Nikini Full Moon Poya Day falls today
by Mervyn Samarakoon
‘ Thasma thiha the Bahiya, ditte
dittadhammang hothu ‘
Wisdom finds its sublime splendour in a Samma Sambuddha’s words. His resolute counsel to the clergy is to confine their speech to the Dhamma at all times. Futile discussions on kings and rulers, affairs of state, battles waged and speech marked by vain glory, ridicule of others and time spent on hollow rhetoric are not their domain.
The moment a disciple reaches the supramundane state of spiritual pre-eminence the words that emanate from him or her do necessarily adhere to the Master’s advice above. Thera and Therigata bear irrefutable testimony to this fact.
All rules have exceptions, though. A remarkable case is Sumedha, the princess who spurned royalty for a life of sheer asceticism against a plethora of almost insurmountable obstacles. Her utterances in the height of her hedonistic life afford a glimpse of the profound wisdom normally associated with a liberated being of the sublime Order. It is necessarily a trait acquired in her long voyage lost in time and her life story defies accepted convention.
She was the daughter of Koncha, king of Manthavathi city in the era of Lord Gautama Buddha. The eloquent, erudite, moralistic princess driven by samsaric practice, one day walks up to her parents and makes a stunning pronouncement, a veritable sermon on ‘what should be looked to in the scale of values as highest of all’ – in the memorable words of Bhikkhu Nanamoli in his preface to the English rendition of Buddhagosa’s masterpiece Visuddhi Magga.
” I am attracted by Nirvana ” says she. “Paradise itself is transient, need anything be said of human pleasures? They are didainful, wrought with worries and endless remorse. Sense desires that ensnare the unwise are hurtful like snake venom.
Slaves to sense desires undergo endless suffering in the woeful states. Wrongdoers cause much evil with their deeds, words and minds. Immersed in the depths of sorrow, they fail to realise the truth of the world.
Beloved mother, many are those who wish life among gods, ignorant of the harsh reality.
All existence is impermanent, including the heavenly ones. It is fools that beseech rebirth again and again.
Priesthood is beyond the reach of those suffering in the realms of the dreadful.
Mother, please do permit my ordination, I shall strive to repel the twin evils of birth and death.
Having arrived upon a Buddha era, l shall uphold celibacy unto my last breath.”
Finally she threatens with death from starvation if her request is denied. In the face of the tragically helpless situation the parents make a desperate plea.
” Child, stand up, be sensible. A life of celibacy is not yours. You have been given to King Anikadatta of Varanawathi to be his queen. All his might is in your hands. Wealth, power and glory are yours. You are still in your youth, enjoy the pleasures of a royal life.”
” I simply do not need it, existence is woeful. It will be either bhikkhunihood or death for me” she insists.
” How can this rotten, foul smelling body full of filth, like a pot of excreta be considered desirable?” she continues. ” Why would this object of disgusting flesh and blood teeming with worms and food for the crows, be given to another?
Soon, it will be carried to the grave like a log, the mind having taken leave of it.
Relatives bathe themselves in water fearing that the corpse left as food for canines and foxes might return home. What wouldn’t the outsiders do?
If dissected and the inside turned out, even the mother that bore it will turn away in disgust.
Acutely aware that all formations are subject to decay and disintegration, how could I ever wish wedloock in sincerity?
Why undergo aging and death time upon time in the midst of undying Buddha Dhamma?
Endless is the agony in hell and in the animal kingdom, so it is for gods in the heavens
Those who strive, invariably reach the shore of deathlesness.
Father, l shall depart today. What purpose is there for me in this worldly life. Sensual pleasures are like dog vomit to me.”
As the above words are being uttered by young Princess Sumedha, King Anikadatta of Varanawathi arrives for the nuptial ceremony in all his resplendent regalia. Just then the princess severs her blue tress of hair with her father’s sword, shuts the door and enters the first jhana. She contemplates on the impermanence of all component matter, when the royal suitor climbs to the upper floor and makes a moving plea himself
” I will give you the kingdom, wealth and all my authority. You are still in your youth, sense pleasures are rare. Enjoy the fruits of abundance, donate to charitable causes and be happy. Do not give heartburn to your parents.”
Replies the princess, “Having overcome ignorance, l have no use for sense pleasures. Just observe all their evil repercussions.
Mahamandathu, the Sakvithi king who ruled the four continents died insatiate of sensual craving. They are likened to a sword, a meat chopping log, a snake head, a skeleton, a torch of fire, a poisonous fruit, a fleeting dream or a borrowed item. They bring about neverending sorrow.
You had better go back to your kingdom, I have no attachment to existence. As if your head is on fire, fight decay and death that are constantly in pursuit.”
She then opens the door to face King Anikadatta and her sobbing parents.
” Samsara is indeed long for those who cry at the death of their father and brother and at their very own misery.
Limitless are the tears, the mothers’ milk and the mounds of bone. The blood that flowed is greater than the four great oceans. The heap of bones is taller than the Vepulla rock.
If all the world’s leaves are cut into one inch squares, their numbers are yet smaller than the fathers you’ve had. Contemplate on it.
Ponder this worthless body, a bubble of froth.
Ponder the impermanence of all component things, the indescribable suffering in hell.
Why pursue the five-fold sense desires in the presence of Buddha Dhamma.
They are frighteningly harmful, boiling, ablaze.
Why go in search of enemies when there is a sanctum, a refuge.
Sense desires are your enemies, the destructive fires. They are torturous fetters. A fire burns you when you touch it, not otherwise.
Do not forego eternal happiness for temperory gratification.
Suffer not later as the fish that has swallowed the bait
Firstly, develop restraint. As a dog on a lead, you are tied to the chain of lust. Like the gypsy that destroys the canine, so will your desires eventually destroy you
Entwined in temperory pleasures, one ends up with insurmountable woes. Just so, discard them that are impermanent. The root causes of birth and death cease to exist in the abiding state of Nirvana. It is decayless, deathless, free of impurities and of all worldy sorrows and fears.
Sages such as Buddhas did realise it, and its path is known today, though unnavigable to those who dawdle.”
So saying, Sumedha threw down her hair to be seen by King Anikadatta who then tells her father ” Give Sumedha permission to enter the Order. May she realise the path of emancipation.”
Released by her parents she entered the bhikkhuni order with trepidation and soon reached her goal of Arahanthood along with the mighty supermundane powers. The text mentions the royal princess was amazed at her attainment of Nirvana. She began recalling her past lives as well.
Her colourful narrative commences from an era long gone by, where she with three of her like minded friends had a magnificent temple built for Konagamana Buddha. In cosequence she was born as consort to the rulers of Thavathimsa, Yama, Nimmanarathi and Paranimmitha Vasavaththi heavens in succession.
In the dispensation of Kashyapa Buddha she was the confidante of the famous seven unmarried, devout daughters of King Kiki of Kasi kingdom, followed by several more spells in the celestial spheres, before she made her final appearance on earth as daughter to the king of Manthavathi. The narrative ends with the note that the offer of a stupa to Konagamana Buddha was the source of all her merit and finally, of Nirvana too.
The position occupied by Bhikkhuni Sumedha in the spectrum of Buddhist literature is unique if for the only reason that her sentiments on the illusion of existence, paradox of heaven and the great void were voiced not from the seclusion of a newforest hermitage, but in the splendour of her father’s own palace at the crest of an otherwise carefree and utterly exuberant youth.
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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development
There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.
The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.
To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.
Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.
It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.
All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.
Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.
If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.
In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.
However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.
It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.
The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.
It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.
A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.
Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.
Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka
By Sanjeewa Jayaweera
It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.
The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.
We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.
This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.
Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!
At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.
One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.
It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!
ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!
The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.
When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!
I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.
I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.
I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.
Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!
I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.
Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.
We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.
Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?
Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!
To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.
Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.
The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..
How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!
If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.
And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!
Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.
Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.
I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.
Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.
He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.
Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.
He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!
I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:
“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.
“There is no science to beat common sense.”
But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!