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Wish we had a ‘Dalai Lama’!

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By Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

We claim to be the protectors of Theravada Buddhism with the added qualification that it is the closest to the words of the Buddha. But the fact remains that the present-day worldwide interest in Buddhism is due largely to the efforts of the Dalai Lama, most in the West being of the impression that His Holiness is the leader of all Buddhists in the world; the ‘Buddhist Pope’. In actual fact, the Dalai Lama is the leader of the smallest of the major branches of Buddhism: Vajrayana, which some authorities consider to be just an off-shoot of Mahayana rather than a school of its own. Whatever that may be, distressed by the behaviour of some of our Bhikkhus, I have often wondered whether we should have our own single Buddhist leader, ‘Sri Lankan Dalai Lama’ to effect a course correction, which is badly needed.

Although I know very well it would never be realised, my dream is to have one single leader for the Buddhist world. After all, irrespective of the differences in the shells of the various schools of Buddhism, the core remains the same; the philosophy and science of the greatest mind to have blessed this earth. All scientific advances thus far seem to confirm the postulates of the Buddha. His analysis of mind and thoughts have not been surpassed by any scientist though some have adopted his concepts piece-meal, giving them new names and sometimes going to the extent of claiming originality! Freud started with coining new terms for the concepts of Khama, Bhava and Vibhava Thanha. Mental factors in Abhidhamma are called psychic modules by psychologists. William James, the American philosopher and psychologist, is credited for discovering that the mind is a stream of mental units! Mindfulness, the concept introduced by the Buddha, has become a big business today.

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama was born Lhamo Dhondup in Taktser, in eastern Tibet on 6th July 1935 and was recognized in 1937 as the tulku, reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama who died in 1933. He was formally recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama in a public declaration near the town of Bumchen in 1939.

The way the Dalai Lama was selected could be used as a good example to support rebirth, a concept that has attracted huge attention in the West, starting with the monumental work of Professor Ian Stevenson, the founder director of the Division of Perceptual Studies in Virginia University. On the death of the 13th Dalai Lama, many children were considered tulku narrowing down finally to the child in Taktser. When the selection team visited, posing as pilgrims, its leader, a Sera Lama, pretended to be the servant and sat separately in the kitchen. He held an old mala that had belonged to the 13th Dalai Lama and the boy Lhamo Dhondup, aged two, approached and asked for it. The monk said “if you know who I am, you can have it.” The child said “Sera Lama, Sera Lama” and spoke with him in a Lhasa accent, in a dialect the boy’s mother could not understand.

Dalai Lama had been the advisor and a regular visitor to the Division of Perceptual Studies inspiring the work on brain and consciousness by Professor Bruce Greyson, Ian Stevenson’s successor and his colleagues. In spite of the problems created by the Chinese invasion of Tibet and exile to India, The Dalai Lama has contributed immensely to the advancement of the interface between Buddhism and modern science. He set up ‘The Mind and Life Institute’ which hosted the first ‘Mind and Life’ dialogue on the cognitive sciences in 1987. Since then, at least 28 dialogues between the Dalai Lama and panels of various world-renowned scientists have followed, held in various countries and covering diverse themes, from the nature of consciousness to cosmology and from quantum mechanics to the neuroplasticity of the brain. Sponsors and partners in these dialogues have included the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Johns Hopkins University, the Mayo Clinic and Zurich University. Many valuable books have been published based on these conferences.

With his commitment to scientific truth, unusually for a major religious leader, the Dalai Lama, in his discourses as well as in his 2005 book “The Universe in a Single Atom” advises his followers: “If scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims.” He has cited many examples of archaic Buddhist ideas he has abandoned including his acceptance that Mount Everest is the tallest mountain, not Maha Mehru parvataya.

Not that we have not produced Bhikkhus of eminence and international repute. Venerable Walpola Rahula Thera, in 1964 became the Professor of History and Religions at Northwestern University, USA, becoming the first bhikkhu to hold a professorial chair in the Western world. He has written many valuable books in English and French. Venerable Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Thera and Venerable Narada Maha Thera wrote many books in English and Sinhala. Venerable Rerukane Chandawimala Thero is considered one of the finest scholars on the Tripitaka, writing many books in Sinhala. Venerable Kirinde Sri Dhammananda Thero migrated to Malaysia in 1952, on invitation, and set up the Buddhist Missionary Society in 1962. He was well-versed in all the other major religions too, as illustrated by the comparisons in many books he published. He strived for unity among religions. Listening to his words of wisdom delivered in a deep but calming voice with a sense of humour, in London, is an experience that I would remember to my dying day. It is said that images appeared in the sky while two priests from India were chanting prayers for the late Ven. Dhammananda in front of the cremation pyre in 2006, one being a ray of light suddenly appearing in the clear sky, projecting the image of a meditating priest.

Whilst there are many Bhikkhus rendering yeoman’s service to the country, unfortunately, there are many whose behaviour discredits the Noble Mater’s teachings. They indulge in astrology, medicine,etc. which were prohibited by the Buddha. Some have become trade union leaders and one tried to get elected to the Cricket Board! Some who claim to be enlightened have become megalomanic with keenness to display the opulence. Others are simply third-rate politicians, of which we have plenty. Language used by many of these is totally unbecoming of a Bhikkhu and they excel in attacking each other. There is no body or authority to control and what concerns me most is the deafening silence of the many Mahanayakas we have. Are they there only to protect wealth, family and cast? The only purpose they seem to be serving is receiving gifts from politicians who make ritual visits.

When will we see a true Mahanayaka? Wish we had our own Dalai Lama!



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Opinion

Jerome Fernando and his profane gimmicks – II

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Jerome Fernando

By Rohana R. Wasala
(Continued from yesterday May 24, 2023)

Some well-meaning, erudite, but very naive and innocent, young bhikkhus are challenging Paster Jerome Fernando to a debate over his deprecatory remarks about Buddhism; that, I think, is ridiculously ingenuous and unnecessary, because that is giving that man a measure of dignity that he doesn’t deserve, and also because he cannot be credited with a decent understanding even of Christianity, let alone anything additional outside that domain. These young monks are being eclipsed in their calm but determined attempt to react to Jerome’s disinformation and deception without any ill will. By whom? They are getting overshadowed by a few yellow-robed imposters who are themselves Buddhist versions of pastor Jerome Fernando. Actually, those few false monks and the fake prophet are birds of a feather probably fed by the same hands, as some say.

It has also been observed that certain discredited politicians are exploiting the opportunity that came their way through this obviously well-rehearsed Jerome Fernando episode to take a dig at each other for the heck of it, without utilising it to repair the damage it is causing to reconciliation. Last but not least, where are the Ven Mahanayake theras? Their silence in crisis situations has often aggravated issues affecting the Buddha Sasana. The online media I normally consult have nothing in this regard. However, one can’t blame the Ven Mahanayakes because they avoid politics, as they have done down the centuries. They used to advise the monarch only in spiritual matters, and the monarch took responsibility for looking after the Shashanaya. The most senior monk or monks, close to the royalty, offered their opinion in succession matters on rare occasions, and also when the ruler failed in his duties or when there were foreign threats to the nation. The Sangha never took part in ruling, but remained above the ruler. The Buddhist Sangha is a very democratic community, where one monk has no control over another. Times have changed. It is urgent that the Mahanayakes do more to save the Buddha Shasanaya including the Fourfold Assembly of Followers (Sivvanak Pirisa) of male and female lay Buddhists and bhikkhus and bhikshunis.

Back to the topic. Meanwhile, a complaint was lodged with the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) by the propaganda secretary of the political party, Pivituru Hela Urumaya (PHU), Iranga Vidvath Mendis, in connection with the relevant offensive statements made by Jerome Fernando who calls himself a prophet, which are derogatory to the Buddha, Buddhism, and other religions. This is the only meaningful reaction I have seen so far to Jerome Fernando’s outrage (up to the time of writing). The complainant demands that the law be applied to the (suspect) offender in this case in terms of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act No. 56 of 2007.

The aforementioned petition to the CID was published in a news report in the online lanka c news. It quoted the following fromJerome Fernando’s importunate harangue:

 “This is what separates Christianity from Buddhism. Because for a Buddhist in their mind, it’s like, okay, අනුන්ට කලදේ තමන්ට පලදේ in a sense, it’s true, especially if you do something to a prophet. Anyways. Now, but in the Buddhist mind, they never hear the love of Buddha. Are you hearing this? Their focus is enlightenment. But to be enlightened, you need light. The Buddha himself, the name Buddha means enlightened one. Ladies and gentlemen, what is greater, light or enlightened? Jesus said, I’m the light of the world. so i tell you now, jesus didn’t said I’m the enlightened one, No, no, no, no. Jesus came from a different wavelength. Jesus said I’m the light. So, I submit to you, the Buddha was looking for light. He was actually looking for Jesus. This is why every Buddhist needs Jesus.”

I came across a YouTube video clip of the relevant part of Jerome Fernando’s coercive religious rant against the Buddha, Buddhism and Buddhists that contained more. There was a singing part to it too, that ridicules such traditional curative and protective magical remedies as tying charmed threads, anointing charmed oil, etc., usually found among rural folk, as superstitious practices based on Buddhist teachings. Those are cultural things and should not be confused with Buddhism. Buddha did not advocate such things. He himself visited a physician called Jeevaka when he fell ill, according to the known life of the Buddha. He preached no religion, and never prescribed blind-faith based devotional practices or mindless rituals. Even the most ignorant Buddhists know that magical cures like charmed threads, oils, and chants are not part of the doctrine they actually follow. Instead, those ritual performances are part and parcel of the established holistic native healing culture which maintains the vital balance between the physical and mental aspects of the patients’ health. These ancient healing arts have survived, particularly among villagers, into modern times. Jerome also staged some faith healing episodes, not different from them. Such magical fake cures are daily performed in many hundreds of devales dedicated to local deities found across the country which are patronised not only by gullible villagers, but by superstitious city dwellers including politicians and businessmen among others of the same ilk seeking divine assistance with their nefarious projects. Why should a ‘prophet’ demean his god by descending to the level of a village kapurala unless he was a genuine fake?

 In the letter to the CID referred to above, Mendis has left out (probably, as irrelevant to the point of his plaint) Fernando’s disparaging references to Hinduism and Islam and relevant sacred figures, which are equally outrageous, such as that Hindus venerate animals. A common allegation he raised against the leaders of all three non-Christian religions did not preach Love! But this fake prophet’s real target is the Buddha, his teaching and the Buddhists, his followers, whom he demeans, by implication, as a spiritually misguided lot. Though it is evident that Jerome is proficient enough in Sinhala for preaching to them, he speaks only in English and has himself interpreted in Sinhala. That, I think, is just an act he puts on to further impress his apparently mesmerised audience, whose awed gazes were fixed on his constantly beaming beatific smile.

What is Jerome Fernando saying in the snatch of speech quoted above? Simply, nonsense. He appears to be ignorant of his own religion of Christianity and its truly great founder Jesus Christ. Christianity came five or six hundred years after Buddhism. The latter is definitely beyond pastor Fernando’s power of understanding. What did Buddhists do to him (if he means himself by ‘prophet’) for him to say “anunta kala de tamanta pala de” (which would be equivalent to the English proverb ‘Curses come home to roost’)? (When he said this, though, he seemed to be mocking his own ‘prophet’ act!) This idea of ‘retaliatory justice’ is not part of the Buddhist concept of karmic causation. People from different cultural backgrounds accept the idea that bad deeds earn you bad results and that good deeds bring you good results, as a self-evident truth. The Karma concept taught in Buddhism is much more profound and complex than ‘Curses come home to roost’.

A word about the idea of love that Jerome finds missing in Buddhism. Buddhism is nothing if it is not about wisdom and compassion. The Buddha does uphold love as a positive emotion, but says that it is ultimately based on selfishness/the illusion of ‘self’. The Buddha’s teaching recognises a difference between love (that you feel for a person) and unconditional universal compassion or loving-kindness (maitri, friendliness) towards all sentient beings, something that is completely selfless. I think Christian love is also very close to or identical with the Buddhist concept of loving-kindness. To me it looks like the highly intelligent Jerome Fernando has not so far cared to grasp at least a faint idea of the Buddha’s profound dhamma. He has no sense of history, for he doesn’t know that the Buddha lived five to six centuries before Jesus was born. Otherwise, if he is in his right senses at least temporarily, how can he say that the Buddha was looking for Jesus? What do you know about the Enlightenment concept taught in Buddhism, Jerome? Obviously, NOTHING! You equate enlightenment to lighting up or illuminating something. That is stupid. An Australian YouTuber of Sri Lankan origin says that he had some slight acquaintance with Jerome as a young Burgher with a different name doing modelling work for commercial firms about twenty years back. It’s plausible information. He uses both Sinhala and English equally fluently. Oops! I almost forgot. At the end or thereabouts of his Buddha bashing, quite paradoxically, like a true Christian preacher or a genuine Buddhist monk for that matter, he admonishes his congregation: “Never persecute anybody, never shame another person’s faith”.

I will wind up with a reference to the Buddha’s famous Kalama Sutta discourse. The Buddha advised his disciples to question and examine even the Tathagata (Buddha) himself to find the trustworthiness, the authenticity, of the teacher they chose to follow. A group of young men called the Kalamas came to the Buddha with a question. They wanted to learn from him how they could separate truths from falsehoods uttered by the various venerable recluses and brahmanas who visited their village of Kesaputta from time to time and preached their different doctrines that disagreed with each other. Obviously, the young men had heard of the fame of the Buddha who himself had studied under the most famous teachers of the time and exhaustively analysed their teachings, and dissatisfied, had embarked on his own long and assiduous search for the Truth and eventually attained Enlightenment. The Buddha’s advice to them was: “Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic and inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But…when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong, and bad, then give them up… and when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them”. (I am quoting here from Ven Walpola Rahula thera’s classic dhamma compendium ‘What the Buddha Taught’ first published in London in 1959, and reprinted many times since, which Jerome Fernando may profitably read and still remain, or learn to be, a pious and virtuous Christian, which, I am afraid, he is not at present.)

I can easily answer your criticisms of Hinduism and Islam, but it is better for you to learn by yourself their moral essence that is as noble and as ennobling as Christianity.

(Concluded)

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Opinion

Pastor Jerome Saga: Buddhist perspective

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Pastor Jerome during a prayer session. (File photo)

A statement made by a Christian pastor, Pastor Jerome Fernando, has taken the print and electronic media by storm. Buddhist monks, politicians and media men cry foul and sanctimoniously demand immediate action to be taken against him for his heinous crime of insulting the Buddha. I have watched their antics with a certain amount of amusement and disgust. Do these self-proclaimed protectors of the Buddha Sasana have an inkling of how the Compassionate One reacted to abuse and blame?

In the Akkosa Sutta [Samyuththa Nikaya 7.2], it is stated that on one occasion a brahmin of the Baradvaja clan went up to the Buddha and abused and insulted him.The Buddha listened silently and said,” Brahmin, If you offer food to guests who come to visit you and they do not accept it, to whom does it belong? The brahmin replied: ‘”It belongs to me”. Then the Buddha stated,” In the same way when you abuse and attack us who do not abuse and attack you, and we do not accept it; then it’s all yours brahmin, it’s all yours.” The brahmin was deeply ashamed and begged for forgiveness and became a follower of the Buddha.

There were many ascetics living in India during the Buddha’s time whose views differed from the Buddha. Nigantanathaputta, Makkaligosala and Sanjaya were some of them. On several occasions these ascetics openly criticized the Buddha but the Buddha never reacted with anger. Once they orchestrated the murder of a courtesan, named Sirima, and buried her body in the premises of the Buddha’s abode, falsely accusing him of sexual misconduct and murder. Even then the Buddha did not retaliate in anger but patiently bid his time till the truth surfaced and the actual culprits were exposed.

The suttas quote many instances where the Buddha had friendly and amiable discussions with followers of other sects.

We, as Buddhists, should follow our Teacher’s example in situations such as the Pastor Jerome episode. The so-called protectors of the Buddha Sasana, namely the militant politically inclined monks and the pseudo upasaka politicians, should realize that by reacting hysterically to such statements will cause religious and communal disharmony. This in turn will develop into hatred and anger thus resulting in racism raising its ugly head as what happened in the past.

These individuals should take a leaf out of the Buddha’s book and stop behaving in a manner which is completely contrary to his teachings. By doing so they only disrespect to the Great Teacher, who enlightened the world by his boundless compassion and wisdom.

Rukmal Seneviratne

Ratmalana.

ruki_sen@yahoo.com

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Opinion

Doctrine of Anatta

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This refers to the piece by Dr C Ratnatunga, a Consultant, published in the Sunday island recently. Among the important concepts enunciated by the Buddha, in his doctrine/philosophy as being universally valid, are dukka, anicca and anatta. The first two, state of unsatisfactoriness/sorrow and impermanence, are easy to understand, while the third ingredient of “no self” or the absence of a never changing soul or a stream of consciousness, defies comprehension to a non-Buddhist. Of course, it is a logical step arising from impermanence.

In biology/evolution we know that the rare beneficial effects of random mutations get accumulated in the genes and get passed down to the progeny. This is how evolution is supposed to operate. But this process operates with respect to matter though the theory of “memes” advocated by Richard Dawkins, a sort of cultural trait, implies that it operates in the non-material sphere, too. The evolution of the mammalian and human brain retaining the reptilian part deals with the material plane.

There is also the case where the effects of good and bad actions cause changes in the changing or evolving soul or the stream of consciousness in an individual when he “re-becomes” another individual at death. This matter is raised as a question put to the Buddha by a Ven. Monk as recorded in “What the Buddha taught” by the Rev Walpola Rahula (page 66 of the 1990 Reprint). The question posed by the monk is “… if there is no self or Atman who gets the results of the kamma?” The answer of the Master was “I have taught conditionality everywhere in all things”.

What then happens at the stage of rebirth? Is it that at the time of death the “atman” becomes permanent for an instant for the net balance of kamma to take effect in the new being?

Dr Leo Fernando, Talahena,

Negombo

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