poets for peace

Poetic Unity

daya dissanayake

On May 1st every year the working people around the world march on the streets, carrying placards and shouting the slogan, "Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but chains". This is a corrupted version of the original German quote in the Communist Manifesto, which could be translated as "Proletarians of all countries, Unite". Still they march separately, even within the same country, as they have been marching all these years since they began this ritual.

The May Day rallies came to my mind as I walked with poets of many countries, on their march for peace. It was held first in Dhaka and then in Darainagar (Sea City, once called Cox's Bazar), Bangladesh. Poets too have nothing to lose, but their chains, chains of nation, race and language.

There should never have been a need for poets to march for peace, for there should always be peace among them, and their creative works too should be for peace, because poetry is universal and poets do not have any identities outside their world of poetry.

At first glance there appeared to be greater unity among the Bengali poets. They speak Bengali and write in Bengali. Yet they identify themselves as Bangladeshis and Indians. Some of them believing or claiming to belong to a piece of Mother Earth politically identified as a separate country. There is only this political barrier, created by the idiocy of the British, where once there were no other barriers. Most 'countries' have several barriers, geographical, ethnic, religious and language. Within such countries, sometimes man erects barriers of language and tries to form separate states, while here two 'countries' with the same language are staying apart. There is an imaginary political barrier, a border separating the poets living in Bangladesh writing in Bengali, while on the other side are poets living in India writing in Bengali.

The 'Peace Procession of Poetry, Dhaka to Darianagar' is the brainchild of Prof. Mohammad Nurul Huda, Dean, Faculty of Human Sciences, Darul Ihsan University., and winner of the Bangla Academy Literary Award and Mahadiganta Poetry Award. He was able to gather 'poets from SAARC countries and Beyond', with the sub-theme, 'Poetry for Human Beauty'. For four days, from December 28th to 31st, almost all language barriers were broken, because all of us could communicate with each other in Bengali or English. And we marched together as one family, our national, racial and religious identities all forgotten.

The Peace Procession began from the Shaheed Minar in Dhaka, the monument established to commemorate those killed during the Bengali Language Movement in 1952. It is significant that young people sacrificed their lives to fight for equal status for their mother tongue. It is the youth of Bangladesh who first erected, and young people today who have only heard of the pain and suffering a half a century ago now help maintain the memorial. The next stop was at the grave of the revolutionary poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, reminding us how great poets should be honoured.

This was the third Darainagar Poetry Fair or KabitaBangla, with poetry reading, recitation, discussion on contemporary poetic trends and free interaction for reading and writing.

The Indian poet Utpal Jah, translated my poem written in English, and also poems by the Nepali poets, Prakash Subhedi and Keshab Sigdel, into Bengali, so we could read them in Bangladesh. Poet Prabath Kumar Mukhopadhyay had translated into English his own poems and the poems of two other Indian writers, so they could share them with all the poets gathered at the Poetry Fair.

Like music, like paintings and sculpture, songs, poetry and drama too could be made universal.

This has been very successfully carried out by the baul singer and dancer, Parvathi Baul, in Kolkata, where she opened her one woman exhibition of paintings. All the paintings narrated a story. The stories were enacted by Parvathi with her baul songs in Bengali. The paintings helped everyone in the non-Bengali speaking audience from around the world to understand and follow her drama. This is really 'art into art', as referred by Prof. Senaka Bandaranayake about the terra-cotta figurines found at Sihigiri.

Parvathi has demolished the language barrier, making her dance drama to be a universal art form. Poets too could achieve this universality by creating art from their poems, so that we could all understand and appreciate the poems across barriers.

At Darianagar we have come a step closer to peace and unity. That is why the Muslim, Christian, Hindu and Buddhist poets could gather at the Ramu temple and the statue of the Buddha, for a session of Poetry reading with a theme of Buddha Dhamma, Loving Kindness and Peace. This was also significant, because behind the statue was the temple which had been burnt down by a few misguided misinformed people in September 2012.

Some poets write in English, though they were not born with English as their mother tongue, and do not have an English national identity, but have been burdened down with their own national and racial labels. They too should be able to shed all these unnatural labels and march as poets writing in English, as human beings who have been reduced to use a language which is a strange tongue to many other human beings, but has become a link, a bridge across many language barriers erected by man.

Next year let us look forward to all Bengali poets march together for peace and unity, irrespective of the location of their homes. Let the Hindi and Urdu poets recite their poems as one. Let all the poets share their creativity through the medium of English, even if it is not their mother tongue.

Jan. 16, 2013, 2:18 a.m. » Tagged: Bangladesh , Nurul Huda , peace , poetry

Art for God's Sake

Art for God's Sake

daya dissanayake

Modern art is like a religion. Only the creator really knows the meaning of what has been created. The common man is unable to understand it. The Art Critics are like priests who explain the meaning of religious discourses. When the critics have different interpretations then it leads to the rise of various groups of the followers of the painting.

We could say what happened to world religions happened to art, taken over by the priesthood and the elite, who did not expect the common man to understand the message.

Today, in the modern art galleries, this is called conceptual art, when a specific concept or idea, often personal, complex and inclusive, takes shape in an abstract, nonconforming manner, based upon a negation of aesthetic principles. These conceptual artists proclaimed that "Art is dead", like we heard Nietzsche's comment "God is dead". Then the artists made their own Art into a mystery religion. Joseph Kosuth had said "Actual works of art are little more than historical curiosities". They wanted to eliminate the art object, saying that the idea itself is a work of art.

Yet in the pre-historic art galleries in the caves too, we could identify some of the paintings as conceptual or perceptual, depending on how we look at them. That is probably the reason for Paul Devereux to state that there was "Art before Art". Even though animals could also dream, it is only man who could bring out a work of art about his dream and express them in paintings and sculpture.

This was explained by a visitor to Sihigiri 1,300 years ago. "He (i.e. the painter) by (the art of) painting, fixes even the real nature of the very source of consciousness. Having seen, with (his) eyes, a long (strand of) hair, he paints and fixes diverse feelings of the mind" (Paranavitana translation)

Religion could have been the beginning of art, if we are to believe that primitive art forms found in caves occupied by pre-historic man were religious symbols and images. If on the other hand art was the beginning of religion then we could also consider that almost all religions have survived because of art. It was the artist who did the paintings, the sculptures and the symbols and who helped to preserve the religious faiths and practices, during all religious suppressions, forced conversions and anti-religious campaigns.

One possible explanation for the similarities we find in religious art is that the same painters and artists who had been engaged in the paintings of the existing religions would have been assigned the paintings of the new religious faiths. This could explain the Greek and the Gandharva styles of the paintings or carvings of the Buddha and the Apollonian style of Jesus in the Roman churches and even the Greco-Roman and Byzantine influence in early Islamic art.

However the paintings and the sculptures of Jesus Christ appear to be the same all over the world, unlike the figure of the Buddha, which takes on the features of the natives, wherever Buddhism spread.

When the Buddha tells the Bhikkhus that the true beauty of a painting is not in the painting, nor in the mind of the painter, but in the mind of the person looking at the painting, could He have meant that the person seeing it had to empathize with the painting? (Samyutta Nikaya, Gaddula Sutta). But here could be a conflict, a rasika here sees the beauty of the woman in the painting because of the aesthetic or erotic thoughts in his mind, and if he purifies his mind, then he will no longer see the beauty in the picture and he will no longer be a rasika.

What is sacred art for one man could be a pagan idol for another, or simply a work of art.

Art as a form of meditation is seen in the Kalachakra Mandala created by Tibetan monks, where 722 deities are portrayed within a circle of about two meters diameter. It is made of coloured sand. This work of art, prepared over a period of several weeks, is destroyed in the end as a lesson about the impermanence of life.

The paintings at Ajantha and the carvings at Ellora probably were a form of meditation exercise.

If we accept Dr. Raja de Silva's theory of Sihigiriya frescoes, then they too are Mahayana Buddhist paintings, and not purely aesthetic creations during the time of Kassapa. Then Prof. Senaka Bandaranayake's comment on the terracotta figurines found at Sihigiriya, as "Art from Art" would not be acceptable, because the figurines too could have been those of Goddess Tara.

Alexander Gottlieb Baumggarten, who has been considered as the father of modern aesthetics, had identified aesthetica artificialis and aesthetica naturalis, which brings us back to the struggle between nature and culture. No human being will ever be able compete with the art and sculpture created by nature, which is evident when we see the evening sky at sunset, the sunrise over Sri Pada, Grand Canyon, Niagara falls, the Maldive islands as seen from above, the giant icebergs, or even a butterfly or a ladybird. We have continued to destroy nature in the name of cultural advancement, and unconsciously making futile attempts to imitate nature, in introducing granite and timber into our buildings or fountains and rock gardens.

Once again we have to wonder, did the pre-historic man try to paint nature as he saw it, or was he already trying to give symbolic meanings to what he drew.

When we look at art as a religion it reminds us that it is the iconophile who creates the iconoclast, who could end up becoming a new iconophile.

Jan. 15, 2013, 10:15 a.m. » Tagged: art< religion , god

creative health

creative health

daya dissanayake

"No great genius has ever been without some divine madness". Aristotle.

Are doctors and psychologists trying to make out that all writers are mad or mad people are more creative, was the question which came to mind when reading the BBC report of October 16th, headlined "Creativity 'closely entwined with mental illness'". Though researchers are continuing to search for answers as to why or how creativity and mental disorders are connected, they have failed in their attempts.

By mental illness they mean Bipolar disorder, Autism, Schizophrenia, Dementia and Epilepsy. The researchers try to identify such illness in the artists, writers and scientists. Einstein is reported to have been suffering from 'developmental language disorder' and 'developmental dyslexia'

From pre-historic times, creativity was seen in people who could think outside the normal, orthodox thinking. Any behaviour or thinking which was different from the normal would have been considered as abnormal, and such people could be ostracized or were treated for mental disorders. A study done in Germany in 1949 is claimed to have found that 50 percent of poets and 38 percent of musicians were having 'psychiatric abnormality'. "The sensitivity of those with bipolar disorders....allows for unrestrained expressions. The lowered inhibition of an individual with bipolar disorder explains their ability to have multiple perspectives."

The same thing is said about ADD and ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The University of California, Santa Barbara, reports that a 13-year old student had summed up, "Being ADD means you see things other people miss. When you see a peach you see a piece of fruit. I see the colour, the texture, and the field where it grew". This is explained by Prof. Jordan Peterson of the University of Toronto,"The creative individuals remain in contact with the extra information constantly streaming in from the environment. The normal person classifies an object, and then forgets about it, even though that object is much more complex and interesting than he or she thinks. The creative person, by contrast, is always open to new possibilities". Then all creative artists, writers and musicians suffer from ADD.

Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Leo Tolstoy, T. S. Eliot, Michelangelo, Edgar Allan Poe are among the list of 42 "eminent creative people with probable mood disorders", according to clinical psychologist Dr. Kay Jamison, Prof. of psychiatry, Johns Hopkins. Either she has not studied works of Asian writers or even according the Western standards all Eastern writers have been sane and mentally sound.

Edgar Allan Poe had written in Eleonora, "Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or not the loftiest intelligence - whether much that is glorious - does not spring from disease of thought - from moods of mind exalted at the extent of the general intellect."

The artist Edvard Munch had refused psychiatric hospitalization and treatment, as emotional torments "are part of me and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and it would destroy my art". (quoted by Jamison)

The BBC report is based on research carried out at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Dr. Simon Kyaga had stated that "the disordered thoughts associated with schizophrenia might spark the all-important originality element of a masterpiece." Beth Murphy, head of Mind, the mental health charity, had said that "bipolar disorder personality traits could be beneficial to professions where they can use their creative skills." This raises the question if bipolar disorder or schizophrenia could be considered as illnesses.

As current evidence can only describe an association between creativity and mental illness, and there is no proof of a relationship, we have to ask, who is really mad, the writer, reader or the doctor who tries to find madness in artists? "The creative process is a mystery. We can know about pieces of it, but we are unlikely to unravel all of it. Many questions remain unanswered.", says Prof. Maureen Nelhart. She also says creativity involves a regression to more primitive mental processes, that to be creative requires a willingness to cross and recross the lines between rational and irrational thought.

Was the madness of Herakles divinely induced, or induced by Euripides? Or was it the madness of Euripides that we find in Herakles? To enjoy and understand a creative work, do we really have to understand the mental condition of the creator?

The Tibetan monk Lama Thubten Yeshe defines mental illness as the kind of mind that does not see reality; a mind that tends to either exaggerate or underestimate the qualities of the person or object it perceives. "All ordinary beings are like mad people". (Unmattako viya hi puthujjano). The original mental tendencies of all human beings at birth would be, like for all animals, his likes and dislikes, needed for his physical survival. But unlike with all other animals, man develops greed, envy and hatred resulting in mental illness. According to Buddha Dhamma, the only way to get rid of all these illnesses of the mind is by extinction of Thanha, which in turn extinguishes the fires of greed and envy. That is probably why Buddha Dhamma does not identify different types of mental illness, like with physical ailments.

Thus from the Buddhist viewpoint all delusions, all mental illnesses will always be with us, and this in turn helps us to create art and fiction and poetry. The day all mankind free themselves from the fetters which bind us through greed, we will all be mentally healthy, but we will also not have any creative literature or art or poetry. And we would not be needing any, either.

Nov. 30, 2012, 2:04 a.m. » Tagged: creativity , mental disorders

Sufi Dhamma

Love into Arts

daya dissanayake

As I listened to the presentation, I felt proud to be a Sri Lankan when the speaker introduced himself as a Sufi Buddhist monk. This was at the International Sufi Festival held in Amritsar, the 'Ocean of Nectar'. It was indeed sweet nectar, the city itself, the Golden Temple and Ram Tirth where Valmiki is said to have written the Ramayana.

The festival had been organized by the Foundation Of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) along with the Punjab Heritage and Tourist Promotion Board, in collaboration with the Punjab Ministry of Tourism and Arpana Caur. Amritsar had been chosen because "Punjab is the land of Sufism and of Sufis", according to Kushwant Singh, Chairman of FOSWAL.

Ajeet Caur, Panjabi writer and President of FOSWAl, in her introductory address summed it up, "The driving force behind this endeavour of the Sufi Festival is Love for the people living around us! Love for the whole of humanity."

It was a gathering of writers, poets and academics from twelve countries in the region, along with Sufi musicians, singers and dancers. It was a total immersion for two days in Sufi philosophy, poetry and music, for all the delegates, which confirmed everybody's view that Sufi is a way of life, for the betterment of mankind.

It was a conference where there was not a single dissension, or debate, even among writers who believed in freedom of expression, and belonged to all faiths, Islam, Hindu, Siekh, Buddhist and Christian.

This was best expressed by Rev. Prof. Gallelle Sumanasiri thero in his presentation. We have to use terms like Sufi Buddhism or Islamic Buddhism, because of our self-imposed imprisonment inside different labels. When we use terms like Sufism, Hinduism and Buddhism we are immediately isolating ourselves from the rest of mankind. We are building a group within a barrier and shutting off those who are outside the group. We look at them with suspicion, we try to see aggression and enmity in every word uttered by those outside our own group.

This is when conflicts begin as we let a few politicians and a few selfish humans to create suspicion and hatred. The most recent incidence was in Bangladesh when a grossly exaggerated report of a Qur'an burning led to the destruction of several Buddhist temples.

The word of God or the word of the Buddha cannot be destroyed by a mere mortal. Even if a book is destroyed the truth cannot be destroyed. people have been burning down religious books ever since religious books began to be written, but no religion was ever destroyed.

Most of the papers presented were based on Sufi poetry, music, and literature. Prof. Mohammad Nurul Huda from Bangladesh talked of the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore and Nazrul Islam. There were four poets from the Tribhuvan Univesity in Kathmandu. Bal Bahdur Thapa looked at Brothers Karamazov from a Sufi viewpoint, while Prakash Subedhi who was born a Hindu, followed Buddha Dhamma and had studied Sufi way of life as he saw it. Keshab Sigdel looked at Human Rights, and their guru, Prof. Abi Subhedi also discussed Sufi poetry.

Dr. Noor Zaheer, the author of 'My God is a Woman', a Muslim turned atheist, presented the view of a woman as a Sufi. While everyone talked of Rumi and Khayyam, Farheen Chaudhury from Pakistan talked about her own life experience through Sufi eyes. We could look forward to Sufi fiction too, in time to come.

It is literature, art and music that can bring humanity together, break down all the man-made barriers, as we saw in the painting of Arpana Caur which symbolized the Sufi festival, and the contrasting performance of the Whirling Darveshes from Pakistan led by Wahid Bukhsh, who whirl around to the beat of the drum in remembrance of God, and the Mystical music as an instrumental and vocal orchestra by the El Edri group composed of scholars and academics from Istanbul. Sufi ideals were presented in the soft music by the group from Afghanistan, and in a solo dance by Dilafruz Kodirova from Uzbekistan.

There were no religious barriers that evening among all those who had gathered at the Khalsa College in Amritsar, convincing us that we have to overcome the faith barriers built by us. One major barrier is the labels which brand us and separate us. Let us do away with the labels. Or let us use a universally acceptable name instead of Sufism, Sikhism, Islam or Buddhism. Devanampiya Piyadassi, later identified by the British as Asoka, used the term Dhamma without specifying any particular faith. The word Dhamma could be used for almost all eastern faiths and philosophies.

Mavlana Jalal-Ud-Din Mohhamad Rumi wrote - "Don't look for God outside. For Him, look inside". Bodhi Dharma wrote - "Don't look for Buddha outside. For Him, look inside". Rumi also said, "The rose does not care if someone calls it a thorn, or a jasmine". It is the language and the labels which place us apart and which causes misunderstandings and misguidedly fight with each other for the love of the same goal.

We recall Rumi's poem about the Persian, Arab, Turk and the Greek who wanted to buy four different things with one coin, not realizing that they all wanted the same thing. They were asking for grapes, but in four different languages. That is the lesson for all of us.

The best way to bring this unity is by translating all Sufi poetry into as many languages as possible, and read them with an open mind, as we should also do with Buddha Dhamma and all other religious teachings. Let us use poetry, paintings, music and dance to bring Love and unity among mankind, so we could all be Peaceful and Useful.

Nov. 14, 2012, 1:51 a.m. » Tagged: Arts , Buddha Dhamma , love , Sufi

One Book Authors

One author, One book

daya dissanayake

Some authors write only one book in their life time. Some of them shoot to stardom with that one book. The first author that comes to mind is one of those short listed for the first ever Swarna Pusthaka Award in 2007. The book was 'Kindura Gosin Vatunai Pura Madulle. The author was Karunadheera Alwis. Since the award committee failed to pick one of the five short-listed novels Alwis could consider himself as a co-winner as the prize money was shared among all five.

He has not written another novel, while most of the others who were short-listed have kept on writing, some of them facing an accusation that they are writing with the Swarna Pusthaka award in mind.

All over the world we find this phenomenon of one-book authors. Some of them are all-time greats, their works listed among the best novels in the world. Reasons for not continuing with their writing could be many and varied, and sometimes we would never know.

Our closest neighbour is the eternal Thiruvalluwar, the sage from South India who wrote the Sacred Kural or Thirukkural over one thousand years ago. He wrote only one book, and that book is revered for ever, shining above thousands of books written by other poets.

Going back further into the past and further north, we meet Valmiki, and his one-and-only Ramayana with the 24,000 verses still sung today and grew into over 400 different versions of the Rama legend.

In China, Wu Chengen wrote 'Journey to the West' during the 16th century, a fictional account of a legendary Buddhist monk Tsuangzang who travels to India in search of Buddha Dhamma.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' won the Pulitzer and has been read by millions of readers around the world. Harper Lee is believed to have been working on another novel, the 'Long Goodbye', and a book about a serial murderer, which never came out in print. She published her only novel in 1960, when she was 34 years old, at 86 today, she had not published another novel.

Yet the tragedy of most one-book authors was that their lives were cut short in mid-stride, so we would never know what they would have created, had they lived for a few years more.

Among them, perhaps the most tragic is the fate of Margaret Mitchell, who wrote the immortal book, 'Gone with the Wind', published in 1936. She had written it in secret and had only sent it to a publisher when a colleague had mocked her about her talent for writing. The book went on to win the Pulitzer. Unfortunately she was knocked down by a car and died when she was only 49. She had written a novella, 'Lost Laysen' when she was 15, and given to a boyfriend. She would never have wanted it published. Nearly 50 years after her death the novella was published. As a teenager she had also written another 400 page novel, 'The Big Four', which is said to be lost, but probably she had destroyed it herself. Mitchell had also written another novella 'Rope Carmagin', which had been submitted to the same publisher along with Gone with the Wind, but had been rejected. That is how she ended up being a one-book author in her lifetime

Emily Bronte published 'Wuthering Heights' in 1847, when she was 29. She fell ill soon after and died just one year later, when she was only 30 years old. A tragedy not only for her family, but to the entire literary world.

One of the earliest stories, about animals, and humane treatment of animals, was written by Anna Sewell. Black Beauty, is an all time best seller. Sewell died just five months after publishing Black Beauty. It is open to argument if she would have been happy with the response to her book, because with all the millions of readers who have read her book, there is still very little love and kindness on earth, especially when it comes to animals. For she said in her book , ".... there is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham...."—Black Beauty, Chapter 13, last paragraph.

Sylvia Plath committed suicide one month after publishing her only novel, 'The Bell Jar'. She was only 30 years old.

John Kennedy Toole committed suicide, from depression, five years after he had completed his novel 'Dunces' in 1964, because he had failed in all his attempts to get a publisher interested in the novel. His mother had continued looking for a publisher, and finally in 1980 Luisiana State University Press published the first draft of the book, which went on to win the Pulitzer.

John Okada was a Japanese American immigrant, who wrote 'No No Boy' in 1957, dealing with the internment of Japanese-Americans during the World War II. He died in 1971, without publishing any more novels.

The Russian philosopher who proposed Time as the fourth dimension, wrote one novel, in addition to all his other books and papers. The novel was 'Strange Life of Ivan Osokin'

Arundhati Roy is our closest neighbour to have written only one book, 'The God of Small Things', which was published in 1996, and won the Booker Prize in 1997. She had announced in 2007 of a new novel she had started to work on, but so far she has been silent about it.

Perhaps some authors know when to say enough.

Nov. 5, 2012, 1:44 a.m.

Read One Book

Homo unius libri

daya dissanayake

It is claimed that Saint Thomas Aquinas used the phrase, "hominem unius libri timeo" ( "I fear the man of a single book"). Another version of his statement is that "a man who has thoroughly mastered one good book can be dangerous as an opponent".

The Christian theologian John Wesley had written, "He came from heaven; He hath written it down in a book. O give me that Book! At any price, give me the Book of God. I have it; here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri!"

In medieval Europe the 'one and only book' owned by a person was the 'Book of Hours', a book acquired or inherited from generation to generation. Written in Latin, and kept wrapped in a cloth, and venerated, it reminds us of the sacred Pirith Book. People recited the psalms and prayers in the Book of Hours, without even opening the book, or understanding the Latin work.

They were all talking about the Good Book. The Book could be the Bible, The Qur'an, The Tripitaka or the Veda for the religious. Any person who reads and understands the words in these sacred texts would naturally lead a peaceful and useful life. Another person could read a great classic with the same devotion and interest, and learn from such a text too, because all great literary works had been influenced by world religions and humane philosophies, even the writings of agnostics and atheists.

That is why the naturalist Charles Kingsley saw The Book in another way. "He is a thoroughly good naturalist who knows one parish thoroughly."

From Bibliomania people move to the other extreme of Bibliophobia, but in-between are those who are neither manic nor phobic, and read only one book. The website readonebook.org for 'One Book One Community', encourages people to read and discuss important issues raised by a single book. Then there are also those who read one book a week, one book a month, sometimes one book a year.

Ones goodreads.com had posed a question on twitter "If you could only read one book for the rest of your life (but could read it as many times as you want), what would it be?" Among the responses were, Ulysses by James Joyce, and 'The Heart of Darkness', but the tweet believed it was written by James Joyce!

Kemba Walker, the basketball champ, is quoted as saying he read only one book in his life, 'Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Redemption and Fall of the Black Athlete' by William C. Rodens.

In 'Carnival Culture: The Trashing of Taste in America' James B. Twitchell (Prof. of English, University of Florida), wrote 20 years ago, "How can [literature] live when nearly 60 percent of adult Americans have never read a book and most of the rest read only one book a year? How can it survive when the average post-adolescent American spends forty hours, and at least thirty dollars a week being entertained by non-print media? The notion of a solitary artiste, bent on expressing a unique truth to an attentive audience, is daily growing less important. The concept of author, of authority, of story possession dissolves when our Homer does not know what to tell except by checking the electronic scoreboard."

Had Prof. Twitchell visited our country, he would have been happy with the situation in his own country, because here, going by the sales figures of book publishers, and what we see around us, probably the percentage of people who have never read a book could be much higher. When young people, even young graduates, are asked about Sinhala novels they have read, sometimes they mention Viragaya or Gamperaliya. It is difficult to guess if they have read only that one book in their lives, or if these are the only books they have even heard of. We cannot blame them because some of their teachers, even professors do not read except what is compulsory for their academic pursuits. And then there are also those who take pride in stating that they do not read modern literature, or any literature at all.

Reading one book, means often re-reading. As Vladimar Nabokov wrote, "Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, and active and creative reader is a rereader." A writer like Nabokov has to be reread. he cannot be just read and put aside, except by the mechanical readers.

If we are to read only one book during our life time, we could pick one from the best ten books of all time, according to the Time magazine, which are, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary, War and Peace, Lolita, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Hamlet, The Great Gatsby, In Search of Lost Time, The Stories of Anton Chekhov and Middlemarch. It should not be difficult for anyone to pick at least one from this list, to be read during his lifetime. Who ever compiled this list had probably not heard of the great books of the east published in the last century.

In reality, if we get cut off from the rest of the world, cast away on a remote island, or trapped on a mountain top, any book could be a good companion. Even a dictionary. Man has the power of imagination. He could read one word a day from the dictionary, and use his imagination to weave around this word a thousand stories. He does not even need the dictionary, for his own vocabulary has enough words to last him a lifetime.

We are capable of thinking up our own stories, if we did not have any books to read. As an opponent a man with a good imagination could be as dangerous as a man with one book.

Nov. 5, 2012, 1:42 a.m.

Sacred Spaces

Mountain of All Faiths

Kuragala background

Kuragala, in the central hills of Sri Lanka, near Balangoda in the Sabaragamuwa Province, has been considered a Holy Mountain, probably long before the dawn of established religions, and today by all faiths, Buddhist, Hindu, Christian and Islam. This is the most suitable sacred space on earth where all four religions could share and share alike in peace and harmony. The term Buddhism is used here in the way it was used by Max Weber, and used all over the world today, to mean the religion that has developed from the teaching of the Buddha, and not Buddha Dhmma. Dhamma is the Universal Truth, which can be accepted by all humanity.

Sri lanka's pre-history could be traced back to the time of early humans. There are unconfirmed claims of the findings of Acheulian stone tools in the Jaffna peninsula. Such tools were found in South India around 1 to 1.5 million years ago1. Sri Lanka had been connected to the Indian subcontinent on and off till about 7000 BP. (Deraniyagala). Human settlements would go back to about 125,000 BP. Evidence of the cave dwelling man had been found from about 37,000 BP at the Faxien Lena. There is much evidence of uninterrupted human settlements in most parts of the country.

Balangoda Culture and Balangoda Man (Homo sapiens balangodensis) has brought fame to Balangoda, and to Bellanbendi Palassa, which is very close to Kuragala. Since these people had been living on Maha Eliya (now known as Horton Plains), it is possible that they would have been occupying the numerous caves found at Kuragala too. It would have been a strategic location as our ancestors moved from the higher mountains to the southern plains, and also a perfect site for meditation and for mystical gnosis.

The pre-historic humans too would have had their own concepts related to religious thoughts and practices, which they would have observed on this mountain. Kuragala mountain would bring a sense of awe to any visitor or even for permanent occupants of the caves, because of the magnificence of the location and the vista before their eyes.

Ravana and the Yaksha and the Naga tribes of Sri Lana would have been the next occupants of Kuragala, giving rise to the legends that this was the Indragiri mountain of Ravana. Kuragala has been identified as Thanduleiya Pabbata, by Kirielle Gnanavimala thera, and that it was occupied by the Yaksha tribe and that they cultivated all the fields in the Kaltota plains below.2 Before the visit by The Buddha, the Yaksha tribe had their own religion. (Wimalarathana)

One of the non-Brahmi symbols found in our ancient inscriptions is the 'Swastika' known from the time of the Indus civilization. It is believed that this symbol had been used by the Yaksha in their religious practices.3 They had called it 'Gorapasalam'. It could have originated independently in Lanka as our ancestors too would have worshipped the sun. A detailed archaeological investigation and excavations at Kuragala would give us all the data we need to trace its history, of probably uninterrupted occupation.

Buddhist history at Kuragala goes back to 2300 BP, (2nd century BC), as evidenced by the rock inscriptions over the caves in Kuragala. The Buddhist monks had always preferred isolated mountain caves for their dwelling, and often with a magnificent vista from the cave mouth. Three inscriptions had been read by Paranavitana.

"....dataha Samudaha lene", The cave of ...datta and Samudda.

"...Sumanaha, Parumakalu Sumaya" Chief Sumana and Chieftainess Summa

"Parumaka Sona-putasa bata-punasagutasa lene" The cave of Lord Punasaguta, son of the chief Sona.4

Much later legends began to grow that the Buddha had left his footprint on Kuragala too, in the same manner as the Footprint on Sripada (Adam's Peak), which also lies within the Sabaragamuwa district. As at Sripada, the footprint is believed to have been covered with a huge rock. There is no historical evidence about this claim, except for what has been mentioned in several folk songs in the region.

Sripada (Adam's Peak)

Sripada is mentioned in our ancient chronicles. "When the Teacher, compassionate to the whole world, had preached the doctrine there, he rose, the Master, and left the traces of his footsteps plain to sight on Sumanakuta"5. Sripada is also known as Samanthakuta, believed to be the abode of God Saman, who was venerated by the Yaksha. The 6th cent. Tamil poem Manimakalai refers to the footprint of the Buddha at Sripada.

Buddha's footprint is believed to have been left in every country He had visited, and such places began to be places of worship. In Sri Lanka the most famous and officially accepted is the Sripada mountain. In Thailand it is believed to be at Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi.

Carvings of the footprint of the Buddha, Buddhapada, has been worshipped for a long time, and before the statues and paintings of the Buddha came into being, it was the footprint which was worshipped. A practice which goes back to ancient pre-Buddhist India, and probably began with the worship of the feet of a Guru or a king or a deity. The Yaksha tribe in Lanka had worshipped the footprint of the Buddha. drawn with two lotus flowers on the sole.

The Samskrit name for Sripada is Ratnagiri, probably because it is situated in the land of gems. The Arabs believed these gems were the tears of Adam and Eve, when they were expelled from paradise. South Indian Hindus believe the footprint is Sivapadam. Faxien is said to have visited Sripada. First Western reference is by Ptolemy, then Marco Polo. It is also known as Kaladi Malai, the mountain of the footprint. Giovanni de Marignolli had climbed Sripada in the 14th century and he had said, "The Buddhist monks on the mountain and elsewhere are very holy, though they have not the Faith... They welcomed me into their monasteries and treated me as one of their own".

Shaikh Abu Abdullah Khafif is claimed to be the first Muslim to have been to Sripada. People of the Muslim faith believe that Adam, when he was expelled from heaven, his foot first touched the earth at its loftiest point.

There are many records of Muslim pilgrims visiting Adam's Peak, because they all believed that the footprint of Adam was on Sripada. The legend about the footprint at Kuragala would probably have arisen after the conflict with the Buddhists for the Kuragala site, because they would have realized that there never would be an opportunity to claim Sripada as their own sacred site.

Kuragala today

It was in the 12th century that the Sufi Saint Sheike Muhitadeen Abdul Qadir Jilani, had meditated for twelve years at Kuragala.

Muslims had rediscovered the site only in 1875. It was Seyed Mustafa Rahuman (Periya Bawa) from Lakshadweepa who opened it for worship and began the Jailani festival from 1989.

There are four main Sufi shrines in Sri Lanka. Daftar Jailani, dargah of Faqir Muhiyadeen at Godapitiya (Southern Province), Katarkarapillii, the beach Mosque on the East coast and interestingly the fourth Sufi shrine is at Kataragama, in the deep south, which is a holy site for both Hindus and the Buddhists, as well as Christians.

The Kataragama shrine is fully dedicated to Khidr as Khidr Taikkya, and an idea had been put forth the name Katragama is derived from Khadir-gama, even though according to the ancient Lankan chroniclers, the name Kajaragama pre-dates even the arrival of Buddhism in Lanka.

Most of the Sri Lankan Muslim devotees who make the Kuragala pilgrimage use Tamil as their language of communication, and the names they use are Tamil names to identify this holy mountain. 'Curankam Malai' or the Cave Mountain and 'Kai-adi-malai', cave of palm-prints. The palm prints are believed to have been left by a Muslim saint. Yet no attempt has been made to assess the dates when the prints would have been made. Palm prints on cave walls, is a universally observed phenomenon among pre-historic cave dwellers going back over 30,000 years. Palm-prints are found in Sri Lanka too, in many caves, including caves at the Magul Maha Viharaya in the Yala sanctuary, which are considered to be registers of mirror representations, when imprints of parts of the body were left as a means of communication or to leave a record of their presence.6

If Kuragala should belong to one particular religious or cultural group, then those who could claim that right would be our pre-historic Balangoda Man, and the modern day Vedda's (if they could prove they are the true descendants of the Balangoda Man. Since all Sri Lankans today have the blood of the early Balangoda Man running in our bodies, all Sri Lankan have a right to this mountain.

Most of the legends of all four faiths which are associated with Kuragala appear to have been also associated with Sripada, and probably from earlier days. There is a possibility that the Muslim claim to Kuragala had inspired the other faiths too to transfer the Sripada legends to Kuragala. Since Sripada had always had state patronage and Buddhism is the dominant religion in Sri Lanka, the other religious groups would have realized the futility of laying claim to Sripada and concentrated on Kuragala, where the attention of the Buddhists was minimal.

Politics entered Kuaragala several centuries ago, during the Kandyan period of the Sri Lanka kings of South Indian descent, when the belief about the Sivapadam became established at Sripada.

The Buddhist claim to Kuragala may have been revived with the re-emergence of Sinhala-Buddhist political forces during the mid 20th century. Ethno-religious conflict is a worldwide trend where majority groups always fear the encroachment by minorities and try to become over possessive. Unlike Sripada, there is no historical or archaeological evidence to establish the Buddhist claims, other than the three cave inscriptions.

The term Buddhism and Buddhist are the influence of the western culture. There cannot be a separate religious group called Buddhists, because there cannot be a religion called Buddhism. What the Buddha preached was the universal truth, his followers, the samgha were to pass on this teaching to the rest of humanity. They were not to convert people to another religion. The term Sinhala-Buddhist, is a contradiction in terms. A true follower of Buddha's teachings could not identify himself with any race, creed or caste. Even Asoka did not call himself a Buddhist, he did not mention Buddhism, but only Dhamma, in all his edicts.

At Kuragala, near and above the cave are numerous cloth flags. Today they are all green, but it could easily have been the five colours of the Buddhist flag, or the white and blue of the Christians, which too shows that even religious faiths adapt to the culture and practices in the region.

Buddhism had survived without a flag of its own for 2300 years. The five coloured Buddhist flag was thrust upon the Sri Lankan Buddhists and later adapted by Buddhists world over, influenced by Christians turned Buddhists. The flag waving only widens the gap between religions and races. A flag is a symbol of superiority, aggression proclamation of victory over the vanquished. Such behaviour should never be part of any religious movement. Identifying oneself with one group, by flag, language, dress code or political views alienates us from the others outside the group.

At Kuragala, even if it is accepted as a Sufi Muslim site, the damage that is done is unforgivable. The temporary buildings that have come up on the mountain, very near the caves, and all over the mountain, would have destroyed many valuable archaeological data and artefacts, which would have even supported the claim by the Muslims themselves. Some of the caves have been occupied by families, who have modified them into living quarters. Today it is no longer a place for contemplation or meditation. They are destroying their own history. Specially at a remote and not easily accessible mountain, while there is more than enough undeveloped land in the surrounding area, which could be utilized for all infrastructure developments and even housing.

Multiriligiosity

Since seventy percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists, following the path shown by the Buddha, it should be the easiest for the majority to let go of any claims for any material things, be it land, or a cave or an object. Even for any strong willed possessive people among the Sinhala Buddhist community, there is a sacred mountain which is almost an exclusively a Buddhist site at Sripada with the footprint of the Buddha. There are Buddhist caves almost on every mountain scattered all over the island, donated to the Samgha from about the 2nd century B.C. These caves were not gifted to any individual monk or to any organization or institution, but to all monks, present and absent, arriving from the four directions. The true Buddhist should be able to let go of all this, in the interest of peace and harmony.

J. B. Pratt refers to the "remarkable elasticity and adaptability of Buddhism...Its transplanting to new lands has been accomplished never through conquest or through migration, but solely by the spread of ideas...With a daring catholicity that approaches foolhardiness it has recognized every form of rival as a processor of some degree of truth". (The Pilgrimage of Buddhism, London 1928. P. 719). We find this tolerance, which Toynbee called 'Buddhaic religion' in Hinduism too. Though unfortunately today a few 'fundamentalist' Hindus have forgotten it.

"No two individuals experience truth the same way, but they must show due regard for each other's beliefs, despite their disagreements. He emphasized the multiple manifestations of the same truth and made a plea to blend conflicting phenomena, howsoever irreconcilable they might appear at first to the naked eye ". Muzaffer Alam7

"Co-existence is mankind's only alternative to mass-suicide in the Atomic Age...One open way is the Indian way; and it might therefore seem probably that, in the Atomic Age the spirit of Indian religion and philosophy will receive a welcome in the Western half of the world." (A. J. Toynbee, America and the World Revolution, London 1962, p. 49). And it is always welcome in the Eastern half of the world too.

Many scholars, Buddhist, Islamic and Christian, have studied and written about the similarities between Buddhism and Sufism. Comparative studies have been done between Sufism and Buddhism, but mostly on Mahayana Buddhism. Since today in Sri Lanka, Theravada and Mahayana have merged so much it is sometimes hard to differentiate between the two sects, accepting the similarities with Sufism would not be difficult.

In the 'Journal of Religion and Health', Gretty M. Mirdal points out that the psychology of mindfulness is deeply sympathetic with the worldview of Sufism. For instance, Western, Buddhist-inspired mindfulness is based on non-judgmental awareness, being patient with oneself and with the world, and experiencing the present moment fully. Meanwhile, the ethics of Sufism expounded in the poetry of Rumi value fully experiencing both pleasant and unpleasant emotions, learning to focus on others rather than on one’s self, and radical openness to new experience.8

Thus we have so much in common, at Kuragala, among the Buddhists, Hindu and the Muslims, it should never be a problem for co-existence.

The Muslim community in Sri Lanka could take a leaf from the life of Saiyid Shah 'Abd-ur-Razzaq Bansawi, the founder of a Qadiri Sufi centre at Bansa, Lucknow. Bansawi had "tried to reduce the conflicts between diverse groups and communities, without undermining their claims to their distinct individual slots in the whole." MuZaffer Alam continues, "In Awadh many of the Hindu customs, festivals and ceremonies had become a part of Muslim social life", but Bansawi had shown due regard for a strict observance of shari'a.

For example, Tehranian writes (a Buddhist view of Islam), “Historically, Buddhism and Islam have been neighbors for centuries in Asia. They have heavily borrowed from each other. As a result, new religious traditions (e.g. Sufism) have emerged that contain elements from both.” There is a big difference, however, between two religions having contact with each other and the two “heavily borrowing from each other.”9

Many Sri Lankan Buddhists accept, worship and seek divine assistance at the temple of Sri Venkateswara, on Tirumalai hill. No one has tried to make a political or religious issue of the claim made first by Dr. Ambedkar and later in the book by Dr. K. Jamanadas, claiming 'Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine', that the statue at Tirumalai temple is that of Avalokitheswara Bodhisattva, even though many Buddhists would be aware of it. Many Sri Lankan Buddhists, including politicians and sportspersons, used to visit Puttaparthi to receive blessings of Shri Sathya Sai Baba.

Those who could accept multi-religiosity at Sripada, Kataragama, Tirupathi, or Puttaparthi should not have any difficulty in accepting the same coexistence at Kuragala, where too many of the faithful believe, have miraculous powers.

The concept of Insan-i Kamil, provides the opportunity for this reconciliation. The mature Human Being, The Perfect Man. Perhaps we could also use the Purushottham.

Man is just a parasite living on Mother Earth. We have no right to claim any part of her as our own. It belongs to God who created the universe, or to all humanity. When man has been able to breakdown all geographical barriers through his technology in transport and communication, the only barriers we have among us are those erected by man himself, in his ignorance, greed and false pride.

Anyway in our country, the Buddhists have Sripada, Sri Mahabodhi, Temple of the Tooth. The Hindus have the ancient Siva temples, Koneswaram, Munneswaram, Naguleswaram, Tirukeeeswaram and Kataragama for God Skanda. The Christians have Madhu, Talawila and Hiniduma. The Muslims have the Beach Mosque in Kalmunai, Godapitiya and Kataragama.

There is no reason and no need for a conflict to develop at Kuragala, like we have in Ayodhya or Awadh where conflict continues to haunt India despite the efforts of Bansawi.

The concept of the multi-faith space or multi-religious shrine is not new. In Macedonia, at the shrine of St. Nicholas, the Orthodox Christians and various Muslim denominations celebrate the birth of their respective saints, St. George and H'd'r Baba on May 6th. Closer home, we have the Dhyanalinga Temple in Coimbatore. "This meditative space does not ascribe to any particular faith or belief system nor does it require any ritual, prayer, or worship" (dhayanaling.org)

Kuragala could be developed into a Multi-Faith Center for those who want to study inter-religious relations and comparative religion, like the St. Philip's Centre in Leicester.

Another bridge we have between the Buddhists and Sufi is the poetry of Jelaluddin Rumi.

"There is a life-force within your soul, seek that life.

There is a gem in the mountain of your body, seek that mine.

O traveller, if you are in search of that

Don't look outside, look inside yourself and seek that." (translated by Sharam Shiva)

Rumi - "Don't look for God outside. For Him, look inside". Bodhi Dharma - "Don't look for Buddha outside. For Him, look inside". Rumi also said, "The rose does not care if someone calls it a thorn, or a jasmine".

The annual 'Pada Yatra' from the Northern most Jaffna penninsula to the Southern most Kataragama with devotees traveling barefoot through the thick jungles, gathers the Hindu Jnanis, Buddhist bhikkhus, Sufi Bawas and Christian brothers.

"In the very middle of the forest, hidden farther from the cities than any other church in Ceylon, there is an old Roman Catholic mission, so catholic indeed that men and women of all creeds flock there on pilgrimage, and I have even known a strict Mohomedan to go there from Anuradhapura, carrying with him his sick baby son in full faith that he would be healed there." (Jungle Tide, 1930). John Still was writing about the Holy Church of Our Lady of Madhu in the North Western province near the Mannar coast.

For a person who is seeking divine help, he can see divine presence any where. We can only see the Buddha today through his Dhamma, and not by fighting for ownership of a piece of a mountain claiming to have an invisible foot print. For the theist, of what ever religion, God is omnipresent, and we cannot claim any particular location as belonging to Him, for the entire universe belongs to God.

Jalaludin Rumi said it for all of us in his poems about the Persian, Arab, Turk and the Greek who wanted to buy four different things with one coin, not realizing it was the same thing, grapes, in four different languages. That is the lesson for all of us.

This paper is not in defense of the Buddhists or Muslim claims to Kuragala, nor an attempt to denounce the any claims made by the Hindus, Christians or Muslims. It is an attempt to sum-up most of the available data on the historicity of Kuragala and to propose a most suitable solution to this totally unwanted conflict pitting man against his own brother.

Sri Pada, Buddhism's Most Sacred Mountain, Ven. S. Dhammika. http://sripada.org/dhammika.htm

Inscriptions of Ceylon, S. Paranavitana

Lived Islam in South Asia: Adaptation, Accommodation & Conflict Delhi: Imtiaz Ahmad and Helmut Reifeld, eds.Social Science Press, 2004: pp. 273-289. Distributed by Berghahn Books: New York and Oxford)

Facets of Buddhist Thought, Jayatilleke, K. N.

Rock Painting and Engraving Sites in Sri Lanka, Raj Somadeva, 2012

Tradition, dissent & ideology, ed. R. Champakalashmi and S. Gopal

The Way of the Sufi, Idries Shah

Oct. 29, 2012, 1:29 a.m. » Tagged: Adam's Peak , Buddhism , Kuragala , Sripada , Sufism

Sacred Flames

Sacred Flames

daya dissanayake

The image was of an open book over a flame, defying the flame and remaining unscathed. A closer look showed the book to be the Holy Qur'an.

The image could be interpreted in many different ways. Fire has been worshipped by man, probably ever since he discovered it. And fire has always had a major place in most religious rituals. This picture could have symbolized such a ritualistic scene, or it could have been an attempt to show that the Islamic religion, or any religion for that matter, could survive any attempt at destruction. That the Holy Book and the Word of God cannot be destroyed by mortal man.

The recent riots in Bangladesh are reportedly sparked off by a photo on facebook. Unfortunately it was given a different interpretation, and it became a catalyst to begin an explosive reaction, because it was considered an attempt to burn the Qur'an, to destroy the Islamic religion.

Most of the people who were involved in the riots, even those who incited the others to riot, to attack and destroy other sacred objects and places, may not have seen the original image that had appeared on Facebook. In Bangladesh there are only 3 million facebook users which is just 2% of the population. Among these 3 million how many would have seen this image, and how many would have just glanced at it and moved on? If not for those who incited the riots this would have gone unnoticed by almost the entire Bangladesh people and the rest of the world. More importantly the question also comes up about the facebook users in the remote southeast region of the country, and because it is now believed the Rohingya muslim rebels from Burma had instigated the riots, which shows a hidden hand behind it.

It is not known who originally posted the image on fb, but the youth who has now been arrested had only being tagged in the photo.

There was also the incident reported from Pakistan in August 2012, where a young Christian girl suffering from Down's syndrome was accused of burning or tearing pages off a Holy Qur'an. But the Islamic cleric who made the accusation was later arrested for planting torn pages of the Qur'an in her bag. The girl has been found innocent. In Egypt there has been a spate of accusation of young Christian children for blasphemy against the Prophet and the Qur'an.

If indeed the youth had posted this image on fb, then he was not the first to act in such a manner. According to Flavius Josephus in 50 CE a Roman soldier had burned a Torah scroll in public. But the Roman Procurator Cumanus had been able to appease the Jews before they broke out in revolt, by punishing the culprit.

The earliest recorded book burning was 2800 years ago when Jehoiakim, the king of Judea had burned a part of Prophet Jeremiah's scroll. Books have been burned throughout man's history of so called progress of civilization. At some time or other, not only Sacred books of 'rival' religions, but also those of 'rival sects' within the world religions, libraries and sacred places have been destroyed. The German poet, Heinrich Heine wrote, "Where they burn books, so too will they in the end burn human beings". Human beings were burned alive in the name of religion and sometimes for the love of God.

Alexander is reported to have burned the Avesta after defeating Darius III in 330 BCE. Emperor Qin Shi Huang had ordered the burning of all philosophical and historical books in 213 BCE, and buried alive many of the intellectuals. In 168 BCE Antiochus IV had ordered the burning of all Jewish Books of the Law found in Jerusalem.

In Sri Lanka, long before we burned down the Jaffna library on the north, our ancient kings have burned down the sacred books of the various Buddhist sects, with King Mahasen even destroying the Mahavihara once. Before that, during the time of Mahanama, an invader by the name of Urdulan Niavelandu had destroyed the library in the Munamura caves where the Buddhist monks of the Yaksha tribe had all their books including the Buddhist scriptures. The Kelaniya Temple was first destroyed by Kalinga-Maga in 1213 and then again by the Portuguese barbarians in 1575, led by the infamous Diego de Melo. When the Wijayabahu Pirivena at Totagamuwa was destroyed by Thome de Souza Arronches, they also murdered 30 Buddhist monks who were trapped inside the temple at the time of the attack.

Fellippe de Oliveria had destroyed over 500 Hindu temples in Jaffna and built several churches over some of the destroyed lands.

The Muslims burned down one of the oldest universities in the world, Nalanda, and burned down the entire collection of Buddhist scriptures in the library during the invasion of 1193. It was almost during the same period that Buddhist temples, and the Buddhist scriptures in Maldives had been destroyed. Library burning had come down to us as a fad, ever since they reportedly burned down the library of Alexandria, though Plutrch said the burning down by Julius Caesar was accidental.

In 1526, Cuthbert Tunstal, then Bishop of London is reported to have ordered the burning of the English translation of the New Testament by William Tynsdale. The burning down of different versions of one's own scriptures continued, as Martin Luther's German translation of the Bible was burned down by the catholics in Germany. This was followed by the burning of all Protestant Bibles and books in 1731 by Count Leopold Anton von Firmian, Archbishop of Salzburg. The Nazis burnt most of the Jewish sacred books they could collect. The Nazi youth burnt down even books by Albert Einstein, Bertolt Brecht, and Karl Marx.

Burning down of religious scripts probably spread to the Americas from Europe. The sacred books of the Maya along with sacred images, were burned down in 1562 on the orders of Fray Diego de Landa acting Bishop of Yucatan.

The first recorded burning of the Qur'an was in 650, on the orders of Uthman ibn 'Affan, in order to preserve the authenticated Quran, and later by the unholy Spanish Inquisition.

More recently in 2008 the New Testament was burned by people in the city of Or Yehuda in Israel. in 2010 Terry Jones threatened to burn the Qur'an publicly in Florida. Though he gave in to public pressure and stopped the public burning, he is reported to have burnt a few copies in a secluded place.

In February this year, the U.S. Army was accused of burning a few copies of the Qur'an which had been included in a collection of 1652 damaged books from the camp library which were to be incinerated. The ensuing riots resulted in the death of 23 human beings, and many more wounded. Yet among the Sikhs' sacred books which are badly damaged or rejects from printing houses are cremated in a ritual called Agan Bhet.

On the facade of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, is a bas-relief by Giovanni Battista of 'The Burning of Heretical Books'. What is Holy to one person could be heretic or even blasphemous to another. People had sacrificed their lives to protect their holy scriptures, like Saint Vincent of Saagossa, who was executed because he refused to burn the Scriptures.

We should look back into our history, not to repeat our mistakes and evil deeds, but to learn from them.

Nothing is permanent in the universe. Even the holiest of holy scriptures, even if carved in stone, or etched in gold would some day come to an end by erosion, corrosion or decay. What is written on more fragile and perishable material like parchment, ola leaf or paper too would turn into dust. Or once they become too illegible to be read, would end up in a store-room to rot away, or even be burned intentionally.

We can burn books, but we cannot wipe away the collective memory of humanity, we cannot wipe off the eternal truth told us by founders of the great religions. All attempts at such destruction has failed, always.

Since all religions teach man to be peaceful, to love one another and all life on earth, they all teach us to be humane, and because we have got the power to think, to talk, to discuss, we should be able to resolve all our disputes, rivalries, and competition according to our faith, but with tolerance towards all other faiths.

Let us all be peaceful, in the name of God and in the name of Dhamma.

Oct. 15, 2012, 1:34 a.m. » Tagged: Bangladesh , book burning , Buddhism , Qur'an