Chinese firms are not the only companies to benefit from Chinese-financed projects. Perhaps no country was more alarmed by Hambantota than India, the regional giant that several times rebuffed Sri Lanka’s appeals for investment, aid, and equity partnerships.
The narrative wrongfully portrays both Beijing and the developing countries it deals with
by DEBORAH BRAUTIGAM and
China, we are told, inveigles poorer countries into taking out loan after loan to build expensive infrastructure that they can’t afford and that will yield few benefits, all with the end goal of Beijing eventually taking control of these assets from its struggling borrowers. As states around the world pile on debt to combat the coronavirus pandemic and bolster flagging economies, fears of such possible seizures have only amplified.
Seen this way, China’s internationalization—as laid out in programmes such as the Belt and Road Initiative—is not simply a pursuit of geopolitical influence but also, in some tellings, a weapon. Once a country is weighed down by Chinese loans, like a hapless gambler who borrows from the Mafia, it is Beijing’s puppet and in danger of losing a limb.
The prime example of this is the Sri Lankan port of Hambantota. As the story goes, Beijing pushed Sri Lanka into borrowing money from Chinese banks to pay for the project, which had no prospect of commercial success. Onerous terms and feeble revenues eventually pushed Sri Lanka into default, at which point Beijing demanded the port as collateral, forcing the Sri Lankan government to surrender control to a Chinese firm.
The Trump administration pointed to Hambantota to warn of China’s strategic use of debt: In 2018, former Vice President Mike Pence called it “debt-trap diplomacy”—a phrase he used through the last days of the administration—and evidence of China’s military ambitions. Last year, erstwhile Attorney General William Barr raised the case to argue that Beijing is “loading poor countries up with debt, refusing to renegotiate terms, and then taking control of the infrastructure itself.”
As Michael Ondaatje, one of Sri Lanka’s greatest chroniclers, once said, “In Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts.” And the debt-trap narrative is just that: a lie, and a powerful one.
Our research shows that Chinese banks are willing to restructure the terms of existing loans and have never actually seized an asset from any country, much less the port of Hambantota. A Chinese company’s acquisition of a majority stake in the port was a cautionary tale, but it’s not the one we’ve often heard. With a new administration in Washington, the truth about the widely, perhaps willfully, misunderstood case of Hambantota Port is long overdue.
The city of Hambantota lies at the southern tip of Sri Lanka, a few nautical miles from the busy Indian Ocean shipping lane that accounts for nearly all of the ocean-borne trade between Asia and Europe, and more than 80 percent of ocean-borne global trade. When a Chinese firm snagged the contract to build the city’s port, it was stepping into an ongoing Western competition, though one the United States had largely abandoned.
It was the Canadian International Development Agency—not China—that financed Canada’s leading engineering and construction firm, SNC-Lavalin, to carry out a feasibility study for the port. We obtained more than 1,000 pages of documents detailing this effort through a Freedom of Information Act request. The study, concluded in 2003, confirmed that building the port at Hambantota was feasible, and supporting documents show that the Canadians’ greatest fear was losing the project to European competitors. SNC-Lavalin recommended that it be undertaken through a joint-venture agreement between the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and a “private consortium” on a build-own-operate-transfer basis, a type of project in which a single company receives a contract to undertake all the steps required to get such a port up and running, and then gets to operate it when it is.
The Canadian project failed to move forward, mostly because of the vicissitudes of Sri Lankan politics. But the plan to build a port in Hambantota gained traction during the rule of the Rajapaksas—Mahinda Rajapaksa, who served as President from 2005 through 2015, and his brother Gotabaya, the current President and former Minister of Defence—who grew up in Hambantota. They promised to bring big ships to the region, a call that gained urgency after the devastating 2004 tsunami pulverized Sri Lanka’s coast and the local economy.
We reviewed a second feasibility report, produced in 2006 by the Danish engineering firm Ramboll, that made similar recommendations to the plans put forward by SNC-Lavalin, arguing that an initial phase of the project should allow for the transport of non-containerized cargo—oil, cars, grain—to start bringing in revenue, before expanding the port to be able to handle the traffic and storage of traditional containers. By then, the port in the capital city of Colombo, a 100 miles away and consistently one of the world’s busiest, had just expanded and was already pushing capacity. The Colombo port, however, was smack in the middle of the city, while Hambantota had a hinterland, meaning it offered greater potential for expansion and development.
(Read: The undoing of China’s economic miracle)
To look at a map of the Indian Ocean region at the time was to see opportunity and expanding middle classes everywhere. Families in India and across Africa were demanding more consumer goods from China. Countries such as Vietnam were growing rapidly and would need more natural resources. To justify its existence, the port in Hambantota would have to secure only a fraction of the cargo that went through Singapore, the world’s busiest transshipment port.
Armed with the Ramboll report, Sri Lanka’s government approached the United States and India; both countries said no. But a Chinese construction firm, China Harbour Group, had learned about Colombo’s hopes, and lobbied hard for the project. China Eximbank agreed to fund it, and China Harbour won the contract.
This was in 2007, six years before Xi Jinping introduced the Belt and Road Initiative. Sri Lanka was still in the last, and bloodiest, phase of its long civil war, and the world was on the verge of a financial crisis. The details are important: China Eximbank offered a $307 million, 15-year commercial loan with a four-year grace period, offering Sri Lanka a choice between a 6.3 percent fixed interest rate or one that would rise or fall depending on LIBOR, a floating rate. Colombo chose the former, conscious that global interest rates were trending higher during the negotiations and hoping to lock in what it thought would be favourable terms. Phase I of the port project was completed on schedule within three years.
For a conflict-torn country that struggled to generate tax revenue, the terms of the loan seemed reasonable. As Saliya Wickramasuriya, the former chairman of the SLPA, told us, “To get commercial loans as large as $300 million during the war was not easy.” That same year, Sri Lanka also issued its first international bond, with an interest rate of 8.25 percent. Both decisions would come back to haunt the government.
Finally, in 2009, after decades of violence, Sri Lanka’s civil war came to an end. Buoyed by the victory, the government embarked on a debt-financed push to build and improve the country’s infrastructure. Annual economic growth rates climbed to 6 percent, but Sri Lanka’s debt burden soared as well.
In Hambantota, instead of waiting for phase 1 of the port to generate revenue as the Ramboll team had recommended, Mahinda Rajapaksa pushed ahead with phase 2, transforming Hambantota into a container port. In 2012, Sri Lanka borrowed another $757 million from China Eximbank, this time at a reduced, post-financial-crisis interest rate of 2 percent. Rajapaksa took the liberty of naming the port after himself.
By 2014, Hambantota was losing money. Realizing that they needed more experienced operators, the SLPA signed an agreement with China Harbour and China Merchants Group to have them jointly develop and operate the new port for 35 years. China Merchants was already operating a new terminal in the port in Colombo, and China Harbour had invested $1.4 billion in Colombo Port City, a lucrative real-estate project involving land reclamation. But while the lawyers drew up the contracts, a political upheaval was taking shape.
Rajapaksa called a surprise election for January 2015 and in the final months of the campaign, his own Health Minister, Maithripala Sirisena, decided to challenge him. Like opposition candidates in Malaysia, the Maldives, and Zambia, the incumbent’s financial relations with China and allegations of corruption made for potent campaign fodder. To the country’s shock, and perhaps his own, Sirisena won.
Steep payments on international sovereign bonds, which comprised nearly 40 percent of the country’s external debt, put Sirisena’s government in dire fiscal straits almost immediately. When Sirisena took office, Sri Lanka owed more to Japan, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank than to China. Of the $4.5 billion in debt service Sri Lanka would pay in 2017, only 5 percent was because of Hambantota. The Central Bank governors under both Rajapaksa and Sirisena do not agree on much, but they both told us that Hambantota, and Chinese finance in general, was not the source of the country’s financial distress.
There was also never a default. Colombo arranged a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, and decided to raise much-needed dollars by leasing out the underperforming Hambantota Port to an experienced company—just as the Canadians had recommended. There was not an open tender, and the only two bids came from China Merchants and China Harbour; Sri Lanka chose China Merchants, making it the majority shareholder with a 99-year lease, and used the $1.12 billion cash infusion to bolster its foreign reserves, not to pay off China Eximbank.
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Before the port episode, “Sri Lanka could sink into the Indian Ocean and most of the Western world wouldn’t notice,” Subhashini Abeysinghe, Research Director at Verité Research, an independent Colombo-based think tank, told us. Suddenly, the island nation featured prominently in foreign-policy speeches in Washington. Pence voiced worry that Hambantota could become a “forward military base” for China.
Yet Hambantota’s location is strategic only from a business perspective: The port is cut into the coast to avoid the Indian Ocean’s heavy swells, and its narrow channel allows only one ship to enter or exit at a time, typically with the aid of a tugboat. In the event of a military conflict, naval vessels stationed there would be proverbial fish in a barrel.
The notion of “debt-trap diplomacy” casts China as a conniving creditor and countries, such as Sri Lanka, as its credulous victims. On a closer look, however, the situation is far more complex. China’s march outward, like its domestic development, is probing and experimental, a learning process marked by frequent adjustment. After the construction of the port in Hambantota, for example, Chinese firms and banks learned that strongmen fall and that they’d better have strategies for dealing with political risk. They’re now developing these strategies, getting better at discerning business opportunities and withdrawing where they know they can’t win. Still, American leaders and thinkers from both sides of the aisle give speeches about China’s “modern-day colonialism.”
Over the past 20 years, Chinese firms have learned a lot about how to play in an international construction business that remains dominated by Europe: Whereas China has 27 firms among the top 100 global contractors, up from nine in 2000, Europe has 37, down from 41. The U.S. has seven, compared to 19 two decades ago.
Chinese firms are not the only companies to benefit from Chinese-financed projects. Perhaps no country was more alarmed by Hambantota than India, the regional giant that several times rebuffed Sri Lanka’s appeals for investment, aid, and equity partnerships. Yet an Indian-led business, Meghraj, joined the U.K.-based engineering firm Atkins Limited in an international consortium to write the long-term plan for Hambantota Port and for the development of a new business zone. The French firms Bolloré and CMA-CGM have partnered with China Merchants and China Harbour in port developments in Nigeria, Cameroon, and elsewhere.
The other side of the debt-trap myth involves debtor countries. Places such as Sri Lanka—or, for that matter, Kenya, Zambia, or Malaysia—are no stranger to geopolitical games. And they’re irked by American views that they’ve been so easily swindled. As one Malaysian politician remarked to us, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss how Chinese finance featured in that country’s political drama, “Can’t the U.S. State Department tell the difference between campaign rhetoric that our opponents are slaves to China and actually being slaves to China?”
The events that led to a Chinese company’s acquisition of a majority stake in a Sri Lankan port reveal a great deal about how our world is changing. China and other countries are becoming more sophisticated in bargaining with one another. And it would be a shame if the U.S. fails to learn alongside them.
DEBORAH BRAUTIGAM is Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University
MEG RITHMIRE is F. Warren McFarlan Associate Professor at Harvard Business School.
Olga Sirimanne (1923 – 2021)
My darling beautiful angelic wife Olga (First batch of Air Ceylon stewardesses) and I commenced a partnership of love in Holy Matrimony on 17th June 1954. We loved each other deeply, enjoyed a blissful relationship for over 66 happy years with each other. We devoted our lives to give love and happiness not only to each other but also to all those who came to know us during our delightful almost 100 years. Beautiful incidents and memories are portrayed in several photo albums. Our friends and family loved listening to Olga’s exciting experiences and stories laced with humour and laughter as she was an excellent story teller.
Olga was blessed with three loveable children, Sunil, Laksen and a beautiful daughter Minoli; adorable grandchildren, Shelana and Sanjev, Rahel and Sariah, Kaitlyn and Taylor; great grandson, Sevan and darling niece, Ashie whose mother (Olga’s only sister) passed away some years ago. Ashie considered Olga, her ’Loku Ammie’ as her surrogate mother. Her son-in-law and daughters-in-law too loved her deeply with great respect and love. She held them fondly close to her heart with pride.
Her lifelong heart-throb was me. She always called me ‘darling’ but never addressed me as ‘Siri’ though all her friends did. Since I was ‘Thathie’ to our loving children, she too affectionately called me ‘Thathie’ even when she was on the verge of passing away. I too enduringly called her ‘Ammie’ as I loved her as much as our children.
Her gentle protective care and devotion helped me to maintain youthful looks and excellent health to celebrate my 100th birthday on 31st January 2020. She and our daughter had arranged a Holy Mass at home followed with a surprise birthday party attended by a few close friends and relations. She too received Holy Communion with blessings for the peaceful and happy years of coexistence with me. I too responded to her caring ways and helped her maintain her health and beautiful charming looks to the end.
Her 98th birthday was on 12 January 2021. She was greeted by me first thing in the morning, with loving kisses, hugs and prayers to God for giving us another year of peace and happiness. She received with warm wishes lots of beautiful bouquets and baskets of flowers, birthday cards and a countless number of telephone calls from children, grandchildren, relations, friends and loved ones here and scattered around the globe. It thrilled her to know that so many remembered and loved her.
Deep within our hearts, there was this chilling fear of the unbearable sorrow if one of us was left without the other. As age was creeping into our lives, every night we started reciting together a prayer to God before going to sleep, kissing each other and whispering, “I love you darling, God Bless you.”
The inevitable happened on 3rd February 2021 when my darling (Olga) passed away in my arms to the Kingdom of Heaven to be with Jesus. Thus, ended our happy and peaceful partnership, me afflicted with sorrow and yearning for her presence. I love you darling, my love. Rest in Peace.
Our children, Sunil, Laksen, Minoli and I wish to thank all those who attended the private funeral, sent floral tributes and messages of condolences and regret our inability to thank you individually . Please accept our heartfelt gratitude.
Divided people in a distorted democracy
The Geneva Calamity comes more from the thinking of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, than that of the former Chilean politician who is now the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
It is such thinking of disaster advancement that made our Foreign Minister tell the Geneva meeting in his virtual address that Sri Lanka acted in ‘self-defence” in the fight against the LTTE’s terrorism. Was it self-defence that led to the actions of the armed forces or the fundamental right to safeguard the unitary state, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of Sri Lanka – whether Democratic Socialist or not?
The debate will go on in Geneva about our actions for self-defence, that defeated the LTTE, and what has taken place after that assurance of self-defence, that relates to wider reaching issues of Human Rights, with emphasis on responsibility and accountability. Now that Yahapalana is no more, it is the task of the Powers of Fortune, or Saubhagya, to make its own case on how Sri Lanka relates to the international community. This is certainly no easy task as we see the unfolding of the politics and crooked governance in Sri Lanka.
As the echoes of Geneva goes on, we are much more involved in the Easter Sunday carnage and the Presidential Commission report on it. The people are certainly puzzled as to why the planners and directors of this hugely bloody act of Islamic terrorism have not been revealed. We have the unique situation where the person who appointed this Commission of Inquiry, none other than former President Maithripala Sirisena, is to be legally punished for this carnage.
Are we to have special satisfaction on the possibility that future Heads of State, who appoint such commissions of inquiry, will be the first accused, even in the much-delayed reports of such commissions? There is not much hope for such satisfaction. The Head of State is the emblem of supremacy, with all the powers of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution.
The families of the victims of that terrorist attack at the Katuwapitiya -Negombo, Kochchikade – Colombo, and Batticaloa churches, will certainly remain in search for the exposure and punishment of those who planned and carried out these situations of carnage. What we are shown is the true purpose and meaning of a Presidential Commision of Inquiry – PCoI.
We have certainly gone back to the origins of such inquiries, and the powers of Saubhagya at Rajavasala, have shown their honour to J. R Jayewardene, who brought the Presidential Commission as the show of the five-sixth majority Jayewardene Power. Mr. Sirisena may remember how the first PCoI of the Jayewardene era, ensured the removal of civic rights to Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the defeated Prime Minister and Mr. Felix Dias Bandaranaike, former Minister of Justice.
Punishment of one’s political opponents is the stuff and substance of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, and Sri Lanka is now showing the whole world how much this is a part of a Distorted Democracy. A show of power that was enabled by 69 lakhs of voters in the presidential election, followed by the parliamentary two-thirds gained through those who bowed their so-called critical heads on ‘Dual Citizens” coming to Parliament, and the huge Muslim MP cross-over – for the benefits they must have gained – as all such cross-over politicians always obtain.
The Archbishop of Colombo, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, who certainly prevented the Easter Sunday carnage leading to even more bloodshed, by a few timely words of caution and Christian thinking that tragic day, must be now wanting to know why he was so keen to get the report of this Commission. Who were the planners, the funders, the trainers and leaders of this carnage? What will the people know in the weeks and months to follow, and how much can the feelings of the families that were the bloody victims of this massacre of the innocents, be brought to some relief?
This PCoI is the answer to the political prayers of those manipulating power today. It is the answer to the continually rising Cost of Living, the protection to those who keep destroying our forests and jungles, the safeguard for all those who keep reducing the Alimankada pathways of our elephants, it is the whistle blow of go ahead to the forces of urban destruction, and the show-piece managers of Presidential visits to the rural people.
The rising voices of sections of the Maha Sangha against this PCoI, the call from Christian voices to expose and deal with the planners and movers of this carnage, and the louder voices for the protection of nature and the environment, will be the cause of joy to the powers of a Deadly Dominant Democracy. It is the message of power to those who take pride in killings of the past – be it the Tigers of the LTTE, or the cases of killed, injured and missing journalists, and the abduction of children.
The powers that be will continue to sing loud about how we acted in self-defence against the LTTE terror. The echoes of Geneva will keep ringing in the ears of manipulative politics and power. But this and other PCoI reports that are seen as the substance of crooked power, will soon lead our people and country to an Age of Disaster – an age of new confrontations and calamities. How much worse can we become than the JRJ manipulation of anti-democratic power?
How much can we allow our people to be divided, and thus supportive of a Distorted Democracy?
HOW REBIRTH TAKES PLACE
The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.
(From THE BUDDHA AND HIS TEACHINGS by Venerable Narada Mahathera)
“The pile of bones of (all the bodies of) one man
Who has alone one aeon lived
Would make a mountain’s height —
So said the mighty seer.”
To the dying man at this critical stage, according to Abhidhamma philosophy, is presented a Kamma, Kamma Nimitta, or Gati Nimitta.
By Kamma is here meant some good or bad act done during his lifetime or immediately before his dying moment. It is a good or bad thought. If the dying person had committed one of the five heinous crimes (Garuka Kamma) such as parricide etc. or developed the Jhānas (Ecstasies), he would experience such a Kamma before his death. These are so powerful that they totally eclipse all other actions and appear very vividly before the mind’s eye. If he had done no such weighty action, he may take for his object of the dying thought-process a Kamma done immediately before death (Āsanna Kamma); which may be called a “Death Proximate Kamma.”
In the absence of a “Death-Proximate Kamma” a habitual good or bad act (Ācinna Kamma) is presented, such as the healing of the sick in the case of a good physician, or the teaching of the Dhamma in the case of a pious Bhikkhu, or stealing in the case of a thief. Failing all these, some casual trivial good or bad act (Katattā Kamma) becomes the object of the dying thought-process.
or “symbol,” means a mental reproduction of any sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which was predominant at the time of some important activity, good or bad, such as a vision of knives or dying animals in the case of a butcher, of patients in the case of a physician, and of the object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc…
By Gati Nimitta, or “symbol of destiny” is meant some symbol of the place of future birth. This frequently presents itself to dying persons and stamps its gladness or gloom upon their features. When these indications of the future birth occur, if they are bad, they can at times be remedied. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying man. Such premonitory visions of destiny may be fire, forests, mountainous regions, a mother’s womb, celestial mansions, and the like.
Taking for the object a Kamma, or a Kamma symbol, or a symbol of destiny, a thought-process runs its course even if the death be an instantaneous one.
For the sake of convenience let us imagine that the dying person is to be reborn in the human kingdom and that the object is some good Kamma.
His Bhavanga consciousness is interrupted, vibrates for a thought-moment and passes away; after which the mind-door consciousness (manodvāravajjana) arises and passes away. Then comes the psychologically important stage –Javana process — which here runs only for five thought moments by reason of its weakness, instead of the normal seven. It lacks all reproductive power, its main function being the mere regulation of the new existence (abhinavakarana).
The object here being desirable, the consciousness he experiences is a moral one. The Tadālambana-consciousness which has for its function a registering or identifying for two moments of the object so perceived, may or may not follow. After this occurs the death-consciousness (cuticitta), the last thought moment to be experienced in this present life.
There is a misconception amongst some that the subsequent birth is conditioned by this last death-consciousness (cuticitta) which in itself has no special function to perform. What actually conditions rebirth is that which is experienced during the Javana process.
With the cessation of the decease-consciousness death actually occurs. Then no material qualities born of mind and food (cittaja and āhāraja) are produced. Only a series of material qualities born of heat (utuja) goes on till the corpse is reduced to dust.
Simultaneous with the arising of the rebirth consciousness there spring up the ‘body-decad,’ ‘sex-decad,’ and ‘base-decad’ (Kāya-bhāva-vatthu-dasaka).
According to Buddhism, therefore, sex is determined at the moment of conception and is conditioned by Kamma not by any fortuitous combination of sperm and ovum-cells.
The passing away of the consciousness of the past birth is the occasion for the arising of the new consciousness in the subsequent birth. However, nothing unchangeable or permanent is transmitted from the past to the present.
Just as the wheel rests on the ground only at one point, so, strictly speaking, we live only for one thought-moment. We are always in the present, and that present is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions on it, to its successor. Every fresh consciousness, therefore, consists of the potentialities of its predecessors together with something more. At death, the consciousness perishes, as in truth it perishes every moment, only to give birth to another in a rebirth. This renewed consciousness inherits all past experiences. As all impressions are indelibly recorded in the ever-changing palimpsest-like mind, and all potentialities are transmitted from life to life, irrespective of temporary disintegration, thus there may be reminiscence of past births or past incidents. Whereas if memory depended solely on brain cells, such reminiscence would be impossible.
“This new being which is the present manifestation of the stream of Kamma-energy is not the same as, and has no identity with, the previous one in its line — the aggregates that make up its composition being different from, having no identity with, those that make up the being of its predecessor. And yet it is not an entirely different being since it has the same stream of Kamma-energy, though modified perchance just by having shown itself in that manifestation, which is now making its presence known in the sense-perceptible world as the new being.
Death, according to Buddhism, is the cessation of the psycho-physical life of any one individual existence. It is the passing away of vitality (āyu), i.e., psychic and physical life (jīvitindriya), heat (usma) and consciousness (vijnana).
Death is not the complete annihilation of a being, for though a particular life-span ends, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed.
Just as an electric light is the outward visible manifestation of invisible electric energy, so we are the outward manifestations of invisible Kammic energy. The bulb may break, and the light may be extinguished, but the current remains and the light may be reproduced in another bulb. In the same way, the Kammic force remains undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness leads to the arising of a fresh one in another birth. But nothing unchangeable or permanent “passes” from the present to the future.
In the foregoing case, the thought experienced before death being a moral one, the resultant rebirth-consciousness takes for its material an appropriate sperm and ovum cell of human parents. The rebirth-consciousness (patisandhi vijnana) then lapses into the Bhavanga state.
The continuity of the flux, at death, is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness.
Rebirth takes place immediately, irrespective of the place of birth, just as an electromagnetic wave, projected into space, is immediately reproduced in a receiving radio set. Rebirth of the mental flux is also instantaneous and leaves no room whatever for any intermediate state (antarabhava). Pure Buddhism does not support the belief that a spirit of the deceased person takes lodgement in some temporary state until it finds a suitable place for its “reincarnation.”
This question of instantaneous rebirth is well expressed in the Milinda Panha
The King Milinda questions:
“Venerable Nagasena, if somebody dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, and another dies here and is reborn in Kashmir, which of them would arrive first?
“They would arrive at the same time. O King.
“In which town were you born, O King?
“In a village called Kalasi, Venerable Sir.
“How far is Kalasi from here, O King?
“About two hundred miles, Venerable Sir.
“And how far is Kashmir from here, O King?
“About twelve miles, Venerable Sir.
“Now think of the village of Kalasi, O King.
“I have done so, Venerable Sir.
“And now think of Kashmir, O King.
“It is done, Venerable Sir.
“Which of these two, O King, did you think the more slowly and which the more quickly?
“Both equally quickly, Venerable Sir.
“Just so, O King, he who dies here and is reborn in the world of Brahma, is not reborn later than he who dies here and is reborn in Kashmir.”
“Give me one more simile, Venerable Sir.”
“What do you think, O King? Suppose two birds were flying in the air and they should settle at the same time, one upon a high and the other upon a low tree, which bird’s shade would first fall upon the earth, and which bird’s later?”
“Both shadows would appear at the same time, not one of them earlier and the other later.
The question might arise: Are the sperm and ovum cells always ready, waiting to take up the rebirth-thought?
According to Buddhism, living beings are infinite in number, and so are world systems. Nor is the impregnated ovum the only route to rebirth. Earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only habitable plane, and humans are not the only living beings. As such it is not impossible to believe that there will always be an appropriate place to receive the last thought vibrations. A point is always ready to receive the falling stone.
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