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The circle of lives

Gleanings by K.S. Sivakumaran

A.M.M. Sahabdeen, who has a doctorate and the title 'Desamanya ' was a former Ceylon Civil Servant and visiting Head of Western Philosophy at Sri Jayewardenepura University has dedicated a book in English to all lovers of truth, beauty and goodness.

Published three years ago by his own Trust Foundation at 30/12 Bagatalle Road, Colombo 3, this worthy book, The Circle of Lives, has a foreword by G.C. Weeramantry and a Preface by M. Jameel, both were known legal professionals.

This 276 page book deals with the following themes: Science and reality, an overview of perennial philosophy, the main tends in world history and man's ultimate destiny. It also has an epilogue, notes and references, bibliography, index and an errata in index. I tend to agree with internationally known GCW's assertion that 'the need of the hour is a universalism that transcends barriers which constrict our vision.

Just as most people tend to confine themselves within the limits of one culture, so also do they tend to confine themselves within the limits of the disciplines with which they are most familiar' I can do no better than cite Weeramantry on what Sahabdeen's book is about.

Says Weeramantry: "His (Sahabdeen's) vision ranges from the origins of the universe, tens of thousands of million of years, ago to tens of thousands of millions of galaxies and from thence to the entire history of the human species on this planet. It ranges over the Vedantha, Zoroastrian, Judaic, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Taoist, and other universalistic philosophies."

"Taking the reader through a sweeping overview of history from 4000 BC to the present day, he gives us a Magna Carta for the nuclear age with a Universal Declaration Individual Accountability and a Charter of Spiritual Values. He deals with an ultimate destiny of cosmic responsibility through insights drawn from transcendental philosophy and philosophic reflections survival after death and the after life as taught by the major religions.

The final sentence of this book, just before the epilogue, encapsulate sit all when he says 'Such is the story of all beings originating from,and ending in God'.

"Reading this book 'The Circle of Lives', I am reminded of books in Thamil by the late Lankan Thamil writer M. Thalayasingam. He was a creative writer, critic and a seeker of truth. His book 'Meiyul' (The Core of Truth/Reality) advocated a philosophy of 'Prapanja Yathartham' (meaning Universal Realism and integrated Yoga).

His transcendental approach with spiritual insights was never understood by academic critics. Unlike theoretical Marxists, he went into action in fighting against casteism in his village, Pungudutivu in the north and fell victim to brutal assaults and died.

A graduate from the University of Peradeniya, Thalayasingam was an experimental short story writer and a novelist. Sahabdeen says that 'Our present human condition between birth and death in the phenomenal world can appropriately be called a smaller circle within the larger cosmic circle between our Ultimate Ground and its existential manifestations. '

What is remarkable in this book is that being at once a book of updated insight into philosophical realms it is also a readily readable book. The author succeeds in writing in very simple style abstruse areas. There is a flow in his style which is concise, comprehensible and logically connected to his way of the exposition of the subject.

The author extracts the essential elements or strings of philosophical thoughts from all major religions. For instance, from the 'Viveka Chudamani' ( The Crest Jewel of Wisdom) passages from Shankara Chariyar (9th Century A.D.) are given as statements covering issues related to the metaphysical and ethical aspects of the Supreme Being.

This is in relation to the Upanishads of Hinduism. Among these passages, I wish to restate here a few. " Liberation cannot be achieved except by the perception of the identity of the individual spirit with the universal Spirit. It can be achieved neither by Yoga (physical training), nor by the practice of religious ceremonies nor by mere learning .. " " Caste, creed, family and lineage do not exist in Brahman.

Brahman has neither name nor form, transcends merit and demerit, is beyond time, space and the objects of sense- experience. Such is Brahman, and 'thou art That '. Meditate upon this truth within your consciousness...

On Buddhism, the author cites Padmasiri de Silva and K.N. Jayatilleke. Here is a sample of Sahabdeen's thinking: Mind, Matter and Supreme Being "... When the Materialist says Mind is the byproduct of Matter, he has also to say, that matter is something known by, and therefore, constituted by Mind. Matter becomes mental, and pure matter an abstraction. " The author continues: " In contrast to Materialism, theistic religious thought affirms, therein, that the Universe and all beings, including the Primordial Matter from which Materialism derives the world, are the creative manifestations of a Supreme being or God or a Transcendental Reality whose essential nature is that of Spirit, Thought or Pure Consciousness.

The Universe is the materialization or manifestation of Divine Will or Thought, not the thought of finite beings, but the Thought of an Infinite Being which also is the Ultimate Reality.

This is also the conclusion of the philosophy of Mentalist or Idealism as some would prefer to call it. " The writer reasons out further as follows: " Though this statement would appear to be oversimplification of the cardinal positions of the great religions and their respective philosophies, and also the different doctrines of Idealism with their peculiar divergences, many would agree, that this statement at least represents the Highest Common Factor of Religious and Idealistic thought, throughout the centuries of human civilization." I am happy that Sahabdeen has included a translation in English of a philosophical verse in Thamil. by Thaayumanavar, a Hindu saint from Thamilnadu (I believe, 13th century A. D.).

It's sheer poetry reading most of Thaayumanavar's verses. For the benefit of our readers, here's Sahabdeen's rendition: " You may control a mad elephant; You may shut the mouth of the bear and the tiger; You may ride a lion; You may play with the cobra; By alchemy you may eke out your livelihood; You may wander through the universe incognito; You may make vassals of the gods; You may be ever youthful; You may walk on water and live in fire; But control of the mind is better and more difficult".

To me, this book by scholar Sahabdeen is a superb compendium of Eastern thought. And to learn about Western Thought, I first chose to read Colin Wilson's. The outsider. Such writing in simple style is intelligible to me and not unclear thinking.

Death of Raja Sri Kanthan

The death of a fine short story writer and translator in Thamil, Raja Sri Kanthan at a young age brings sorrow. He was ailing for some time and yet he braved the deteriorating stage with stoic endurance and kept his demeanour steady all the time. He was kind hearted. His literary talents reflected his social consciousness.

As editor of the Thinakaran, he continued the tradition of promoting Lankan Thamil literature and the arts. Raja Sri Kanthan introduced to the Thamil readers the works of the writer in English the late Alagu Subramaniam of Yaalpanam in Thamil.

It is an irony that Alagu Subramaniam, SJK Crowther (his brother, E. Crowther was a Thomian cricket captain and the Rector of St. Michael's College, Mattakalappu), Rajah Proctor, Thambiah, Ariyaratnam, Arasanayagam, poet Tambimuttu, Jegatheeswari Nagendran, Parvathi and Jean Arasanayagam and a few others who wrote creative writing in English are not known very much in the Thamil literary circles.

Even readers in English do not know much about them. It is the task of the media to make them known to a wider reading public. Rajah Sri Kanthan, though of Marxist mind set was not a mere propaganda writer. He had a fine style of writing and cared for the form just as much as for the real substance of his themes which were basically on human condition..

His own stories and his contribution in editing a volume of short stories written by writers in the Vada Maradchi region in northern part of Sri Lanka is a valuable edition to understand the realities of living in the north during the past few decades.

An Eastern writer

Two weeks ago another writer in the Thamil language passed away. Among the writers in Thamil professing Islam was the late V.M. Ismail from Matuthamunai in the eastern part of Sri Lanka. The east has produced some fine writers, particularly from the Islamic community. In fact such writers are a social conscious lot.

Ismail, a retired school principal, wrote under the pen name Matuthoor Koththan. Winner of many awards for his creative writing, he was also interested in children's theatre.

Matuthamunai is a small town near Kalmunai, where in the past Thamil and Islamic writers got together and produced writing of superior kind in line with the development. found elsewhere in the country.

The late poet Neelavanan (K. Sinnadurai) was at the centre of a dynamic circle of writers and he inspired them. Academic M.A. Nuhaman, Shanmugam Sivalingam and a few others arose from the region to be recognized in the north as well.

The late Abdus Samadhu from Akkaraipattu, A. Iqbal, Fazil Karriappar and Maruthoor Gani to mention just a few, came to be noticed by the academic critics from the north. Matuthoor Koththan, one of the close friends of Neelavanan was attracted towards Marxism and wrote 'progressive' pieces with a rural flavour. He described well the human frailties and foibles in realistc fashion.

In person, Ismail was humble, affable and a lover of the humankind. He died too young.

Despite the existence of the Eastern University in Vanthaaru Moolai, nothing seems to have been done in at least compiling a dossier of writers hailing from the eastern part the country (from Thirukoanamalai to Poththuvil). Should they be forgotten and ignored?

The hill country writers in Thamil are active in promoting their activities by themselves. The war, transportation difficulties, distance, indifference, sluggishness and a host of other reasons have prevented writers, poets artists and artistes of this island getting together. Parochialism and regionalism and ethnic prejudices have made us all unkind.

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