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Valorising mythology to invalidate known history

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By ROHANA R. WASALA

Feisal Mansoor (‘Muslims and ban on cattle slaughter’/The Island/October 9, 2020) opens his piece with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi, obviously taken from the web: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” However, there is some doubt about the authenticity of that alleged Gandhi quote, because it is not traceable to his writings or his speeches according to quote-researchers; besides, he was usually better known for his great concern for the weak members of human society than for animals. But even if someone just imagined it, there’s no harm done, for the expression of concern for animal welfare attributed to Gandhi, can be easily supported by what we know about him as a champion of non-violence. But the problem here is this: Whether genuine or fake, the Gandhi quote has little or no relevance to the truth that FM’s arbitrary opinions about Sri Lanka’s ‘ancient culture’ misrepresent or conceal, in favour of something else. He seems to completely ignore the millennia long recorded history of the island, which is almost entirely coterminous with its established Buddhist religious culture and is inseparable from it. (Incidentally, the spirit of secularism and democracy that it encourages in governance is a distinctive feature of the country’s majority Buddhist culture; but this is something difficult for most believers of other religions and Sri Lanka-baiters to understand or appreciate.) The greatness of our culture is that it is absolutely tolerant and accommodating towards minority cultures, subject to the implicit legitimate condition that they don’t try to make undue inroads into its space or to subvert it in other ways. To me it looks like FM’s statements are meant to distort, rubbish, and obviate, if possible, Sri Lanka’s ancient Sinhala Buddhist cultural heritage. Is the Gandhi quote meant to imply that our nation has no claim to greatness, and that our treatment of animals falls short of required moral standards observed in civilized countries?

Having said that, it must be stated with emphasis that it is perfectly alright for FM to try to share his personal convictions with others. That is his right as a free citizen. I am enjoying here the same right to articulate my reaction as a Sri Lankan to his views about the ancient history and culture of our beloved Motherland.

First of all, let’s be clear about this: At the very inauguration (i.e., in official terms) of the Buddha Sasana in the island of Lanka, Buddhist missionary Arhant Mahinda Thera admonished the monarch of the land king Devanampiya Tissa in 236 BCE (2256 years ago) thus as recorded in the Mahavamsa (Chapter XIV):

“O great king, the beasts that roam the forest and the birds that fly the skies have the same right to this land as you. The land belongs to the people and to all other living things, and you are not its owner but only its guardian.”

Isn’t this considerably before today’s animal rights protectors, animal ‘status’ guarantors, animal welfare standard maintainers, and various other ‘a fair deal for animals’ worriers, represented in organizations that annually celebrate the World Wildlife Day (March 3), World Animal Day (October 4), etc., at some cost, started talking about the subject?

Compassionate treatment of all sentient beings is an ideal that people brought up in our culture, take for granted. Of course, there are instances where the ideal is observed in the breach. That is human nature. A whole society should not be judged on the basis of the behaviour of a few individuals, who could themselves be victims of circumstances.

FM’s first paragraph is an attempted fusion of the Ravana myth and his religious beliefs, to the exclusion of the historically factual Buddhist element. That Ravana flew his ‘dandu monara yanaya’ (wooden peacock aircraft) and abducted Seetha from what is now called India, is a story. Not even children take that as proven history, but it is a wonderful story, wherever or whenever it originated. Talking monkeys, animal fortune tellers, and other human personality attributed birds and beasts are common in literature in all cultures. The stories that compose our Jataka Potha are shared property in various North Indian literary traditions. The Sanskrit ‘Panchatantra’ from India, interweaves five skeins of moral traditions into a single text composed of stories in which so many animals feature, invested with human qualities. We have a number of talking, philosophising, admonishing birds in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

FM writes: “As Creation is the supreme force in the universe, the beneficence of life and its comprehension through love, is to facilitate as many expressions of life as possible.” That belief is not shared by the predominant religious culture of our country, but is not targetadly criticised or attacked so as to hurt others’ religious beliefs or sentiments. There is evidence that our ancestors ‘worshipped’ the sun as the source of all life, especially plant life, hence important for agriculture. If they deified the sun, it was very meaningful. That ancient religious tradition survives today in the secular Surya Mangalyaya or the Sinhala Aluth Avurudda, held in the month of Bak (Felix/Lucky) in the Sinhala calendar. The ignorant insensitive British colonial authorities arbitrarily renamed it Sinhala Hindu New Year for their own purposes. Tamils and Sinhalese can and do live peaceably together, while observing their separate culturally distinctive festivals. Whether our ancestors called themselves Aryans because they were sun worshippers is highly improbable. Aryans were a white skinned race.The Sinhalese are not. It is not impossible that the Swastika – a sign that symbolizes the Sun was later appropriated by those white people, including Adolf Hitler. The legendary Vijaya of the Mahavamsa could have descended from such a tribe, but that origin story is not accepted today. Newly available archaeological evidence provides proof that our ancestors were a civilised a people (with their pure dark skin) even during the time of the Buddha, and that there were lay Buddhists and Buddhist monks before the arrival of Arahat Mahinda; whose coming appears to have been the result of an official diplomatic mission; he and his retinue were, most probably, royal emissaries from Emperor Asoka’s court as much as Buddhist missionaries. (Read between the lines, the Mahavamsa passages support this impression.)

FM’s reference to Aldous Huxley needs a comment. In the Maha Parinibbana Sutta, the Buddha tells the monks: ‘Atta dipa viharatha’ – ‘Be islands unto yourselves’, meaning you are your own saviour, that is, ‘Realise Nibbanic Bliss, put an end to samsaric suffering, through your own effort’ (which is not beyond you, if you are diligent enough). Writer and brilliant intellectual Aldous Huxley might have independently arrived at this island metaphor to describe his own illusion of self, elusive self-identity. The contemplative W.B. Yeats, himself no mean intellectual, expressed it as ‘How can we know the dancer from the dance?’ It is also possible that both of them came across this idea in Buddhist literature.

Apparently, FM mistakes this profound idea for selfish self-absorption. In his confusion, he imports the phrase ‘enlightened self-interest’ that Adam Smith (considered the ‘father of modern economics’) coined to express his idea that by pursuing one’s own economic benefit one ultimately contributes to the good of others as well, without probably intending to do so. (But it can be thought that he tried to elaborate it as a morally acceptable concept, rather than as a coldly amoral economic one.) However, that is something very different from the Buddhist idea of working for the benefit and wellbeing of others without expecting a reward, generosity or altruism.

 

FM has written:

“As such, enlightened self-interest is the only personal inquiry we can make, with the all- important caveat that in our self-discovery we may not interfere with anything else’s self-discovery.”

He may be seen as giving idiosyncratic twists to the terms ‘enlightened self-interest’ and ‘self-discovery’, which are actually technical terms in their respective characteristic contexts. FM also makes a confusing verbal medley out of words like ahimsa, Dhamma, and Mahasammata. These are words charged with meaning and emotion for Buddhists. ‘Mahasammata’ (the Great Elect/the Universally Chosen One/The People’s Choice) occurs in Chapter II of the Mahavamsa as the earliest genealogical ancestor of the Buddha (and humankind, probably) who lived countless aeons ago. For Sinhalese Buddhists ‘Mahasammata’ is not a historical figure; he is the legendary first king on earth. In the Agganna Sutta (On Knowledge of Beginnings) the Buddha mentions Mahasammata as the first ruler who was appointed, based on his handsome appearance and moral strength, by common consent, to rule over the group of rice growers that was the loosely formed human society then. He was tasked to prevent stealing, to punish the miscreants by banishing, etc. Mahasammata was given a share of the rice crop as payment for his service. Actually, the Agganna Sutta can be interpreted as a scientific account of an alternately expanding and contracting universe, and a gradually evolving earth; and much later anatomically modern humans and organized human societies emerging on earth. There is no talk of a creator or creation, which FM takes for granted. Dharma is what the Buddha preached. Ahimsa is the ideal of nonviolence that is common to most Indian religions, including principally, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.

Next, FM quotes two passages from the book ‘Portuguese Encounters with Sri Lanka and the Maldives’ edited by C.R. de Silva, Ashgate, 2009, to assert “that there was no slaughter of cattle in Lanka prior to colonisation”. It is ridiculous in this trivial context to quote from an eminent historian like the professor mentioned. These encounters took place in the 16th to 17th centuries. The book is a scholarly collection of writings taken from Portuguese histories and archives in translation combined with those from local sources. Publishers say: “These documents contribute to the growing understanding that different groups of European colonizers – missionaries, traders and soldiers – had conflicting motivations and objectives. Scholars have also begun to emphasize that the colonized were not mere victims but had their own agendas and that they occasionally successfully manipulated colonial powers.” (I took this extract from Google.com- RRW)

So, the book shows that the natives of these countries matched those invading European interlopers bent on ‘temporal and spiritual conquest’ in their cunning and countervailing skills. They were not half-civilized savages. By the way, I don’t think FM found himself nodding in agreement when reading sentences like the following written by an ignorant Portuguese scribe:

“… In this country there are many false beliefs sown by the devil, and to eradicate them there is a need for much time and trouble…..” (This must be a reference to local Buddhist and Hindu religious beliefs of the time; but the colonizers were too uneducated and uncultured to understand that Buddhism and Hinduism are not ‘religions’ in their sense of the term, and that religion in the colonizers’ sense was, as it still is, a facile superstition to Buddhists. – RRW)

“They (some native people who didn’t kill even the meanest of creatures) do not eat bread, however hungry or needy they might be. Their food is made up of the leaves of a certain creeper (betel leaves) that climbs other trees like ivy. These leaves are smeared with the same kind of lime that they use for whitewashing their houses…”

“There is another class of people that eats fowl and wild boar and deer, but does not eat the flesh of cows, since they believe their souls enter into cows after death; they will never kill a cow and eat its flesh…”

It looks like FM has missed this book: ‘A 16th Century Clash of Civilizations: The Portuguese Presence in Sri Lanka’ by Susantha Goonatilake, 2010. It gives a clear assessment of the effects of the Portuguese colonial presence in our country, which was actually ahead of those European invaders in terms of human civilization. The Portuguese went to Sri Lanka in compliance with a papal bull.

FM makes extremely fallacious claims like the following about his fictitious ‘Lanka of Mahasammata’:

“A vocational caste system handed down secrets to successive generations, in a system where one’s knowledge was one’s wealth, with the Divine as the Supreme Master of one’s craft, one performs one’s duty with an aim to perfection in union of mind and spirit so each attempt brought one closer to the Ultimate Prize.” (Divine as the Supreme Master of one’s craft, Ultimate Prize, What are these?)

“In a land ruled by the Unseen King, in both metaphor and practise, the King embodies Mahasammata and sets the standard for the people”. (There was no Mahasammata in our country’s history. I explained the ‘Mahasammata’ concept above. Who is this Unseen King, FM? Surely a figment of your imagination?)

“The people know that if they live in dhamma, Dhamma would protect them, and the land would be safe”. (This is a misinterpretation of the piece of wisdom which runs in Pali: ‘dhammo have rakkati dhammacarim’ ‘The Dhamma protects the one who lives by the Dhamma’. There’s no protective magic or divine intervention here. But don’t take it literally. You may be sure you live according to the Dhamma. But be mindful enough not to stand in front of an oncoming train.)

The rest of FM’s article makes even less sense. From this point onwards, I fail to find anything in FM’s article worth talking about. The next to nothing he has to say about the subject proposed in his title is: ” I believe that as a Sri Lankan Muslim, it is incumbent on me to respect the mores of my compatriots and to live in a way that will lead to greater social cohesion, amity and unity of purpose…” That is a harmless thought, but I for one do not believe that pre-colonial Sri Lanka was paradise on earth. Besides, that sentiment runs in the face of what FM has been trying to prove to the very end.



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Opinion

Effort by All Ceylon Buddhist Congress to help govt. of Sri Lanka escape from dollar trap

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By DR L M K Tillekeratne

Chairman of the National Development Committee of the ACBC

It is a well-known fact that one the problems faced by Sri Lanka today is caused mainly by shortage of electricity for domestic purposes and industries. Three decades ago, only 20 % of houses had electricity for lighting. But, today over 95 % of houses in the whole country have electricity. Total electric power the country needs is about 2,750 MW a day. In order to generate 65% of it by using diesel and coal, the cost involved now is tremendous and that is the main reason for the creation of dollar shortage in the country. Besides, when Russia’s invasion in Ukraine six months ago equally attributed to the fuel shortage in the whole world thus creating enormous social and economic impacts, and petroleum prices in the Sri Lankan market increased by over 300%, which is bound to increase further at an alarming pace.However, while having enough bright sunlight all over Sri Lanka throughout the year to generate solar power and enough wind power particularly in areas like Mannar and Puttlam districts, only 40% of our electricity requirements are supplied by non-conventional renewable energy, while 65% of the balance need is produced by burning imported fuel oil and coal at a cost of Rs 80 to 100 per unit, thereby subjecting the environment of the country to a great threat by increasing the level of Green House gases to our atmosphere. Further, this conversion of generating electricity by burning oil and coal thereby lowering the liberation of Green House gases to the atmosphere will enable Sri Lanka to earn huge amount of Dollars by trading Carbon.

According to energy experts, it is expected to reduce this 65% of the energy requirement by burning fuel oil and coal down to 40% thus using more renewable energy by year 2030, thereby lowering the cost of producing a unit of electricity to about Rs 35.00.

Surprisingly, according to hydro power generating experts, there are over 400 streams and small waterfalls distributed all over the country without exploiting yet for setting up of mini hydro power generators. If these over 400 water sources are converted to hydro power generators producing not less than 1000 mega Watts of power are started, and by converting the wind power and solar power available in unlimited quantities, Sri Lankans can earn more foreign exchange by selling the extra electric power available to neighboring countries.

Hence, at present most of the dollars available are spent for importing diesel and coal to the tune of USD 6,000 million per annum. It should be mentioned here that out of this USD 6000 million, about 4,500 million is used for transport leaving a balance of USD 1,500 million to import fuel oil for power generation. According to energy experts, USD 1,500 million could easily be saved here for the other priority areas of the country, if mini hydro power generators are set up in those streams which are idling now. However, sadly no payments have been made for the power generated and supplied to the national grid by the few existing mini hydro power plants; they have supplied power to the tune of over Rs 20 billion for several months and hence some of them have been compelled to close their power plants.

Based on this objective, the ACBC, the premier Buddhist and Social organization in the country realized the need to create awareness of the options available and organized an exhibition of inventions last week on generating power utilizing those three natural sources and to display the public as to how they could conserve scarcely available electricity thereby saving extra money spent for generating power wasted due to lack of knowledge.

This event was not merely organized as an exhibition but to showcase the new inventions to the public, but as a workshop for the interested water source owners to select the appropriate invention suit to them best according to the conditions available in his source of water/ solar power/ or wind. Once the prospective investor identifies the suitable invention ideally needed to his needs, the power expert committee of the ACBC is planning to provide them with every technical support they need to do the feasibility study and even to the level of selecting machines etc. up to the level of setting up the complete power station. Further, the Bank of Ceylon has already agreed to provide them with a soft loan of Rs 3 million at 16% interest rate for setting up of the power unit.

It should be mentioned here with appreciation that the Ministry of Power and Energy has already decided to pay Rs 35 per unit of renewable energy produced from the 17.39 paid previously and also to pay all the back accumulated payments due to power generators. ACBC takes an innocent pride to place on record that the power generation project designed and launched by the expert panel members of the ACBC consists of renowned scientists and engineers who have earned distinctive reputation in their respective disciplines. This particular project perhaps is one of the key projects engineered by the ACBC in its proudest history of over 100 years with a view to finding solutions to the macro-economic issues whilst enhancing income generation at the peripheral level so that it would provide a helping hand to reduce the poverty level of the country.

With these important decisions taken by the government to encourage renewable energy production in all unexploited natural energy sources, it is not a difficult task to generate nearly 1000 MW of power within the next two to three years. Minimizing energy wastes by households and industries through the educational campaign initiate by the ACBC recently, another sizable saving of electrical energy saving could be achieved. Hence, the Development committee of the ACBC is optimistic in saving substantial portion of the dollars spent on Oil and Coal imports thereby making savings available in the country to help Sri Lanka to be the Wonder of Asia by year 2050.

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Opinion

Are Murunga and Katurumuringa leaves toxic?

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Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha

In an article titled ‘Throw more light on green foods’ that appeared in the Island of the 20th instant, Mr Gamini Peiris reports about an eminent doctor’s warning to his friend, who told the doctor that he regularly ate Katurumuringa or Sesbania grandiflora (Sg) leaves thrice a week, to stop eating it as it is toxic and so are Murunga(Drumstick) leaves! My family also eat Sg leaves once or twice a week, and hence sought information on the ‘toxicities’ of both species.

Both leaves and flowers of Sg are very commonly eaten. It is a common leguminous tree that grows to a height of about 6-8 meters, fixes nitrogen and native to South East Asia and Northern Australia. The leaves are commonly eaten in all growing countries and are reported to contain 25 to 30% crude protein. For this reason it is also widely used as a fodder for both cattle and goats, especially in India. Goat milk yield is reported to have increased by 25% with Sg leaf feeding. There is no evidence of leaf or flower material being toxic to humans and animals.

Muringa indica or Drumstick is native to parts of Africa and Asia. It is also cultivated in Central and South America, the Caribbean and South East Asia. India is reported to produce 1.2 million tons of pods per year from an area of 380 square kilometers. There are no reports of pods or leaves being toxic. Toxicity to humans being limited to certain compounds ( extracts) from the bark and roots, which are used in Aurvedic and other native medicines in addition to leaves and flowers. Both the pods and foliage are widely consumed in all countries where the crop is grown. For long term storage, dried leaves are powdered for preservation and are commonly added to sups sauces and smoothies. The leaves are rich in Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5 , B6 and C. In Sri Lanka, the crop thrives in the dry and semi-arid areas, and Jaffna Peninsula is the largest producer of the crop.

The good specialist doctor should do well to know that in general there are toxic compounds in most fruits and vegetables we eat! For example, all solanacious plants such as tomatoes, brinjals and potatoes contain natural toxins, solanines and chaconines which are glycol-alkaloids but in low concentrations. These toxins are usually produced in response to stresses such as bruising, UV light, insect and other pest attacks. Wild mushrooms which are widely eaten especially by inhabitants in the growing regions, contain several toxins such as muscimol and muscarine which are reported to cause vomiting diarrhea, visual disturbances and hallucinations. Kernels within the pits of some stone fruits such as apricots, cherries, peaches, pears, plums and cherries contain cynogenic glucoside which can be converted to hydrogen cyanide, when consumed, which is highly poisonous. This toxin is also found in cassava(manioc) root and fresh bamboo shoots, necessitating that they are cooked before consumption.

The good specialist doctor should do well to remember the wise words of Bombastus Paracelsus(1591 – 1643), the father of the science of pharmacology, that ‘all substances are poisonous, there is none which is not and it is the dosage that differentiates poison and remedy’. Even water can be potentially fatal if too much is drunk (hyperhydration). So eat or drink anything in moderation!

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Opinion

PERFECTION…their keyword

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Apple Green-DYNASTY: Active in Southern California

The name Apple Green would certainly ring a bell to those music lovers who were very much active in the local music scene, in the eighties.

Their music was appreciated and they were true professionals in whatever they did…always looking for perfection.

Apple Green, led by Rohan Mendis, was there in a big way, at The Island Music Awards 1987, held at the Bougainvillea ballroom, of the Le Galadari Meriden Hotel, in Colombo, and they won the prestigious award for ‘Outstanding Music Group.’

I remember how the members of Apple Green leapt up from their chairs, that particular night, when the band’s name was announced!

Yes, those were the days, but the good news is that two of the band members, Rohan Mendis and his brother, Jehan, are still very much into music and are performing, on a regular basis, in the States – Southern California – where they now reside.

They operate as a four-piece band, along with Shehan Jayah and Mithuru Cabral, under the banner Apple Green-DYNASTY – keeping the name Apple Green alive in that part of the world, as well.

Says Rohan: “In 2019, an elite quartet of musicians, bringing experience and raw talent, came together, in Southern California, to bring a perfect blend of music, covering all genres.

“This was, initially, to fill the void that was missing in our circles of music loving fans, and partygoers, and, since then, our popularity has soared at a rate that exceeded our expectations!

“Our music loving fans, with a penchant for finer points in quality music, and repertoire, have made us our own critics, pushing us to perfection, leaving nothing for chance. Our goal is to go above and beyond for ourselves and our fans.”

And the lineup is as follows:

Rohan Mendis: Was at the helm of Apple Green

Rohan Mendis (Roh)-

A pro-musician for over 30 years, Rohan was the leader of the famed band Apple Green, before migrating to Los Angeles. A bass player, composer, solo performer and vocalist, and plays all instruments, he is also an accomplished recording tech, with the ability to perfectly balance the “old and the new,” through all music ages and genres.

Jehan Mendis (Rob)

– Another pro-musician, who, along with his brother Rohan, was a founder member of Apple Green. A versatile drummer/singer, he also handles the audio/sound responsibilities for the band.

Shehan (Shay) Jayah

– A very talented guitar player, with an amazing singing ability, his range is seemingly endless, says Rohan, adding that Shehan has loads of energy and the ability to keep all “laughing” – a fun guy to be around. He is the son of Sherwin Jayah, who was a frontline singer in Sri Lanka, and in the USA, as well.

Mithuru (Mitt) Cabral

– Super, cool as a cucumber guy, says Rohan, describing him as an excellent keyboard player, gifted in every sense. Reliable and “oozing” with talent, he is another multi-instrumentalist, blessed with perfect pitch! He is, by the way, the son of popular musician Mano Cabral.

Apple Green-DYNASTY will be performing at the prestigious St. Peter’s College Centinnial Ball, in New Jersey, on December 3rd, 2022.

“We are looking forward to this event and would love to see all our East Coast fans and Peterites in attendance,’ says Rohan Mendis, adding that he would keep music lovers posted “on our developments and projects on the new VLOG that I will launch soon.”

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