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Wish we had a ‘Dalai Lama’!



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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This refers to the superlatively interesting and provocative piece on the above subject by Dr Upul Wijewardene{UW) appearing in The Island of 21/3/23 wherein, as he states, he had been a victim himself at the hands of a well-known Professor of Medicine turned health administrator. He makes it a point to castigate the leaders of the Buddhist clergy for their deviation from the sublime doctrine of this religion.

My first thought on this subject is that it is a cultural problem of exploitation by the privileged of the less fortunate fellow beings. The cultural aspect has its origin in the religion of the majority in India, Hinduism. There is no such discrimination in Islam.

The first recorded case was that of a Sinhala member of the Dutch army fighting against the Portuguese (or the army of the Kandiyan kingdom) being prevented by the members of the higher ranks from wearing sandals due to his low status in the caste hierarchy. The Dutch commander permitted the Sinhala solder to wear sandals as recorded by Paul Pieris in “Ceylon the Portuguese era”

There is also the instance of a monk getting up to meet the King when it was not the customary way of greeting the King by monks.

In an article by Dr Michael Roberts, a Sri Lankan historian published in a local journal, it is said that members of the majority caste (approximately 40% of the Sinhala population) were not permitting lower ranking public officials serving the British government wear vestments studded with brass buttons. The second tier of the hierarchy who had become rich through means other than agriculture like sale of alcohol in the early British times took their revenge by lighting crackers in front of houses of their caste rivals when a British Duke was marching along in a procession in Colombo.

It is not uncommon for members of minority castes numerically low in numbers to help their own kind due to the discriminatory practices of the higher tiers of the hierarchy.

Dr Leo Fernando
Talahena, Negombo

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Billion-dollar carrot



The IMF successfully coerced the government into falling line with its instructions on debt restructuring and increasing of revenue, among others, and in all probability will release the first tranche of the Extended Fund Facility (EFF) during the course of this week. Regrettably, the IMF is not coercive where the violations of fundamental rights of a country, vis a vis universal franchise, is concerned. On its part, the government flaunted this invaluable tool on the public, as the only remedy for all its financial ailments. It was least worried of the consequences that would necessarily follow.

Taking the cue, professionals and trade union activists dangled the carrot of carrot of strikes to restrain the government on its implementation, the results of which are still in abeyance. Not to be outdone, the powers that be has refused to relent on the grounds that the economy has to be strengthened at whatever costs.

Now that the IMF loan has materialized, the government is already focusing its attention on securing further assistance from other lending agencies. How will the IMF monies be expended, and for what purposes? Naturally, the people would want to know since it is they who have to foot the bill at the end. The Treasury insists that it has no funds to provide for the conduct of LG polls. Just 10% of the rupee equivalent of the first tranche of US $ 300 million will suffice for the successful completion of the elections. Provided the government wants to.

The President has assured that no sooner the Agreement is signed with the IMF, he would submit a copy of it to Parliament. It would be prudent if he would also submit (without plucking figures from thin air) a comprehensive expenditure account on the disbursement of the first tranche. And continue to do so for the rest.

Being fully aware of the country’s top priority needs, attention should be focused on providing them at reasonable prices. Besides them, agriculture, fishing and domestic industries should also be given due consideration. Merely dangling of carrots before them will not suffice.

Non-essential development projects should be shelved until the dreamed of economic stability is achieved. Of special note is that upkeep and interests of politicians should not be addressed with these funds.Can the people expect some sort of genuine transparency even at this late stage?


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Death penalty – another view



In his article, (The Island, 8th March), Dr Jayampathy Wickremeratne, would have us believe that the Death Penalty is not an effective deterrent and it should be abolished in Sri Lanka. Similar arguments are presented in India, home to some of the most horrendous crimes of violence against Women and children, and also in South Africa, where the death penalty was abolished despite strong opposition from the vast majority of the population.

Use of the Death Penalty purely for political purposes is always bad, but that’s not what the public are calling for. The public want the Death penalty implemented RIGOROUSLY, against those who have undeniably murdered children, and also serial killers whose victims are invariably women. Their crimes are gruesome but unfortunately need to be detailed to counter the pseudo- academic arguments of Death Penalty abolishonists. For example:

South Africa abolished the death penalty despite vigorous opposition. In South Africa one of its worst serial killers, led the police to the remains of 38 of his victims all of them women and all from the poorest class (mostly domestic servants).

On 12 March, India’s National Broadcaster NDTV reports the case of a man in Kashmir, whose marriage proposal was refused. He murdered his prospective young bride, cut up her body and disposed the remains in several places to avoid detection. A few days ago, a similar incident in India was reported by NDTV, where a 17-year-old was stabbed and dragged through s crowded street and murdered with no public intervention! In Sri Lanka a few years ago, four-year-old Seya fell victim to a murderer, rapist, a person known to her family, whom the child trusted. Likewise, a 17-year-old girl miss Sivaloganathan was raped and murdered in the North by a gang led by an individual known as “Swiss Kumar” a porn film maker of Sri Lankan origin, living in Switzerland. (One wonders whether he subsequently received the benevolent “Presidential Pardon”!

Other arguments used in Dr Wickremeratne’s article, are out of date. For example, he refers to wrongful convictions in a bygone age where DNA testing did not exist. DNA tests enable identity to be established and tie a murderer to the crime, beyond any doubt. Elsewhere he cites a Table where Murder rates are calculated as follows- “divide the number of murders by the total population, in death-penalty and non-death penalty states”. This methodology is patently flawed. It assumes that the populations of ALL 50 States in the USA are homogeneous in demography and other characteristics- it equates the violent State of New York with relatively peaceful Alaska.

Dr W advocated “long term imprisonment” in lieu of death penalty. Frankly this is the academic argument of a person removed from everyday life and steeped in Academia, “the social cost of rehabilitation” is Immense! It has been estimated that the cost of keeping a person on death row is at least Rs 50,000 per month – for the rest of the murderers’ life! It should ALSO be pointed out that in Singapore and other countries where the death penalty operates, murder rates are significantly low.


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