Monday, February 18, 2013

On overcoming the delusional religious movement in Sri Lanka

It is with profound sadness that I read about the deplorable demonstration by a group of fanatic Sri Lankans calling for a Halal boycott. There are many news and blog sites that provide the details: BBC report, the DBSJeyaraj blog, the Daily Mirror site and the Mirror site.

This ethno-religious movement has been steadily building momentum, spreading its hatred and its delusional viewpoints via Facebook and other channels. And quite disgracefully, a substantial section of the so-called (ignorant?) Sinhala Buddhist population in this country blindly believe and passionately follow the spurious statements uttered by these fanatics.

I have personally witnessed supposedly devout Sinhala Buddhists becoming agitated and needlessly upset by the fear-mongering claims of this movement. One such absurd claim is that the Sinhala Buddhist population in Sri Lanka is declining rapidly due to the rise in other religions.

My personal view is that if there is such a decline of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, it should be directly attributable to the highly dubious form of Buddhist philosophy and practices of urban Sri Lanka today. This brand of Buddhism is primarly led by Buddhist priests whose rhetoric completely contradicts the doctrine preached by the Buddha.

For example, consider the Cula Hatthipadopama Sutta (the "shorter discourse on the simile of the elephant's footprint"), Majjhima Nikaya 27 (Source: Thanissaro Bikkhu's translation). This Sutta is historically significant to Sri Lankan Buddhists, since it is the sermon that was repeated by Arhant Mahinda to King Devanampiyatissa on a Poson Poya day, thereby leading to the dawn of  the Buddhist era in this country.

The following excerpt from this Sutta refers to the virtues of a monk who has renounced household life with conviction in the Buddha and faith in the Dhamma:

"Abandoning divisive speech he abstains from divisive speech. What he has heard here he does not tell there to break those people apart from these people here. What he has heard there he does not tell here to break these people apart from those people there. Thus reconciling those who have broken apart or cementing those who are united, he loves concord, delights in concord, enjoys concord, speaks things that create concord.

Abandoning abusive speech, he abstains from abusive speech. He speaks words that are soothing to the ear, that are affectionate, that go to the heart, that are polite, appealing and pleasing to people at large."

Are we privileged to witness this type of virtuous behavior by the monks at the forefront of the fanatical "Bodu Bala Sena" movement?

Unfortunately almost all major religions in the world today appear to be saddled with pockets of extremism. The danger is when these isolated, delusional protagonists are able to rally others to multiply in numbers. In this instance in Sri Lanka, they are doing so by igniting flames of hatred among gullible people by purportedly being the self-appointed defenders of Buddhism!

Let's wholeheartedly reject such false views which are driven by ignorance and blind passion.

Instead, let's join hands in unity by practicing Metta, Karuna, Muditha and Upekkha - as portrayed by the four cornerstone Bo-leaves in our Sri Lankan national flag. These practices alone, can lead our nation to peace and toward prosperity!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


We should know that;
Being learned does not make one wise,
Being experienced does not make one good,
Being intelligent does not make one clever.

Instead, we should understand;
'Tis knowing the impact of one's ego that makes one wise,
'Tis discipline and self control that makes one good,
'Tis emotional intelligence that makes one clever.

Wisdom, goodness and cleverness
In practice we learn, are feats hard to achieve,
So let's not judge others as wanting - for we too lack,
Indeed such reflection is the path to dignity and success.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The 18th Constitutional Amendment - A Lesson Imparted by its Passage

Today, the elected members of the august assembly in the midst of the Diyawanna Oya decided to teach the future generation of our country an astounding lesson.

These MPs repeatedly extol our nation's potential for greatness. These MPs repeatedly encourage our youth to have high aspirations. These MPs repeatedly remind us to believe in our inherent talent & capabilities. Yet today, through their actions, they emphatically conveyed the following message:

If you believe that someone is amazingly good and great, then no one else should aspire to such goodness and greatness. Instead, one should simply follow the Great One until the inevitable end of Greatness.

What happened to their belief in their own potential for greatness?
What happened to their belief in their own aspirations?
What happened to their belief in their own talents and capabilities?

Why did they think that they would be unable to take over from their current leader, 'the good and great President', in leading our nation in the future with similar aplomb?

Today, by voting for the passage of the 18th Constitutional Amendment, they essentially conceded that they do not have any conviction in their ability to assume the mantle of presidential leadership and guide our nation to further greatness. They essentially acknowledged that they lack the confidence to courageously carry on the burden of national healing and nation building. They essentially admitted that they do not possess the personal strength, acumen and flair to achieve and potentially exceed 'the vision of the current President'.

Yes, today, they showed the nation their lack of self confidence to become a great national leader in six years.

To our nation's youth with great aspirations, here's my perspective:
Do not believe in such a negative lesson! Instead, I urge you to be keep your dreams alive by learning from Mahatma Gandhi's words of wisdom -
"If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn't have it in the beginning."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Missed Opportunity

Sri Lankans (or more accurately, The Colombians) seem to be embroiled in yet another controversy in the midst of vigorous electioneering.

Central to this controversy is the supposition that the artiste Akon defamed Buddhism in one of his music videos (Sexy Bitch - 2009).

Akon was due to perform in Sri Lanka in April. However, over the past few days, many Sri Lankan Buddhist laity and clergy started becoming vocal about their intolerance towards Akon's aforementioned music video which features bikini-clad women cavorting in front of a serene, white and beautiful Buddha statue. Some of these Buddhists, inflamed with anger that the Buddha's image has been defiled, even resorted to attacking a media station promoting the Akon event. The National Sangha Council held a press conference to express their disgust that Akon's music video features sensual images of almost-naked females dancing with Buddha's statue in the backdrop. They even chose to highlight how offended they are by using the 'offensive' video images as the backdrop to their press conference. As a climax to this furore, the government of Sri Lanka decided to "reject a visa to R&B singer Akon on the basis that one of his videos brought disrespect to Buddhism". This government decision was later ratified by the cabinet.

In response to this bewitching brouhaha 'bout besmirching Buddhism, Akon has responded that he "would never set out to offend or desecrate anyone’s religion or religious beliefs". He goes on to state that, "I myself am a spiritual man, so I can understand why they are offended, but violence is never the answer and I am disheartened to hear about what happened yesterday in Sri Lanka."

As this drama unfolded, I wondered, who appears to be behaving like a Buddhist and who appears to be behaving contrary to Buddha's teachings....

My analysis of this episode is in the context of my humble claim that I am also a Buddhist. At least, I am a Buddhist in the sense that, as the Buddha exhorted, I strive to understand the Dhamma through meditation and I strive to live according to the principles of Dhamma. Hence, I am acutely aware that I experience this world entirely through the clouded lens of my perceptions - and therefore, I accept and understand that others may agree, disagree, vehemently denounce or dispassionately dismiss my views on this matter - which of course, does not matter!

When I viewed Akon's "Sexy Bitch" music video on YouTube, my first reaction was to marvel at the manner in which the cameramen managed to capture an amazing effect -- the Buddha statue seemed to exude absolute purity in the midst impurity, it seemed to emanate steadfast serenity in the midst of immodesty and most interestingly, it made me recall the Buddhism lessons in school where we learned how the Buddha spent the first seven weeks after attaining enlightenment.

Yes, ironically, my mind seemed to immediately draw parallels between the video images with the murals I have seen in temples - murals that depict the first week after enlightenment, when the daughters of Mara supposedly tried to tempt the Buddha. Images similar to this hyperlinked mural - from the Buddhist eLibrary site. That particular mural (from a Thai temple, I believe) depicts topless women sensually dancing in front of a serene Buddha!

I do not consider this mural to be offensive. In the same manner, I do not consider the video images to be offensive. Why? Because to me, they both emanate a strong message about the Buddha - completely unshaken, serenely dispassionate, beyond defilement, perfect equanimity, absolute virtuousness ......

This leads me to question whether the fraction of inflamed Buddhist laity and clergy handled this matter with appropriate aplomb.

Could we have instead, displayed balanced judgement and controlled reactions?
Could we have thereby provided the entire world with a better illustration of Buddhism in practice?
Could we have explained to Akon and his crew and invited them to experience the reverence towards the Buddha that is prevalent in Sri Lanka?
Could we have inspired Akon and his crew to learn and understand more about the Dhamma?

Did we miss an awesome opportunity?

Consider carefully!

This was actually a unique moment in time. A time when a celebrity enamored section of the Western world had begun to wonder and inquire about Buddhism (thanks to Tiger Woods' plea for forgiveness and his declaration of returning back to the practice of Buddhism).

Thus, it was a fortuitous occasion to charm the world with a beautiful demonstration of Metta, Karuna and Muditha. It was an exquisite chance to display to the world, the wonderful Sri Lankan Buddhist values of equanimity, kindness and forgiveness. It was a perfect opportunity to showcase our serendipity when the world seems to be preoccupied with our supposed inhumanity.

Unfortunately, we appear to have permitted a section of incensed Sri Lankans who temporarily lost their good sense to steer us down a senseless path. In the future, I hope better sense will prevail keeping in mind the following:

Manopubbangama dhamma - manosettha manomaya
Manasace pasannena - bhasathi va karoti va
Tato nam sukhamanveti - chaya va anapayini.

Good Begets Good -
Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, because of that, happiness follows one, even as one's shadow that never leaves.

(Quoted from "The Dhammapada" by Narada Thero)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Future in Paradise - A Rant and A Rave!

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the beautiful island paradise of Sri Lanka are living in interesting times!

With apologies to Charles Dickens (for mangling his famous paragraph in the classic, A Tale of Two Cities), the following can be said about this period in Sri Lanka:

"It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, is is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of light, it is the season of darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair, we have everything before us, we are all going direct to heaven, we are all going direct the other way..."

Yes, we who are so blessed to live in paradise are currently experiencing a strange kind of bliss - the bliss of moving from a state of dodging mud being flung around in the name of "unbelievable change" and a "suba anagathayak" (loosely translated as "super future"), to a state of daily "unbelievable excitement" coupled with "super disbelief"!!!

On one end, we have a human being and current president who is being caricatured as a Raja (king) and on the other end of the current political spectrum, we have another human being and war hero who is being caricatured as a potential (unsuccessful) savior.

So what - you may ask?

Well, everyone seems to have forgotten that they are both mere mortals susceptible to all the foibles that mere mortals tend to display. When they do something good, they are praised to high heaven. When they do something stupid, they are hellishly ridiculed. To top it all, their so-called loyalists strut around assuming that they can brand other citizens of Sri Lanka as patriots or racists or whatever, much akin to the tendencies that junior George Bush and his loyalists displayed in categorizing other countries as rogue nations.

All this prolific labeling is entirely based on mere perceptions - a sad situation - especially in a country purported to be the cradle of Buddhism. Similar to pretty much all other religions, Buddhism profoundly extols upon us to remember that what we see, hear etc., is not reality. No indeed, reality is deep within, and all these religions urge us to first look within ourselves and find ourselves before evaluating (and trying to brand & label) others...

Politicians - hark! Or maybe, we should say 'hark back'.

Example: Whenever any non-Sri Lankan says something that could be perceived to be prejudicial or accusatory, instead of evaluating what is said with an open mind, most of our leaders are very quick to label them as international conspirators.

What is going on? Have we completely lost our ability to judge right from wrong? What has happened to our Sri Lankan values and principles? Where is our integrity?

Therefore: What if some other country or some non-Sri Lankan says we are violating human rights?

Shouldn't our reaction be to honestly assess whether we have indeed committed violations instead of getting all hot under the collar, turning defensive and then accusing that particular country of committing worse violations thereby devaluing their right to remind us of our human rights!

What really matters? Isn't it in truly looking within and trying to find out if something went wrong - regardless of whatever actions that may have precipitated our so-called errors? Yes, Sri Lankans suffered immensely due to terrorism. But does that give us a special badge of righteousness to inflict pain on others or react with rudeness - however misguided they may have been? Sometimes, in the height of war, crimes are committed. Should we not accept this and vow to correct ourselves instead of flailing out wildly at anyone or any country that happens to allude to this possibility?

Will I be branded as a traitor for just documenting these thoughts that run through my mind? Will you have thoughts similar to, "what does she know?" or "she is out of touch with real Sri Lanka" or "she is a 'Colombian' (a local euphemism for people who live in the capital city of Colombo and its suburbs)" or "she has not suffered in a terrorist bomb" or "she did not fight in the war" as you read through this? Thus, are you consciously or unconsciously invalidating my viewpoint without actually considering it carefully? Thereby, are you judging the messenger instead of the message?

Maybe or maybe not...Your personal answer and its implication is actually the entire point!

Back to a Dickension quote as further food for thought:

"Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind."

Is this the situation in Sri Lanka with a vociferous and powerful few (both in the government and in the opposition) completely drowning out the beautiful reasonableness that permeates the souls of most Sri Lankans?

Yet there is hope, because Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka have proven to be so charmingly resilient and determined against all odds. I would like to imagine as follows - once again in the words of Dickens:

"I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out."

So, there is hope! I hope!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Many Thoughts

Yes, there is so much I need to write about - the problem is that I have still not got around to doing so...
Unfortunately, as I prioritize my work & life, documenting my perspectives seems to be way down in the list of "things to do".