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THE ILLUSION OF DEVELOPMENT

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by Ravi Bandaranaike

In 300 BC, Mahinda Thera, bringer of Buddhism to Lanka and son of the Great Emperor Ashoka, said to king Devanampiyatissa of Sri Lanka—“Remember that you are only the guardian of this land for all the people and animals that reside here, not the owner of it”

Sitting in my grandparents’ old house, I contemplate the days when one could see the sea from the back window. Now the land is worth 15 million rupees a perch. The 90- year old art nouveau house has been split in two. The three storey tall frangipani in my garden is one of the last magnificent trees left in this block. The scent of the falling Araliya flowers daily permeates through the air; a sensory symbol that reality is, in fact, not STATIC like concrete. A hardware company just tore down the landmark cricket club cafe to build a car park and the iconic gallery cafe shop to build another apartment building. The land value in our neighborhood has now dropped by 25%. I had to make a personal call to the owner of one of the biggest construction companies just to save the last trees next to the apartment building. The contractor told me it was not his responsibility as he piled sand and cement onto the tree’s roots. Why don’t these corporate businessman hire some gardeners to help them think straight? Any banking theory economist could tell you that the value of land is mostly tied directly to the 100- plus year old trees inhabiting it.

It’s 2020 and COVID 19 is rampant in the world; the average Sri Lankan is still struggling to make it through the month; who’s going to live in these high rise towers anyways? I remember the last time I saw the candy floss (bombai-motai) man who’s been walking these streets for 30 years. He was standing under a tree (now gone) taking cover from the rain, and he looked at me from the distance and gently rang his bell. It was a tinkle of sadness. And, just like that, I never saw him again. The city and the people’s wants had changed, and only he and I seemed to notice. I recall when an apartment building came up a few years ago next to the British Council because the humongous tree next to Queens cafe died right after. How did the vast blue ocean that lay before us become synonymous with dull grey concrete? Something in the construction dust from these 1980’s-inspired monolithic buildings poisons the air we all breathe from. Or could it be the smog from all the petrol cars we’ve been importing?

Most people living in Colombo don’t even understand where their food, water and oxygen come from. For all they know it is grown in plastic bags at the back of their local Food City. Out of sight = out of mind. Our people are STILL not conscious that SRI LANKA is one of the LAST remaining places left ON EARTH where humans still live with animals. Where organic food has been a thing for 2,500 years. Where recycling is part of village culture. Where giant reservoirs were built by noble kings as a hobby. Where sacred peaks were once worshipped, not one year old apartment buildings demarcating the destruction of an entire neighborhood of beautiful gardens.

Let’s just say it’s already too late for Colombo, ONCE one of the greenest cities in the world, now completely ruined by gross governmental mismanagement. Right Now the remaining forest lands in Sinharaja, Knuckles and Haputale are quietly being encroached upon by local villagers aided by local politicians for a few 100,000 rupees. Corporations continue palm oil cultivation and heavy duty quarrying in secrecy. The lungs of this island are becoming clogged by the tar of toxic human dreams. The damage to our commons and future tourism industry will be in the billions of dollars. Scenic mountain towns like Ella have been ruined in just three years by unregulated construction and disastrous waste management. What is the Tourist Board doing about the destruction unfolding as they continue to market a beautiful place that NO LONGER EXISTS? I have long wished that the President of Sri Lanka gets the STF and Navy to protect our LRC forest lands and coral reefs like they used to during the war, instead of developing places that do not need ‘developing’. When did concrete and cement become a synonym of development? A fellow surfer or a foreigner living on this island will tell you that the best things in Sri Lanka are often free. If we do not change our course in the coming decade, cash crop farming and graphite mining will quickly destroy the few remaining forests that elephants and leopards still roam in.

 

Depleting forest cover in Sri Lanka 1956-1999

 

In 2010, I remember a Sri Lanka full of promise. There’s even a picture of me then pledging allegiance to a poster of our war hero president. I opened my first hotel in 2014, an art and plant filled BnB in the city inspired by the great tropical modernist architect Geoffery Bawa. As one of the first comfortable small hotels in Colombo (Clock inn was the first, Cinnamon Red came after us) business was booming and many of us truly believed Sri Lanka had a chance to become a great Asian nation.

Then, in 2015, Sri Lanka’s first major ecological disaster happened, and it went completely unnoticed. A rock wall was built over the surf break in Unawatuna to stop erosion of the beach. It ended up causing more erosion of the beach.

 

The environmental impact (EI) report had clearly not been read by anybody making decisions up top. The loss of the surf break made many of the local surfers turn to drugs as their escape. The rest fell in love, married foreigners and escaped the island. Unawatuna, a quiet sacred village, continued to grow as the first coastal tourism hub since Hikkaduwa despite the changing scenery. The local beach that was considered one of the TOP 10 BEACHES IN THE WORLD, would soon turn into one of the WORST 10 BEACHES IN THE WORLD, all thanks to the illusion of development.

Unawatuna when it was one of the TOP 10 Beaches in the World, 2000  Unawatuna in 2020. Can you spot the difference?

Now in 2020, the soft white coral sand has since been replaced by truckloads of coarse brown deep sea sand and a giant hotel by Araliya Group towers above the temple, BLOCKING the view from sunset point for the ENTIRE VILLAGE. It follows a trend of high rise construction on the coastline that began with the Marriott in Weligama that broke many of the island’s ancient environmental laws. This is just one of more than 10 new high rise towers coming up along the Southern coastline from Balapitiya to Mirissa that will turn our pristine southern coastline into overpopulated tourist hot zones like those in Thailand or Brazil or Bali. What happened to our tree high building rule? Have Arahat Mahinda Thera’s words finally been forgotten in exchange for a few Chinese-American dollars? Not one of these concrete towers will benefit any of the local population as they are built by large foreign entities and private individuals from Colombo solely for profit with little consideration of the long term environmental impact.

Meanwhile, mega corporations continue to plunder the poor by rapidly expanding supermarkets across the country, selling us garbage products we don’t even need, crushing local organic fruit and veggie businesses and riddling the island with single use plastics. Devanampiyatissa and Parakramabahu would be turning in their graves if they saw what the modern Sri Lankan Man was doing to this Ancient Land.

Once again a failed capitalist model of convenience at all cost repeats itself in Sri Lanka, despite the evolution of technology that SHOULD have made us aware of LATE STAGE CAPITALISM and its side effects. Why have we not switched to a model of ECO socialism or ECO capitalism already, where we consider the environmental impact of development? Why do we continue taking giant foreign loans without ecological clauses? Sri Lanka has so much knowledge that could be shared with the world, from Ayurveda (alternative medicine) and tropical architecture to ecological living (with trees) and enlightenment (Buddhist philosophy). Yet we have let a few ego driven businessmen and politicians choose to freely destroy one of the most sacred islands on earth, ripping apart a multi ethnic culture, ignoring the deep true knowledge vested in its peoples. Another sad story dressed up in instagram filters and social media likes.

As I navigate through this mess, crossing paths with the richest industrialists and political families in this small pond, I wonder which of you actually cares about the preservation the last Fountain of Paradise left on Earth?

(The author is a environmentalist, photographer, musicologist and entrepreneur)

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Olga Sirimanne (1923 – 2021)

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In memoriam

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.

 

D.L.Sirimanne

leosirimanne@gmail.com

 

 

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Divided people in a distorted democracy

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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?

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HOW REBIRTH  TAKES PLACE

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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.”

— ITIVUT’TAKA

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.

Kamma Nimitta

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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