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Midweek Review

University education and arts graduates



By Dr. Dileep Chandralal

I have been following the ongoing debate in The Island on university education, Arts graduates and employment. I have also watched a recent webinar organised by young academics. I appreciate the efforts by university teachers to raise awareness about some pervasive issues that have prevailed, unsolved for a long time. However, I cannot agree with many ideas presented and the manner and the nature of the debate. Most of the articles are deeply ideological in content, full of preconceived notions and socialist jargon but lacks constructive ideas or alternative proposals that lead to a meaningful dialogue, hence seem to have vested interests in maintaining the status quo.

It should be noted that the argumentative essay prepared and publicised by a group of university teachers in response to a report compiled by the audit office, titled ‘Propensity to tend education under the Arts stream and the unemployment of Arts Graduates’ had initiated the discussion with some important facts, ideas, opinions and a list of proposals toward potential solutions. However, the line of argument developed throughout the ongoing debate neither addresses some undeniable issues nor involves self-introspection.

The authors claim that the generalised term Arts education does not adequately encompass areas in Humanities and Social Science in higher education. We know that Arts Faculties provide degrees in the social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, economics and geography, and humanities subjects such as history, philosophy, languages and literature. One pertinent question is, have the universities shown to the wider society or at least the undergraduates, that studying these subjects is crucial to social development? To establish wider acceptance or social recognition of these subjects, university teachers and students should show in practice that such subjects are immensely beneficial to the society.

There are so many problems in our society that deserve critical study and in-depth analysis in terms of humanities and social sciences. To cite a few examples, what prevents us from moving forward even after pursuing free education for more than 70 years? To what extent inequality in the public school system prevails and hinders social progress? How does the myth of our high literacy rate relate to the inability to provide good basic education to all, or to the failure of lifelong education? What are our conventional values toward jobs and employment and how are they responsible for the unemployment problem? How has the pandemic affected school children and family life? What are the merits and demerits of leaving children fully exposed to the Internet? These are only a few examples that come to mind which are neither comprehensive nor exhaustive. Unfortunately, I have not come across any university faculty in humanities or social sciences, or any research group that have tried to address these problems through social surveys, collecting factual data and analyzing the issues, and publishing the findings for the benefit of society while informing policy makers and decision makers.

My sincere opinion is that if we don’t prove that skills, attitudes and perspectives nourished by Social Sciences and Humanities are valid and crucial for understanding social problems and finding solutions to them, the general public and the leaders will remain unsympathetic towards Arts education. Under such circumstances, our primary school children will continue to answer ‘doctor’ and ‘engineer’ when asked what they would like to become in the future. While Japanese children proudly answer the same question with ‘Cake-shop owner’, ‘baseball player’ and ‘youtuber’, our parents and children will continue to hope for an elitist utopia for many more decades, waiting for a foreign force to build a port city or port island for us to live and work in comfort.

Considering the behaviour of our undergraduates or graduates, while conscious of the danger of using sweeping generalisations, don’t seem to be equipped with critical thinking and analytical skills, independent learning and social imagination necessary for understanding contemporary social problems. As a sloppy solution to the graduate unemployment problem, successive Sri Lankan governments have been appointing thousands of graduates as Development Officers or Development Assistants. Do they have a grasp on development problems and approaches to tackling such problems? Are they making any productive contribution to rural or urban development?

Recently, I was shocked to hear that the National Child Protection Policy has not been implemented for the past 21 years, according to a COPE review. Where have our social scientists, humanists, critical observers and social critics been until this revelation by COPE. All these situations, though random, reveal that our Social Sciences and Humanities Faculties have not done enough to nurture generations of students in a manner that contribute to the socio-economic development of the country. Dr. C.S. Weeraratna, a former senior professor with much expertise and understanding of the problems on the ground, had pointed out the case earlier without depending on ideological twists and jargon (The Island, September 4, 2020).

My argument is that just deviating from the Neoliberal framework with its narrow skill set imposed on school education, as mentioned by many writers, is not enough to complete the essential task before us in this age of VUCA characterized by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. The future is uncertain, it is said globally, and difficult to predict. Once upon a time there was a simple rule for success: If you learn the contents of a textbook or lecture notes, believed to be constant and invariable, take an examination and get a good grade, you can succeed. This conventional success story does not hold water any more.

Further, in an age when a massive amount of information can be instantly conveyed via internet, it is important for Sri Lanka, above all, to improve the intellectual level of its people and to nurture compassionate citizens who are respectful and understanding of other classes as well as other cultures. We need to collect data, analyze them, grasp the ground situation based on this understanding, and take steps through feasible action plans.

Recently, an author blamed Neoliberal ideology for compartmentalization and specialisation of education. In fact, the specialisation and subcategorisation of human knowledge had taken place long before the emergence of Neoliberalism, and Western Scholars criticised it as a crisis of Western education (See J.H. Plumb, ed. Crisis in Humanities, Penguin book, 1964). In response to this crisis, Western universities started amalgamating departments and creating new Faculties, Departments and Courses through cross-departmental and transdisciplinary collaboration. In Departments such as Global Studies, Development Studies, Environmental Studies, Regional Studies, Care and Welfare Studies, etc., students have the opportunity to study a wide range of subjects such as informatics, sociology, psychology, economics, geography, history, philosophy, culture, and languages, using transdisciplinary approaches as delineated by university curricular, which lead to holistic understanding of social, regional and global issues.

It is unfortunate that our scholars tend to see all new trends of education as attempts to cater to the profit-centred enterprises of the private sector, without trying to find new pathways for the coexistence of academia and communities. We should encourage students, teachers and researchers to abandon the all-or-nothing approach and look at the problems or situations from many different angles, taking a multi-faceted approach to them. If we do not adopt new pedagogies and strategies in education and research, our country will continue to lag behind in development.

I was surprised to read in a recent article “Disappointingly, curriculum-making, under neoliberalism and the officialdom that prevails at our universities, has become a technocratic, bureaucratic activity done in line with a set of narrow guidelines, introduced by agencies like the World Bank or ADB, and adopted uncritically by the University Grants Commission (UGC)” (The Island, 21.7.2021). According to the lines, the universities do not have freedom to formulate their curricular. What happened to the autonomy of universities and academic freedom in Sri Lanka? This is one of the biggest collective tragedies that has befallen Sri Lanka. All Viyathmaga or Aviyathmaga people should gather to save future generations from this tragedy. Instead of singing hosanna to the Sinopharm vaccine in the name of research, conducted with Neoliberal and Chinese funds, university professors should turn to genuine research and academic honesty lest it should wither on the vine.

After all, not only social reality but also science or, for that matter, technology should not be overvalued or undervalued. Science presents us with crucial information which should never be underestimated. But, when formulating policy, we have to rely on philosophy, ethics, thoughts and social realities. That is where we need Social Sciences and Humanities. In Western tradition, it is called Liberal arts and constitutes the core of the Western university education. Art conveys a sense of learned skill (shishta kala) rather than specifically the fine arts (lalitha kala). As humans responsible for both the present and the future, we should be capable of switching off ideology and interest, of objectifying ourselves. I sincerely hope the debate continues in a more constructive way.


(The writer was formerly attached to the Faculty of Humanities in Okinawa University, Japan and currently serves as emeritus Professor.)

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Midweek Review




By Capt Elmo Jayawardena

Some days ago, a fellow Captain dropped in to see us at home. He was accompanied by his wife. Amidst a light conversation and pleasant chatter, they mentioned NADAGAMKARAYO.  He swore it was a great teledrama and that we should give it a go. I had never watched teledramas because I could not allocate a fixed time for sitting in front of the television. The same goes for my wife, who is ultra-busy with our own dramas in life. Somehow the following day we got a break from a tight schedule and went to YouTube and watched Episode 1 of Nadagamkarayo.

Then we watched Episode 2 and then 3 and 4 and 5.Now after two weeks we are at Episode 184 and well set on Nadagamkarayo to light-up our evenings. I called a dear friend. I know his taste. By profession he is the Head Honcho of a prominent bank.  But he’s still got grass-root vernacular taste, yes, from Spielberg masterpieces to Indika Ferdinando’s ‘Ho Gaana Pokuna’.  The bank boss has not been a tele-drama man. The next day he texted me, “Thank you for the gift my friend, the programme is great, I am hooked on Nadagamkarayo.” A few days later, he emailed me that he was on Episode 58. I called another friend, a leading corporate lawyer married to an ultra-busy surgeon. They have three young children, and the lawyer is a multi-tasker from the ‘A’ Team. She too has taken the Nadagamkarayo drug and was watching the teledrama at 8.00 in the morning, the only interval in her roller-coaster daily road map.   So, what is all this hype about Nadagamkarayo? It certainly is no quick fix for lockdown blues. It is much more. Pure Sri Lankan simple story with excellent creativity.

The cast bar none is acting at Sarasavi or Sumathi level.  Kawadiya, who has traces of Dustin Hoffman, gets the Oscar nomination, and Kukul Bada, the young domestic, deserves an honourable mention purely for his varying facial expressions. The totality created by director Sivagurunathan is amazingly watchable.  The insatiable appetite of the TV audience to watch Nadagamkarayo stems from the clever way the drama rolls on, keeping all characters alive and active. If this is watched by anyone as a ‘Daily Bread’ at 9.30 in the night, that is fine, so long as you have that half-hour free to sit in front of your TV. But like us, if you are a late starter and going through the episodes to catch up with the current stage, then you are in trouble. Watch one and then go to the next and the next and the next in an unstoppable frenzy and the wake-up call comes when you hear the clock striking midnight. That is how strong the addiction could be. I do not know who the scriptwriter is or the brilliant cinematographer who is responsible for depicting rural scenery of high pastoral quality.

There will be so many others who added their smidgen to make this a first-class entertainment to all and sundry.  They say cocaine, LSD and pure Kerala ganja are addictive?

Try Nadagamkarayo, you get bewildered from episode to episode which is hard to switch off until you watch the entire story.  Kukula Mudalali seems a veteran from either stage or screen. As bald as a doorknob and with a ‘Taras Bulba’ moustache he is the perfect all-round villain for the drama. Not only is he a thug selling moonshine but a failed Romeo with any skirt that swings in the wind. Manamalan driving his red imitation Ferrari is difficult to define from the audience point of view. He is brash and bawdy and is always the ultimate liar. That is his role, and he sure brings a different dimension to the bucolic village setting with his patch-work denims and action-filled behaviour which has the unique distinction of being pleasing and annoying at the same time. This is what we traded for Netflix and HBO.

At the start it was curiosity, but in no time Nadagamkarayo became an addiction. We have not seen the evening television news for weeks. No, we missed nothing. We do not want to know who stole the garlic and created the Sudulunu scandal or who runs the rice mafia and hides the harvest. Pandora’s Box and how Uhuru Kenyatta and Vladimir Putin looked for reliable laundries to clean their money is way above what we need to know. The same goes for those who bid for a Cypriot passport at 1.3 million dollars.

We do not want to know how 600 plus items were blacklisted for importing and then in a flash a new magician came on stage like Gorgiya Pasha and swung his multi-coloured wand and Ooppss – the restrictions vanished into thin air. No more dollar-saving cutbacks. We can be clad in St Michael’s underwear and feast on Cadbury chocolates stocked in a brand new two-door refrigerator imported from Germany. No, I certainly do not need all that twisted jargon camouflaged as current head-lines to crowd my evening by watching local television channels. Maybe, it is not the fault of these stations but the politically- dominated mundane news that is available or ‘has to be’ shown by order.

I will gladly trade all that to see Loku Hamuduruwo on Nadagamkarayo screen with his serene behaviour and exemplary attitude to life which soothes our very souls. At all times the soft words of Loku Hamuduruwo are always a simple wisdom-filled lesson in life to all of us. Cap it up with the daily occurrences at the tea kiosk by the paddy field where the shop owner, manager, and tea-maker Mudalali and his golaya Gajaman colour the show.  His customers are the banana-eating and kahata-drinking clan who spice the story with palatable ‘Gamey Talk’.

The champion of this mini-stage is Sirisena the erudite goat-milk-seller who has his own interpretations and anecdotes to anything and everything political that happens in the country.Sudu Chooti comes to the story as a village Juliet. She is the daughter of the Music Master and his comely wife Kusumalatha who is ‘all perfect’ in her role as a village mother. Here the village damsel Sudu Chooti falls in love with the Kassippu-selling Sara, the scourge of the village.  No doubt, Sara carries the show wrapped in a rugged flamboyance which is nothing but raw talent. He sure is the ultimate ‘Village Hampden’ from Gray’s Elegy, a rebel against constant village tyranny. He and his Kassippu boys, Kawadiya, Suddha and Kiri Putha depict clearly to the audience the sadness of the youth of today.

The poverty that plagues their young lives with no answers visible to make a decent living is an unchangeable tragedy. They are outcasts in the village and are branded for life with no avenue for redemption.  That part of Nadagamkarayo is a lesson to us all. The underlying message is clear; It is not the core of the man that is rotting, it is the system that denies him the opportunity. Where and when is the brighter day that would give him a chance to wake up and make attempts to be a decent human being?Rasika is poor, her husband has left her and run off with another woman. Rasika is a single parent taking care of an innocent little daughter. They live in a hovel that is called home. Her father is sick, a heart patient, and the mother is unemployed.

The day that dawns for them is always a struggle.A stranger is kind to her. Gives Rasika a lift to visit her father in hospital and brings her home. She invites him for a cup of tea. He is reluctant and hesitates. Even though we are poor we can afford to give you a cup of tea,” she tells the stranger. That line says it all. It defines the soul of Sri Lanka and what is Sri Lankan.Where would we be without it?

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Midweek Review

Is Buddhism pessimistic teaching?




Buddhism is a non-theistic religion. Unlike many other religions it does not believe in a god or a creator. It is not only a religion but also a philosophy with a moral discipline. It originated in northern eastern India and was founded by Gautama Buddha. Today, Buddhism has become one of the major religions in the world, with more than 500 million adherents. Prince Siddhartha Gautama, who later became Gautama Buddha, having realised the immense human suffering looked for a way of easing their pain and suffering. He pursued strict spiritual disciplines to become an enlightened being. Having achieved enlightenment he preached a path of salvation to his followers, so that they could escape the samsaric cycle of suffering, rebirth and death. In brief, the entire teaching of the Buddha can be summed up in one stanza from the Dhammapada. “Sabba papassa akaranam kusalassa upasampada sacitta pariyodapanam etan buddhana sasanam” (not to do evil, to cultivate merit, to purify one’s mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas}.

Criticism of Buddhism has taken many forms. Some incline to the view that Buddhism is overly pessimistic in outlook, and always takes a gloomy and melancholic view of life. While others were of the opinion that Buddhism was unscientific, idealistic and impractical. These misconceptions have prevailed from the time of the Buddha to this day. It should be stated that these beliefs are fallacious and misleading, as Buddhism is neither pessimistic or optimistic. If anything at all, it is realistic as it takes a realistic and dispassionate view of life and of the world, and teaches us to look at things as they really are. Buddhism promotes rational and empirical investigation, and invites people to put the teachings of the Buddha to test before accepting it. Buddha does not stop at analysing suffering [dukka], but proceeds to show us the practical way out of it, which is the Noble Eightfold Path.

The erroneous view that Buddhism is pessimistic has come about as a result of many scholars giving a restricted meaning to the word dukkha (Suffering) in the First Noble Truth. They have interpreted dukka (suffering) as nothing but suffering and pain. This has led many to regard Buddhism as a pessimistic religion. But viewed from a Buddhist perspective the word dukkha (suffering) has a deeper and wider connotation and dimension.

It should be noted that other than the ordinary meaning of dukkha (suffering), the word dukkha in the First Noble Truth also connotes such things as ‘’imperfection “, “impermanence” and “insubstantiality”.

Dr. Walpola Rahula Thero in his book “What the Buddha Taught” has stated thus: “First of all, Buddhism is neither pessimistic or optimistic. If anything at all, it is realistic, for it takes a realistic view of life and world. It looks at things objectively (yathabhutam). It does not falsely lull you into living in a fool’s paradise, nor does it frighten and agonise you with all kinds of imaginary fears and sins. It tells you exactly and objectively what you are and what the world around you is, and shows you the way to perfect freedom, peace, tranquility and happiness”.

Pessimism is a philosophy of suffering, while Buddhism is a philosophy of the relief of suffering. Had the Buddha in his discourse proclaimed that there was nothing but misery in life, and there was no happiness to be found anywhere, without showing us the way out of it, we would have been justified in characterising Buddhism as pessimistic.

It is true that the Buddha exposed the unhappy part of life. However, while doing so he explained the way to come out of it.

Buddhism does not countenance a melancholic, sorrowful, gloomy attitude to life, and it does not foster an attitude of hopelessness to life. The Buddha didn’t ask his adherents to contemplate only on the gloomy side of life. He did not expect them to brood over misery only, but wanted them to know that both the happy and sad sides of life are equally fleeting and impermanent.

No one can deny the reality of suffering associated with birth, decay, old age, death, association with the unpleasant and disassociation from the pleasant. In reality there is none in the whole world other than the Buddha, who can be described as a preacher of happiness or sukhavadi. A true Buddhist is the happiest of all beings.

Buddhism is a religion of salvation. It is an ethical philosophy which preaches the unsatisfactory nature of the world. Unlike other religions in the world, which talk about an almighty god on whom people depend for salvation. According to Buddhism, one is indeed one’s own lord {attahi attano natho}.

The entire teaching of the Buddha when summed up, amounts simply to insights into “impermanence” [annicca] suffering or unsatisfactoriness” [dukka] and “non-selfhood” [annitta]. These three characteristics were the aspects of teaching, which the Buddhas stressed more than any other. The three characteristics annicca, dukkha and anatta which facts of life can be realized and grasped by everyone. Even the most placid person would admit that dukka is omnipresent and universal. This truth can be easily realized by anyone who can think soberly and dispassionately. It can be seen everywhere around us. Infatuation with transient pleasures prevents us from seeing things as they truly are.

Walpola Rahula Thero in his book states the Buddha does not deny happiness in life when he says there is suffering. On the contrary he admits different forms of happiness, both material and spiritual, for laymen as well as for monks. In the Anguttara-Nikaya, one of the five original collections in Pali containing the Buddha’s discourses, there is a list of happiness (sukhani), such as the happiness of family life and the happiness of the life of a recluse, the happiness of sense pleasures and the happiness of renunciation, the happiness of attachment and the happiness of detachment, physical happiness and mental happiness etc.

Misery arises because of craving and aversion, which in turn arise from tanha. If these causes are eradicated the root cause of misery is eradicated. The Buddha said pain is followed by pleasure, and pleasure is followed by pain. In other words, pleasure and pain follow each other as day follows night.

If you observe the reality around us it is evident it consists of birth, sickness, old age, sorrow, pain, distress, decay, grief, death, lamentation, etc. Empirical observation of human existence makes it clear. Buddha laid emphasis on knowing things as they really are [yatha bhuta nana] if you take a critical look at life and all its concomitants, it is clear to everyone everything is in a state of flux. Life is a succession of fleeting moments of arising and dissolution. And every cell in the body of a being would die and be replaced by a new cell which in turn would die to be replaced by another. From conception to death the process goes on uninterrupted. Buddha’s definition of suffering is clear and empirical to anyone.

The Buddha has preached that the following come into being and pass away. Release from them is bliss—Annicca vata sankara Uppada vaya dhammino Uuppajjitva nirujjhanti Tesam vupa samo sukho).

He also preached “he who sees dukkha sees also the arising of dukkha, sees also cessation of dukkha, and sees also the path leading to the cessation of dukkha“. This does not make the life of a Buddhist melancholy or sorrowful at all.

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Midweek Review

The Runaway Rash



By Lynn Ockersz

Drained of its nutritional sap,

Thanks to a runaway rash of scams,

The fabled isle sees red on multiple fronts;

On the one hand, it faces an economic slump,

On the other, it’s being greedily milked dry,

By a political class answerable to none,

And on top of it all, people who most matter,

In revered bodies that help build the land,

Are thrusting aside the Voice of their Conscience,

And vitalizing the gangrenous growth of corruption.

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