Curtain opens on:
Ven Tibet S Mahinda’s childhood
Mahinda is certainly a lucky name. It is the name of Lanka’s saviour
who rid the country of the dreaded fangs of terrorism. It is also the
name of the great priest who brought Buddhism to the island. It also
happens to be the name of a unique character who came over from another
country to exhort the island’s race to preserve its identity.
Mahinda; lay name, Pempa Tendupi Serky Cherin.
Serkey was a boy of 10 or 11, when he left his home country of Sikkim
adjacent to Tibet of the snow-laden Himalayan hills arising in majestic
splendour in North India. It was to make use of a scholarship provided
for him to study Buddhism in the island of Ceylon as it was known in the
dawn of the 19th century. An annual stipend of six Rupees was paid to
him for his expenses as testified by Archival documents of Sikkim.
Ven Tibet S
How do I know? Actually like many others my knowledge of this fiery
orator and brilliant poet had been very hazy. Strange stories circulated
about him that he was a poor orphan who had been handed to the Maha
Bodhi Society of India. Well, You generally come to accept what you hear
and leave it at that.
Then I was gifted with this book on the prelate whose cover itself
pulsating with images of panoramic snow caps just fascinated me. It was
themed around a very incisive investigation done by one of our own monks
into the childhood of this unique personality. And there sits on the
throne of the gradually disappearing state of Sikkim, little Serky.
That is exaggerating things or even lying. It was his friend, SK.
(S for Sikkim and K for Kumar) who sat on Sikkim’s throne later.
During Serky’s childhood however the prince sat just by the prince’s
desk in a school on Sikkim’s mountain slopes. The school head was none
other than Serky’s elder brother.
It is a fascinating tale that Ven. Kamalsiri Thera has dug up during
two visits to Sikkim to trace the mystery of Mahinda Himi’s childhood.
It destroys the image of the poor orphaned boy completely and almost
unwittingly opens the curtain on an Asian state throttled by
imperialism. There is no state of Sikkim now, no monarchy line around
whom purple and golden robes glimmer. Today it is reduced to the 22nd
state of India.
The transformation was obviously taking place during Serky’s
childhood. The need of Asia to preserve her identity had already entered
the cognitive domain of the intelligent boy as he observed the
happenings around him. His father was head of the Gutiabasthi Buddhist
temple in the neighbourhood of which a church was built. Soon his father
was ordered to build his temple elsewhere as the music accompanying the
Buddhist rituals disturbed the church services.
Meanwhile, imperialism encroached into the school, his brother, a
former lecturer of Calcutta University headed. Tibetan culture and
Buddhism became taboo.
The king himself had got brainwashed and opined that the country had
to prosper with Westernization set in full force. As all these things
went on little Serky learnt his lessons with the prince.
It was no doubt an elite school as royalty itself had been admitted
to it. The prince’s name was S K Thashinamgapal and Ven. Mahinda, his
robes no obstacle to play his pranks, had used this name as a pseudonym
here. When Ven. Kamalsiri Thera had inquired in Sikkim as to a person
who carried this name the people there had laughed and said that was the
name of the last king of Sikkim.
Well. The young prince had later joined the University of Oxford
while Serky came over here. The immediate background leading to his
coming over here too is interesting. Serky’s father had suddenly died
perhaps frustrated after the temple was re-built elsewhere. It was then
that the school head activated himself and took care of the two young
Serky brothers into his hands.
Then one fine day the boys vanished, perhaps in protest at the White
dominance gradually seeping into the school.
The book relates how Ven. Mahinda Thera was yet a boy in robes in one
of our temples and he had struck a lad for calling him Lansi Lamaya, the
Dutch child. Tibetans are fairer than the Sinhala, hence the error which
infuriated the little monk however. He obviously had developed a
bitterness against them for changing the identity of Sikkim. One of its
most scenic cities, Darjeeling had been transformed into a holiday
resort for the Europeans.
Well. back to Sikkim, the headmaster had searched for the absconding
boys and brought them back. The elder one was sent to our island. He has
passed away here later. Meanwhile Gnanathiloka Thera, the German monk
who was residing at Polgasduwa Senasanaya off Hikkaduwa, had at this
time been sojourning in Sikkim.
Perhaps on his advice the brother planned to send him over to
Polgasduwa. A scholarship programme was arranged to sustain him. The
extra care invested in the younger Serky reveals the fact that the
elders were aware that a great destiny lay ahead for him.
Serky entrained at Darjeeling, came over to Calcutta and took ship
from port of Calcutta that reached Galle harbour after a few days or
weeks. From there it was a short distance to the scenic island of
Polgasduwa, already home to German monks. He was ordained by
Gnanathiloka Thera, strangely an admirer of Adolf Hitler.
Of course Hitler had not yet begun his days of atrocity but was on
his way to establishing the Aryan identity of the Germans. Even this
would have affected the little monk’s mentality. Soon he began having
access to different temples and Pirivenas in the island and mastering
all the ancient texts on Buddhism and history. Finally he ended up in a
temple at Alubomulla, Panadura.
Many wonder from where the fire that ignited Tibet S. Mahinda’s
national frenzy erupted. This background aptly explains the fire. In
Sikkim, his home country, he was too small to protest at the process by
which the English were trying to make all Asian races carbon copies of
them, but when he came over and saw a similar process to which some of
the natives themselves subscribing to the movement, he joined the
bandwagon of upcoming national leaders.
Sinhala was not his mother tongue and structurally his own language
and Sinhala had been so different that his swift mastery of Sinhala to
become a brilliant poet can be reckoned a wonder. Soon his works of
prose and verse in Sinhala were being prescribed as school texts and his
exhortations for the Sinhala Buddhists to retain their identity at all
costs just loomed to public bugle calls.
It is an amazing story indeed that beguiles not only linguists and
ecologists but many other segments of people. Today a grandson of
Serky’s family line by name Kapi still lives in Chitagampom. It was he
who had helped Ven. Kamalasiri to dig up much of this material. I thank
Udaya Gammanpila for handing over this valuable book to me.
God and Kamma
God is both compassion and vengeance. He rewards acts of merit and
punishes (or pardons) acts of sin. So is also the Kamma. Kusala kamma
yields beneficial results while akusala kamma yields adverse results.
The only difference is that God is personified whereas Kamma is not.
Thus all good and evil is stored in God as in (kamma good or evil
As God can pardon, the effect of akusala kamma in certain instances
too, could be either minimised or eliminated by reaching a higher
spiritual status on the path to emancipation. God is without beginning
or end; so is also the cycle of being (samsara) in which kamma takes
effect on a being. It is the mindfulness of an act that yields good or
evil kamma and similarly it is the will of God that punishes or rewards
It is God who decides whether one is to be born into royalty or
peasantry. Also, it is God who decides where, when and how one should be
born or die. Similarly one’s past kamma determines whether one should be
born into royal family or a peasant family.
As God decrees at will when and how one should die, similarly the
kamma too, decides. Buddhism teaches us the three ways by which one
dies. The Buddha equates life to a lighted lamp.
The lamp extinguishes when oil is over (that is, when one’s
accumulated merit is exhausted) or when the wick is burnt out (one’s
lifespan is over) or when an accident takes place. Thus one cannot
foresee how one dies in whichever way mentioned above.
Likewise, nobody, can predict when the call from above comes. Thus
the force of God and kamma are of the same effect or the same source.
When something unfortunate or unwanted happens people relieve
themselves calling it the wish or the will of God and take it up as he
is not responsible for what had happened. In similar situations a
Buddhist may say that it is the force of one’s own good or evil kamma
taking effect, and nobody has any control over it.
As God is always after one whether he believes in Him or not, kamma
too, is after everyone whether he accepted it or not. Even if one
commits a sin, if he makes a confession to God, He could forgive him. In
the operation of kamma too, if one repents over the commission of a sin
while making a resolution not only not to repeat it, but also begin to
develop his mind on the Noble Path to Nibbana, he could overcome its
full impact on him.
It is believed that after death, one is either born in hell or heaven
depending on the weight of good and evil acts one had committed, which
is inevitable. Similarly, due to the operation of the Law of Kamma one
is reborn in a particular status determined by his accumulated merit or
In the first instance here, God decides where one is to be born after
death, and in the second instance, kamma decides where one is to be born
again. In both instances thus, it is the person himself who decides the
nature of his next birth.
God invariably takes note of every person whether a believer or not
and delivers judgement accordingly for which the band or brand of one’s
religion or race is irrelevant. Similarly the effect of kamma
irrespective of the religion to which one belongs comes hard on one
either benevolently or malevolently.
One’s life moves mainly according to a plan predetermined or
determined by God. For instances, when Jesus was born, God knew that he
was to die on the cross tortured by the Jews. People believe that things
happen in the way God has decreed. Similarly, one’s life is determined
in general by the force of good kamma or bad kamma.
Even though one may not have a pre-notion of what would happen to
him. Occasionally, one may have to a premonition of what is going to
happen to him. Thus as one has subject oneself to divine will, he has to
bear the effect of the force of kamma, too.
Some people believe that God lives in one’s heart or mind. That means
whatever is good or bad, malicious or benevolent, exits within oneself.
The kamma too, exists within oneself. “Mind is the forerunner of
everything and everything is mindset” - The Dhammapada. In concept both
God and kamma are pre-Buddhistic.
Although the word God originated much earlier, conceptually its
meaning changed with religion. Similarly the pre-Buddhistic meaning of
kamma was different from the doctrine of kamma. To believe in God as the
single entity who determines the destiny of man, is to mean that kamma
too, determines what is the destiny of man.
When someone spots one’s unusual talent or an extraordinary feat, it
is always submitted as a gift of God. According to the doctrine of kamma,
it is a salutary effect of one’s own good kamma. None can say how and
why a particular person was identified by God for grant of a gift when
all men and women are His ‘children’ including those who are born out of
A person so chosen for special favours could be a Buddhist, Muslim or
a Christian and has nothing to do with race or religion. So is the
effect of kamma. No one can say how and when the effect of one’s kamma
comes to force. To take effect of kamma one’s religion or age is
immaterial. So once again we see that both God and kamma are effectively
By not believing in God and failure to follow His commands, one will
earn the wrath of God and will have to pay dearly for it. Similarly, by
committing sins which results in accumulating akusala kamma one will
have to invariably face its harmful effects one day. Ways of God are
said to be mysterious and beyond one’s comprehension.
That puts God beyond human comprehension. Similarly the force of
kamma too, is mysterious and incomprehensible, specially when it is in
consequence to an act in one’s previous birth. Willingly or unwillingly
one has to submit to the force of kamma; so also to the will of God.
Any exercise that leads to trace the reason for God to have acted so,
or to find the cause for a particular kamma, has the same effect. In
fact, the concept of God is stretched to the point of a mystery; so is
also the concept of kamma.
People fear the wrath of God as well as that of the consequences of
kamma. In both instances, the responsibility for the injurious or
meritorious outcome lies with man himself and also the necessary spirit
to overcome its ill-effects. People who do not wish to take the
responsibility themselves for their own actions, they quickly pass it
over to the others in society or to God’s wish.
It relieves one to unburden oneself of the responsibility for one’s
acts of omission and commission.
Natural disaster as well as man made calamities affect equally to all
irrespective of one’s colour or shade.
Whether one is a believer or not that cannot change the effect of a
disaster. For example, tsunami to hit Sri Lanka destroyed Buddhists as
well as Catholics, Muslims and Hindus. When the West Tower was attacked
by a Muslim terrorist organization, it destroyed men and women of all
faiths including the Muslims as well as their churches and mosques in
In other words, it seems that God is personification of kamma, which
enables the mortals to worship, appeal and obey Him while begging for
His compassion seeking material success on earth now, and divine
To fear someone or something is essential for a weak person to live
without fear. So an omnipotent God in someone’s imagination is ideal to
provide one with stability and courage to live and work. Similarly, the
effect of good or evil kamma too, will drive one with fear and courage
to be a man or a woman of compassion and compromise.
Is God personification of kamma? Believers fear God and the
non-believers fear kamma in the same vein.
Heredity and environment
Modern astronomy entails a vast knowledge of the stellar cycles, so
much so, that this esoteric and spiritual science has an abundance of
research to place on planetary cycles and their influence on humanity.
The constituents of the mind is deathlessness and its way the Vijna
(consciousness) which moves in each life throughout Sansara. The
Dhammapada espouses thus “Not in the sky, not in the midst of the sea,
not if we enter into the clefts of the mountains, is there known a spot
in the whole world where a man will be freed from an evil deed.”
Although Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ deals mostly with the Napoleonic
Wars, nevertheless his perceptive mind underlies the inhuman aspect of
man’s craving for power which causes the irresistible desire to conquer
as many countries as possible certainly for eternal superiority about
which the simple doctrinaire aspect of the enlightened one’s discourse
in the Anguttara Nikaya.
Here the blessed one states, “look O, friends in this world there’s
only one omniscient one who is superior to all human beings gods and all
living individuals in all the three worlds and that is the Thathagatha
who has absolved himself of all inanimate and animate Karma.
He further elucidates the cycle law of birth, growth, decay and
death, Animate beings are subject in addition to moral Karma, that is
Karma that originates in the mind and for which the individual is
responsible. Finally, with man there is the more particular Karma and as
such it moves from birth to birth towards enlightenment.
The Enlightened One’s concept of Gods
The Enlightened One’s discourse on the Gods named Dhajaga reveals a
novel concept that some of these gods, in time of stress and strain,
prove themselves helpless and retire slovenly.
So we as incapable human beings could hardly seek their blessings, in
such a situation. Bhikkhu Silacara has much to say in his pamphlet Kamma,
where he says a Buddhist performs an act of merit by offering incense
and flowers before the image of the Buddha. This is a very different
concept to atone for one’s own misdoing.
To radiate love to all beings is one of the standard meditations of
Buddhist practice, and its objects besides suffusing the heart of the
meditator with infinite love, is to help all living beings in their
Universal love is to abandon hate to completely absolve oneself of
this illusion of selfishness so as to reduce this desire which is the
cause of suffering.
If every living this experiences the acts of others than each can
obviously strive to see that the result of their own causes are those he
could refrain from.
Concept of Rebirth
Professor Divon declared that many a poet has felt convincingly that
he or she has lived before. Shakespeare recounts in sonnet LIX thus.
If there be nothing new, but that which is it
Hath been before, how are our brains beguiled
Which, labouring for invention, bear amiss
The second burthen of a former child!
Tenyson, more mystical, in a little known sonnet begins
As when with downcast eyes we muse and brood
And ebb into a former life, or seen
To lapse for back in a confused dream
To states of mystical similitude
Browning is more personal in a poem to Evelyn Hope who Passed away at
the age of sixteen.
Just because I was thrice as old
And our paths in the world diverged so wide
Each was naught to each, must I be told?
We were fellow mortals, naught beside?
And he answers his own enquiry:
“I claim you still, for my own loves sake
Delayed it may be for more lives yet,
Through worlds I shall traverse, not a few,
Much is to learn and much to forget
Ere the time be come
for taking you