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Was the Buddha Born in Sri Lanka?



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.

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Scholar, Advisor, Innovator and Great Friend




Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria, son of Queen’s Counsel NE Weerasooria, studied at Royal College, and entered the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya, and won Harvard Memorial Prize and the Governor General’s Prize. He graduated in Law from Peradeniya, with First-Class Honours, and was later called to the Bar, as an Advocate.

I have known and associated with Dr. Wickrema Weerasooria in different capacities. First, I knew him as a pioneer Law Educator at Vidyodaya University. His students at Vidyodaya, and later even at the Post-Graduate Institute of Management, recall how he lectured, without even a short note in hand, attracting students’ attention, and enthusiasm. Additionally, he focused on teaching Commercial, Administrative, and Constitutional laws, and published texts in Sinhala, one on the Law of Contracts, another on Commercial Law.

His vast knowledge as an author was exhibited, mostly in Banking Law. Some of his publications were on Australian banking systems. Later, he delved into Buddhist Ecclesiastical Law, which produced a monumental work and a Treatise on Sri Lankan Statute Law and Judicial Decisions on Buddhist Temples and Temporalities.

His book ‘The Law Governing Public Administration in Sri Lanka,’ is a text that must be read by all public administrators and politicians. Whilst at Monash University, he wrote ‘Links between Sri Lanka and Australia: A Book about Sri Lankans (Ceylonese) in Australia’, dealing with Sri Lanka- Australia links.

With President JR Jayewardene in Office, Wickrema was appointed as the Secretary to the Ministry of Plan Implementation– a completely different role for him in public service. Working with him was also a novel experience and challenge for officers too, since he pushed them to the deep end to make quick, practical, non-traditional, sometimes unsavoury decisions for the benefit of the public.

He was the innovator of Integrated Rural Development Projects, for which he harnessed foreign assistance, and a performer, evaluator, programmer, and institution builder, proven by the establishment of Secretariats for Women, Children, Fertilizer, Nutrition, Population under his Ministry.

Sri Lanka Planning Service was made a professional service in 1985, for which the initiatives and support given by Wickrema were substantial. Accordingly, planners were made responsible for planning to achieve the goals of the respective institutions, formulate policies, strategies, and evaluate the development projects and programmes.

Wickrema was responsible for enhancing human resources among cadres through foreign exposures, which culminated with some officers obtaining post-graduate degrees, some even PhDs, and reaching apex ranks in public services, i.e. Secretaries of Ministries.

Specifically, his contribution to my work when I served as Government Agent, Nuwara Eliya was substantial. He was the guide, mentor, and sometimes savior. His involvement was on behalf of his brother-in-law Minister Gamini Dissanayake. Wickrema was instrumental in planning Nuwara Eliya through the establishment of Nuwara- Eliya Development Commissioners Committee, where I served as Chairman, with professionals as Commissioners. The initial planning was done by the Urban Development Authority.

He was the key organizer of the Spring Festival in Nuwara-Eliya. I remember how he planned the city and revived the Car Racing event, after a lapse of some years. I remember Upali Wijewardena taking part in the first motor car road race. The new Motor-Cross racing event on the newly constructed track was added to the Mahagastota Hill Climb for motor racers. Motor-Cross racing spread to other areas later. He attended these events and enjoyed the great company.

A little-known fact about Wickrema is that the Sri Lanka Council for the Blind (as President) and Sri Lanka Federation of the Blind (as Advisor) still appreciate his services rendered to the blind community, especially in resource mobilization and housing.

He was a person with subtle wit and humour. While teaching, he used this talent, as a student has reminisced, for “easing the pressure and stress of learning.” His lighter vein utterances and behaviour in groups made him a more sought-after teacher, friend, relative, colleague, and boss. His wit and humour depicted by cartoons in political campaigning, (i.e. The Family Tree), left an indelible mark in canvassing votes at the 1977 Elections. It is recycled even today, making Wickrema’s talent eternal.

I am reminded that even regarding efficiency creation he had humorous comments. I remember his “evaluation of the efficiency” of public officers. He used to quip that when asked to produce relevant documentation within two days to send an officer on a foreign scholarship, knowing it would take weeks, he would swear with utmost certainty that the officer would fulfill the requirement within two days. The best litmus test of the efficiency of an officer is the offer of a foreign scholarship! He lamented that such efficiency is lacking to serve the people.

I have a personal regret. Just before I left for India as High Commissioner, he promised to visit me in Delhi with his dear wife Rohini, which he could not fulfill, bidding adieu in weeks. Hence, I missed his company, advice, wit, and humor before departure.

I may say, he was a great student, scholar, academic, educator, public officer, diplomat, social worker, an advisor, innovator, and above all a great friendly human being, who enjoyed life and made others enjoy too, with his friendship, and camaraderie. Sadly, we will miss him forever.

May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana!

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Ethiopia: War in Tigray



By Gwynne Dyer

“Love always wins. Killing others is a defeat,” said Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in June 2018, shortly after surviving a grenade attack at a rally in Meskel Square in the capital, Addis Ababa. How was he to know that just thirty months after saying that he would have to stop loving and start killing?

That’s the problem with being a reforming zealot who becomes Prime Minister: you have to deal with some really stubborn people, and sometimes it’s hard to shift them without a resort to force. That’s why Abiy launched an invasion of Tigray state on 4 November, and so far it’s been doing very well.

“The next phases are the decisive part of the operation, which is to encircle Mekelle using tanks, finishing the battle in the mountainous areas, and advancing to the fields,” Col. Dejene Tsegaye told the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation on 22 November.

Here we are only less than two weeks later, and the federal government’s troops have already captured Mekelle, a city of half a million people that is Tigray’s capital. It’s not clear how many people were hurt or killed in the fighting, but it went so fast that the butcher’s bill can’t be all that high.

In fact, it has all gone so well that Abiy Ahmed’s soldiers are probably thinking they might be home in time for Christmas. When Col. Dejene talked about “finishing the battle in the mountainous areas and advancing to the fields,” however, he was talking about the nine-tenths of Tigray that has seen no federal government troops at all, or at most a brief glimpse as they passed through.

Tigray is exactly the size of Switzerland, with about the same ratio of mountains to fields (although the mountains are somewhat lower). In other words, it is ideal guerilla territory, and a high proportion of the seven million Tigrayans are rural people who know the land. Moreover, they have long experience in fighting the central government’s troops.

That was the old central government, of course: the Communist dictatorship called the Derg, led by Mengistu Haile Mariam, that murdered the emperor and ruled the country with an iron fist from 1977 to 1991.

Tigrayans were the first ethnic group to rebel against Mengistu’s rule. They are only 6% of Ethiopia’s population, but the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was the most effective of the ethnically-based rebel groups that finally defeated the Derg.

The federal government that took over afterwards, called the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), was formally a multi-ethnic alliance. In practice, however, TPLF cadres controlled most senior posts and prospered greatly as a result – a situation that continued until the EPRDF appointed Abiy Ahmed prime minister in 2018.

It was a non-violent revolution, conducted not in the streets but in ranks of the federal bureaucracy. Abiy was the ideal candidate: in religion and ethnicity he is Ethiopian everyman, with a Muslim Oromo father and a Christian Amhara mother. (In person he is Pentecostal Christian, and very devout.)

As a young man Abiy fought in the war against Eritrea; he has served as a senior intelligence official and knows where the bodies are buried; he is well educated and speaks Amharic, Afaan Oromo, Tigrinya and English fluently. His first and most important job was to prise the fingers of the Tigrayan elite off the levers of government without a civil war.

Unfortunately, Abiy’s approach – merging all the parties based on the various ethnic militias into a single ‘Prosperity Party’ – didn’t work. The resentful TPLF cadres refused to join, and gradually withdrew to their heartland in Tigray. They don’t yet openly advocate secession, but they do point out that they have that right under the current federal constitution.

Whether or not the shooting war began with an unprovoked attack by the Tigrayan militia on the federal army’s base in Mekelle at the start of last month, as Abiy’s spokesmen claim, it was bound to end up here. All Tigray’s cities have now been taken by federal troops, but almost none of the rural areas.

This could be a brilliant victory for the federal troops that puts a swift end to the fighting. It’s more likely to be the result of a decision by the TPLF leadership to skip the conventional battles they were almost bound to lose, and go straight to the long and bloody guerilla war that they might eventually win.

That would mean secession, in the end, for they can never win power back in Addis Ababa. The risk is that if the war goes on long enough, other major ethnic groups may break away from Ethiopia as well. Abiy’s loosening of the tight centralised control that prevailed under the emperor, the Derg and the TPLF has already unleashed ethnic and sectarian violence that has rendered 2 million Ethiopians homeless.

Abiy recently got a PhD in peace and security studies from Addis Ababa University, but he’ll be concentrating on the ‘security’ part for the foreseeable future.



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Safety Equipment and Procedures and Exploding Fire Extinguishes



by Capt. G A Fernando MBA

RCyAF, SLAF, Air Ceylon, Air Lanka, SIA, SriLankan Airlines

Former SEP instructor/ Examiner Air Lanka

By law the Regulator Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL) requires all Airline Crew to annually undergo continuous training and achieving proficiency in Safety Equipment and Procedures (SEP). At the end of the training, also answer a written examination to prove to all and sundry that the particular Flight Crew Member has sufficient SEP knowledge to continue serving in the Cabin or Flight Deck of that Airline, for another year. The SEP questions were relatively easy (no tricks) but each crew member had to score over 80% and carry out mandatory, practical proficiency tests such as operation of aircraft doors and Emergency exits, conduct evacuations, Life Raft operations (in the swimming pool), know the location and use of emergency equipment such as megaphones, Crash Axes, Asbestos Gloves, Emergency Locater Transmitters (ELT’s), the administration of Oxygen, First Aid and use of equipment such as smoke hoods and fire extinguishers to combat Cabin smoke and Fires, The airline is usually delegated to carry out these duties and functions at the behest of the Civil Aviation Authority.

The first year after Air Lanka was established (September 1979), crew members had to go to Singapore Airlines or get the instructors across to Colombo to carry out these checks on behalf of Air Lanka. After about the second year of existence, it was decided that a team SEP instructors/ examiners would be appointed ‘in house’ to carry out this training and mandatory checks. Three of us from the ‘Flight Deck’ crew were appointed to the team. They were First Officer Elmo Jayawardene, Flight Engineer Gerrard Jansz and yours truly. We had, had some experience in crew SEP training in Air Ceylon.

We were sent to the British Airways (BA) Flight Training (Cranebank), UK, during our regular stay overs in London, to undergo refresher training, so that we could incorporate some of the BA curricula in our own (Air Lanka) programs. The then Air Lanka Manager Operations had been an ex BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) Captain. As a direct result of our visit to BA, the then airline doctor (Dr Mrs Sherene Wilathgamuwa) was inducted to the SEP team to lecture the ‘troops’ on not only First Aid but also on delivering babies, with limited facilities on board!  I believe that this information has been extremely useful many times during the last 40 years of Air Lanka. This was not taught to us in Air Ceylon. The training curriculum was developed by the SEP team.  

The early days of Air Lanka wasn’t easy. While an operational profit was made, the ‘debt servicing’ put an unbearable strain on the overall profitability. We had neither a designated training department nor proper equipment. Our ‘wet drill’ constituted jumping into the pool in shirts and trousers for the boys and ‘made up’ Sarees without the ‘fall’ for the Girls, wearing life jackets of course. Initially the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) Katunayake pool was used and subsequently the pools of the two hotels down Katunayake airport road were used till Air Lanka got its own pool. We didn’t even have a permanently deployed Slide/ Raft either for teaching purposes. It all cost money. I was the Instructor in charge of the ‘wet drill’. In contrast SIA I worked for subsequently, had a pool with a ‘wave maker’ to give a realistic experience. There was no doubt Air Lanka at that point of time was ‘pinching pennies’ where crew SEP training was concerned.

To provide fire fighting experience to the Flight Crews we were forced to use regular Industrial Fire Extinguishing equipment to keep the costs down. That was acceptable since the basic fire fighting principles were the same. The fire fighting part of the training was carried out by the Ground Safety Section Instructors who were mainly ex SLAF types. A few months before, Lalantha one of the Chief Stewards was practicing the use of a Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguisher on a fire and the extinguisher exploded and flew off his hand, narrowly missing Leone who was just behind him. The on-board extinguishers were much smaller, lighter and more manageable than the industrial ones. A complaint was filed by me, but treated by the ‘Management’ as a one off case! It seemed as if one swallow doesn’t make a summer!  The extinguisher had been certified as serviced. The Administrative Executive in charge of SEP those days was a young man who had a degree in Marine Biology and perhaps was clueless on safety issues and couldn’t champion our cause.  We were all part time Instructors.

The annual recurrent training programme took two days. On one particular day, Chief Stewardess Jayantha and I were the instructors in charge. When it came to the Fire Fighting exercise, we handed over students of our class to the Air Lanka Ground Instructors and proceeded to the parking apron (opposite the Terminal Building), to check out a Lockheed L1011 ‘Tri-Star’ aircraft which was newly leased, by Air Lanka. It was a pre-owned, aircraft that had arrived the day before. Unfortunately, the locations of and the make of emergency equipment in the same type of aircraft (L-1011) differed from airline to airline. Therefore in the name of air safety and standardisation, it was important to resolve matters before the said aircraft saw service on the line on regular revenue flight services. It was a big deal as all Flight Crew had to know by memory as to where the specific locations of safety equipment were, so that when a ‘push’ came to a ‘shove’, no time would be wasted by the crew members involved, looking for these essential items. It could be a matter of life and death.

 I was not too happy sending the participant boys and girls by themselves for fire fighting and had an uneasy feeling. On other hand, our task too was also extremely important. So it was a case of ‘risk management’ and gave in. 

While we were checking out the new addition to our L 1011 Tri-Star fleet, we received a frantic message saying that another water type extinguisher had exploded and the injured had been removed to the Air Force Hospital across the runway to the Northern side.

Jayantha and I rushed to the SLAF Base Hospital in her ‘Mini -moke’ the long way around, up the Airport Road and via the 20th milepost main entrance along the Negombo road and found two crew members injured and in shock. Steward Senaka who had got the wheel shaped handle smack on his face, had injuries in the same shape and Naomal too had some minor injuries. We were assured by the Air Force doctor, Dr Narmasena Wickremasinghe that injuries were not too serious. We stayed there till the arrival of the next of kin who had been informed and went back to Office to meet Mr Wilmot Jayewardena, the Air Lanka Senior Manager Inflight Services.

When Jayantha and I sheepishly walked into his office he gave us the silent treatment initially and then softly declared that being responsible for the wellbeing of the participants, at least one of us Instructors should have been present when fire fighting was going on, even under the supervision of the Ground Safety Instructors. We accepted our mistake and defused the situation. When I look back now I am amazed as to how we coped with such limited resources to keep the National Carrier going. Safety Experts today, recommend that during risky activity, we should trust our ‘gut feeling’. It is usually correct as there is a connection between the brain and the gut resulting in feelings like ‘butterflies’ in the stomach. Needless to say the lesson was learnt.  

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