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WHEN ANCIENT BUDDHISTS SAILED WEST

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Bhante Dhammika of Australia

One of the most isolated and little-known places in the world is the island of Socotra. Dry, barren and with only a small population, it sits some 380 kilometres off the southern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and the eastern tip of Somalia and is now administered at part of Yemen. Although on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes it has no port facilities and gets almost no visitors. Nonetheless, it has recently become one of the most important and unexpected archaeological sites for those interested in Indian and particularly Indian Buddhist history.

In the year 2000 a group of Belgian speleologist (Speleology is the study of caves) visited a large cave on Socotra known by the locals as Hoq and made a series of remarkable discoveries. The cave itself is on the northern coast of the island facing out to sea and not only has a wide opening but is more than two kilometer deep and in parts 35 meters high. On the walls of the passage leading to the back of the cave, the cavers discovered to their astonishment a large number of very ancient drawings, inscriptions and graffiti. Careful study of this material since then has shown that the majority of these were made by ancient Indian merchants travelling to and from the Red Sea and beyond. It has long been known that in ancient times merchants travelling from Indian ports such as Sopara, Kalyana and Chaul to the Middle East and further on to Egypt and even sometimes to Rome, passed by and often stopped at Socotra but this is the earliest material evidence of such travelers.

A look at a map will show that the direct and quickest route from ports on the India’s west coast across the Arabian Sea to the mouth of the Red Sea (i.e. Aden) would pass by Socotra. The drawings graffiti and inscriptions in the cave were made with material the visitors would have picked up on the spot – clay, mud and charcoal, probably from torches they carried. So far, 193 inscriptions have been found, one is in Khroasthi and the rest are in various forms of Brahmi and date from the 1st to the 5th centuries CE. Judging from the style (paleography) of the Brahmi scripts used, it would seem that those who wrote them came mainly from Gujarat and the western Deccan. Several of the writers describe themselves as “of Bharukaccha” meaning that they were from the town now called Bharuch which was a port often mentioned in the Jataka. For example, according to the Supparaka Jataka (No. 463) the Bodhisattva was once born into a merchant family from the town.

Many of the visitors to the Hoq Cave also identify themselves as ‘navika’ and ‘naryamaka’ both maritime titles. But perhaps the most interesting thing about the drawings, inscriptions and graffiti is how many of them were written and drawn by Buddhists. This is clear from some of the names mentioned – Buddhanandin, Saṃghadāsa son of Jayasena from Hastakavapra, Saṃghanandin, Buddhasakya and Dharma. Amongst the patronyms are Buddhamitra father of Bhaṭṭikumara, Dharma father of Halla and Saṃgharangin father of Ajitivarman The name Asoka occurs twice, once as the writer’s name and once as a father’s name. Having the name Asoka is not clear proof of a Buddhist background but it is likely.

A second group of inscriptions do not include specific Buddhist names but make direct reference to the religion. Someone named Rahavasu wrote: “For the Lord, the Great Sage” (Bhagavato mahamuṇi), a phrase that would be familiar to some Buddhists even today. Another inscription written by the same Rahavasu reads: “Lord Gotama the Lion.” Perhaps the most remarkable records left by these Buddhist travelers are two drawings of stupas made in the sand on the floor of the cave. Despite being made over 1500 years ago the images are still clear, unaffected by time and the footprints of later visitors to the cave. Beside one stupa is the name of the man who made it, Isaradasa, which is a distinctly Hindu name. It is possible that he worshiped both the Buddha and Siva or that he was a convert to Buddhism. It would seem likely that the stupas were made in order to be the focus of a puja.

Two other inscriptions in the cave deserve special notice because they may have been made by monks. Of five inscriptions made by an individual named Dhruva, one of them includes the words ‘srama[ṇa]sya ma.….’ The end of this inscription cannot be read and the meaning of the part that can be is obscure. But of course ‘samana’ is an alternative word for bhikkhu, i.e. a monk. The second inscription is also obscure but less so. With some reservations it could read “The Saka monk has come here” (sakasramaṇo āga[to]). Saka was the name given to the Indo-Scythian people who migrated into India from the 2nd BCE century onwards. However, it is also possible that Saka could be a version of Sakya and of course Buddhist monks and nuns were commonly called Sakyans, i.e. sons of the Sakyan (Sakyaputta), i.e. the Buddha. Evidence from India dating from the Vinaya onwards tells us that Buddhist monks often linked up with merchants’ caravans and travelled with them. It is possible that these two inscriptions are evidence of monks travelling with seafaring merchants to lands far beyond India.

Many questions about the Buddhist visitors to the Hoq Cave remain to be answered. Did they just make short trips to the cave or did they reside there for extended periods, perhaps waiting for the monsoon winds to carry them on their way? Why did they leave the things they wrote or drew in the cave’s deep, utterly dark interior rather than in the wide and airy opening? It will take scholars years to write the full story of the cave and its visitors.

In his edict of the year 256 BCE King Asoka mentioned the Buddhist missions he had dispatched to Syria, Egypt, Macedonia, Cyrene (modern Libya) and Epirus (modern western Greece). However, it is not known if these monks ever reached their destinations – the project may have been abandoned half way through or met with disaster. And there is no records from the lands they were sent to of their arrival and no evidence of any impact they may have had. In popular writing and internet sites it is often claimed that there was a Buddhist monastery in Alexander, the great cosmopolitan city in Egypt. There is however, no evidence either literary, epigraphical or archaeological of this. It is known that Indians settled in places such as Myos Hormos and Berenike on the Red Sea coast but no archaeological evidence of their presence has so far been found and of the several Indian inscriptions found on the coast none mention Buddhism.

The first explicit evidence we have of a Western knowledge of Buddhism is comments made by the Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria, who lived in the late second or early third century CE. Did he have direct contact with Buddhists or people who had direct contact with them? Did he come to know of Buddhism from second-hand information he heard from travelling merchants or diplomats? The truth is that we simply do not know. It is not even certain that the two inscriptions from the Hoq Cave that include the word ‘samana’ refer to monks, and even if they do this would not prove that the monks got to as far as Egypt. Nonetheless, the recent discoveries from Socotra do prove that Buddhists played an important part in the movement of goods and possibly ideas from east to west in ancient times.

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Trump Walks Out of the White House Into A Minefield of Legal Perils!

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WHAT DONALD IS NOW UP AGAINST . . .

by Selvam Canagaratna

“Nobody has a more sacred

obligation to obey the law than those who make the law.”

Jean Anouilh, Antigone, 1942.

“At some point in the next few weeks, Donald Trump will face his second Senate trial following an impeachment by the House of Representatives. Unlike the proceedings in late 2019 and early 2020, this time around — in the wake of the attempted coup on January 6th carried out by a violent mob inspired by Trump’s words to attack the US Congress — the process has been swift,” wrote Sasha Abramsky, a freelance journalist and a part-time lecturer at the University of California at Davis, in Truthout magazine.

The House impeached Donald Trump after a debate that lasted a mere few hours.

Given Trump’s inflammatory words on January 6th, and the unwillingness of senior lawyers to rally to his defense, and given the fact that has now publicly laid blame for the violent events squarely on Trump’s shoulders, the disgraced ex-President’s trial in the Senate could be almost as rapid.

If there is any honour whatsoever among GOP senators — or for that matter, any ability to think long-term about their own political self-interest — he will become the first President in US history to be convicted by that body. Of course, since he will have already left office, he won’t, alas, become the first President to be removed from power via an impeachment and trial process.

That’s a shame, but it doesn’t make the process any less vital. If American democracy is to survive, if political decisions aren’t to be held hostage by gun-wielding fanatics, Trump’s effort to undermine the peaceful transfer of power following an election must face real consequences.

Conventional wisdom has it, however, that most GOP senators, no matter how personally distasteful they find Trump and how terrified they were by his unleashing of a mob against them on January 6th, won’t want to antagonize their base by voting to convict. Conventional wisdom has it that, when push comes to shove, appeasement will win the day.

But in this instance, might conventional wisdom be wrong? As Mitch McConnell seems now to have concluded, and as and many of his caucus likely soon will, having shamefully enabled Trump these past four years, they now have precious little incentive to waste political capital on a wounded and discredited ex-President, a man who has lost his hold on many independents as well as on a significant minority of GOP voters.

To the contrary, they have every incentive, as more and more evidence of his malfeasance surfaces, to utterly disempower this demagogue in order to ensure that he can’t rise from the political ashes to wreak vengeance on those in the GOP who didn’t help him in his coup attempts. Convict him, and they can then, in quick order, pass legislation barring him from ever running for public office again — a fate that, surely, no public figure in American history has so richly deserved, and one that must have McConnell and other GOP leadership figures in the Senate privately salivating in delight. True, this would alienate a not insignificant proportion of the GOP base; but in the long run that might well be less damaging than alienating the independents who are so central to creating a viable electoral coalition for both political parties.

Were the Senate to turn on Trump in this way, McConnell would risk fracturing his base; after all, , and only coup. But if McConnell and the GOP establishment don’t seize this particular bull by its horns they risk being reduced to an extremist party incapable of attracting anyone outside of their shrinking base. In the long run, backing the conviction of Trump might offer them a one-off chance to cauterize their party’s bleeding wound, and to sever its joined-at-the-hip connection to an authoritarian leader who stoked a mob bent on assassinating elected officials. This is a phrase I never thought I’d write, but… “If I were Mitch McConnell, I’d seize the moment and throw Trump as far under the bus as I could possibly manage.”

For here’s the thing: If McConnell doesn’t lend his support — and, by extension, many of the other GOP senators’ support — to conviction, it will only further erode GOP credibility among the broader electorate if, over the coming months, as seems increasingly likely, Trump is indicted in a number of state courts for his myriad crimes. The lower Trump’s legal fortunes sink, the worse the senate will look if it twice exonerated him for his actions despite a preponderance of evidence indicating his guilt.

How would voters react if McConnell, after acknowledging Trump’s culpability for triggering the attempted coup, then pushed to give the man a free pass for it, only to have Georgia show more spine by indicting him for threatening a public official and demanding votes “be found” to guarantee Trump a victory he hadn’t legitimately won?

How would they react if New York State indicted Trump and miscellaneous family members for tax fraud, or campaign finance law violations, or possibly even money laundering, if some of the allegations surrounding his relationship to Russian mobsters turn out to have substance? How would they react if the for his role in the events of January 6? How would they react if — essentially for pimping out his services to foreign governments and entities?

when he leaves office on Wednesday. But, in addition, he is facing a number of as well, including from women who allege he assaulted them in the years before he became President. Given the events of the past two weeks, he may well also face numerous other civil lawsuits, including damages claims from family members of the victims of the January 6 Capitol breach. In each of these trials, evidence will be presented — and the public will see and read that evidence — that will make Trump look more awful by the minute. The further out we get from the Trump era, chances are, the more clear the harm he inflicted will become.

Trump’s corporate backers realize this. Belatedly, he is being cut off from his go-to financing sources, including Deutsche Bank, which has said it will no longer do business with him. As a result, as his legal woes mount, he will likely have to resort to crowd-sourced, dodgy money-making schemes simply to get his gullible supporters to pony up cash to fund his defense attorneys.

Although the fates may have finally caught up with this grifter, the political firestorm he helped create remains. For as Trump leaves the White House, his far-right supporters won’t magically disappear. Trumpism and its toxic spin-offs — from QAnon to the Proud Boys — will remain a threat on the American political landscape for years to come. That, alas, is the sobering reality as a new presidency gets underway and as Donald Trump, from domestic exile in Mar-a-Lago, prepares for his second Senate trial.

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R.K. Lionel Karunasena, fine athlete and exemplary police officer

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Twenty years ago Lionel Karunasena had a heart attack while taking his constitutional walk at the Bambalapitiya Police park and collapsed.

He was born on January 2, 1945, in Ratnapura. He studied at the Seevali Maha Vidyalaya, Ratnapura, excelling not only in his studies but also in athletics. His forte was long jump and the triple jump. He was spotted by the talent scouts of the Ceylon Track and Field Club (CT &FC) and enrolled him to the club and found employment at Air Ceylon.

On November 11, 1964 at the CT& FC- University Athletics dual meet, he equaled the national long jump record of 24 feet two and a half inches established by N.A Weeratunga of the Mercantile AAA on the December 28, 1956.

The writer was a witness of this event. In his allotted six attempts, he jumped over 22 ft. One jump was nearly 25 feet but he over stepped the board. In his fourth jump he leapt into fame equaling the Ceylon record. This record was broken only in 1985!

At the Ceylon 1964 AAA nationals, he was placed third in the long jumps event. He won the event in 1965 and 66. His ambition in life was to serve as a protector of law and order. In order to achieve this, he joined the police as a sub inspector on June 26, 1967.

Despite his busy schedule as a police officer he continued to be involved in athletics representing the police. In 1977, he came third at the AAA Nationals when two Indian athletes, P. Bannerjee and Mohinder Singh took first and second places.

He represented Sri Lanka at the Asian Games in 1966 at Bangkok and again at Bangkok in 1970.

In the all-time list computed by the Sri Lanka AAA recorder, Lionel Karunasena ranks second.

He always believed in equality and denounced social injustices. Due to his dedication towards duty he won quick promotions and rose to the rank of DIG. His first appointment as DIG was to the Wanni. Here he was required to be in the war front. There he was a shining example to his colleagues.

He often visited the many camps in the war zone.

He served as the Commanding officer of the Police STF for over 13 years and was the fourth commanding officer of the STF. He had a miraculous escape when President Premadasa was killed by a suicide bomber on May 1, 1993. Seventeen others were killed along with the President.

He was a highly respected office in the police. His wife Chitra, daughter Sarika and son Shalike were well aware that he was a committed officer and at the same time a loving wife and devoted father. His long and dedicated service will be written in gold. May his journey through samsara be short and peaceful.

 

K.L.F.Wijedasa

100,Barnes Place – 7 Colombo

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Jagan in R. K. Narayan’s “Vendor of Sweets”

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The world- renowned author R.K Narayan’s novel “Vendor of Sweets” is undoubtedly a worthy contribution to the world of English literature. Born in Madras in 1906, Narayan hailed from an entirely orthodox family. This traditional up-bringing may have influenced him in presenting Jagan’s character in the story.

The story set in the post-independent era in India revolves round, as the title suggests, a vendor of sweets. Narrated in the medium of a third person Narayan uses the English language very effectively to portray characters which are essentially Indian. Yet the reader’s response is rather intimate as the characters transcend time, culture, geographical boundaries, religion etc. thereby achieving universality. In the ensuing analysis let us see how Narayan sketches Jagan’s character to achieve this universality.

As the story begins, we meet Jagan, the vendor of sweets in conversation with his cousin whom the narrator says that no explanation could be given as to how he came to be called so.

The first glance at Jagan gives an insight into his character when he says “conquer taste and you will have conquered the self” This extract from the Holy Scriptures quoted by Jagan was questioned by the cousin, “Why conquer self?” Jagan’s reply was “I do not know, but all our sages advise us so.” This is Jagan who Narayan portrays. The lack of analytical sense is him made him what he was.

This trait in him develops further as the story wends its way towards that tragic end. His limited capacity into in-depth thinking prompted him to accept whatever the sages say. He is unable to give an explanation as to why the taste should be conquered. He accepts it merely because the sages say so. This feature in him prevented his independent thinking. The cousin’s character in contrast with his inquiring mind sheds light on the portrayal of Jagan’s.

We see this trait extending further in his life in most of his dealings. For example, we know that he was in the forefront of the Indian Independence struggle ardently following Gandhi in his nonviolence campaign. What is striking is the fact that he followed Gandhi’s nonviolence policies to the letter and went to the extent of making his shoes out of the skin of an animal which had died due to old age. His words quite rightly justify the point. “I do not like to think that a living creature should have its throat cut for the comfort of my feet”

It is this behavior that makes us think of him as an extremist. He ventures into extremes without being realistic. His attitudes towards his wife’s sickness is one such instance where he became tenacious in the belief that only indigenous medicine can cure her headache. The narration stands to show that their first clash cropped up over such an argument.

The absence of an analytical mind drove him towards diffidence. He lagged behind taking decisions of his own. Even in the transactions with his son he needed cousin’s help to communicate. When his son told him that he wanted to give up his studies in College, he was aghast. His expectations of his son were entirely different. He wanted his son to pursue his studies and collect a BA degree. But he lacked confidence to discuss the matter with the son. He sought cousin’s help to mediate with the son. The cousin’s advice was that it would be best to know from the boy himself. He even suggested “why don’t you have a talk with him?” Jagan responded “Why don’t you?” This is a clear indication of Jagan’s character as a man who is not strong enough to take up challenges.

The home environment was such that the communication between father and son had come almost to a stand-still in the aftermath of the mother’s death. Jagan played the maternal role of feeding the boy properly but he paid little or no attention to the boy’s mental well-being. He was proud that Mali had grown physically. The narration stands to show that he was very proud of his son’s height, weight and growth. But he neglected the fact that as he grows his needs, requirements and aspirations need to be soothed for the wellbeing of his mental growth. He forgot the fact that his son is growing up without the warmth of the mother.

Jagan was in the habit of reading the “Bhagavad Gita” even in the midst of his business activities. However, his concentration on the religious scriptures was invariably hindered with the slightest quietening of the sizzling in the kitchen or if he noticed any slackness at the front stall. If a beggar is spotted by him near the entrance, he would shout “Captain, that beggar should not be seen here except on Fridays. This is not a charity house.” Such acts of Jagan revealed in no uncertain terms his hypocrisy and we know that his hypocritical demeanour was seen in many of his dealings.

Besides, Jagan was somewhat displeased when the trays in the sweet shop returned with the left-overs. It bothered him as if he had a splinter in his skull. When the head cook suggested that they can be turned into a new sweet for the next day, forgetting all his holy scriptures he readily agreed to it, saying “After all everything consists of rice, flour, sugar and flavours…..” His lofty ideals were mere lip-service and clear manifestation of hypocrisy in Jagan.

His hypocrisy does not end at this point. It further extends. We know that he maintained two books to record his business accounts. Narayan, very sarcastically records this act of Jagan when he puts it, “…… arising out of itself and entitled to survive without reference to any tax.” Such acts of dishonesty clashed with his so-called religious principles and the reader responds with discreet sarcasm.

A character sketch of Jagan is incomplete if no mention is made about his inter-personal skills. As mentioned above, his relationship with his wife and son ended in failure and so was his relationship with the members of the extended family. The narration reveals Jagan reflecting “They never liked me” and further the narrator’s words “Thus he had escaped the marriages of his nieces, the birthdays of his brother’s successive children and several funerals” What we gather from the narration is that Jagan felt grateful for being an outcast as it relieved him from his family obligations. This feature in Jagan drives home the point that Jagan was a failure in maintaining inter-personal skills which ultimately made his life pathetic.

This is Jagan we meet in Narayan’s “Vendor of Sweets” In Jagan we see a man not put into a frame. A blend of good and bad. A person made of flesh and blood and we begin to wonder whether we have not met him somewhere, in our daily transactions. Jagan is a victim not of evil but a victim of his own silly, weak or strange but harmless aspects of character. Jagan is essentially Indian but his hopes, aspirations and dreams are universal.

 

Written by Vivette Ginige Silva

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