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When will the Gang of Four be held accountable for their irresponsible decisions?

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by Sanjeewa Jayaweera

Most living in Sri Lanka feel like they have got into the boxing ring with Muhammad Ali. The ferocious punches thrown regularly are taking their toll, with most either on their knees or on the canvas. The final punch that will knock us out seems inevitable, but the question is when?

The pounding started initially with queues to buy milk powder for children, which then got extended to buying cooking gas, then to long power cuts, and now to queues extending several kilometres to buy petrol, diesel, and kerosene. Along the journey of suffering, we have also been penalized with hyperinflation. The saying “it never rains but it pours” seems so accurate.

The country is facing a humanitarian catastrophe of a magnitude not previously experienced. Most foreign commentators say, “Sri Lanka is facing the worst economic crisis since 1948.” In a release, the World Food Programme (WFP), the world’s largest humanitarian organization, stated, “An estimated 4.9 million people – 22 per cent of the population – are currently food-insecure and require humanitarian assistance. Reduced domestic agricultural production, scarcity of foreign exchange reserves and depreciation of the local currency have caused food shortages and a spike in the cost of living, which is limiting people’s access to healthy and affordable meals. The economic crisis will push families into hunger and poverty – some for the first time – adding to the half a million people who the World Bank estimates have fallen below the poverty line because of the pandemic.”

The latest WFP assessment reveals that 86 per cent of families are buying cheaper, less nutritious food, eating less and, in some cases, skipping meals altogether. Before the economic crisis and the pandemic, malnutrition rates across Sri Lanka were already high. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Sri Lankan women and children suffered from far higher rates of malnutrition than most other middle-income countries: 17 per cent of children aged under five were too short because of stunting, and 15 per cent were too thin for their height (wasted). The current economic crisis will likely aggravate this further.”

The peaceful uprising, predominantly by the youth referred to as the “Aragalaya”, and the violence that erupted on May 9 resulted in the resignation of the Prime Minister and the cabinet. Thankfully, quite a few unsavoury characters are no longer in the cabinet and have remained mainly underground, although a few are making occasional media appearances to test the waters. A few less savoury but still abject failures of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime have managed to get back into the cabinet. It is a paradox that a person who led his party to political oblivion and lost his seat is now the Prime Minister. So much for the will of the people!

However, my article is about the architects of our economic Armageddon. In a previous article, I identified them as Nivard Cabraal , P B Jayasundera , S.R. Attygalle and W D Lakshman and referred to them as the Gang of Four (G4). I have consistently advocated for the G4 to be charged and prosecuted for their actions that I would call criminal.

I am glad that recently a Fundamental Rights (FR) petition has been filed in the Supreme Court (SC) seeking appropriate action against those responsible for the prevailing economic crisis in the country, including the G4. One must hope that the SC will commence hearing the case on a priority basis and arrive at a verdict as soon as possible because most people I talk to say, “These fellows should be taken to Galle Face and be mercilessly whipped!” Although I don’t subscribe such drastic action, I understand their anger.

A few weeks back, the Committee on Public Finance (COPF) called the G4 for a hearing to ascertain the reasons for the economic collapse. Unfortunately, I have not been able to view the entire proceedings of the hearing as only a 15-minute video is available on YouTube. In that clip, Nandalal Weerasinghe, the incumbent Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, in an apparent snide remark aimed at Attygalle, said, “Responsible Government officials should refrain from engaging in politics and that the difference between a politician and an official should be properly recognized.”

It must be recalled that Attygalle was appointed as the Treasury Secretary in haste by the Mahinda Rajapaksa(MR) administration during the short-lived constitutional crisis in 2018. Some will also remember how MR immediately appointed Kapila Chandrasena as the CEO of SriLankan Airlines but had to quickly rescind the appointment due to public backlash. It was only subsequently revealed that Chandrasena’s wife had been paid US $ 2 million by Airbus as a bribe.

The belief is that many of the appointments made by MR appear to have been based on friendship and loyalty as opposed to competence. Therefore, it might be difficult for Attygalle to convince too many that he is not politically aligned with the Rajapaksas.

When questioned about the tax cuts that resulted in a significant loss of revenue to the government, Attygalle said that due to the commencement of the covid pandemic, it was not possible to pass judgment on whether the experiment of reducing taxes was correct. However, it does not need an Einstein to predict that a country grappling with a chronic budget deficit and a balance of payments crisis would get into severe economic difficulties due to such irresponsible decisions.

I highlighted my concern over several of the tax proposals in an article written by me called “Sri Lanka’s Tax Conundrum” published in the Sunday Island of January 12, 2020. Although I am no economist, my two and half decades of working in Sri Lanka, mainly as a Chief Financial Officer in several hotels, manufacturing and retail businesses, have given me sufficient knowledge and exposure to raise concerns.

The tax cuts entailed the reduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) to 8% from 15%, reduction of corporate tax for manufacturing companies to 18% from 28%, abolishing the 2.5% Nation Building Tax, the increase in the taxable supply threshold for VAT from Rs. 12 million to Rs. 300 million, the increase in single-person tax-free allowance to Rs. 3 million from Rs. 1.2 million together with significant widening of tax slabs and reduction of rates resulting in the highest rate coming down to 18% from 24%.

All these changes were done with no projection of how much tax revenue will be lost. Neither was there any comment about how the government intended to bridge the revenue deficit. It was all so reckless and irresponsible.

The international credit rating agency, Fitch Ratings, reacted immediately and, in a release, stated that tax concessions granted are “credit negative” and revised the outlook on Sri Lanka’s Long-Term Foreign-Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) to Negative from Stable.

These agencies are independent and skilled in their assessments. However, our Treasury Secretary (Attygalle) and the Central Bank Governor (Lakshman) released statements sharply rebuking the Fitch statement. In fact, in a TV chat show, he accused the international credit agencies of being politically biased and being part of an international conspiracy against GOSL! Furthermore, every subsequent downgrade of our credit ratings drew a sharp rebuke from Attygalle, Lakshman and Cabraal, questioning the motives of such downgrades.

For those of us who had engaged credit rating agencies on behalf of the companies we worked for, such criticisms were not valid and were downright stupid. Given the critical role that international rating agencies play, commonsense dictated that even if there is disagreement, there was a need for a far more diplomatic engagement and consensus building than releasing strongly worded rebukes and questioning their motives. The arrogance and the stupidity of the G4 are stunning.

In addition, in their infinite wisdom, the GOSL also decided that the PAYE tax at source previously collected from employers and Withholding Tax (WHT) from interest income paid by banks and financial institutions to individuals should be abolished. To say that this was a stupid and irresponsible decision is being polite.

In my article of January 12, 2020, I published a table from the Department of Inland Revenue Performance Report for 2018 setting out statistics of low compliance by businesses and individuals when filing their tax returns from 2013-14. I stated, “In such a scenario, expecting individuals to be compliant with their tax returns and payment of quarterly tax is being optimistic.”

I believe the architect of the above changes was none other than PBJ. When he was the Treasury Secretary during the period 2010 – 15, at many private sector forums, he said, “I have told the IRD to stop worrying about collecting PAYE taxes as the collection is so small.” However, he also stated, “If government servants are exempt from income tax, why should the private sector employees pay tax?” The end result was that many of us had our income tax files closed by the IRD, which was way back in 2011!

The decision to print money under both Lakshman and Cabraal led a former deputy governor of the CBSL to state that “Lakshman has turned the CBSL to a printing press.” It is believed that the G4 and others in charge of economic policy were disciples of the highly controversial Modern Monetary Theory (MMT). Many independent economists raised concerns and predicted that such action would lead to hyperinflation. Abraal arrogantly refuted these concerns.

The Island of April 27, 2021 quotes Cabraal as follows “State Minister of Money and Capital Markets Ajith Nivard Cabraal said yesterday that there was no relationship between money printing by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the depreciation of the local rupee in the foreign currency market. Minister Cabraal commented while responding to questions during an interview on Swarnawahini television. When asked whether the value of the Sri Lanka rupee showed a negative correlation to a surge in money printing by the Central Bank as the Opposition claimed, the state minister replied, “Generally, people say it may be because they don’t know. The issue is when those that claim to be in the know of these matters also say the same thing.”

The G4 also pursued a policy of keeping interest rates well below the inflation rate. This was purported to encourage borrowing. This ludicrous policy resulted in depositors being able to negotiate higher rates for their US Dollar deposits than for their LKR deposits! One of the first actions of the new Governor was to increase the treasury bill interest rates significantly. It is a tried and tested formula to raise interest rates to curtail demand and reduce inflation. Currently, the world over, nearly all central banks have resorted to this policy. It seems that G4 are the only exception.

The decision to peg the Lankan Rupee to the US Dollar at 200 for a considerable period against the advice of many independent economists and bankers has had a debilitating impact on our economy. Undoubtedly, this has resulted in a burgeoning black/ grey market where the rate differential was significant. In addition, this has led to a substantial decrease in the receipt of remittances by Sri Lankans working overseas and also by exporters who may be keeping the funds overseas in anticipation of a devaluation. We all are fully aware of the pain now endured by a lack of dollars in the country.

Having held on to the US Dollar to LKR 200 for too long, the Monetary Board under the chairmanship of Cabraal recklessly let go of the peg resulting in a steep depreciation of the LKR by nearly 80% over just two months. This was despite the IMF’s explicit warning that any peg relaxing needs to be done carefully and systematically. A couple of members of the former monetary board have stated that Cabraal unilaterally decided to abandon the peg. This is being disputed by him, claiming that it was a collective decision. Whether it was collective or unilateral, Cabraal needs to bear complete responsibility for this reckless decision that has upended the lives of millions of our people. Lastly, I must say that my personal opinion is that the members of the Monetary Board who objected to the policy decisions of Cabraal should have resigned and made their reasons public at the time. To claim that to have resigned would have been cowardly is unacceptable.

Cabraal has recently released several public statements in which he has attempted to exonerate himself. He has stated that even now, the exchange rate is being pegged, and money is still being printed. Yes, no doubt. However, the damage done in the last two years is so immense that it is impossible to stop the rot immediately. As the saying goes, it is like riding a tiger and not being able to get off. That is the country’s predicament.

I believe the COPF meeting ended with another scheduled follow-up meeting. There has been no news of any further deliberations involving the G4. I doubt whether anything of value emanates from these deliberations. In the last couple of months, the Committee of Public Enterprises (COPE) reviews, Chaired by Professor Charita Herath, have made headlines over how poorly the state-owned enterprises are being administered and managed. However, for me, they are just theatrics as most such disclosures have been included in the Auditor General’s reports of such enterprises and have been in the public domain for quite some time. It is just that no one bothered to read such reports.

Undoubtedly, the G4 need to be charged and prosecuted for bringing this country and its people to its knees. Our lifestyle has been taken back several decades. As stated in the WFP report, millions of our people will starve and be malnourished. The youth of our country, referred to as the future, do not see any future, and most are in a mad scramble to leave the country.

The President, PM and the Cabinet are equally responsible for this dastardly state of affairs. Still, for me, the G4 bears the greater responsibility in that, as so-called experts, they failed, and their failure is due to sheer arrogance and their reckless decision to experiment with the lives of millions of people.

For me, the comment made by MP M A Sumanthiran when addressing the G4 at the COPF meeting is relevant in meting out punishment to those responsible for the current situation in our country. He said, “The former minister of finance Mangala Samaraweera, who was a fashion designer and not an economist, predicted in October 2019 that the tax proposals of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as set out in his manifesto would result in an express train to bankruptcy, default and a Greek-style financial crisis.” He rebuked the G4, saying that their so-called expertise in economic management could not foresee what a fashion designer was able to!

That is precisely my conclusion too. This is a man-made disaster, and it is a travesty of justice that those responsible are still not behind bars whilst the people of this country are on their knees.



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Impact of security considerations on foreign policy crafting

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To be sure, Sri Lanka is in a tight policy bind as a result of initially granting the Chinese high tech vessel, ‘Yuan Wang 5’, permission to dock at its Hambantota Port for a week, beginning today. The decision did not prove divisive until India objected to it; apparently, over questions relating to its national security.

Consequent to India raising objections, Sri Lanka has requested China to defer its vessel’s Hambantota Port visit, but quite understandably the Chinese side has taken offence at this change of stance by Sri Lanka. Among other things, China has called on India to ‘stop pressuring’ Sri Lanka over the vessel’s visit, which it claims is for purely scientific exploration purposes.

Essentially, the Indian position is that its security interests could be compromised as a result of the Chinese high tech vessel being in a position, once it docks in Hambantota, to bring under close surveillance vital Indian infrastructural assets on the country’s southern coast in particular, such as nuclear power plants and ports. Sri Lanka reportedly received messages of protest by India to the effect that the Chinese vessel possessed the capability ‘to track satellites and intercontinental ballistic missiles’, besides other strengths.

China, for its part has explained, among other things, that the vessel’s visit is part of ‘the cooperation process’ between China and Sri Lanka, which is ‘independently chosen by the two countries and meets common interests. It does not target any third party.’ It added that: ‘Sri Lanka is a sovereign state. It can develop relations with other countries in the light of its own development interests.’

Sri Lanka is bound to see the merit in China’s argument but given its regional policy compulsions it cannot afford to be seen as being at cross purposes with India either. India and China are number one powers and considering Sri Lanka’s geographical proximity to both states, besides its dependence on them in a number of vital areas, it cannot be seen by either of these global powers as being insensitive to their best interests.

A classic small state dilemma, the commentator is prompted to observe. Bluntly expressed, however, Sri Lanka is in a state of utter helplessness in this situation where it cannot afford to offend either of these major powers. But in fairness to Sri Lanka it needs to be said that she has tried to be as ‘Non-aligned’ as possible while relating to the big powers concerned; it’s simply that, given her degree of dependence on them, she is in no position to say ‘No’ to either of them.

Sri Lanka’s damage controllers, if there are any, may need to act swiftly, positively and proactively. They will need to use their best diplomatic skills to facilitate an empathetic response from China in particular to the policy quandaries confronting Sri Lanka in the Yuan Wang 5 connection. Essentially, the message to both countries should be that no wilful harm has been intended to them by Sri Lanka.

This is not going to be the first occasion on which a worrisome tangle of this acuteness in the regional policy sphere is likely to confront Sri Lanka. Going forward, how will it manage quandaries of this magnitude? This is an issue of the highest urgency and complexity. It is compounded by the fact that being in an utterly helpless economic situation, Sri Lanka does not possess any rescue options worth speaking of. While the country needs to persevere with Non-alignment as best as it could, and as the saying goes, be ‘a friend of all’, it would be only working against its best interests by being unaware of the priorities of its closest neighbours and shaping its relations with them accordingly.

Needless to say, India is our closest neighbour and merits extra-carefulness and sensitivity on Sri Lanka’s part when dealing with it. The lessons of the late seventies and early eighties should be fresh in the minds of Sri Lanka’s policy and decision-makers, lest past regional policy blunders are repeated. Put briefly, security concerns prompted India to figure prominently in Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict in those times.

Ideally, Sri Lanka should have been left alone to sort out the issues that grew out of its ethnic conflict. But Sri Lanka’s then rulers opted to seek the assistance of some Western intelligence agencies in their fight against the LTTE, which was seen by India as posing a threat to its security interests. Thus, was set in motion a period of antagonistic relations between India and Sri Lanka. This troublesome spell was defused somewhat with the signing of the 1987 Indo-Lanka peace accord.

There are some fundamental truths in foreign policy formulation that need to be addressed by Sri Lankan policy and decision makers, along with the local public, as the country moves into the future, particularly in the face of the current crisis situation. These truths need recalling particularly on account of the fact that some local sections see China and India as dealing with foreign policy questions in basically different ways. For example, China is seen as non-interfering in the internal affairs of countries in this context, while India is perceived as taking ‘a political stance’ on the relevant issues.

This is a misleading understanding of the reasons that compel these countries to adopt the seemingly different stances on the issues in question. To be sure, China is generally ‘non-interfering’ in the affairs of countries but this policy position grows out of what it sees as its best interests.

China prefers non-intervention in the internal politics of countries, for example, because it wishes the world to adopt a hands-off policy with regard to its own affairs as well. That is, China’s policy of non-involvement in the domestic affairs of other countries is dictated by its self-interest, which translates into its national interest. A country’s foreign policy is best understood as an instrument that serves its cherished interests. In China’s case its foreign policy revolves around ‘non-involvement’.

On the other hand, it is in India’s best interests to be concerned about developments in the South Asian region, since being the largest country in the region, it has a phenomenal and wide-ranging asset base to look after. Thus, national security is very much an integral part of India’s foreign policy. Accordingly, an ideal foreign policy is non-existent. Foreign policies are as diverse as the numerous states’ best interests are diverse. Thus, facile labeling of countries is difficult when it comes to foreign policy.

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Right Thought (Samma Sankappa ) in Buddhism

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by Dr. Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara

Buddhism rests on the pivot of suffering. Lord Buddha declared ‘the world is established on suffering, it is founded on suffering’ (Duke loko patititthhito).

All problems in life bring about suffering (Dukka or unsatisfactoriness) and as we attempt to put an end to them, they give rise to another. Solution of one problem leads to another problem, in many other diverse ways. We are constantly confronted with fresh problems, in our daily life, and problems go on incessantly and interminably. Such is the nature of suffering, and it is the universal characteristic of sentient existence. Suffering can be either physical or psychological. Dukka is inescapable and ubiquitous and it constitutes the first of the four Noble Truths in Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths, which the Buddha himself discovered, and revealed to the world, are the chief characteristics and unshakable foundations of Buddhism.

In the first Noble truth, the Buddha defines the truth of dukka, thus. “What monks, is the Noble Truth of Dukka? Birth is dukka, decay is dukka, death is dukka, sorrow, lamentation, pain, displeasure and despair are dukka; union with the unpleasant dukka, separation from the pleasant dukka, not what one wants is dukka; in brief, the five aggregates of clinging are dukka. These monks, is the Noble Truth of Dukka”.

The solution for the aforesaid problems of dukka (unsatisfactoriness) of life is the Noble Eightfold Path, propounded by Lord Buddha more than 2600 years ago. This is the only way to the cessation of suffering and also a vital step in emancipating ourselves from an interminable cycle of rebirths.

It is said that the Noble Eightfold Path leads to the cessation of dukka. This path consists of a set of eight interconnected factors, or conditions, that when developed together, leads to the cessation of dukka.

The eight factors of the paths are 1. Right Understanding (sammaditthi) 2. Right Thought (sammasankappa) 3. Right Speech (sammavacca). 4. Right Action (sammakammanta) 5. Right Livelihood (sammaajiva) 6. Right Effort, (sammavayama). 7. Right Mindfulness (samma sati) 8. Right concentration (samma samadhi).

These eight factors aim at promoting and perfecting the three essentials of Buddhist training and discipline. For the purpose for coherent and better understanding of, the eight divisions of the path have been grouped according to the under-mentioned three headings.

The first two are classified as Wisdom (panna), the second three as Morality (sila) and the last three as Concentration (samadhi). These three stages in the Eightfold Path are encapsulated in a Buddhist stanza (sabba papassa akaranan – kusalassa upa sammapada – sacitta priyo dapanan – etan buddhanu sasanan). To cease from all evil to cultivate good, in order to purify one’s mind, that is the advice of all Buddhas.

The eight steps of the path are not expected to be realised in sequence, one after the other. Rather, they are considered a unity and an organic whole. They are interdependent and interrelated. All eight factors are preceded by the word “Right” classified as Right, which means perfect. It is a mode of transcendence that leads to sotapanna sakadagami, anâgâmi and arahant. No doubt, it is a difficult feat to be achieved. The Noble Eightfold path is in effect the path to Nibbana. It is a path which avoids the extreme of self-mortification that weakens the intellect and the extreme of self-indulgence that retards moral progress. Although it is generally spoken as a path to be treaded, in actual fact the eight steps signify mental factors to be practised. All eight factors should converge simultaneously, each supporting the other in order to reach a sufficient level of development to experience of sotapanna, sakadagame, anâgâmi or arahant. It is said that the path proceeds from a lower state of purity to higher state and factors of the path should coalesce at a certain level of perfection. Path is not meant to be practiced a little each day.

The Buddha taught the eightfold path in virtually all his discourses, and his directions are clear and practical to his followers, today, as they were when he first disclosed them.

According to Walpola Rahula, the divisions of the Noble Eightfold Path should be developed more or less simultaneously, as far as possible, according to the capacity of each individual. They are linked together and each helps the cultivation of the others.

The second factor of the noble Eight-fold Path, with which this article deals, is called in Pali; samma sankappa, (Right Thought) which is sometimes identified as “Right Intention” in Buddhist literature. In this instance, the word specifically refers to the purposive or conative aspect of mental activity, as the first factor in the Noble Eightfold path (samma ditthi or right understanding) encompasses cognitive aspect of the mental activity. Nevertheless, no clear demarcation can be made between these two divisions because, from the Buddhist perspective, the cognitive and purposive sides of the mind intertwine and interact in close correlation, inducing them into activity. Right Thought is important because it is one’s thoughts which either defile or purify a person. It is one’s thoughts and nature that control one’s destiny. Evil thoughts tend to debase one just as good thought tends to elevate one. Sometimes a single thought can either destroy or save a world. Right Thought serves the dual purpose of eliminating evil thoughts and developing pure thoughts.

Our thoughts are as important to us as our actions because they make up who we are, thus it becomes imperative that we keep thoughts pure.

Buddha, emphasising the value of Right Thought, declared “Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded. But once mastered, no one can help you as much, not even your father or your mother”.

Right Thought (right intention) is threefold. It is comprised of 1. Nekkamma: Renunciation of worldly pleasures, which is opposed to attachment, selfishness and self-possessiveness. 2. Avyapada: Loving Kindness, goodwill, or benevolence which is opposed to hatred, ill will or aversion and 3. Avihimsa: Harmlessness or compassion which is opposed to cruelty and callousness. In a moment of insight, the Buddha, at the time of his enlightment, saw that everything contains all these opposites. He saw the duality in nature and realised that everything can be replaced by the opposite. For instance, each kind of Right Thought counters the corresponding kind of wrong thought or intention, the thought of renunciation (Nekkama) counters the intention of desire, the thought of goodwill counters the intention of ill will and the thought of harmlessness counters the intention of harmfulness.

Buddha declared if one acts and speaks with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him and if he acts or speaks with an impure mind then suffering follows as the hoof of the ox. Right thought means avoiding desire and ill will. The importance of wisdom is evident from this, as the cause of suffering is described in terms of desire, ill will and ignorance. Right understanding removes ignorance and Right thought removes desire and ill will.

Renunciation (Nekkama) is often a difficult task. Grappling with the power of desire and attachment may require a great deal of personal struggle, as the mind does not want to relinquish its hold on the objects to which it has become attached. But that struggle yields many benefits, as putting an end to dukkha depends on eliminating craving thereby directing the mind to renunciation. We develop the inner strength to overcome temptation and compulsion. Attachment coupled with ignorance are the chief causes of all evil prevalent in this deluded world. One can either be attached to desirable objects or is repulsed with aversion if the objects are found to be undesirable. The word “Nekkamma” generally conjures up the idea of leaving your household life for the monastic life by discarding all sensual pleasures completely. But it is not so, as renunciation can apply to lay practice as well. Real renunciation does not require you to give all things inwardly cherished but changing our perspective on them so that they no longer bind us. It is letting go of whatever that binds us to ignorance and suffering. It is only an abandonment of overly material comforts for spiritual enlightment. The degree to which a person renounces depends on his disposition and situation.

It is the attachment or desire that put us on an endless cycle of grasping and keeps us unsatisfied. Therefore, it is important that we maintain an attitude of detachment from worldly pleasures and realise the ephemeral nature of our possessions and to not be selfishly attached to them.

The Buddha says unfulfilled desire is the root cause of unhappiness and dissatisfaction, and the way to overcome such unhappiness is to eliminate the craving or desire by eradicating the root of unwholesome desire through renunciation. The Mind is in the habit of grasping. We have to break this habit and strive to let go of grasping.

When we look realistically at the desire and unhappiness that eventually follows in its wake, it is constantly shadowed by dukkha (unsatisfactoriness). When desire is not fulfilled there is always frustration, disappointment, sometimes despair. Even if the desire is fulfilled it does not a guarantee of happiness and it might not last long and sometimes we lose the object of desire. This is called grasping. When we hang on too hard this becomes a cause of unhappiness. It is important to realize the fulfillment of desire is impermanent, nothing lasts whether it be height of sensual delight, or the achievement of wealth or fame or power. The pursuit of such pleasures brings the pain of separation from the object of desire, which increases in intensity in proportion to the degree of attachment.

Our mental states such as happiness or sadness and consequent actions are determined by our thoughts. The cause for endless suffering, conflict, discontent and injustice does not lie outside the mind. They are all just manifestations of intentions, outcroppings of thoughts propelled by greed, driven by hatred and delusion.

Right thoughts can mean different things and it is essentially directed towards shunning away from the vicious cycle of craving and desire by committing to a life style of self improvement and ethical conduct. The Buddha identified two types of thought: wandering thought(vicara) and logical or directed thought. Normally our mind is filled with scattered, random and wandering thoughts. For instance, when we are asked to perform a task our thoughts are directed towards in a particular direction. Once that task is over our thoughts are directed towards another direction and begin their erratic wandering again. The Buddha making an important observation in this connection and declared “Whatever one thinks about and ponders on often the mind gets a leaning in that way” (M.I)

The Buddha broadly defines Right Thoughts as thoughts of detachment, of love and of helpfulness. Therefore, an important aspect of Buddhist training is to cultivate Right Thought, not to let negative thoughts persist in our mind and to encourage positive thoughts.

Right Thought basically refers to wholesome thoughts, which is closely linked to Right Understanding because it results eventually through the practice and attainment of wisdom.

The first two verses of the first chapter of the Dhammapada by the Buddha would also be relevant in this connection. “All we are is the result of what we have thought. It is founded on our thoughts, it is made up of our thoughts. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him”.

Avyapada as the second constituent of Right thought literally means non-enmity and corresponds to the most important virtue of Metta. In Sanskrit Maittri is loving kindness or goodwill towards all without any distinction or discrimination. The Pali word Metta also connotes loving kindness, goodwill, benevolence friendliness. A person whose mind is full of loving kindness can harbor no hatred towards anybody just like a mother who makes no difference between herself and her only child and protects it even at the risk of her own life. Metta is the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others and devoid of self interest. It is indeed a universal, unselfish and all-embracing love. Metta is opposed to hatred, ill will or aversion. A person who radiates metta refuses to be offensive and renounces bitterness, resentment and animosity of every kind. It is a love that has no ulterior motive. Metta does not make a distinction among beings. It embraces all and no one falls outside of its domain. Ill will is countered by Metta. The kind of love implied by Metta should be distinguished from sensual love and also from the love involved in personal affection.

The third and the last of the three constituents of Right Thought is Avihimsa or Karuna. It is guided by compassion (Karuna) which is opposed to cruelty, aggressiveness and violent thoughts. Like Buddhist Mettta, Karuna too is limitless and boundless. Karuna (compassion) is a virtue which makes the tender hearts of the noble quiver at the sufferings of others. The characteristics of Karuna are comparable to that of loving mother whose thoughts, words and deeds always tend to relieve the distress of her ailing son. (Narada). Karuna complements loving kindness (Metta). While loving kindness has the quality of wishing for the happiness and the wellbeing others, Karuna (compassion) has the quality of wishing that others be free from suffering. Bhikkhu Bodhi describing the thought of harmlessness (avihimsa) in the context of Right Thought states “The intention of harmlessness is thought guided by compassion (Karuna) aroused in opposition to cruel, aggressive, and violent Thoughts. Compassion supplies the complement to loving kindness. Whereas loving loving kindness as the characteristic of wishing for happiness and welfare of others, compassion has the characteristic of wishing that others be free from suffering, a wish to be extended without limits to all living beings. Like Metta, compassion arises by entering into the subjectivity of others, by sharing their interioty in a deep and total way. It springs up by considering that all beings, like ourselves, wish to be free from suffering, yet despite their wishes continue to be harassed by pain, fear sorrow and other forms dukkha.

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Can Priyanka Chopra do it for Sri Lanka!

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Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra is one celebrity who has actively supported, and worked with charities, and nonprofit organizations, throughout her adult life.

Most recently, the 40-year-old actress completed an emotional trip, working with UNICEF to help mothers and children, in Poland, who fled from the war in Ukraine.

In 2010, Priyanka became the National Ambassador of UNICEF and played a significant role in fostering awareness of children’s needs in India. Additionally, she raised funds, advocated and educated people on UNICEF’s goals, and featured in numerous videos to create awareness about child rights.

During the coronavirus pandemic, Priyanka and husband, Nick Jonas, donated to several organisations, to help fight the outbreak of coronavirus.

Since both Priyanka and Nick Jonas are internationally known celebrities, and their charity work is generally connected with children, it certainly would be a good idea to try and get their attention focused on the situation, in Sri Lanka, especially where hundreds of children are reported to be going without meals, on a daily basis.

If we can get them involved in our scene, I’m sure we would have more support coming our way, from other well-known celebrities…especially those big names, in showbiz, who have been appointed as Ambassadors for UNICEF.

And, who knows, we may have another ‘Live Aid’ concert, put together, very specially for Sri Lanka!

Sri Lankans, based in Australia, are very concerned about the situation, in their land of birth, and some are working on projects to help the needy, back home.

I’m told that a few individuals are trying to work on the possibility of sending some bicycles to their friends, in Sri Lanka, to help them overcome the fuel crisis.

In the meanwhile, Chopra used her social media presence to deliver an emotional message on Instagram about her trip, to Poland, shared alongside photos of herself spending time with refugee children.

A few pictures show Chopra laughing and doing activities with the kids, while the rest focus specifically on the children creating art, or blowing bubbles outside.

The accompanying message focused on the psychological impact of war on refugees, especially children, describing how UNICEF made teams of psychologists available to the refugees.

Chopra wrote: “One of the most effective tools in helping children regain a sense of normalcy is playful interaction. It sounds so simple, but through play, children can find safety and respite, while also being able to explore and process what is happening in their lives.”

She continued by describing specific ways the children use play and art as therapy, saying, “The kids I met, on this mission, love working with art. Coffee beans, salts and regular household items are used for art therapy and sensitivity therapy. When they work with different materials, as well as paints and colours, the therapists are able to understand their emotions.”

Chopra also mentioned the handmade dolls the children made and gifted her, which are “believed to have the power of protection.”

The actress shared another post, on Instagram, soon after, telling the story of one mother who was forced to leave behind her husband, and parents, in Ukraine, to get her son to safety.

Perhaps, UNICEF Sri Lanka can make Priyanka Chopra’s visit here a reality.

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