Superstition and early indoctrination
The two articles that appeared in the Midweek Review of The Island, November 10, titled, ‘Nice Racism’, based on Robin DiAngelo’s book, Nice Racism, by Prof. C.P. Sarvan and ‘World Science Day: Appraise nations to dispel pseudoscience’ by Prof. Kirthi Tennakone are timely, stimulating and also complementary. They question racism and pseudoscience, both of which flourish in a climate of superstition and conformism that feed on each other.
COVID-19 has laid bare the latent superstitious character of our collective mindset. Looking at the people, thronged to secure a vial of concoction many moons ago, one would have wondered whether they were feeling the presence of the concerned goddess, hovering above them, to protect all of them against sure infection by physical proximity. The potion received state patronage through ministerial intervention that incorporated a ceremonial swallowing of the brew by some VIPs inside the House; and the dropping of pots of ‘blessed’ water into waterways. It was an embarrassing period of augmenting and celebration of superstition.
Usually, belief in superstition is blamed on lack of education. However, even the educated are not always resistant to superstition. From early days, children start forming ideas that are etched into their undeveloped minds, and they, as a rule, remain undisturbed by cognition, which is a later attribute of our brain development. Before formal education, children begin to imbibe many things as a result of being a member of a family, which forces them to prematurely ‘learn’ some of the most complicated concepts that are well beyond their limited grasp. This process of ‘learning’ is, among other things, the inculcation of religious teachings in the unformed minds that cannot resist this intrusion, which amounts to a violation of their right to learn complex concepts at the right time, when their cognitive faculties are ready for the task. Religion is not different from the first language, in terms of the child’s method of ‘learning’, the only method available to undeveloped minds, which is acquisition. No child can help acquiring the language and the religion in her or his immediate environment.
If an adult tried to formally teach a kid either language or religion, in all their complexity, it would drive the latter insane. The child, in her or his defenselessness against the well-meaning indoctrination of religion, is thus denied her right to learn any religion or religions she would wish to as an adult. Like her first language, the specific religion to which she is exposed from her babyhood, becomes an essential part of herself. However, while the acquisition of language is quite natural, uniquely human and essential for socialising, that of religion is not only artificial but also injurious; in that it lays a firm foundation for the child to simply acquire any notion on the strength of familiarisation through repetition, in other words, continuous exposure to stories, ‘truths’ and rituals unique to that religion.
Here, the important question is not regarding the content per se, but the method of indoctrination, which later makes him or her justify the acceptance of unverifiable ideas under a veil of fake ‘intellectuality’. As such, it is not surprising that even among the educated, one may find those who believe in the ‘truth’ of certain views and explanations that are not testable, but have a ‘solemnity’ attributed to them by tradition or authority. Thus many superstitions may have a surprisingly long shelf-life. In his article, Prof. Tennakone says, “pseudoscience is a social malady akin to superstitions and ideologies, which advocate untested claims, most of them illogical or fake, as science.” He goes on to say that there are those who are rational in their professional life but have no quarrel with pseudoscience “in private matters dearer to” them.
Of course, many of us are hardly aware of, let alone embarrassed by this ‘dual-personality’, an integral element in us, which helps us to navigate smoothly in a world where we have to cohabit with reason and ‘unreason’, with equal ease of grace and conviction.
Come to think of it, we have, in fact, ‘multiple personalities’ one of which is racial identity, a fake label that we carry in our entire lifetime to no useful purpose, other than maintaining an unreal and insidious division. What’s worse, prolonged habituation has made us believe that there is something in us that makes us uniquely Sinhala or Tamil. What is called racial identity can go even deeper than religious identity because, while people can change their faith and assume a new religious identity, the former is almost immovable due to a ‘learned’ feeling that we have in us a ‘racial gene’, which we cannot get rid of at will. Perhaps, ironically, every time we try to entertain high-minded thoughts about ‘racial harmony’ we unconsciously get all the more convinced of our ‘racial uniqueness’. What a mess!
Dr. E.W. Adikaram wrote, “In truth, there is only one human race: what goes as Sinhalese, Tamil, English and a thousand other nationalities are only designations born out of belief and having no intrinsic significance whatsoever.” (Isn’t the nationalist a mental patient?) In fact, he used to say that many people talked about ‘racial discrimination’ and ‘racial harmony’ without realising that ‘race’ is a myth. In his article, Prof. Sarvan says, “…there’s no race but racism flourishes. There are no scientific grounds for believing in race. Race is a human construct…”
What is clear is that we, humans, have a significant capacity for entertaining myths and the inescapable early indoctrination, no matter how sanctified and well-intentioned it may have been all these centuries, can contribute in no small measure towards making us accommodate myths without examining them rationally. Of course, there may be other influential factors.
Ven Ajahn Brahmavamso visits Sri Lanka in May
by Nanda Pethiyagoda
The next month, soon to be upon us, is of special significance to the majority of Sri Lankans since we Sinhalese and Tamils celebrate our New Year, with festivities continuing for a week or more in mid-April. The month of May is significant to Buddhists as the three major events of the Buddha’s life are commemorated at the Vesak full moon poya. This year, May carries another significance, joyful and to be grateful for. Ven. Ajahn Brahmavamso arrives here towards the end of the month for about two weeks. The Ajahn Brahm Society of Sri Lanka (ABS) has completed all arrangements for the visit which is full of great good happenings.
The last time Ven Ajahn Brahm was in Sri Lanka was 2017. I well remember the day long sessions of his speaking to the audience in the BMICH, delivering so easily and absorbingly the Word of the Buddha and conducting meditation. 7000 persons were present to listen to the venerable monk from Australia, spreading themselves in all the BMICH halls and a few even seating themselves in the corridors. The sessions, with Ven Ajahn Brahm moving from hall to hall, with of course TV presentations in them, were deep in significance and of immense benefit to us. However, as is his manner of presentation, the gravity of what was being imparted was tempered by Ven Brahmavamso’s informality and constantly smiling, benign face. One indication of his informality is shortening his religious name to Ajahn Brahm.
This time it is one session on May 30 that the monk will conduct at the BMICH. Passes were available at announced venues from the 15th of this month. I am certain they were all snapped up, so eager are we to listen to this great teacher.
His programme, most efficiently arranged and made widely known by the ABS under the guidance of Ven Mettavihari, includes a resident meditation retreat from May 22 to 30 in Bandarawela for 150 participants inclusive of bhikkhus, bhikkhunis and lay persons.
A singularly unique forum will be held exclusively for professionals and business persons at the Galle Face Hotel on May 29. These sessions are by invitation, sent out well in time by ABS.
The much looked forward to Dhamma talk and meditation instructions for the public will be at the BMICH from 7.00 to 11.00 am on May 30. Anticipatory of the large crowds that will flock to the BMICH on that day, the ABS has organised sessions with the venerable monk moving from the Main Hall to Sirimavo Halls A and B so all can see and hear him. He will speak in English, followed by summarizations in Sinhala.
More information could be obtained by emailing email@example.com. For WhatsApp messages the number is 0720735837. The filled applications are to be submitted before 10th April 2023.
It seems superfluous to give details, even brief facts on Ven Brahmavamso, as he is well known in this country of ours. However, it appears pertinent to mention facets of the life of this very blessed Bhikkhu.
He was born in London in 1951. Having read widely on Buddhism, at the tender age of 16, this promising student and keenly interested teenager considered himself a Buddhist by conviction. When in the University of Cambridge following his undergrad course in Theoretical Physics, his strong interest in Buddhism and gravitation to meditation went alongside his studies. After earning his degree he taught for one year, He then decided to follow his greater interest in Buddhist philosophy and practice and so proceeded to Thailand. He followed meditation under a couple of Thai masters. Convinced of his future as a Buddhist Bhikkhu, he was ordained a monk at the age of 23 by the Chief Incumbent of Wat Saket. He then went for further training to the famous meditation teacher – Ajahn Chah. He spent nine years studying and training in the forest tradition. In 1983 he was invited to help establish a forest monastery near Perth, Western Australia. Within a short period he was Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery, Perth. He is also the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia and Spiritual Patron to the Buddhist Fellowship in Singapore. These are but two of the spiritual responsibilities he undertakes. His pragmatic approach and his deep conviction in Dhamma have made him a much sought after Buddhist teacher throughout the world.
We Sri Lankans are truly blessed to have him visit our land and share his knowledge, his conviction in the Buddha Word and his encouragement to meditate.
The team that calls itself the Ajahn Brahm Society Sri Lanka of multi-talented and multi-skilled men and woman are all deeply dedicated to helping us, the public of Sri Lanka, benefit from Ajahn Brahm, acknowledged as an excellent teacher and exponent of the Dhamma. We are most grateful to them and Ven Mettavihari who guides the ABS.
One of best development administrators SL ever had
Mr. K. Thayaparan (KT), who retired from the government service after serving as a development administrator for more than thirty years passed away on Jan 05 at the age of 86. He was born in 1937 in Malaya, which was then under the British rule; his father had migrated there in 1916 for employment. His father was employed in the Malayan Railways, and the family was living a happy life. In the late 1940s, there erupted a terrorist movement launched by Communists of Chinese origin. To fight with the terrorists the British Government had issued a conscription order for all school leavers above the age of 17 years to join the military. Many families with male children over 17 years fled to Ceylon to avoid conscription. Since KT’s family also had a male child who had been noticed to report for military duty, his family members too other than his father left Malaya in 1951 and came to live in Ceylon. In Jaffna, KT resumed and completed his school education. In 1958 he entered the University of Ceylon at Peradeniya to undertake studies in geography, economics and history.
During the university days, KT had won university colours in badminton. He graduated in 1961, and served as a school teacher in the Matara district. In 1962, after sitting a competitive examination, KT joined the Government Divisional Revenue Officers’ service. In 1963, together with the other officers of the DROs’ service and comparable services, KT was absorbed into the Ceylon Administrative Service that had been created in place of the Ceylon Civil Service, which had simultaneously been abolished.
Till 1975 KT served in the district administration in the northern districts, first as DRO, then as Asst. Government Agent and as Addl. Government Agent. From 1976 to 1979 he worked in the Ministry of Fisheries as Deputy Director Planning, and contributed to the development of the National Fisheries Development Plan 1979 – 1983. The Fisheries Development Plan, among other activities had concentrated on exploitation of the fish resources in the Sri Lanka’s exclusive economic zone, which was proclaimed in 1977, and utilisation of irrigation reservoirs and village tanks for development of inland fisheries. The Government made a policy decision to implement an accelerated programme to develop inland fisheries and aquaculture. For this purpose, a new Division called the Inland Fisheries Division was set up in the Ministry, and KT was appointed its director.
The accelerated development programme had a number of activities to perform. Establishment of fish breeding stations in different parts of the country, recruitment and training of scientific and technical officers to serve at fish breeding centres, import of exotic fish species suitable for culture in Sri Lankan inland waterbodies, training of youth in inland fishing and aquaculture, promotion of investments in shrimp farming, etc. Funding agencies like UNDP, ADB and individual countries on bilateral basis came forward to support the accelerated inland fisheries development programme by providing funds for development of infrastructure, providing technical assistance, providing foreign training for the scientific and technical staff who were mostly young people without experience, and providing advisory services. It was heavy work for KT, but he managed the Division and its work smoothly.
KT was a firm believer in team work. He knew workers in all outstation inland fisheries or aquaculture establishments by name. He distributed foreign training slots offered by donor countries or agencies to every scientific or technical officer on an equitable basis. He listened to everybody, and was quite loved by his staff. KT was quite neutral in politics. However, in spite of his hard work to develop the inland fisheries sector, he was transferred out of the Ministry in 1985 to the SLAS Pool.
In 1979 when KT took over the responsibility of developing inland fisheries and aquaculture in the country, the total national inland fish production in Sri Lanka was 17,400 tons. During his tenure of nearly six years, the national inland fish production steadily increased and in 1985, the year he was transferred it had increased to 32,700 tons, showing an increase of nearly 90%. Also, there were 4,500 inland fishing craft operating in reservoirs, and the number employed as fishers, fish collectors, fish traders, etc. was over 10,000.
After leaving the Ministry of Fisheries he served different assignments such as Director Regional Development, National Consultant or the World Bank funded Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Project, Secretary to the North-East Provincial Council Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, and Secretary to the State Ministry Hindu Religious and Cultural Affairs. In 1995, he was appointed Addl. Secretary Development of the Ministry of Fisheries, but his stay in this post was brief since the then Minister replaced him with one of his political supporters. His last government assignment was as Addl. Secretary, Ministry of Plan Implementation, National Integration and Ethnic Affairs. In 1997, he retired from the government service, but continued in a few foreign funded projects as institutional development consultant. He once told that his most productive period in the government service was as Director Inland Fisheries. After retirement he authored several books, Reminiscences of Malaya 1937 – 1951, Stories of Some Brave Men and High Achievers, and Introduction to Some Known High Achievers.
Although he was quite suitable to be appointed the Secretary to a Ministry, he was never considered for such a post. In the final years of his career, he was compelled to serve under his juniors. But he carried on regardless and did the best in whatever the capacity he served.
It was not Central Bank bond scam
I was surprised and sorry to read a journalist attached to The Island writing about a central bank bond scam: surprised because, the editor of The Island, in his inimitable editorials, consistently refers to a treasury bond scam; sorry, because it is simply factually wrong. I have driven home that point several times in The Island and assumed that that canard was dead. Would you permit me to flog a not-so-dead horse?
There never was a central bank bond scam; there could not have been, because there was no market in central bank bonds. The central bank has not issued its own liabilities at least since 1967. The currency notes issued by the Central Bank are liabilities of the government (aanduva/state?) of Sri Lanka. (Should you not clear up that mess confusing ‘state’ with the ‘government’? It is one thing to have faith in the state of Sri Laska and quite another to have faith in the government of Ranil Wickremesinghe.) The Central Bank issues those bills (it does currency) on behalf of the state/government of Sri Lanka and they are not the liabilities of the Central Bank or the Monetary Board. There was a scam in government bonds in 2015 as well as in 2016.
As became clearer in the course of the Chitrasiri Commission, the then-governor of the Central Bank and a few other officers of the Central Bank were parties to that financial fraud involving government bonds. The Central Bank is simply the agent of the government/state who markets government liabilities. Those liabilities do not become the Bank’s liabilities. When you carry Sri Lanka currency, you carry liabilities, much like government bonds, of an entity whose credit is low. The Central Bank of Sri Lanka is not in the picture.
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