compassion among humans to make them understand their symbiotic relationships with nature, with fellow beings, and with animals. Religion was supposed to teach humans to limit their greed, increase empathy towards others, and strike a harmonious balance with nature to make the world a better place for all to live. What it has done and the moral blindness it has promoted instead is for all to see and judge.
Religion today is relentlessly marching to colonize every aspect of our socio-economic and political life with increasing aggressiveness. Suffering has been trivialised by it, the pain has been glorified by it, killing has been sanctified by it and the tattered social fabric that has resulted is being flaunted with egotistical pleasure and pride.
Though it will be unfair to blame religion alone, it has to take a large share of the blame for this sorry state of affairs. It is propelling us energetically to forget our humanity and respect for those who do not share our faith and driving us towards an Orwellian world where intercultural understanding, the richness of culture and diversity, and the ideal of an inclusive and pluralistic society are strongly denounced in favour of a blind pursuance of faith as dictated by its self-proclaimed guardians and their bigoted followers.
The ideal of peace and harmony are receding at the speed of light as religion strives to regain the territory it has lost to science and is countering science with what can best be described as a pseudoscience that is carving out a niche for itself – and a wide one at that.To quote Huxley again, “The question of all questions for humanity is that of the determination of man’s place in nature and his relation to the Cosmos.”
Religion derived sustenance from the concept that humanity was positioned proudly at the centre of God’s magnificent creation, the Earth, around which revolved everything, and humanity – the crowning achievement of God’s creation in his own image, the pinnacle of his divine handiwork, occupied the centre-stage on this earth.Science would shatter the concept, but not before thousands of Giordano Brunos were burned at the stake for holding a contrary view.
In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas Kuhn convincingly explained how paradigm shifts take place in the history of science when one dominant worldview is replaced by another. He showed that scientific progress is like Darwinian evolution – a process of selection of one amongst all the competing theories that have the most predictive power puzzle-solving ability, a concept that was later supported by Bas van Fraassen in The Scientific Image (1980).
But each such major paradigm shift has shaken the edifice of religion from which it could never recover. Thus, when the geocentric Ptolemaic worldview was replaced by the Copernican worldview, man lost his centrality in the scheme of things. Till then, heaven was in the sky, hell was underground and God in heaven ruled all three while religion regulated the entry to heaven or hell.
Copernicus banished the earth from the centre of the Universe, and later Hubble displaced the entire Milky way from the centre of the universe, giving us instead an expanding universe of billions of galaxies in which neither is humanity at the centre of creation nor is the earth at the centre of the universe; in fact, the universe itself is one tiny dot in a multiverse of many universes.
Thus, God’s magnificent creation has been relegated to the position of a second-rate planet attached to a third-rate star, discarding religion’s medieval fancies. Today we are humbled by the immensity of the universe and mesmerized by the eternal silence of infinite space.
But for religion, the determination of man’s place in nature and his relation to the cosmos was not a question, it was an irrefutable truth questioning which meant inviting risk. Copernicus wrote De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelesticum on his deathbed in 1543, beyond the morbid reach of the Inquisition.
Galileo and Bruno were not that fortunate. Science established that neither does life enjoy any special privilege – countless worlds exist in deep space devoid of life, and countless species have become extinct in the course of evolution. We may be one someday, and going by our misdeeds on this planet, that day even may not be too far.
Darwin would finally dislodge humanity from the centre of the biological universe, giving it a lowly ancestor that was too humble compared to an almighty God to be a creator of such intelligence as possessed by man. Thankfully, the inquisition was dead, but prejudiced minds that shun logic were not. They are again back at the centre stage in force, flaunting scriptures, dictating how we should conduct ourselves, threatening to push us into a hell of ignominy and violence if we disobey.
Creationism is still being taught in many US public schools, despite the Supreme Court ruling to the contrary. Half the people in the USA still don’t believe in evolution, their share in India is unknown. But here, vigorous attempts are now on somehow bringing God inside the classroom in any guise, be it a hijab, or anything else.
Worship only makes you a slave. A slave forgets his reason, and his purpose for existence, and ultimately becomes an automaton to serve the master – Religion – and obey its commands without thinking.Religion is not the source of spirituality, peace, morality, virtue, and ethics any longer. Its principles may be eternal, but its methods are gross. It has now become the source of violence, hatred, unconcealed greed, corruption, and a road to power.
Instead of breaking barriers, it is building them afresh, destroying the very roots upon which mankind has built civilizations through the millennia. Don’t expect the State to control religion and the street will always celebrate it with ever-ostentatious pomp and splendour. It is therefore for us citizens to shield our children from the corrupting influences of religion. It has no place in the fabric of the mind of civilized men and women, just as God has no place in the fabric of the space-time that science tries to untangle. We don’t need the ancient wisdom of the spirit to guide us, because religion which was supposed to imbibe it has lost its divinity. It is now for science to redeem religion.
Bid to use private member’s motion to put off LG polls alleged
Use existing resources for agri-food sector in Mahaweli areas
Lashmika, Rusanda guide St. Peter’s to final
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