Bhante Dhammika of Australia
Just a few weeks ago the recipients of this year’s Nobel Prizes were announced. I always follow the announcement because I’m interested in the great men and women who have contributed so much to improving and enriching human life. But I have sometimes thought that there should also be an annual prize for the most useless, the most harmful or the most ridiculous invention, idea or scribbling each year – just to remind us that humans can also be incredibly stupid. It could be called the Ignoble Prize. If there was such a prize and I were one of the judges tasked with selecting the winner, this year I would award this Ignoble Prize to those who are claiming that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka.
As there is not an atom of evidence for this laughably claim I will lay out just some of the mountain of evidence that the Buddha, the greatest of men, was an Indian, born in India, and who spent his whole life in India.
(1). Throughout the Tipitaka, the subcontinent we now call India is known as Jambudipa. The Buddha described India like this, “In this Jambudipa there are few pleasant parks, pleasant groves, pleasant stretches of land and lakes while more common are the steep rugged places, uncrossable rivers, dense thickets of thorny trees and inaccessible mountains.” This is a rather good description of India and quite at odds with the topography of Sri Lanka which most people agree is green, lush and fertile. There is no literature from either India or Sri Lanka where the name Jambudipa is given to Sri Lanka.
I may also mention that the English name ‘India’ comes from ‘Sind’ the name the ancient Greeks and Arabs used for India, and which is derived from the Indus (i.e. Sind) River, which is now in Pakistan, not Sri Lanka.
(2). The region of India where the Buddha was born was known to him and his contemporaries as the Middle Land (Majjhima Desa) because it was roughly centrally situated in northern India. Again, no ancient sources refer to Sri Lanka by this name, in fact, it is always described as being an island. The Buddha mentioned that in his time there were 16 states and kingdoms in India – Magadha, Kosala, Vamsa, etc. – and no states or kingdoms with such names are mentioned in Sri Lankan history. Likewise, none of the ancient kingdoms of Sri Lanka – Anuradapura, Rajarata, Ruhana, Polonnaruwa, etc. – are mentioned in any Indian sources. Further, archaeologists have uncovered the ruins of Rajagaha the capital of Magadha, Savatthi the capital of Kosala, and Kosambi the capital of Vamsa and identified them conclusively by ancient inscriptions found at the sites. All these and other cities visited by the Buddha are in northern India, not Sri Lanka.
(3). In the Rathavinita Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya the Buddha described the Sakyan country as “the land of my birth” (jatibhumaka). All ancient sources without exception mention that the Sakyan land and its capital Kapilavatthu were in northern India. When, in the fifth-sixth centuries, several Chinese pilgrims journeyed to India and visited Kapilavatthu, one of them, Xuanzang, gave quite precise details of how to get there; and it was in India. He spoke to the monks living the monastery at Kapilavatthu but none of them told him that if he wanted to visit ‘the real’ Kapilavatthu he’d have to go all the way to Sri Lanka.
(4). In the Cullavagga of the Vinaya, the rules for monks and nuns, is a long account of the lead up to and the enactments of the Second Buddhist Council which took place about 100 years after the Buddha’s passing. There it says, “Lord Buddhas are born in the eastern districts” (puratthimesu janapadesu buddha bhagavanto uppajjanti). The Pali word uppajjati means ‘to arise’, ‘appear’ or ‘to be born’.
But what about the words puratthima and janapada? Does this mean that the Buddha was born in the eastern provenance of Sri Lanka? In Batticaloa perhaps, or Ampara? How about Kalmunai, Uhana or Pulladiputti? As ridiculous as it sounds, there are actually a few people who might argue that this is possible.
But if the Middle Land is really in India as I have mentioned above, why does this passage from the Vinaya refer to it as “the eastern district?”
During Buddhism’s first few decades it gradually spread throughout India but particularly so to Gandhara which was in what is now northern Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan which are to the west of the Middle Land and thus it was known to the Buddhists of Gandhara and other regions beyond the Middle Land as “the eastern district.”
(5). In the year 249 BCE King Asoka made a pilgrimage to Lumbini, the site of the Buddha’s birth and erected a great stone pillar there to mark the place and commemorate his visit. The inscription on the pillar clearly mentions that the Buddha was born at this location. This pillar has stood solid and unmoved since it was erected all those centuries ago and it was in India, until the British surveyed and drew the India-Nepal border in 1867 so that it ended up just inside Nepal, unbeknown to everyone until it was discovered in 1896.
(6). In 1897 excavations were done at a large mound near a village named Pippahwa in northern India very close to the border with Nepal. As the excavations proceeded it became clear that the weed-covered mound was actually an ancient Buddhist stupa and so it was decided to dig into this stupa and see if it contained anything. A sandstone relic casket was discovered which had an inscription on it, very possibility the oldest decipherable writing from India. The inscription reads, “This casket of relics of the blessed Buddha of the Sakyas [is gifted by] the brothers Sukirti, jointly with their sisters, sons and wives.” This inscription confirmed that the Buddha was a real person, and from India.
In the early 1970s the eminent Indian archaeologist K. M. Srivastava did further excavations at Pippahwa to see if it was, as many experts believed, the sited of Kapilavatthu, the Buddha’s hometown. In the process he uncovered nearly 40 clay sealings which included the words “Kapilavatthu bhikkhu sangha” thus proving beyond any doubt that Pippahawa is the town where the Buddha spent the first 35 years of his life. This site is in India, the casket and the sealing inscriptions are in an Indian language, King Asoka’s inscription on the Lumbini pillar is likewise in an Indian language, proving conclusively that the Buddha was born in India. Do any inscriptions found in any ancient sties in Sri Lanka mention that the site is Kapilavatthu or Lumbini? No! Not one!
(7). The authors of the Dipavamsa, the Mahavamsa, the Thupavamsa, the commentaries (atthakattha) to the Tipitaka and their sub-commentaries (tika) all agree that the Buddha was born in India. According to the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, King Asoka sent his son Mahinda to Sri Lanka to introduce the island to Buddhism. If the Buddha was a Sinhalese from Sri Lanka, the opposite should have happened, King Devananpiyatissa should have sent his son to King Asoka’s court to introduce Buddhism to India. To say that the Buddha was born in Sri Lanka is to turn 2000 years of history and tradition on their heads. It is to render the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa to nothing more than useless novels whereas almost all historians agree that they contain a great deal of historically accurate information.
It would be easy to marshal much more evidence to show that the Buddha was born in India but perhaps this is sufficient, and there is little point in spending any more time debunking a notion that has no credibility. But how could someone come to believe and then promote a notion so patiently false? Why would someone oppose an idea that not only goes against the unanimous consensus of all historians of Indian culture and history, all Buddhist scholars, and the belief of 99.009% of the world’s Buddhists for the last 2,500 years? It could be plain common ignorance but this seems unlikely. Anyone with any education, especially living in a country where knowledge of Buddhism is widespread, could not possibly be unaware that the Buddha was an Indian. There must be some other reason for people holding to this view. Another possibility is a personality trait which has been identified by sociologists and psychologists. Some people, for whatever reason, feel the need to stand out from the crowd and to be the centre of attention. They lack the originality, the skills or the virtues that usually warrant acclaim so they adopt a belief, or sometimes a style of dress so ridiculous that everyone starts talking about them.
There are others who derive a perverse pleasure from being annoying. One way they do this is to pretend to believe something so outlandish that others try to convince them they are wrong and get frustrated when they fail to do so. There are many examples of people behaving like this – those who insist that the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, that Marlow really wrote Shakespeare, etc. Another thing that sometimes drives people to adopt fringe theories is super-nationalism. They will insist that their country or countrymen excel all others and are better than all the other. They feel the need to adopt some great personality as one of their own to glorify their country and themselves by proxy. Napoleon was doing this when he famously said, “All great men are French.” Hitler did the same when he shouted, “The German Aryans are the apex of humanity.”
But the notion of the Buddha being a Sri Lankan is more than just a harmless delusion, the result of an inadequate personality or the hot air of an inflated ego; it is also potentially harmful. While it is now only the opinion of a few, it could spread and cause confusion, doubt and divisions within the Buddhist community and that would not be good for the progress of the Dhamma. King Asoka long ago said, “Truth triumphs” (Satyameva jayate) and hopefully it will in this case.
Solidarity and Aragalaya: A few thoughts from an educationist’s perspective
by Harshana Rambukwella
Very little in Sri Lanka at the moment inspires hope. We are facing an existential crisis that was inconceivable just six months ago. Sri Lanka is also, ironically, just a year away from marking the 75th year of its independence. As we reflect on these seven decades of postcolonial nation building, and as we confront a future of extreme precarity, our scorecard as a country is not a proud one. Much blood has been spilt in the name of postcolonial nation building and the ethno-nationalist conflict that shaped almost three decades of that history and two youth rebellions against the state speak to a history of division and enmity. While our current predicament cannot be entirely attributed to this conflictual history alone, it surely played more than a small role in shaping our present misery. It is within this context that I want to offer this brief set of reflections on what I feel is an unprecedented form of solidarity that has emerged in Sri Lanka as the aragalaya took shape. While I do not want to romanticize this solidarity because it is a highly contingent phenomenon and is shaped by the extreme nature of the current political and economic conditions, it offers us as a society, but more specifically as educators, something to reflect on as we try to imagine our role in a society that faces a painful process of rebuilding and recovery (though my hope is that such rebuilding and recovery does not mean the repetition of the tired old neo-liberal script we have followed for decades).
Before I explore what I mean by solidarity within the aragalaya, let me briefly reflect on solidarity as a concept. Solidarity is a term sometimes deployed in geopolitics. Particularly in this time of global turmoil where not just Sri Lanka, but many other countries are experiencing serious economic challenges, we see nations expressing solidarity with or towards other nations. However, such solidarity is almost always shaped by instrumental motives. This is what we might call a form of ‘vertical’ solidarity where more powerful and wealthy nations extend a ‘helping hand’ to their more unfortunate counterparts. Therefore, when India says ‘neighbourhood first’ and expresses solidarity with Sri Lanka in this time of trouble one can easily discern this as a hierarchical gesture shaped by instrumental motives. It is in reality, India’s strategic geopolitical interests that largely dominate this narrative of solidarity though one cannot disregard the critical importance of the assistance extended by India and other such ‘powerful’ nations in this time of national distress.
Another form in which solidarity manifests is through what some scholars have termed ‘enchanted’ solidarities. This is literally and metaphorically a distant form of solidarity where intellectuals, activists and others extend solidarity towards a struggle they perceive as deserving their support but without truly understanding the context in which they are intervening. This has often happened with ‘first world’ academics and intellectuals expressing solidarity towards ‘third world’ struggles which they felt were ideologically aligned with their beliefs. One example is how many liberal and leftist intellectuals supported the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, believing it to be an anti-imperial liberation movement, only to become disillusioned with the movement as they began to see the full horror of the repression and violence unleashed by the Khmer regime. I think if we reflect on Sri Lanka’s postcolonial history, we can also find many such moments where enchanted solidarities were expressed towards various movements from people in the ‘metropolitan’ center with little understanding of the nuances of the politics on the ground.
Premised against both vertical and enchanted solidarities, scholars have also proposed what is called ‘disenchanted solidarity’. By this they mean a situation where diverse groups, sometimes with very different political and ideological agendas, come together to fight for a common cause. They are often critically conscious of their differences but face a common precarity that pushes them together to struggle and align in ways that were not possible before. Often such moments are also underwritten by anger, though the sources of anger or the objects towards which the anger is directed could be different. I would like to read the aragalaya through this lens of disenchanted solidarity. Particularly at the height of the Galle Face ‘Gota go gama’ protests – before the brutish May 9th attack symbolically ‘killed’ something of the ‘innocence’ of the struggle – there was a sense in which the different groups represented in that space were expressing solidarity towards a singular goal – getting rid of the Rajapakasas and a political system they saw as deeply corrupt – there was anger and a gathering of disenchanted solidarities. For many middle-class people, the aragalaya was a way in which to express their frustration at the lack of the basic necessities of life – be it gas, electricity and fuel – and how a corrupt political class had robbed them of their future. For those with longer histories of political activism such as the IUSF (the Inter University Students Federation) or youth activists from the Frontline Socialist Party or the JVPs youth wing or the many trade unions that supported the aragalaya, this moment in some ways represented the culmination, and perhaps even a vindication, of their longstanding struggles against a political, social and economic order that they consider fundamentally unfair and exploitative. Of course, within this larger narrative, there were and continue to be pragmatic political calculations, particularly from groups affiliated with political parties. At the same time, we also witnessed ethnic and religious minorities, often historically marginalized in Sri Lanka’s social and political mainstream finding a rare space to express their anger at the ways in which they have been discriminated against. However, the argalaya gave them a rare space to do so by channeling their anger as a form of solidarity towards the common goal of getting rid of the Rajapaksa dynasty and the corrupt political system as a whole.
But at the same time, we also saw the tenuous nature of these disenchanted solidarities in the aftermath of the 9th May attack on ‘Gota go gama’. Initially we saw another spectacular display of organic and spontaneous solidarity when health workers and office workers abandoned their workstations and rushed to ‘Gota go gama’ when news of the attack broke. But by the evening of that day the story had turned more insidious with a wave of attacks against the properties of politicians and others thought to have been involved in the attack against the peaceful aragayala participants. While we may understand and even empathize with this backlash, its violent nature and what appeared to be other instrumental motives driving it, such as the looting and revenge attacks, made it difficult to associate it with the moral principles that had animated the aragalaya thus far.
Thereafter, at the current moment I am writing, the aragalaya also appears to have lost some of its vital energy as the political configuration has shifted and the tragi-comedy of Sri Lanka’s realpolitik with its underhand deals and political mechanizations seems to have regained the upper hand.
However, what does this mean? Does it mean post May 9th the aragalaya has lost its meaning and purpose or can we push our analysis a little deeper. At this point I would like to introduce one final way in which scholars have discussed solidarity which I feel is appropriate to understand the aragalaya and the spirit that underwrote it and continues to underwrite it. This is what some scholars have called ‘deep solidarity’ – a situation where in today’s neo-liberal context where the vast majority of the population come to a realization of their common social and economic predicament and realize their common enemy is the symbolic ‘one percent’ or an insidious nexus between crony capital and political power that disempowers them. This is of course an idealistic conception but one which I feel holds true at least partially to this moment in Sri Lanka. People from widely varying social and economic strata, from different religious persuasions and people with wildly different ideological and political beliefs have been suddenly pushed together. They are all standing in the never-ending petrol and diesel queues, they are desperately hunting for the next cylinder of gas and increasingly many of them are going hungry. The privileges and the divisions that once defined them, no longer seem to be so ‘real’ and the one stark reality confronting them is a form of existential annihilation. I believe within the aragalaya we can glimpse traces of this deep solidarity and as an educationist I think it is our vital task to think of creative ways in which we might sustain this solidarity, grow it and nurture it, so that we can at least ‘imagine’ a better future. These are idealistic sentiments, but at least for me, such hope, is a political and pedagogical necessity of the current moment.
Harshana Rambukwella is attached to the Postgraduate Institute of English at the Open University of Sri Lanka
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies
No solutions to nation’s problems from draft constitutional amendment
by jehan perera
The three-wheel taxi driver did not need much encouragement to talk about the hardships in his life, starting with spending two days in the petrol queue to get his quota. He said that he had a practice of giving his three children a small packet of biscuits and a small carton of milk every morning. But now with the cost tripling, he could only buy one packet of biscuits and his three children had to share it. This is because their beloved country is facing one debacle after another for no fault of those kids or the larger nation. The latest is the failure of the government to make headway in accessing either IMF funding or other funding on any significant scale. Several countries have made donations, but these are in the millions whereas Sri Lanka requires billions if it is to come out of its vicious cycle of a dollar shortage.
There was much anticipation that the appointment of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe would bring in the billions that are desperately needed by the country if it is to obtain the fuel, food and medicines to keep the people healthy and the economy moving. But things have not worked out in this manner. The pickings have been slim and sparse. The IMF has given the reasons after the ten day visit by its staff to Sri Lanka. They have specifically referred to “reducing corruption vulnerabilities” in their concluding statement at the end of their visit. The international community in the form of multilateral donors and Western governments have prioritized political stability and a corruption-free administration prior to providing Sri Lanka with the financial assistance it requires.
The pressing need in the country is for the government to show there is political stability and zero tolerance for corruption in dealing with the prevailing crisis. It is not enough for government leaders to give verbal assurances on these matters. There needs to be political arrangements that convince the international community, and the people of Sri Lanka, that the government is committed to this cause. Several foreign governments have said that they will consider larger scale assistance to Sri Lanka, once the IMF agreement is operational. So far the government has not been successful in convincing the international community that its own accountability systems are reliable. This is the main reason why the country is only obtaining millions in aid and not billions.
The draft 22nd Amendment that is now before the parliament (which will become the 21st Amendment should it be passed) would be a good place for the government to show its commitment. The cabinet has approved the draft which has three main sections, impacting upon the establishment of the constitutional council, the powers of the president and dual citizenship. However, the cabinet-approved draft is a far cry from what is proposed by the opposition political parties and civil society groups. It is watered down to the point of being ineffective. Indeed, it appears to be designed to fail as it is unlikely to gain the support of different political parties and factions within those parties whose support is necessary if the 2/3 majority is to be obtained.
In the first place, the draft constitutional amendment does not reduce the president’s power in any significant manner. The amendment is drafted in a way that the reduction of presidential powers will only occur with the next president. The president now in office, who has publicly admitted failure on his part, continues to be empowered to appoint and sack the prime minister and cabinet ministers at his arbitrary discretion. He is also empowered to appoint and dismiss the secretaries to ministries, who are the highest-ranking public service officials. In short, the executive arms of the government are obliged to do the president’s bidding or risk their jobs. This indicates the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, whose party has only a single seat in parliament, has no independent strength, but is there at the will and pleasure of the president.
In the second instance, the draft amendment was expected to set up a system of checks and balances for accountability and anti-corruption purposes. The pioneering effort in this regard was the 17th Amendment of 2001 that made provisions for a constitutional council and independent commissions. According to it, the members of all state bodies tasked with accountability and anti-corruption functions, such as the Bribery and Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Police Commission, the Public Service Commission and the appointees to the higher judiciary were to be appointed through the constitutional council. The 17th Amendment made provision for seven of the ten members of the constitutional council to be from civil society.
Unfortunately, in a manner designed to deal a death blow to the concept of checks and balances, the draft amendment sets up a constitutional council with the proportions in reverse to that of the 17th Amendment. It reveals a mindset in the political leadership that fears de-politicisation of decision making. Seven of the ten members will be appointed by the political parties and the president in a way in which the majority of members will be government appointees. Only three will be from civil society. This ensures a majority representation in the Council for government politicians, and the ensures government dominance over the political members. The composition of the constitutional council proposed in the Bill undermines the independence of the institutions to which appointments are made through the Council who will be unable to stem the wildly growing tide of corruption in the country.
It is no wonder that the furious people in the endless queues for petrol and diesel should believe that there is corruption at play in the continuing shortage of basic commodities. The government promised that ships would come in laden with fuel a week ago. Then, inexplicably, the information was disseminated that no ships were on the horizon. In any other country, except in a country like no other, the concerned leaders would have resigned. Due to the lack of fuel, perishable farm produce rots in rural farmhouses and markets in urban centres are empty and prices are rocketing up. In the meantime, the media has exposed rackets where the privileged, politically powerful and super rich, are given special access to fuel. It is patently clear that the government has failed to deliver on the results that were expected. The situation is getting worse in terms of corrupt practices.
To the credit of the Sri Lankan people, they are being patient. The bonds of social solidarity still prevail. But the anger at the self-seeking and incompetent political leaders is reaching the boiling point, as it did on 09 May. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa pledged to set up an interim government in consultation with party leaders in parliament. However, he did not do so but appointed UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister and thereby ended efforts of other parliamentarians to form a national unity government. The president’s pledge, made in the aftermath of the cataclysmic and unexpected violence that took place that day, was to reduce his presidential powers, transfer those powers to parliament and to appoint an all-party and interim government of no more than 15 ministers. These pledges remain unfulfilled and need to be implemented to be followed by elections as soon as the situation stabilises.
Kehelgamuwa’s football skills and President Premadasa’s political sagacity
By Hema Arachi
T.B. Kehelgamuwa, the cricketer who needs no plaudits from anyone, is well known. He represented then Ceylon and, later, Sri Lanka as a fearsome fast bowler during the pre-Test era. His contemporaries still talk about Kehel with great respect. Once S Skanda Kumar, the well-known cricketer, cricket commentator and former High Commissioner for Sri Lanka to Australia, proudly told me about his playing cricket with Kehelgamuwa. Bandu Samarasinghe, a Sri Lanka film star, on a TV programme vividly demonstrated how he faced Kehelgamuwa in a Sara Trophy game. That was the top-level tournament in the country.
This note is to share my watching Kehelgamuwa playing soccer when he was not so young. Then, though his grey hair was visible, he ran fast and played hard like a teenager. This was during President Ranasinghe Premadasa’s tenure. Returning from The Netherlands, after my postgraduate studies, I lived in Pelawatta, near the Sri Lanka Parliament and my workplace – International Irrigation Management Institute headquarters. I used to enjoy walking on Parliament grounds. That day was unique because the game between the President’s soccer team, comprising parliamentarians, and the Sri Lanka Police team, was played there.
President Premadasa was well known for his political sagacity, especially in manipulating any situation in his favour. For instance, the day Anura Bandaranayake became the Opposition Leader, Premadasa, praised Anura stating, “Anura is the best Opposition Leader we have.” He further requested that Anura join the ruling party and become a minister and also marry a girl from a prominent ruling party family. But within weeks, he was critical of Anura. One day an Opposition member asked him, “You said Anura was our best Opposition leader a few weeks ago but now criticise.” His reply was this: “Yes, I said so because Anura is the best Opposition leader for us, the ruling party, not for the Opposition. For the Opposition, the best leader is Sarath Muththetuwegama!”
A few weeks before the scheduled encounter between the Parliamentarians and the Police football team, there was a game between the Parliamentarians and the Colombo Municipality team. Premadasa captained the Parliamentarians and kicked the winning goal. I remember a cartoon in a newspaper where the Municipality team goalkeeper withdrew so that Premadasa could score the goal at his will.
During the game against the Police, Premadasa did not play but visibly played the role of the coach of the Parliamentarian team. Unlike the Municipality players, the Police played the game seriously. Kehelgamuwa represented the Police team that scored five goals by halftime, and the Parliamentarian team was nil. At halftime, Premadasa replaced the Parliamentarian goalkeeper with Jayawickerama Perera. Yet, the Police team recorded a sound victory.
I thought Premadasa was upset due to this defeat for his team. But no. Premadasa claimed victory: “I am happy that my team won the game by beating the Parliamentarians today! Being the Executive President, I do not belong to the Parliament. However, as the Commander-in-Chief, the Police come under my purview, so my team won today!”
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