It is a certainty that most Buddhists of this country are moving away from the true Dhamma preached by the Buddha and elucidated by the vinaya following, learned monks of the Sangha. A boast is made that this country is the repository of pure Theravada Doctrine. Not so, I make bold to emphatically assert. If we follow the Buddha Word, handed down from his time at first orally and then in writing, our temples would not accommodate grottos for the veneration of the Hindu Pantheon of Gods Shiva and Ganesha, and Goddess Sarasvati, and Kali, now gaining popularity. People would not flock to Kataragama and pay obeisance with pooja vatti, and bargaining offering gold and silver statues and cash bribes at the Kovil, to fulfill desires expressed. Veneration of ancient Kiri Vehera comes later, almost as an afterthought to such ‘Buddhists’.
‘Koti valige’ clinging VVIPs
Significant and needing change is the fact of our political leaders laying such store on deities and consequently elevating mediums to guider-status of even government policy. Two examples: charmed water pots thrown by the ex Minister of Health and other Ministers of State as reportedly advised by the PM’s mystic guide Eliyantha White. Later, worse damage was done by the same Health Minister and Speaker of Parliament imbibing a paniya concocted by a scheming carpenter turned medium of Goddess Kali, as a preventive and cure for Covid 19 infection. I need not mention the resultant harm and spread of infection by crowds wanting the paniya. Neither do I need to remind you of the tale told that the PM of the 2010 – 14 SLFP government dissolved his government and called for premature elections, as advised by his astrologer. He continues clutching his good luck talisman – blessed by which deity we do not know. Prez Premadasa observed rites such as sitting only on his charmed seat that, we heard rightly or wrongly, accompanied him when he went for meetings. In spite of such belief in gods and mantras and the millions of jasmine trays offered by him at temples, he finally went up in bomb smoke.
Those of us who profess to be life-guided by Buddhism and pay scant respect to rites and rituals as extraneous, are scared by the trends that seem to be gaining popularity. We were a laughing stock to the world after the pot and pani fiascos. The worse fear is that policy decisions could be dictated to by mediums, who usually are charlatans.
Delineations and definitions are apt here. What I refer to is astrology and a branch of it: directions of a person’s actions according to prescribed times, planet paths etc, advised by a person claiming such superhuman/ mystical/phenomenal powers. Astrology per se passes muster – horoscope and palm reading and interpretation. The danger is when the far-fetched abstruse or arcane creep in with mysticism attached. Connected to this latter is voodoo, hoodoo, black and white magic. One could even accuse a person who claims to see much more than meets the human eye through divine power of being a sorcerer/sorceress. It means the supremacy of the occult over the ordinary and natural.
And who is Kali? She is outside the traditional Hindu Pantheon but very powerful. She is a black goddess whose name derives from the Sanskrit ‘kala’ – death or black. “Her origins are traced to the deities of the village, tribal and mountain cultures of South Asia. She makes her first major appearance in the Sanskrit ‘Devi Mahatmya’ (6th century BC) and her cult is associated with death; also sexuality, violence and paradoxically with motherly love.” She is said to be “the goddess of time, change, and destruction. She is the energy current inside a human that is wild, empowered and all loving.”
Those who get under the spell of such supernatural and/or astrological cults sink deeper and deeper for such a path or habit is a clinging to a koti valige – long endurance lulled by assurances of personal security and safety, but ending in disaster, calamity and finally death by fire and brimstone. Here it is the ego that is foremost; egotistical fears, needs equating to greed, and delusion; so very antithetical and inimical to the tenets of Buddhism.
Cases of the occult in history
Famous persons in the past have been led to disaster by soothsayers, astrologers and forecasters of the future, often expressing religiousness. The most infamous is the tragedy caused by Grigori Rasputin (1869-1916), a charlatan to beat all others. Able to stop the bleeding of hemophilic Alexei, heir to the Russian throne, he was completely favoured by the Tsarina. Obsessed by his pseudo-religiousness, she came under his spell, believing he could cure her son. Instead, this infamous man was one of the main causes of the downfall of Nicholas II and the Russian Empire. Stopping the bleeding of the young prince was adduced to his ability to hypnotize; he had no mystic powers, only misguided religious fanaticism.
More recently, Nancy Reagan, after the President escaped a shooting, sought supra mundane help and was directed to Joan Quigly, an astrologer, who became the First Lady’s prop in safeguarding Ronald. All his movements were subject to Nancy’s approval through Quigly’s advice after consulting the planets. Did it stave his succumbing to Alzheimer’s which he showed signs of even as Prez and prop Nancy’s social status?
Princess Diana relied on Debbie Frank whom she was introduced to in 1981. Did this woman with supposedly supra-human knowledge prevent the princess from her excessive holidaying and warn her of impending danger?
I sure must present my case in this antipathy towards dabbling in talismans, charms and such like. I am a firm believer in the efficacy of pirit chanting in times of illness and the prediction of a ‘bad time’ for a family member. Our politicians wear ragged bracelets of pirit threads, multicoloured to boot! A relative when very young, living overseas, always wanted a ‘pirit noodle’ around his wrist; picturesque nomenclature of his. I believe in horoscopes but never get my ola scroll ‘read’. Born and brought up in Kandy, we hardly ever indulged in the propitiation of the gods, even of the Hindu Pantheon, to whom devales were built just in front of the Dalada Maligawa – a concession to the Indian wives of the last kings of the Kandyan Kingdom. We were worshippers at the Dalada Maligawa and our local Halloluwa temple.
Hence at Kataragama, after marriage to a family which believed implicitly in gods and made frequent pilgrimages ‘down south’, I was a voiceless skeptic. Once I openly declared I would not enter the main devale and participate in the evening pooja. I felt one had to have 100% faith to follow the rituals, which I lacked. Result: a monkey from the edge of the roof of the devale urinated full on me! I am certain it was the god proving defiantly he had exceptional powers! I hasten to add I believe in the presence of the gods and their power; my point is I don’t bargain or propitiate them for favours. I grew more and more distant from rites and rituals and try to be a true follower of the Buddha’s Dhamma. However I do pay pooja to ‘bodhiyas’ in temples since devathavas reside in them and need merit transferred by humans to attain Nibbana. They do look down in favour on persons who are ‘silvath’ and may help divinely.
A person in Kandy, wanting to stop his son’s love relationship with a girl considered unsuitable, got a kattadiya – rare in Kandy then – to place a charm under the girl’s home doorstep. The charm boomeranged and the son was drowned. Evil charms like curses and cruel thoughts come back to roost.
Remember the three witches in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’? Working on his ambition and moral weakness they led him on with promises given in quibbling language. A brave and strong soldier finally ended utterly tragic; his overriding ambition fanned by his wife and used distortedly by the witches caused him destruction, and under him of Scotland as depicted by Shakespearean and historian Holinshed yore.
It is positively dangerous to ardently believe in the occult and the ability to get favours from deities, using rapacious mediums. There is betrayal at the end. Let not our leaders be led in decision making that affects the country by consulting the occult or gods, through dangerous mediums.
Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?
Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.
By Srilal Miththapala
Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.
And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.
However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?
The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today
There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.
Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.
Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.
According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()
Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()
Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.
What have other countries done ?
As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.
A few are described below
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge
Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.
Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China
In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.
The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.
A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.
These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.
The CN tower Edge walk, Canada
Safety – the one overriding condition
All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.
Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.
Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).
Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.
So what about our train ride ?
The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.
In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.
So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?
Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.
One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.
This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.
Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.
But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.
But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.
Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?
Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE
By Dr M Haris Deen
COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.
The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.
In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.
The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.
Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.
Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.
Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.
Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.
Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.
After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.
Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.
Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.
Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990
It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.
Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….
Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.
They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..
“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.
“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”
Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!
Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.
“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.
“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.
In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.
He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.
It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.
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