Wednesday, 9 June 2004  
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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

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Unity in diversity

Manmohan Singh, a relatively unknown technocrat with a reputation for honesty and candour, was thrown into the spotlight, when Congress leader Sonia Gandhi suddenly declined her party's nomination to be India's Prime Minister.

Singh an economist and former Finance Ministeris the India's first Prime Minister to hold a doctorate. Sonia Gandhi is a Catholic of Italian descent and Singh a Sikh, belonging to a community that represents only 2 per cent of India.

Though 80 per cent of India is Hindu, it still chose the leader of the Congress Party and its Prime Minister from a minority race and religion. It's time that Sri Lanka learns from Big Brother India that race and religion should not be factors in selecting a leader.

Imagine a Tamil, or Muslim or Christian holding a similar post in Sri Lanka.


Destruction of the Dhamma

On the Destruction of the Dhamma I have thought to write this letter to brief earnest students of the teaching of the Buddha and well-wishers about the state of the Dhamma in our country.

We pride ourselves as custodians and inheritors of the teaching having written it down at Aluvihare perhaps a 1000 years or more after the passing away of the Buddha. Yet, no one, lamented my dear friend the late Nanavira Thera, nowadays read them or know what the Buddha actually taught.

The Buddha suggested that his teaching shall last 500 years after his Parinibbana. From evidence and inference there from the decline of the Dhamma began when eight noble families quarrelled for the relics after the cremation of the body.

The Brahmin Dona intervened, divided them into eight parts and kept the bowl of the Buddha for himself.

That was the beginning of relic worship when everyone forgot the injunction of the Buddha: Do not be my heirs in material things. Let the Dhamma be your refuge. Seek no other refuge. East met West for the first time when Alexander invaded India in the 4th century BC.

The most celebrated event was when a yogi calmly sat on a wood pyre meditating while he was burnt to death alive.

Alexander and his men it is said, never understood what they witnessed. In the 3rd century BC, Asoka established a ministry for the spread of the Dhamma. He was the first to make political use and secularise the teaching.

After 40 years of his rule, vast institutions such as at Nalanda and monasteries along the Silk Road began to crumble under their own weight from diminishing lay and clerical support.

The next significant event in the decline was the translation from Sinhala to Pali by Achariya Buddhagosh in the 5th century AD of the Commentaries which go back to the 3rd century.

He wrote theses on Dhamma, the most famous being the Path of Purification or the Visuddhimagga.

I regard it, on the advice of Venerable Nanavira Thera, that it marks the beginning of wrong view or Miccaditthi of the Dhamma in our country.

He also elevated the Abhidhamma to another Pitaka in defiance of the First and Second Councils. As the late Venerable Walpola Rahula told me, no one has become Arhant from studying Abhidhamma. It is vain scholarship.

I now skip several centuries and come to the present. I remember when the late PM W. A. Dhahanayake, contested re-election in the early 60s. I forget the exact year but I was a Medical Officer of Health at Hambantota assigned also as a Presiding Officer.

One morning, I read that he had suddenly elevated the two leading Pirivenas, Vidyalankara and Vidyodaya to full University status. He did it as an election stunt (but he not only lost it, he even lost his deposit).

I went to the Bundala forest kuti of Nanavira Thera the same evening and told him. He immediately said, "Kingsley, this is the beginning of the end of the Dhamma in Ceylon."

Nanavira Thera, was an Englishman, an only child, a millionaire, classics graduate from Cambridge at age 21, mathematician, who renounced everything and attained Sotapatti in 1957.

He died in July 1965 at the age of 44 from an undiagnosed chronic bowel disorder, from inhaling ethyl vapour from a vial of ethyl chloride I had given to spray over inflamed painful insect bites on the skin.

From the manner in which he gently laid the vial by the bedside and went to sleep in the 'Lion's pose' I have no doubt, also from studying his writings that at the time of death he was a solitary genius who attained to a higher state in the Path, if not to Arhantship. He could be the last of the Arhants in the past 2000 years.

We have now in our country a scandal of Dhamma in the form of a section of monks - actually men in robes - who with their supporters are making a mockery of it. Some Christians and others are legitimately laughing at them and us. But that does not matter. They are also laughing at the Dhamma that these vain men claim to represent. Sabbe sankhara anicca. That is how it is.

Dr. Kingsley Heendeniya.

Five colour Buddhist flag

This refers to the article "for your knowledge book five colour Buddhist flag" (DN May 13) I would like to elaborate with some facts which would be beneficial to our readers.

The six colour Buddhist flag was designed and hoisted for the first time on April 28,1885, on the very first Vesak day that the colonial government declared a public holiday.

The architects of this new Buddhist flag were Venerable Hikkaduwe Sri Sumangala, Venerable Migettuwatte Sri Gunananda, Don Carolis Hewavitharana (Anagarika Dharmapala), A. A. Dharmagunawardhana, William De Abrew, C. Pujitha Gunawardana, Charles, A. de Abrew and N. William Fernando.

After much deliberation they decided to design a flag with the six colours of the halo of the Buddha described in Buddhist texts.

The first sketch of this appeared in the Sarasavi Sandarasa of April 27.

The flag was hoisted for the first time on April 28 at Vidyodaya Pirivena, Dipaduttaramaya and several other Buddhist places in Colombo and came to be accepted as the flag of the Buddhists.

This flag consists of five vertical stripes of Nila (Blue), Peeta (Yellow) Lohitha (Red), Odata (White) and Manjesta (Orange) and another stripe representing all these five colours. It is said in the canon that these colours emanated from the body of the Buddha signifying the unique feature of His greatness.

Blue came from His hair, yellow from His robes, red from his lips, white from his teeth and orange from His skin.

When all these five colours blended together the sixth composite colour was formed.

Henry Steel Olcott, the pioneer of 19th century Buddhist revival, who was away in India at the time the flag was designed was delighted with this creation.

In 1889, accompanied by Anagarika Dhammapala, Olcott visited Japan and presented this new flag to the Emperor of Japan who gave his blessings and therefore it came to be accepted by Japanese as well.

This was finally followed in 1950 by its acceptance as the flag of the world Buddhist population at the inaugural World Buddhist Federation held in Colombo.

Thus the Buddhist flag has brought distinction to Sri Lanka by being the Sri Lankan contribution to the field of vexillology.

Ashley de Abrew - 
Colombo 13.

We are a nation

Understandably, a nation is a group of people associated in a territory possessing different ethnic, language and religious beliefs and living peacefully.

Sadly, this image has no stretch or adjustments here. The general summary of events in the decade past show that our nation has got minced and disintegrated over many national issues; so also the Parliament and even State Agencies.

As such, the rank and file is disillusioned and discontended over faction ridden, self-serving and polarized politics. I guess, they have now self-taught minds for alternative arrangements for this national friction.

In USA most often, than not, the plural society mingle in every sphere of both national and international activities without any alienation.

Obviously, it is a nation of many states having plural communities with a star for each State irrespective of which community they belong.

Let us search for a suitable symbol to represent the major community that would speak for itself, and agreeable to all communities. How about a symbol of a man with palms clasped together and a gentle bow of the head? And moreover, it is an age-old greeting of all folks down the line.

Let me focus a plan worth thinking. Rather than foster divisions and ethnic hatred, spread out the communities condensed together in other suitable regions. To activate emigration, within the island, the State should provide tempting incentives to those who opt.

I visualise this as a bold step in another way of cushioning the ethnic problem and solidifying ties among our brothers and sisters and calling ourselves Sri Lankans and giving them a hospitable home.

True, there will be disgruntled people. And its implementation and completion cannot be done tomorrow evening.

H. L. D. E. PERERA - 


There is no doubt that the Italian - Western blood only gave Sonia Gandhi morale and coverage to decline the premiership and I don't think we will be able to witness another similar incident of this nature even in the forth millennium in this region or in our poor country where individuals spend millions and millions of public money for their personal benefits.

Anybody to take the challenge?

Colombo 15.

The pension impasse

Ever since the much awaited resolution of the pension anomaly was given the green light, the expectations of the pensioners have been running high. Lately disillusion has set in with the realization that there is hardly any tangible movement towards payments being actually made.

To his credit the Director Pensions has taken some measures to expedite payment, but the picture does not appear to be any better.

When I visited the DS office at Dam Street where my fortune is being worked out, a few days back I was told they were working on the first case out of several thousands! The bulky circular itself was in short supply.

Given the commitment of all concerned to speedily attend to this matter may I make a humble suggestion for the Director's attention: The bulk of the pensioners belong to a few categories - teachers, clerical servants being the most numerous.

The average figure accruing to these categories is fairly clear. For teachers, for example, the figure of Rs. 5,000 is being mentioned. My suggestion is that immediately these pensioners should be paid a sum approximating, but below this figure for example Rs. 4,000 for teachers.

When the details are worked out, the difference could be paid or any extra payment deducted, as the case may be. For certain special professional grades like doctors and engineers, the numbers are small and the grades clear, so that tackling these cases need not take time.

This is an intractable matter and unless some innovative step is taken, even if the DS office staff struggle till the cows come home, there will be no relief until the pensioners go 'home'!

A.P. - 

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