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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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Covid-19: Bane of the Decade



Bane was a true visionary with the Bat-man as his nemesis. For the record this isn’t even funny. If you dive deep into the theory of DC’s super villain Bane, and his nemesis the Bat-man, it sort of reveals how the masked antagonist envisioned the coronavirus pandemic, led by a bat, about a decade ago.

Of course, there aren’t absolute reports connecting COVID-19 to the nocturnal being, there’s enough to prove it is a carrier of the novel virus. But does this pandemic mean an end to the legacy of this caped crusader? To be honest, even uttering bat-shit crazy is deemed offensive as of now. Wonder what frenzy it will cast upon a comic character.

Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ introduced Bane, a mercenary trained under Ras Al Ghul’s League of Shadows. His mission was to wipe out Gotham for the greater divide of the haves and the have nots. As Selena Kylie suggests, ‘There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne, You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.’

While the scene did give us goosebumps, it is nothing different than the reality we’re facing at the moment. The lockdown has only been a boon for the elite, the privileged who can have access to more than what is required. Meanwhile, there are others struggling to arrange for a decent meal.

The narrative takes us into the character of Bane, wearing a mask, can be hurt if removed, and the story of our lives right now. Not to mention he started off by terrorising the city, only for everyone to remain at home – a lockdown.

Bane had only one enemy – The Bat. Quite familiar to the comparison now are we?

Here are some of his quotes that speak for the oppressed.

“The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Courts will be convened. Spoils will be enjoyed. The police will survive as they learn to serve true justice. This great city.. it will endure”

“Calm down doctor, now is not the time for fear. That comes later”

“Do you feel in charge?”

“Oh so you think darkness is your ally? But you merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it and didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was only blinding. The shadows betray you because they belong to me.”

A decade back this was all fiction, but did we ever imagine that a similar situation would be faced by us. At the very inception one never expected the COVID-19 situation to balloon into such a crisis. A lockdown helped initially and the situation was well under control, but the moment we relaxed and opened up things got worse, and are now beyond control. So a lockdown will not help us anymore. This calls for a major upheaval and revival of procedure, wherein we have to learn to cope up with the crisis. How will work get back to normal? Industries and factories have to function, how will the daily wage earner survive? The planning and implementation will have to be changed. We might even have to create a COVID-19 Ministry or Department, with an islandwide network, wherein we employ an army of doctors and specialists, not an army of soldiers. They have to study the root cause of the virus and how it can be eliminated, why certain areas and people are more susceptible than others in spreading the virus.

The order of the day will be to employ emergency doctors who can handle a situation immediately. Forensic Doctors, who can assist in studying guidelines and offences and help in framing appropriate laws. Infectious disease specialists, Ecologists and those engaged in environmental science. A team of Physicians to diagnose illnesses and administer treatment. One team will be required to see whether our hospitals are well equipped, correct medical equipment and drugs are available, Study whether the vaccines being manufactured are suitable, get the correct vaccines and see that everybody is vaccinated. See whether it would be necessary to set up a separate COVID-19 treatment centre.

It is surprising that India messed up badly, and opened up by having elections and organizing cricket tournaments such as the IPL, without studying the implications and detrimental factors of this virus, and how to cope with it.

It was really amusing to see commentators, who were very much in the open, advising others to wear masks, stay home and stay safe.

Actually it is a big joke when any radio announcer, TV presenter or role model or for that matter any Tom, Dick and Harry ask people to wear a mask, wash their hands, stay home and stay safe, when the causes seem to be yet unknown and precautions to be taken are far more complicated. Not that they are wrong, but it is very much more appreciated when given by a person more qualified to do so.





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Win or lose: Ali Sabry or Ananda Lanerolle? 



A serious allegation has been levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry by Ananda Lanerolle, that the Minister had written a letter to the High Court Judge of Beddegama, asking for a favour in a case. Ananda had revealed this at a press conference held by Citizens’ Organisation for Democracy.  And now it is said that the Justice Minister has sent a letter of demand to Ananda Lenarolle asking for a compensation of Rs:1b for damaging his reputation by this false allegation (as reported in the Lankadeepa of 16 May). We quite often see this scenario in politics – allegations and letters of demand for compensation. And I do not know how many of them have got the reliefs. But false allegations continue to spread like wildfire. These days, the critical faculty of the common folk is so blunt that they simply accept whatever the politicians and their stooges  tell them at press conferences.What defies my logic in this allegation is Justice Minister Ali Sabry, a President Counsel  and a veteran lawyer by profession, writing a letter with his signature (a most authentic document) to a High Court judge asking for a favour in a case. No layman with an iota of common knowledge (not legal) will do it. Yet Lanerolle could not have made this allegation to the media without evidence either.  Who will eat humble pie, Ali Sabry or Ananda Lanerolle? 

Kalmunai – 05



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Countrywide Lockdown: Better late than never



COVID cases are detected in large numbers throughout the country. There is no province or district that has been spared. The transmissibility of the current strains of the virus in circulation is quite high. In such a situation a lockdown on a provincial basis is meaningless. It is as if allowing the people to move freely spreading the disease within their province without taking it outside the province. The reason given for this view is that the economy cannot be brought to a standstill. However when the disease is already rampant, people will not be in a position to engage in any economic activity. As opposed to short term losses, wider spread of the disease will guarantee economic shutdown for a very long time.

The few countries like Australia and New Zealand which have achieved almost total eradication of the disease did so by imposing strict lockdowns even when a single case was detected in a locality. Vaccination is being carried out only now to prevent the epidemic raising its head again. It is meaningless to expect a vaccination programme, chaotic at best, to control the spread of an already rampant epidemic while allowing people to move freely, ignoring basic public health guidelines.

Hence it is imperative that the island-wide shut down imposed over the weekend is continued indefinitely until the epidemic abates significantly. People are used to such restrictions imposed early last year. Learning lessons from that experience, systems should be in place to ensure that essential services are maintained and people are able to obtain basic provisions like food, thus avoiding unbearable hardship. Daily wage earners should receive a cash handout to ease their loss of income.

I feel the medical professionals, who met the President recently, should have insisted on this rather than accepting the limited shutdown suggested by the authorities.


Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva

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