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A dhamma daana of a different kind



Four-decades of writings by Prof. Asanga Tilakaratne, eminent scholar of Buddhist Studies and the one time Head of the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Colombo, featured in eight volumes will be launched on August 27 at the BMICH.

by Randima Attygalle

Cataloguing the work of a reputed scholar spanning over four decades, elicited from numerous sources, both local and foreign, into a collection of eight meticulously compiled journals is a colossal task. In a labour of love, this has been realized by a team of Buddhist and Pali scholars guided by Ven. (Prof) Raluwe Padmasiri Thera in a manner true to the words of the Buddha, “If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart.”

The eight volumes, five in English and three in Sinhala are a tribute to the eminent scholar Prof. Asanga Tilakaratne credited not only for his fine literature of a wide canvas of Buddhism related themes but also for his work as a teacher moulding a generation of young scholars in Buddhist and Pali studies. He has drawn inspiration from celebrated modern interpreters of Buddhism such as K.N. Jayatilleke and David J. Kalupahana in his scholarly pursuits.

The writings of Prof. Tilakaratne, the founder Head of the Department of Buddhist Studies, University of Colombo, are classified under several key themes including Buddhist Philosophy, Buddhist Ethics, Theravada Studies, Buddhism and Modernity, Inter-religious understanding and Buddhist Literature and Culture. The soon-to-be-launched collection will bring the painstakingly researched papers of the reputed scholar closer to the student, researcher and the intellectual reader.

The idea of compiling Prof. Tilakaratne’s academic papers was first mooted as a casual discussion among a group of scholars at the occasion of his retirement from the University of Colombo in 2018 as the Senior Chair Professor of Pali and Buddhist Studies. “Initially neither they nor I had any inkling that the project will run into many volumes! All papers compiled under eight different banners are what I have written for four decades. Although I have been teaching full time for the last 30 years, I did not stop my research and writing because teaching and writing go together. If the teacher is not delivering new themes and fresh raw materials, he is not doing justice to his students,” says Prof. Tilakaratne.

He applauds the editorial board of ‘emerging Buddhist scholars’ comprising his friends, junior colleagues and students for embarking on this uphill task. The panel which represents the four-fold group in Buddhist society (Bhikku-Bhikkuni, Upasaka-Upasika) truly represents the future of Buddhist Studies in the country, says Tilakaratne who notes that they have the “potential to take contemporary Theravada Buddhist scholarship to the world”.

Prof. AsangaTilakaratne

Comprehensive scholarly introductions by renowned Buddhist scholars- both local and foreign add to the substance of the volumes. Ven. Tirikunamale Ananda Mahanayaka Thera, Jayadeva Uyangoda- Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Colombo and G. A. Somaratne, Professor of Buddhist Studies, Centre for Buddhism, University of Hong Kong, are credited for the introductions of the three Sinhala publications. Scholars like Dr. Surakkulame Pemaratana Thera, emerging monastic Buddhist scholar who holds a doctorate from Pittsburg University and works at Pennsylvania University, USA, Anne M. Blackburn of Cornell, Damien Keown of Goldsmiths College, University of London, Rupert Gethin, President of Pali Text Society, London and Professor of Bristol University, UK, and Abraham Velez of Kentucky University, USA complements the English volumes.

The demand for Buddhist books continues to escalate but this, however, needs to have a mechanism of checks and balances, remarks Prof. Tilakaratne. “With the demand, there is now a tendency to publish practically anything in the name of Buddhism for this ready market,” says the author who urges publishers to have the manuscripts reviwed by a qualified panel of scholars. In the USA and the UK the average time between handing over the manuscript to the publisher and its publication is two years or more.

“But in a situation where a good number of books published in this country are author’s own publications, with no guarantee of accuracy or value whatsoever, means that anyone can publish virtually anything provided they have resources. there must be a broader mechanism in place in order to assure that what is given to readers is of good quality.”

In this backdrop, the collection authored and edited by qualified professionals bear the intellectual responsibility for the content. The panel of editors had also taken considerable efforts to adhere to sound academic traditions.

The two volumes ‘Inter-religious understanding’ and ‘Buddhism and Modernity’ featured in the collection are particularly topical in the contemporary setting bidding the Buddhist intelligentsia of Sri Lanka to create a dialogue on these topics, notably on religious understanding so that communal reconciliation becomes a reality. “History reflects that Buddhism has faced challenges with courage and survived. Since 1815 the challenges posed by modernity in a Sri Lankan setting have been diverse and serious, so much so at a certain point, during this early period of the island’s British colonial history even some local scholars seemed to have thought that Buddhism will definitely lose the battle. Some papers in the collection discuss issues related to this aspect of modernism,” explains Prof. Tilakaratne.

What is significant in the collection is that it addresses issues related to how Buddhism as an organization adapted to new situations and adopted certain aspects of modernity while preserving the core of its philosophy. One of the key aspects of the author’s academic writings, which is reflected even in his formative years of academic and intellectual development is his effort to interpret the teachings of Buddha in the context of problems arising from modern scientific and technological developments. His first book Minis Getalu Pilibanda Bauddha Vigrahaya (Buddhist Analysis of Human Problems), published in 1979, belongs to this genre and won the State Literary award for that year.

Inter-religious understanding deliberates on theoretical and doctrinal issues as well as issues arising from historical and social contexts. “Doctrinally and philosophically the challenge for any religion is to accommodate other religions while preserving one’s own uniqueness. Where multiplicity of religion is a fact in one’s daily life, stressful situations among religious followers is inevitable. The challenge for each religion is to find out its own resources to cope with such situations. In my writings I have tried to develop a position which to my understanding is fair by Buddhism as well as other religions,” observes the author.

While lauding everyone who supported to make this initiative a reality, Prof. Tilakaratne makes special mention of Ven. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Nayaka Thera, Chief incumbent of Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya and the publisher of the collection- Sarasavi Publishers.

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AG not bound by its recommendations, yet to receive report



PCoI on Easter Sunday attacks:

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney General Dappula de Livera, PC is not bound by recommendations made by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (P CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage, or presidential directives in that regard, according to authoritative sources.

They said that the AG couldn’t under any circumstances initiate legal proceedings until he had received the full PCoI report.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the PCoI report on Feb 1. The President’s Office delivered a set of PCoI reports to Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena on Feb 23, a day after the report was presented to the cabinet of ministers. The Island raised the matter with relevant authorities in the wake of a section of the media reporting the PCoI recommending punitive measures against former President Maithripala Sirisena, Defence Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, IGP Pujitha Jayasundera, Chief of State Intelligence Senior DIG Nilantha Jayawardena, Chief of National Intelligence retired DIG Sisira Mendis and All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader and Samagi Jana Balavegaya MP Rishad Bathiudeen et al over the Easter Sunday carnage.

Sources pointed out that due to the inordinate delay in sharing the PCoI report with the AG, the department hadn’t been able to take preliminary measures required to initiate the proceedings. Sources said that a team of officers would take at least six weeks or more to examine the report before tangible measures could be taken.

With the AG scheduled to retire on May 24, 2021, even if the AG Department received the P CoI it would be quite a tough task to initiate proceedings ahead of retirement, sources said. However, in terms of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution enacted in last October, both the AG and the IGP could receive extensions beyond 60 at the President’s discretion.


Dappula de Livera received an Acting appointment as the AG a week after the Easter Sunday carnage whereas his predecessor Jayantha Jayasuriya, PC, was elevated to Chief Justice.

Responding to another query, sources said that the Attorney General two weeks ago requested Secretary to the President for a copy of the P CoI. However, the AG was yet to receive one, sources said. In spite of the AG not receiving a P CoI copy, the AG had instructed the IGP to obtain a copy of the report when he requested the police to complete investigations into the Easter Sunday carnage. The AG issued specific instructions after having examined police files pertaining to the investigations.

The IGP, too, hadn’t received a copy so far though some sections of the report were in the public domain.

Agriculture Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage displayed at a live political programme on Derana a copy of the P CoI report he received at the cabinet meeting earlier in the day.

Sources said that the Attorney General’s Department couldn’t decide on a course of action in respect of the Easter carnage on the basis of a section of the report. In terms of the Commission of Inquiry Act (Section 24), the AG enjoyed significant powers/authority in respect of investigations; sources said adding that the Department urgently required both the P CoI report and police investigations report. The Attorney General’s Department has raised the delay in receiving a P CoI report amidst the Catholic Church attacking the government over the same issue.

Sources said that ministerial committee appointed to study the P CoI report couldn’t decide on how to proceed with the recommendations and the matter was entirely in the hands of the AG. Sources pointed out that the delay on the part of the government to release the report had received the attention of sections of the international media, including the New York Times. Public Security Minister retired Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera having met Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith at the Bishop’s House on Dec 8, 2020 said that the AG would get a copy of the P CoI report once the President received it. Minister Weerasekera said that the CID had handed over the relevant files after having completed investigations into eight blasts. Referring to the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) report on the Easter Sunday carnage, the former Navy Chief of Staff said that all such documents would have to be brought to one place and considered before initiating legal proceedings. Acknowledging that there could be delays, lawmaker Weerasekera said that on the instructions of the Attorney General a 12-member team of lawyers was working on the case. The minister vowed to expose the mastermind behind the Easter Sunday attacks. Investigations continued while some of those wanted were overseas, the minister said.

The minister acknowledged that the Attorney General couldn’t proceed without the P CoI report. Minister Weerasekera reiterated that once the President received the P CoI report, it would be sent to the Attorney General. The minister said that there were documents two to three feet high that needed scrutiny. The minister assured comprehensive investigation. The minister said that investigations pertaining to eight blasts had been completed and the reports handed over to the AG. However, the Attorney General had found shortcomings in those investigations.

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JVP picks holes in PCoI report



By Saman Indrajith

The Presidential Commission of Inquiry on the Easter Sunday bombings had failed to identify the mastermind of , the JVP said yesterday.

Addressing the media at the party headquarters in Pelawatte, JVP Propaganda Secretary MP Vijitha Herath said that the PCoI report had levelled accusations against former President Maithripala Sirisena, former IGP and head of intelligence for their dereliction of duty, shirking of responsibilities and not taking action to prevent the attacks and negligence. There were reference to the causes of the terror attacks and actions to be taken to avoid such attacks and the influence of extremist organisations. “However, there is no mention of the mastermind of the attacks, the handlers of the attackers and those whose interests the carnage served. It is also not mentioned whether there has been any foreign or local organisation behind those attacks. As per the PCoI report the attack took place as a result of culmination of extremism.

“According to the PCoI the extremist activities were a result of the prevailing political situation then. The entire nation was waiting to see who was responsible and who masterminded those attacks. The PCoI has failed to identify the true culprits responsible for the terror attacks. The report says that the leader of the suicide cadres killed himself in the attacks and it was a puzzle. That means those who are actually responsible for the attacks are still at large. The report does not provide exact details of the sources of the attacks. The PCoI had sittings for one year and five months. It summoned various persons and got their statements but it has failed to shed any light on the terror attacks. Everybody knows that the top leaders of the government and heads of security and intelligence establishments failed in their duties. Ranil Wickremesinghe was the second in command and he too is bound by the responsibility but the PCoI report fails to identify him as one of the persons against whom legal action should be instituted. The PCoI has treated Wickremesinghe and former President Maithripala Sirisena differently. We are not telling that this report is a total failure but we cannot accept this as a complete report. The PCoI handed over its report to the President on Feb 1. After 23 days it was sent to Parliament. Now, a copy of the report is there in the parliamentary library for the perusal of MPs.”

Herath said that the PCoI did not have powers to take punitive action. “It only has powers to name those responsible and recommend action to be taken against those named.

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TNA MP faults govt. for delay in answering questions, gets under Johnston’s skin



By Saman Indrajith

It did not matter whether the MPs were wearing pressed clothes or had travelled long distances when their questions were answered, Chief Government Whip Johnston Fernando told Parliament yesterday.

 The Minister said so in response to a complaint by Batticaloa District TNA MP Shanikyan Rasamanikkam, who expressed his dismay for government taking time to answer a question raised by him.

 MP Rasamanikkam has raised a question whether the Minister of Health is aware that the Dikkodai ospital, located in the Batticaloa district is not used for public purposes and the patients who visit the hospital for receiving services, face inconveniences, owing to that. On behalf of the Minister of Health, the Chief Government Whip and Minister asked for additional two weeks time.

 MP Rasamanikkam: I come to parliament from Batticaloa, which is 422 km away. To attend Parliament we take great care including pressing our clothes. After taking so much trouble to come there braving the pandemic threat we do not get answers. There is a Health Minister and Acting Health Minister and neither of them is here. I saw Minister Dr Sudarshini Fernandopulle in the House this morning. She too has gone out. I travel more than 800 km. We could attend to many other problems. It is because the government does not give answers we are conducting protest marches, but when we do so we are hauled up before courts.

Chief Government Whip Minister Johnston Fernando: Every MP comes here wearing pressed clothes. But that has nothing to do with questions and answers here. I have been requested by the subject minister to ask for two weeks’ time. The MPs have a right to ask questions and in the same way the ministers have the right to ask for time. On the other hand, whether you cover 400 km to reach parliament does not matter. The majority of MPs travel 200 to 250 kilometers to come to Parliament. It is for that purpose they contest elections and get elected. Once elected the distance is not an issue you have to come to Parliament. The government has answered all your questions. This is the first time the Minister has asked for additional time. It is unfair for you to level charges. A more responsible conduct is expected of you as an upcoming political leader.

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