Tamil Buddhism and oldness of Sinhala lingo are beside the point
by Kumar David
Justice Wigneswaran is not laying traps to snare GR-MR or the TNA; that’s not the import of my title. I am suggesting is that wily old Wiggy is calculating that these worthies will snare themselves in traps of their own making, and then his line will pay off. His expectation is that the regime will turn explicitly anti-Tamil and his second calculation is that the TNA is too deeply mired in compromises to extricate itself. Of course, I am attributing motives to him; but in politics it’s okay for analysts to make assumptions about why leaders do this or that and I am within limits of fairness in imputing not unreasonable motives to Wiggy.
This of course is in addition to the fun he must be having watching Field Marshals and Rear Admirals frothing at the mouth. The more they froth the better it plays into his gambit. The old fox’s trick is to say incendiary stuff like: ‘Tamil was the original language of the island, the Sinhala tongue emerged only in the Sixth or Seventh Century AD’; ‘Tamils were the first Buddhists in Lanka and switched to Saivism in early BC’; ‘Dushata Kaamini was a Tamil Buddhist fighting Ellalan a Tamil Saivite’. Stuff like that, even if true, the mere utterance will make ‘hela, jathika, abimane’ blood boil.
Leaving to one side whether Wiggy is stirring things up for larks or for political gain, what’s the historical and anthropological evidence. The Wiggy-Fonny adipudi seemed at first a brawl between two ageing crack-pots and I thought experts would weigh in and sort out fact from fiction sans ethnic and ideological bias. But all experts have chickened out, which tells us how explosive the topic is. I have over the years done some amateur reading so fools need to drift in where angels are cowardly to tread. I don’t care whether Tamil, Sinhalese or Double-Dutch is older or whether the Tamils or the Sinhalese first sniffed religious opium. What I have learnt is from writings of Lanka’s best historian, Leslie (RALH) Gunawardena and anthropologist Sudarshan Seneviratne. I am also very familiar with Indrapala’s excellent Evolution of Ethnic Identity, portions of K.M. de Silva’s tome, what was readily available of Gananath, and Wikipedia level stuff. Let me blurt out this little learning till an expert picks up the courage to speak.
Yes, Tamil is one of the oldest living languages; living means it is still spoken. Chinese, Greek and Tamil may be the oldest. Second, many (most?) Tamils in South India and Lanka were Buddhists in ‘BC times’ before the onward march of Saivism inundated them in ‘AD times’, especially during the apogee of Chola power. There is evidence of widespread practice of Buddhism and Jainism in Southern India and the northern and eastern parts of this island before it was pushed out between the first century BC and the third century AD. The third point is what has got the experts into a funk; they don’t want to be lynched. Sinhala became the lingua franca of southern Lanka during the fifth to sixth centuries AD; that is quite recently. The language of the elite and the clergy prior to Mahavamsa times was Prakrit while a classical version called Pali was used by the learned. In olden times the mass of the people, a few thousand, lived in small tribes and communities and a collective name for their speech is Hela or Elu or Helu; hence the case made by certain pundits for going back to the original Hela stuff has a point.
Vijaya and his horde were a raiding band who spoke an Indian dialect and were assimilated by the tribes and communities who proliferated across the island. Only a few hundred strong they could not have made large sperm donations. The originals in the north were tribal groups but linguistically Tamilised by South Indian migration from BC times. Genetically, Tamil and Sinhalese folk are to a large extent, descendants of these tribal pools though these days all they want to do is gouge each other’s eyes out. Then the interesting bit follows. The difference between our warring idiots is not race – they are much the same gene pool – it is ethnic, that is language, religion and culture. After the high period of Chola conquest two separate cultures ossified in different portions of the island among racially similar peoples. These are the two mentally retarded communities we confront today; this comes across clearly in Leslie and Indrapala’s writings but they put it politely. However, propensity for conflict does not disappear; ethnicities can hate each other as much as races because friction is about material and social benefits. But hopefully, if the mass mind knows that the two are of racially the same stock in conflict over benefits and politics, visceral hatred of the ‘other’ may diminish.
Wiggy suspects that the GR-MR government will screw the Muslims first and then turn on the Tamils. He like the rest of us is anticipating tough times ahead for economy and at that time what is more profitable for the regime than the race-card? Many Venerables and State and Cabinet Ministers are merchants of death that GR-MR dare not leash, and that indicates where power lies. The TNA is too compromised. Its efforts were not unprincipled; it correctly judged that without a deal with the Sinhalese the Tamils will get nowhere. It picked on yahapalana because the UNP is liberal as opposed to the SLPP and SLFP which are of Sinhala-Buddhist ethos. The poor sods ended up as empty handed as Chelva and the FP but not quite as stone dead as Prabakaran. It seems unlikely that the TNA can rise again, but true, stranger things have happened.
Moody’s Investor Service last week dropped Lanka’s sovereign rating from B2 to Caa1, a two-tier drop bypassing B3. The agency defines Caa as “speculative, of poor standing and subject to very high credit risk”; that is junk! The corresponding grade in Standard & Poor and Fitch is CCC, CC or C. While rating agencies have responsibility to both lender and debtor the double whammy is harsh; a one tier downgrade was unavoidable since medium-term prospects for the economy are poor. Recent improvements (remittances rising to pre-COVID levels, sharp reduction in imports, fall in 2020 balance of payments deficit from a feared $8 billion to an expected $6 billion deficit, and enhanced activity in the domestic economy) though loudly touted by the Finance Ministry seem to have been dismissed by the agency as short-term gains. Sadly, the outlook is a looming fiscal (budget) deficit, deterioration of asset quality and a depressing employment picture. Not all of Cabraal’s rantings could have deflected a one-tier downgrade. Wiggy reckons that the regime will go after the minorities when troubles multiply. Maybe he reckons ‘Why would a post-20A regime not do just what autocrats do when cornered by a flailing economy?’
Wiggy is palpably mischievous and enjoys baiting the ‘hela, jathika, abimane’ fraternity. For proof peruse the hundreds of naïve, goofy and brain-dead comments following any Wiggy piece in the Colombo Telegraph. On the serious side I think he calculates that Tamil leadership will go next to the one who walks the talk; he who is most boldly Tamil! Though Tamil militancy was the outcome of Sinhala politics even a militant Wiggy will eventually have to cut a deal; there is no other option. The Tamil stand-off has no realisable solution other than cutting a deal with the Sinhalese state. Muslims have always been of this view. Wiggy is upper middle-class; a liberal intellectual who speaks and writes the Queen’s English like, well like a judge. He is a Royalist who must have just missed entry to S. Thomas’ by a few marks. But strangely he is also an obscurantist. I don’t know what to make of a man who is a devotee of the late Swami Premananda convicted on multiple counts of murder and rape in India in 1997. See-
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C._V._Vigneswaran and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swami_Premananda_(guru)]
Though the infection rate is now declining the 1000+ that tested positive for COVID in the Gampaha District signal a ‘community outbreak’ described as spread by mechanisms that cannot be traced to contact with a ‘recently-returned person’ or foreign visitor. This is alarming; community outbreaks are very difficult to control; no one knows where this sneaky bug is hiding. If GR and team impose production and industry disrupting curfews again, damage to the economy will be devastating and follow hard on Moody’s downgrade of our credit rating to junk. In the wake of previous mutilation this will act as a geometric multiplier. The possible closure of BIA will further deflate business confidence. If the economy goes into a tailspin the regime will need some drama to distract attention: Dump 20A? Blame minorities for something? Discover ever more welcome crimes of the “previous regime”? The second possibility relates to today’s column.
Neuro-science that underlies Buddhist philosophy
Dr Channa Ratnatunga
Buddhist philosophy does not mention the Brain, only the mind or citta. It does not mean that the organ i.e. the brain was unknown at the time. Recorded in the Maha-Vagga, ’the book of Discipline’ of the Tripitaka, one Jeevaka Kohombacha a reputed physician was trephining the skull, presumably to drain blood accumulated within the skull. He would have known how it could affect brain/mind function.
In the Western front, it was Galen who was thought to be the 1st to attempt changing the existent opinion, in 200AD; he held that it was the brain and not the heart that was the seat of ‘intelligence’.
We have now moved on far beyond. I thought it appropriate to place Buddhist philosophy on a more scientific footing by correlating it with current Neuro-biology of Neuroscience. The data is both subjective and objective as a science.
‘The Reptilian Brain ’
A portion of the brain of all vertebrates, becoming more prominent in mammals, more than birds and reptiles is the reptilian brain. It is now described as the Limbic system. It deals with a whole lot of reflexes which deals with survival. For a species, the typical instinctual behaviours are involved with it: flight-fight reaction, aggression, dominance, territoriality and ritual displays. In mammals, specially the higher groups, which include Chimpanzees, Gorillas and man, it subscribes to most emotional responses for survival, procreation and other basic needs of fulfillment i.e. of thirst and hunger. Links through the hormones and the autonomic nervous system, permits fulfillment of the different roles it is responsible for.
Structurally they are constituted by the sensorial input through the Thalamus (other than smell), Hippocampus, Amygdala, hypo-thalamus and the Cingulate Gyrus of the Brain (see diagram) below.
All emotional responses, are kept controlled by the pre-frontal cortex often described as ‘the leader of the Orchestra’.
Hence inbuilt into all of us by millennia of selection are reflexes for survival. Social anthropology teaches us that security of survival is enhanced by belonging to a society. After all, we are inbuilt to be, a social animal. Dominance in the society, needs suppression of competition to get the cream of both the spoils for; food and procreation. Both Tribalism and a hierarchy, is born and needs to be sustained. Anger, greed, theft, promiscuity and other ill-gotten traits are hence a part of our inbuilt armamentarium. Most are inherited by being installed on our limbic system (in the human brain). The degree of pre frontal lobe control to keep checked these primitive urges is what Buddhist philosophy is all about.
Current studies of neuroscience, using; functional MRI and other imaging and electrical recording procedures have shown that Mindful Meditation enlarges the prefrontal cortex (i.e. more cells, synapses in this area) of the brain. Mindfulness skills are now recognized in the west, as premium in many areas of human endeavour. In fact, it is hailed as the ‘way to go for evolution for the human kind!
As long as we have the Limbic system installed for survival, we will continue to volitionally (think, speak and act) behave to survive, permitting the karmic energy to be formed. Maybe the survival apparatus was installed to maintain sentient life-forms in the universe, a part of nature (could even be a natural law i.e. like gravitation). The Buddha discovered it and showed a way to avoid it, so securing avoidance of karmic generation.
With this background permit me to speculate on the philosophy we have tried to give a more solid scientific background.
The ultimate truth of human existence, we all seek: the ultimate reality, has to be within Nature, bound by laws, known and; as yet unknown that govern it.
Nature as we know it consists of the physical universe as we know it, the dark matter we are not yet familiar with, energy and dark energy associated with it and the sentient life forms that inhabit, so far in at least on our planet.
Science so far has not made inroads into the nature of sentient life forms, other than to define their detailed physical structure, the nature of their behaviour, their evolution by natural selection (Darwin). It is not known what forces form life forms; why they grow? Why the varied circumstances of their individual existence; what their designated purpose is and where they go after death. Into this vacuum, walks religion!
Having said this, all the tribalistic institutions, ceremonies, incantations, etc. that have since developed around a variety of prophets, are at best, a means of keeping man, a social animal, controlled. Society is competitive and to maintain a semblance organization within, laws have to be promulgated. The unknown, have at various times been deified, i.e. the sun, fire, a creator, a destroyer, etc. The Latin saying by Petronius; ‘Timor primus in Orbe, Deos fecit’ (Fear caused Gods first on Earth) has much to say for itself, as does the pithy advice of the Persian philosopher poet Omar-Khayam, referring to the sky and presumably deities, ‘lift not thy hands to it for help, as it rolls impotently on as thou and I’. Security offered by herd behaviour of a tribe, or as offered by supernatural power or being, in trying circumstances is a human need and faith helps. Religion Modern society needs to be re-thought, as to its place.
Returning to the subject of this essay, Newton (Laws of Motion), Einstein (Laws of Gravity), Maxwell (Laws of Electro-Magnetism), the strong and weak force of atomic structure, and others have propounded physical laws for, that govern matter and the known energy forms that exist in the Universe. Based on the accuracy of the application of such laws, man has set foot on the moon. Science prides itself on accuracy and being evidence-based.
If sentient life-forms too are part of nature, the detailed laws have yet to be postulated by science. Unlike the study of matter, a need to understand the ‘nature of existence of life-forms’ has not yet been undertaken by the scientific community. After all, survival and procreation to live on the harsh environment that exists at the time seems to be their only purpose.
To hypothesise, speculatively, could it be that Siddhartha Gautama, by meditative practice of a high order, enlarging his pre-frontal cortex of the brain, broke into ‘the insightful realization of how life forms are governed: it’s laws in nature’.
As evidence-based data has to be adduced for this possibility, I will now place evidence, as to these conclusions, speculative no doubt.
It is claimed that he realised the truth of reincarnation, i.e. rebirth, samsara and the sorrow. We sow and we reap, and the Karmic law will enact Samsara for eons to come.
Rebirth will account for the protean differences that exist in human form, circumstances, talents, life events (Narada Mahathera’s text reproduced in The Island last Poya Day (01 Oct). Stevenson’s1 detailed scientific enquiry on children who could recollect past lives, birth marks attributed to trauma provides anecdotal evidence.
The scientific value of past life regression (PLR) by psychiatrists using hypnosis on selected subjects, Near Death Experiences (NDE) is difficult to assess. For instance, it has been shown that diminished blood flow to the brain as experienced in certain circumstances can simulate NDE.
This leaves the practising Buddhist to focus on meditation to see the veracity of the truth of rebirth. That rebirth is sorrow, I think can be realized, as death in most life forms be it animal or insect, is painful. According to Buddhism, to be born in a human life-form with pre-frontal decision making ability is a great opportunity to negate rebirth and sorrow. This opportunity is yours.
What’s the Plan?
We have a new government in Aotearoa; we even have a Sri Lankan born MP! The landslide victory of her party was so marked that some said that even an inanimate object put up as a candidate for the labour party, under Jacinda magic, would have won. Not fair methinks on this young lady who apparently worked her electorate very hard. There is a celebratory dinner to be held for her next month. I look forward to attending that and gleaning a few more facts for my readers. On the other hand I may be banned by the cohorts of her countrymen forming barriers (protective or offensive) around her.
So, the new Government has big plans. Improve the availability of houses, especially for first home buyers since the National Party when they governed allowed foreign investors to buy up multiple properties with small deposits and then making the tenants effectively pay the mortgage, creating a massive shortage of houses. There was also a rather grandiose plan named Kiwibuild that was supposed to “create houses” at low cost and in no time for those who desperately needed them. There is also Child poverty in NZ, believe it or not. Ranging from children not having lunches to take to school, to not having shoes to wear to school and older children leaving school early to work and earn money to support their families. This of course almost exclusively among the Maori and Pacific Islander communities.
Unemployment is also rampant Covid19 is being touted as the excuse but to be frank we were heading for an economic slump before Covid in Aotearoa. This level of unemployment is blamed on the work ethic or lack thereof among the Maori and Pacific Island communities but there is a deeper connotation to this. It was recently found out that the big fishing companies in NZ have been flying in crews for their trawlers from Russia for 25 years! These fishermen fly in during the Russian Winter and crew on the massive sea going trawlers. This was only highlighted because a whole lot of these fisher folk got Covid 19 while in quarantine. The official story is that for 25 years they have been unable to train or find people who can work on these ships from among the people in NZ. If you buy that, I’ll throw the harbour bridge in free!
What is pretty obvious is that big business in NZ is allowed to prosper regardless of the economic implications of them doing so. They are allowed to use and employ foreign sources purely on a profitability basis with no concern for the domestic economy or the strengthening of same. There are lots of semi monopolies, supermarkets being a prime example. All the major supermarkets are owned by two parent companies. Is it a wonder that groceries are so ridiculously expensive in NZ when compared to Australia? Are we denizens of Aotearoa really expected to believe that an oligopolistic enterprise is charging fair prices? Let’s hope the Labour Government with its huge majority that we have just appointed, looks into these matters.
The thing about the traditional Kiwi is that they spend money. They do not save everything to be able to give houses to their children or dowries! Now that they are “trapped” in their islands, they are spending the money they would have used for foreign travel for domestic tourism. They are also spending on improving their houses and property and of course retail therapy. The NZ economy is still not floundering. In fact, it is buzzing, how long that will last is of course the multi-billion-dollar question!
The Pearl doesn’t look that good does it? No income from the housemaids, tourism at a standstill and even the garment factories under fire. The big hotels are closed except for those who have
been able to wrangle a contract to house those being quarantined. I know for a fact the tragedy of the boutique hotels and other mid-sized tourism ventures. All forms of spending must be curtailed, so, the “wheeler” drivers must be destitute. I don’t even want to think about those paying off leases and mortgages.
Now I see many articles to the papers these days. Written by people with qualifications that would take up the first 500 words of the articles I write, and designations that would account for the balance, size of my articles I mean. Some write them like scientific dissertations, other dabble in humour and innuendo, however I have read nothing so far that has any content that shows us a pathway out of the economic morass that the Pearl is in.
Borrowing has its limits and it has connotations that scare the living daylights out of me. Printing money can of course go on and be used to pay wages in the grossly overstaffed Government institutions that are currently closed and distribute largesse to the selected few. If there are any younger readers of what I write, do you know that the Sri Lanka Currency was Rs15 = US$1, when I started working. Can you even believe it? The last time I checked I was not a thousand years old!
How are we going to stop chaos and mayhem hitting the streets? When people cannot feed their families what are they going to do? WHAT IS THE PLAN? If we are going to grow our own food in our back gardens, use our hotels as storage facilities for the produce, re-export and sell off all those ludicrously expensive automobiles that our politicians gad around in, sell our elephants to zoos, find oil off the coast of Mannar or whatever the hell we have to do, shouldn’t we START doing it now?!! Waiting until the proverbial s— hits the fan and then ordering the army out into the streets under martial law may not work O, people of the Pearl.
Maybe, the plan is to fall back on the good old tea industry. Rubber and coconut seem to have been totally decimated. For your information the tea industry that used lay the golden egg has been so mismanaged by brain dead proponents of management theory and with plantations largely handed over to our rival India for management, what else can you expect. The export trade is so fragmented and totally without principals or ethics that any buyer worth his salt has only to fish around among the many exporters to get the rock bottom price for what he wants. Others have used political influence and robbed the funds demarcated for that wonderful institution the Tea Promotion Bureau (a concept far ahead of its time) and built their own family dynasties and brands. That horse or goose is well dead and long buried.
My question to the brand-new government of Aotearoa which has a massive majority in parliament and the not so new Government of Sri Lanka which now has the 20th amendment to the constitution passed, is WHAT IS THE PLAN? It better be good and it better be quick, because the people are going to be very desperate real soon. It is solely down to the leadership and there are no excuses!
Executive presidency or premiership?
by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana
I have been fascinated by politics all my life though not directly involved in it unlike some others in my family. I have devoted some of the free time COVID-19 pandemic has given me to pondering the merits and demerits of the executive presidency and whether it is less democratic than an executive premiership. For a long time, there has been a clamour for the abolition of the executive presidency, but since the election of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa opinion seems to have reversed. The SLPP sought a mandate to abolish 19A and, using the unexpected two-third’s majority, it enacted 20A ensuring reversal to an executive presidency.
On gaining Independence we opted to be a dominion with a Governor-General representing the British Crown; he had some room for manipulation although the Prime minister held the reins of power. In 1972, we became a republic, and the prime minister became even more powerful and a titular President was appointed! J. R. Jayewardene changed all this. Elected with a massive majority in 1977, JR metamorphosed from Prime Minister into an executive president. JR started well, pulling the country out of the economic hellhole created by the Sirima Bandaranaike government, but intoxication with unbridled power affected him.
JR brought about this radical change of having an elected Executive President for good reasons and opted for the French presidential system rather than the American system. Some may argue that JR should have gone for the American system because his main argument was that a presidential system which could produce results quicker was more suited to a developing country. In the American system, Cabinet positions are held by non-elected technocrats. Perhaps, like in the US, had we allowed the elected representatives to debate issues in Parliament, formulate laws governing the country and sit on committees overseeing the appointments for senior posts and performing the function of oversight of their work, a greater purpose may have been served. It would also have prevented politics from turning into a money-making business. The President could have chosen experts in various fields with proven track records to run various ministries to usher in rapid development. Perhaps, this is the sort of radical change we need that warrants serious consideration by those who are tasked with the onerous duty of formulating a new constitution.
JR opted for the French system where all the ministers including the prime minister are elected representatives. The phrase some commentators use ‘Prime Minister is reduced to the status of a peon’ is ludicrous and may well stem from the unguarded statement made by Ranasinghe Premadasa, the first non-executive prime minister. Instead of being impatient, he should have worked towards defining the role of the prime minister in the new system. Of course, JR’s ill-judged remark that he could do anything other than changing the gender, albeit in jest, also contributed to the growing suspicions about the presidency.
All executive presidents, elected directly by the voter at tremendous expense, vowed to abolish the executive presidency just to please the voters but none even attempted to do so. But Gota was an exception, never making such a promise. Further, during the short period he had been in office he had behaved very differently to his predecessors. He has shown that he is there to work, not for the glamour of office. Therefore, I would argue that what matters more than the office is the person who occupies it. This imparts even a greater responsibility on the voter to elect the right person.
In any country, either the president or the prime minister would have to be powerful. In the UK, the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’, Boris Johnson holds power and makes all the important decisions. It is only rarely that Parliament acts to change his decisions. Ranil considered himself to be the executive prime minister and set up various units at Temple Trees, and some of them were not lawful. This too highlights my view that it is not the office that matters but who holds the office.
If not for the powerful presidency, we would still have been fighting terrorism. How the Opposition mocked the war efforts is a long-gone memory. The worst possible scenario is where the power is shared, as happened during the ill-fated yahapalana regime. What is transpiring before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday attacks amply illustrates how security of the country was neglected
The passage of 20A is a turning point in the history of our country. By giving the mandate for this to the SLPP, the voters have opted for a presidential system of government and it is my humble opinion that this was almost entirely due to the statesmanlike behaviour of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. During his campaign he never attacked his opponents but proved his ability to perform any responsibility he was tasked with. On being elected, he dispensed with glamorous frivolities and got down to hard work. He has faced many challenges with vigour and has been successful so far.
What makes Gota different from all other ‘chief executives’ of Sri Lanka is that he is the first non-politician to hols this coveted position. Perhaps, that is what we needed. I do hope he would set the example for what a good executive president should be so that the electorate would not regret the momentous decision it made. I do hope that he would introduce a new Constitution, which gives due place to technocrats and usher in true reconciliation by ensuring that we obey one law as one nation as well as getting rid of race and faith based political parties which have been the bane of unity. The only purpose these parties have served is sowing the seeds of division and disunity whilst making some leaders rich and powerful.
I do hope Gota would prove that the executive presidency is the better option.
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