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THE SPIRIT OF TOLERANCE INGRAINED IN BUDDHISM

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(By Desamanya K.H.J. Wijayadasa, former Secretary to the President)

Tolerance means sympathetic understanding

Tolerance means the ability to live with others who hold different views, and perhaps follow different ways of life that arise from such views; without interfering with them or attempting to force one’s own ideas and ways on them. Just as a living organism tolerates and adapts itself to a certain degree of variation in its environment, or to the intrusion of other organisms, so in society man has to learn to tolerate others whose opinions and habits are not the same as his own, and may even be distasteful to him. In essence it is the practice of non interference. To put it simply it is a matter of “live and let live”.

Tolerance can vary from factor to factor such as race, religion, colour and caste as well as smell, food and dress. It has been said that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”. In Latin, “to tolerate” means “to bear”. In English it means, “to allow or permit negatively by not preventing” or simply tolerance means “the ability to put up with”. Accordingly, religious tolerance amounts to allowing the existence of beliefs, practices or habits differing from one’s own or sympathetic understanding of other’s beliefs. One of the crucial tests of a civilized man is to be able to live in amity with those whose religions, customs and total world view are different from his own. In other words, it’s the degree of one’s ability to “agree to disagree”.

 

The Buddhist concept of tolerance

The noble concept of Buddhist tolerance began with the Buddha himself. A striking instance is found in the Siha Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya where General Siha a lay adherent of the Niganthas (Jainas) became a convert to Buddha Dhamma and in his enthusiasm wanted to take refuge in the Triple Gem then and there. But the Buddha cautioned him to consider the new doctrine carefully before committing himself; because its tenets were strange to him. He also advised General Siha not to withdraw his support from the “Naked Ascetics” completely, but to continue providing them with alms. In fact from the time of the Buddha, Buddhism made no charismatic claim to be the sole creed or the way of life for humanity. True Buddhist tolerance as practiced by the Buddha himself would allow others to hold and follow whatever beliefs they choose, so long as they are incapable of realizing any higher truth. So much so that the Buddha had admonished his disciples not to get angry if anyone should speak against the Buddha or his Doctrine. Therefore, it is no exaggeration to state that the hallmark of Buddhism has always been tolerance as seen from beginning to end.

It is noteworthy that, when western thinkers first became acquainted with Buddhism one of the features which impressed them most was its tolerance. As an example of this they would quote the Asokan edicts wherein the Emperor urges that all religious sectarians should be accorded respect in so far as their teachings were worthy of respect and that they should be allowed to hold their views and express them without restraint. Buddhist tolerance is rooted in the fact that there is no compulsion whatsoever to accept its teachings. Buddhism presents the truths of existence and the remedy for suffering, offering them to us for consideration. It then leaves the choice to the individual to either accept what it teaches or reject it. The Buddha advised his followers to respect and honour whatever was worthy of respect in other systems while rejecting that which was harmful and unworthy. In all probability, it was because there was such a thing as wrong belief that he had to place “Right Belief” at the head of the Noble Eightfold Path.

It is widely accepted that Buddhism is an extremely tolerant religion and during the two and a half millennia of its historical existence it has exhibited tolerance unparalleled in any other creed. Buddhist tolerance is a phenomenon securely enshrined in the principle of freedom of thought. The principle of freedom of thought was not only accepted by the Buddha but also actively protected through out the forty five years of his earthly ministry. In the Kalama Sutta which can be described as “Humanity’s Charter of Freedom” he advised the Kalamas whose minds had been confused by the dogmatic assertions and exclusive claims of the sectarian teachers of that period; not to go by hearsay, nor to rely on tradition, nor even on inference, nor to defer out of respect to the opinions of the professionally religious. He urged them to submit all teachings to the test of personal experience and to reject those which were condemned by the wise and which would when followed and put in practice conduce to loss and suffering.

The greatest historical achievement of Buddhism is that the propagation of the Dhamma was never done forcibly and violently as in other religious. It was always done peacefully, serenely and non aggressively. Buddhism was for centuries in possession of almost unlimited political influence, but not once did it invoke the help of state authority in dealing with its enemies. Even in lands where an ardently Buddhist monarch ruled over a devout people, the sole armour of a warrior of the Dhamma was reason and his only weapon persuasion, as he endeavored with “winning words to conquer willing hearts”. In Buddhism there is no persecution mania nor proselytization mania. Tolerance is firmly embedded in Buddhism via peaceful co-existence and democratic methodology. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru has said that; “if any question has to be considered, it has to be done peacefully and democratically in the way taught by the Buddha”. Tolerance emanates from the fact that embracing Buddhism is purely voluntary; there is no compulsion whatever. Venerable Dr. Walpola Rahula Thero has said that; “the teaching of the Buddha is qualified as “Ehi Passiko”, which means inviting you to come and see but not to come and believe”.

 

Loving kindness and compassion are the antidotes for intolerance

The Buddha’s message of loving kindness and compassion was universal. He taught his followers to show the same tolerance, forbearance and brotherly love to all men without distinction, and an unswerving kindness towards the members of the animal kingdom. The Buddha sowed tolerance in full measure through every word of his teachings and reaped ultra tolerance in multiple measure. Buddhism contains an excellent code of morals which evokes loving kindness and compassion as well as self restraint and discipline capable of invoking tolerance enshrined in the “panchasila” or the five precepts, the “Brahmavihara” or the four sublime states, the “dasa paramita” or the ten transcendal virtues and the “arya ashtangika marga” or the Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha has said that any person who observes the five precepts becomes a virtuous person or a person of high morality. Practicing morality and good ethical behavior can lead us to a calm and contented sublime state of mind.

Man is a mysterious being with inconceivable potentialities. Latent in him are both saintly characteristics and animal tendencies. Buddhism teaches those who desire to remove the latent vices and cultivate the dormant virtues to practice the Brahmavihara or four sublime states; also referred to as modes of sublime conduct or divine abodes. These virtues would invariably elevate man. They make one divine in this life itself. They can make one tranquil, serene and tolerant. The four sublime states are; Metta or loving kindness, Karuna or compassion, mudita or appreciative joy and Upekkha or equanimity. The most powerful and destructive vice in man is anger. The sweet virtue that subdues this evil force and sublimes man is Metta or loving kindness. The Buddha has admonished that anger can only be conquered by love; as reflected in verse 5 of the Dhammapada as follows.

“Nahi Verena Verani – sammantidha kudachanam;

Averenacha sammanti – esa dhammo sanatanno”.

This means; “hatreds never cease through hatreds in this world. Through love alone they cease. This is an eternal law”. Cruelty is another vice that is responsible for many horrors and atrocities prevalent in the world. Compassion or Karuna is the obvious antidote. Karuna teaches one to be fully compassionate; in other words just to forget and forgive. The Buddha has admonished that hatred can only be appeased by not harboring hatred in verse 4 of the Dhammapada as follows.

“Akkochchi mam avadhi mam – agini mam ahasi me;

Yetam na upanayhanti – veram tesu pasammati”.

This means; “he abused me, he beat me, he defeated me, he robbed me. In those who do not harbour such thoughts, hatred is appeased”.

 

Jealousy is another horrible vice that poisons one’s system and leads to unhealthy rivalries and dangerous consequences. The most effective remedy for this evil is the practice of appreciative joy or Mudita. Attachment to the pleasurable and aversion to the non pleasurable are two universal characteristics that disturbs the mental equipoise of man. They can be eliminated by developing equanimity or upekkha. The most destructive forces that emanate in the human mind are anger, hatred and cruelty. The root causes of these evils are ignorance and lack of tolerance.

Buddhism whilst stifling the evil forces of ignorance, lust and hatred advances extreme tolerance which precludes any possibility of violence being used even for the advancement of its own tenets. Century after century in almost all Buddhist countries across Asia the strength which motivated and powered the messenger of the Dharma is not the restless and tumultuous energy of hate but the placid and serene power of loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity coupled with extreme tolerance or intense sympathetic understanding.



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Responding to our energy addiction

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by Ranil Senanayake

Sri Lanka today is in the throes of addiction withdrawal. Reliant on fossil fuels to maintain the economy and basic living comforts, the sudden withdrawal of oil, coal and gas deliveries has exposed the weakness and the danger of this path of ‘development’ driven by fossil energy. This was a result of some poorly educated aspirants to political power who became dazzled by the advancement of western industrial technology and equated it with ‘Development’. They continue with this blind faith even today.

Thus, on December 20th 1979, an official communiqué was issued by the Government and displayed in the nation’s newspapers stating, “No oil means no development, and less oil, less development. It is oil that keeps the wheels of development moving”. This defined with clarity what was to be considered development by the policy-makers of that time. This fateful decision cast a deadly policy framework for the nation. The energy source that was to drive the national economy would be fossil-based. Even today, that same policy framework and its adherents continue. Everything, from electricity to cooking fuel, was based on fossil energy.

The economics of development, allows externalizing all the negative effects of ‘development’ into the environment, this being justified because, “industrialisation alleviates poverty”. The argument, is that economies need to industrialise in order to reduce poverty; but industrialisation leads to ‘unavoidable emissions. Statements like, ‘reduction in poverty leads to an increase in emissions’ is often trotted out as dogma. Tragically, these views preclude a vision of development based on high tech, non-fossil fuel driven, low consumptive lifestyles. Indeed, one indicator of current ‘development’ is the per capita consumption of power, without addressing the source of that power.

A nation dependent on fossil fuel is very much like an addict dependent on drugs. The demand is small, at first, but grows swiftly, until all available resources are given. In the end, when there is nothing else left to pawn, even the future of their children will be pawned and finally the children themselves! Today, with power cuts and fuel shortages, the pain of addiction begins to manifest.

The creation of desire

This perspective of ‘development’, the extension of so-called ‘civilised living’ is not new to us in Sri Lanka, Farrer, writing in 1920, had this to say when visiting Colombo:

“Modern, indeed, is all this, civilised and refined to a notable degree. All the resources of modern culture are thick about you, and you feel that the world was only born yesterday, so far as right-thinking people are concerned.

And, up and down in the shade of glare, runs furiously the unresting tide of life. The main street is walled in by high, barrack like structures, fiercely western in the heart of the holy East, and the big hotels upon its frontage extend their uncompromising European facades. Within them there is a perpetual twilight, and meek puss-faced Sinhalese take perpetually the drink orders of prosperous planters and white-whiskered old fat gentlemen in sun hats lined with green. At night these places are visible realisation of earthly pleasure to the poor toiling souls from the farthest lonely heights of the mountains and the jungle.” The process goes on still …

Develop we must, but cautiously – with the full awareness of the long-term consequences of each process. Development must be determined by empowering the fundamental rights of the people and of the future generations. Clean air, clean water, access to food and freedom from intoxication, are some of these fundamental rights. Any process that claims to be part of a development process must address these, among other social and legal fundamental rights.

One problem has been that, the movement of a country with traditional non-consumptive values, into a consumerist society based on fossil energy tends to erode these values rapidly. Often, we are told that this is a necessary prerequisite to become a ‘developed country’, but this need not be so. We need to address that fundamental flaw stated in 1979. We need to wean ourselves away from the hydrocarbon-based economy to a carbohydrate-based economy. Which means moving from a fossil fuel-based economy to a renewable energy-based economy.

Fossil Fuels or fossil hydrocarbons are the repository of excess carbon dioxide that is constantly being injected into the atmosphere by volcanic action for over the last 200 million years. Hydrocarbons are substances that were created to lock up that excess Carbon Dioxide, sustaining the stable, Oxygen rich atmosphere we enjoy today. Burning this fossil stock of hydrocarbons is the principal driver of modern society as well as climate change. It is now very clear that the stability of planetary climate cycles is in jeopardy and a very large contributory factor to this crisis are the profligate activities of modern human society.

As a response to the growing public concern that fossil fuels are destroying our future, the fossil industry developed a ‘placating’ strategy. Plant a tree, they say, the tree will absorb the carbon we emit and take it out of the atmosphere, through this action we become Carbon neutral. When one considers that the Carbon which lay dormant for 200 million years was put into the atmosphere today, can never be locked up for an equal amount of time by planting a tree. A tree can hold the Carbon for 500 years at best and when it dies its Carbon will be released into the atmosphere again as Carbon Dioxide.

Carbon Dioxide is extracted from the atmosphere by plants and converted into a solid form through the action of photosynthesis. Photosynthetic biomass performs the act of primary production, the initial step in the manifestation of life. This material has the ability to increase in mass by the absorption of solar or other electromagnetic radiation, while releasing oxygen and water vapor into the atmosphere. It is only photosynthetic biomass that powers carbon sequestration, carbohydrate production, oxygen generation and water transformation, i.e., all actions essential for the sustainability of the life support system of the planet.

Yet currently, it is only one product of this photosynthetic biomass, sequestered carbon, usually represented by wood/timber, that is recognized as having commercial value in the market for mitigating climate change. The ephemeral part, the leaves, are generally ignored, yet the photosynthetic biomass in terrestrial ecosystems are largely composed of leaves, this component needs a value placed on it for its critical ‘environmental services’

With growth in photosynthetic biomass, we will see more Oxygen, Carbon sequestering and water cleansing, throughout the planet. As much of the biomass to be gained is in degraded ecosystems around the planet and as these areas are also home to the world’s rural poor, these degraded ecosystems have great growth potential for generating photosynthetic biomass of high value. If the restoration of these degraded ecosystems to achieve optimal photosynthetic biomass cover becomes a global goal, the amazing magic of photosynthesis could indeed help change our current dire course, create a new paradigm of growth and make the planet more benign for our children.

Instead of flogging the dead horse of fossil energy-based growth as ‘Economic Development’, instead of getting the population addicted to fossil energy, will we have the commonsense to appreciate the value of photosynthetic biomass and encourage businesses that obtain value for the nations Primary Ecosystem Services (PES)? The realization of which, will enrich not only our rural population but rural people the world over!

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Australia-Sri Lanka project in the news…Down Under

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The McNaMarr Project is the collaboration between Australian vocalist and blues guitarist, John McNamara, and Andrea Marr, who is a Sri Lankan-born blues and soul singer, songwriter and vocal coach.

Her family migrated to Australia when she was 14 and, today, Andrea is big news, Down Under.

For the record, Andrea has represented Australia, at the International Blues Challenge, in Memphis, Tennessee, three times, while John McNamara has also been there twice, representing Australia.

Between them, they have 10 albums and multiple Australian Blues awards.

Their second album, ‘Run With Me,’ as The McNaMarr Project, now available on all platforms, worldwide, has gone to No. 1 on the Australian Blues and Roots Sirplay charts, and No. 12 on the UK Blues charts.

Their debut album, ‘Holla And Moan,’ released in 2019, charted in Australia and the US Blues and Soul charts and received rave reviews from around the world.

Many referred to their style as “the true sound of soulful blues.”

= The Rocker (UK): “They’ve made a glorious album of blues-based soul. And when I say glorious, I really mean it. I’ve tried to pick out highlights, but as it’s one of the records of this year – 2019 – (or any other for that matter) it’s tricky. You have to own this.”

= Reflections in Blue (USA): “Ten original tunes that absolutely nail the sound and spirit of Memphis soul. Marr has been compared to Betty Lavette and Tina Turner and with good reason. She delivers vocals with power and soul and has a compelling stage presence. McNamara’s vocals are reminiscent of the likes of Sam & Dave or even Otis Redding. This is quality work that would be every bit as well received, in the late 1950s, as it is today. It is truly timeless.”

= La Hora Del Blues (Spain): “Andrea Marr’s voice gives us the same feeling as artistes, like Betty Lavette, Tina Turner or Sharon Jones, perfectly supported by John McNamara’s work, on vocals and guitar…in short words, GREAT!”

Yes, John McNamara has been described as an exceptional vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, whose voice has been compared to the late great Sam Cooke and Otis Redding, while Andrea Marr often gets compared to the likes of Tina Turner, Gladys Knight and Sharon Jones.

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Manju Robinson’s scene…

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Entertainer and frontline singer, Manju Robinson, is back, after performing at a leading tourist resort, in the Maldives, entertaining guests from many parts of the world, especially from Russia, Kazakhstan, Germany, Poland…and Maldivians, as well.

His playlist is made up of the golden oldies and the modern sounds, but done in different styles and versions.

While preparing for his next foreign assignment…in the Maldives again, and also Dubai, Manju says he has plans to do his thing in Colombo.

Manju has performed with several local bands, including 3Sixty, Shiksha (Derena Dreamstar band), Naaada, Eminents, Yaathra, Robinson Brothers, Odyssey, Hard Black and Mark.

He was the winner – Best Vocalist and the Best Duo performer – at the Battle of the Bands competition, in 2014, held at the Galadari Hotel.

In 2012, he won the LION’s International Best Vocalist 2012 award.

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