culture vs. nature

Culture is departure from nature. It has been the way throughout man’s history. Man, Homo sapiens would have lived with nature till he became Homo symbolicus and then Homo eastheticus.

 

Every step man took in the name of progress and advancement of his culture was a step further away from nature, yet man has not been able to define his own culture. Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckohn had compiled a list of 164 definitions of “culture”. (Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. quoted in Wikipedia).

 

When man enjoyed fresh fruits and leaves from the plant life around him he was living with nature. He departed from nature when he began to roast, burn and later boil his food. When man enjoyed the beauty of his surroundings he was with nature. When he began to alter his surroundings as his easthetic senses “developed” he began to interfere with nature. When he enjoyed the music of nature he belonged to nature. With his departure from nature, when he no longer could enjoy the music of nature, he had to create his own music. It was the same with art, though at first he is supposed to have used it as Homo symbolicus.

 

“Writing, art, music, dance, and other forms of symbol creations and manipulations reveal the very human process of giving meaning to the experience of life.” wrote Cognitive psychologist Ronald T. Kellogg in his ‘Psychology of Writing’.

 

Ellen Dissanayake, considers that “Art is a normal and necessary behavior of human beings”, introducingHomo eastheticus, in her book of the same title. At the IFRAO Congress 2010, she had described a behavior of art more precisely as “making the ordinary extraordinary.” The ordinary body (skin, hair), natural surroundings (e.g., cave walls, rock outcroppings, boulders, logs, pieces of stone), and common artifacts (e.g., tools, utensils, house walls, canoes) are made special by cultural shaping and elaboration that make these more than ordinary. She had introduced the term “artification,” for this activity.

 

We could also interpret artification as interference with nature to make unnatural surroundings.

 

When we talk of our own culture, now we have fresh evidence of our “pre-historic” period, about human settlements dating back nearly 4000 years, 1750 B.C. to be exact. It has been confirmed by C14 dating that the ancient canoe burial site at Haldummula is 3850 years old. The “elite’ house discovered at Ranchamadama has a date of 1359 B.C. This has been revealed in Professor Raj Somadeva’s “Archaeology of the Uda Walave Basin”, released in June 2011.

 

At Udaranchamadama, near Udawalawe, Somadeva and his team discovered the remains of a foundation of a house with a porch, inner chamber and a backyard with a kitchen. Among the artefacts found here were clay beads and even a kohl stick. He has brought forward the idea that our ancestors could have been the first to use iron implements.

 

These settlements around the Walave basin could also be the period when the Ravana dynasty ruled Lanka. We cannot rule out Ravana as a mythical figure. Those who deny his existence are confused with the Ravana in the Ramayana and they do not wish to see Ravana the great physician.

 

 

How do we measure cultural advancement? The presence of beads and kohl sticks show that the people used to dress themselves up, tended to wear ornaments. Who wore them, the children, the community leaders or elders, the women only or both men and women? This leads to another question, when did the human female begin to adorn herself to attract the male of the species? When did she deviate from the other animals? Among most species, it is the male that has to attract the female. he has to work so had at it, his body and appearance is all designed to attract the female.

 

If the Udaranchamadama residents had inherited the characteristics of Homo eastheticus, then there should have been other art forms among them, paintings, music, sculpture. Somadeva found a terracotta figurine (in his own words, “probably a manifestation of a stylized bull”). There could have been other figurines. Religious or artistic is a matter we cannot be certain of, but there may not have been a significant difference between easthetic and religious objects. There should also have been paintings, since ancient man in our country too had made drawings on cave walls, which we can still find at places like ‘Tharulengala in Hulannuge. They could not have been of any religious significance, but an easthetic expression of their surroundings, according to Somadeva.

 

What did the families who lived at Udaranchamadama do in the evenings, did they narrate stories, first their own experiences or what they had heard from their parents and grandparents, and then stories that some of them may have made up. Since it is possible that they had some form of religious worship, there would have been chants and prayers, which would have made them develop music, both to accompany the chanting and also as a separate offering.

 

Perhaps Somadeva and his team would be able to tell us more about our ancestor, who had lived here over the past 40,000 years, when he explores the remains of a pre-historic settlement at Haldummulla next month, and through his study of our pre-historic cave paintings. He would be able to tell us more about Homo eastheticus and Homo symbolicus, or he may even be able to present to us a more complex human ancestor.

July 13, 2011, 8:32 a.m. » Tagged: culture , nature , pre history , raj somadeva

Music in the clouds

Paul McCartney is planning to have his complete music library in the clouds. Once this ambitious project is completed, any music lover could select his music ‘out of thin air’.

According to CNN reports, McCartney, the former Beatles legend, is having all his music digitized. It is estimated that it will take about three years to convert more than one million tracks, clips, and photos into computer readable format.

This is where technology has begun to serve the musician and the music lover. And soon, it will be not only the music lovers, but all connoisseurs of all forms of Art.

If we call this a silver lining in cloud computing then there are also those who see the dark cloud behind the silver lining. They see the threat of misuse and violation of copyright, which is anyway happening already.

A ‘cloud’ was the image used to represent the Internet or some large networked environment, which probablygave rise to the term cloud computing, or distributed computing. We no longer need to carry all our documents, information, reports in the hard disk of our computer or in flash drives, but we simply store them in the ‘clouds’, a service which we can make use of from anywhere through any computer or android phone.

Almost all of us are already into cloud computing when we use web based e-mail accounts, and when we use the e-books in the British Council library, by moving into our own ‘bookshelf’.

It could also be considered as similar to using banks today to store our money, so that we do not have to carry it around with us. Today we have our cash deposited in a bank branch, but withdraw it from any bank, any teller machine or make payment from anywhere in the world, which is made still easier with tele-banking.

In music we have been enjoying iTunes for a decade now, since 2001. Apple calls it a free application to organize and play digital music and video on a computer, which is now available for more portable equipment like iPods, iPhones and iPads. It was called the “world’s best and easiest to use ‘jukebox’ software”, and available for free download.

Amazon has the Cloud Drive. Your personal hard drive in the cloud. Store your music, videos, photos, and documents on Amazon’s secure servers. All you need is a web browser to upload, download, and access your files from any computer. Amazon offers 5 GB of free storage—enough space to store up to 1000 songs, 2,000 photos and 20 minutes HD video. Now Apple has come out with their own iCloud, offering almost the same terms as Amazon.

Cloud Music is a long way from the tinfoil recording of ‘Mary’s Little Lamb’ by Thomas Alva Edison in 1877. Clement Ader introduced the flat-disc gramophone in 1887 and one year later Edison introduced the electric motor driven phonograph. In 1895 it was Marconi who transmitted radio signals wirelessly.

A major breakthrough was in 1928 by Harry Nyquist, which became the foundation for the conversion of analog sound to digital.

Music had been enjoyed by man for at least the past 50,000 years, probably pre-dating language and the written word. The oldest known musical instrument the “Divje baby flute”, carved out of a bone, is 40,000 years old. since then, up to the time that music could be recorded and played back, all music had been ‘live’. It was the live performance that was enjoyed, sometimes a solo presentation, sometimes by a small group, and sometimes, where the audience too joined in. This music was made use of by all religions for their worship, prayers and appeals and probably helped in the development of early music.

Music had been the common language among mankind, appealing to all irrespective of race, creed, caste or language, and unrestricted by time, space, political and physical boundaries. And today with the cloud music, it has truly become universal.

Listening to music played back from a primitive music record, would not have attracted many people. There would have been much criticism. People would have often rejected the recorded music, because it was nowhere near what they enjoyed live. But they would have continued to listen to the recordings, because of its convenience. Day by day, with all the new technology, the quality of the recordings would have increased, and with the arrival of the compact cassette, music became portable. One could carry his music everywhere, with the only limitation of the storage capacity.

Once man got used to it, listening to recorded sound would have seemed more intimate, than listening to the music amidst a crowd.

We move from printed books to e-books, which we read on our phone or e-book reader, and then onto audio books, while engaged in some routine task. We do not have to physically visit a library or have our own home library. In the same way we will be moving on to listening to our songs, without keeping them in our own storage systems.

We could call it real progress when all such music, as well as all our books are freely available (through the Copyleft concept) on the clouds.

July 12, 2011, 8:34 a.m. » Tagged: cloud computing , copyleft , music

genes, memes and arts spots

Dr. Dean Hamer, director of gene structure and regulation unit at U.S. National Cancer Institute, wrote a book about the ‘God Gene’, trying to identify a gene responsible for religious beliefs. He was attacked by Barbara J. King, Professor of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma,  who said that “Hamer needs to find a gene for recognizing fiction masquerading as science”. This made me think that there could be a gene responsible for fiction and other works of art.

 

Could there be different genes in the human constitution, enabling some people to create fiction, others to paint or compose music? Or could there be an Arts Spot in the brain? After all scientists like Vilayanur Ramachandran from the University of California, San Diego have been searching for a ‘God Spot’ in the brain which controls religious faith. If so why not an Arts Spot?

 

On the subject of music, David Huron, Professor of Music, Ohio State University, suggests that a “Music Gene” would have in existed very early in the history of mankind, as the oldest known musical instrument the “Divje baby flute”, carved out of a bone, is 40,000 years old.

 

The thirst for knowledge and to find explanations for anything and everything is a part of human nature, which is probably the influence of another gene. Only some of this knowledge is useful to mankind, while some can be used to harm ourselves and others.

 

The U.S. government ran a Human Genome Project (HGP), to identify the 20,000 to 25,000 genes in human DNA, spending US$ 2.7 billion. Genes hold the information to build and maintain the cells in our bodies and pass genetic traits to our children. The HGP study poses many questions, due to the threat of misuse or exploitation of the data gathered. One of the goals of the HGP is to transfer “related technologies” to the private sector. What if a scientist or a business organization patents the creativity gene, and what if they claim royalty or patent rights for any novel, a painting or a song created by a person carrying this gene? Currently over three million genome-related patent applications have been filed.

 

At the same time other scientists are trying to map the brain, to find which part of the brain is responsible for each action or emotion. Neuroesthetics is a new term coined in 2002 for the scientific study of the neural bases for the contemplation and creation of a work of art.

 

University of Arizona neuroscientist Charles Higgins says “the idea of monitoring and influencing consciousness with a physical neural interphase is the most plausible”. He was commenting on the sci-fi thriller, ‘Source Code’, where a computer program enables one person to cross over into another man’s mind. There is on-going research to develop equipment for mind reading. This could enable someone to steal a new creative idea from an artiste and get away with it, because the victim would not be able to establish a claim.

 

Man is developing technology to enable the human brain to control his computers and his machines. He would soon be able to communicate on social networks like twitter or facebook, directly by the brain. This technology perhaps could be used by others, to hack into the human brain, like they hack into computer systems today. Then the hackers could take over our brains and our lives.

 

If genes are not responsible for creative works of fiction, art or music, then perhaps ‘Memes’ are responsible. Richard Dawkins used the term ‘Meme’ in his 1976 book ‘The Selfish Gene’, to mean a contagious information pattern that replicates by symbiotically infecting human minds and altering their behavior, causing them to propagate the pattern. Meme Central defines the meme as “the basic building blocks of our minds and culture, in the same way that genes are the basic building blocks of biological life.” Genes leap from body to body, while memes leap from brain to brain.

 

According to Liane M. Gabora, a research fellow at UCLA, memes, unlike genes, do not come packaged with instructions for replication. The brain plays with the memes, suggesting that creativity is strategic – not random.

 

All these developments bring up a horrifying vision that in the very near future artistic creativity will be monitored and controlled by scientists, and their instruments, in their laboratories. Whether they are called Memes or Genes or Spots in the brain, scientists are trying to interfere with nature and with human freedom, in the name of progress.

 

If we can Genetically Modify plants today, there is no doubt that scientists in the near future could Genetically Modify human beings too. ( a genetically modified human embryo has already been created by researchers at Cornell in 2007, which they claim was destroyed after a few days). They could soon be making military personnel to fight our wars, and cricketers to win our matches. Further manipulation could make the human being to be pre-programmed to create what the scientists, or those who are paying the scientists, wanted. Needless to say, they could also make creative writers, poets, artists or musicians.

 

What would be the fate of creative arts in the future?

June 8, 2011, 8:36 a.m.

Be Peaceful & Useful

The concept of “Dhammic Socialism” was introduced by Ajahn Buddhadasa. He defined Dhammic as being “Peaceful” and “Useful” and Socialism as serving our society selflessly.

Anyone who can be at peace with the universe, and be useful is a true follower of the Dhamma. Dhamma is the universal truth, which was realized by the Buddha, and He showed us the way to realize it by ourselves. The path to that realization is the Dhamma.We have to respect the Buddha and be grateful for showing us this path.

The best way to show our respect and gratitude is by trying to follow the path. That is all he would have expected of mankind, on this day when it is 2600 years since the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Today we are so confused with so much information, which has no direct concern with the Buddha’s teachings, that there are many among us who have not realized what this anniversary is. We find some Buddhists calling it the Buddha’s birthday, others calling it the day of Parinibbana because the Buddhist Era begins on that day. According to the Buddhist calendar this year is 2554 B.E. We have already celebrated 2500 B.E. and 2550 B.E.

What we need to contemplate on the Sambuddhatva Jayanti is about the teachings we received 2600 years ago and also about the teacher. Birthdays and anniversaries and celebrations are a part of our materialistic life, part of our social customs and habits. Celebrations, with decorations, lights, and sounds and processions will only distract us and let Mara lead us astray. This distraction is made worse by the labels we attach to ourselves and use of symbols and elaborate descriptions. We forget the significance of this day, by making it a religious occasion.

To be peaceful and useful we do not need to resort to traditional forms of religious worship. Dhamma is beyond religion. We cannot seek release from Dukka by religious observances, because today these practices only bring more dukka. Our attention is drawn to the ritualistic rules and our concern to follow the correct procedures. Our greed is enhanced when we strive to perform such rituals better than others, and our envy is aroused when someone else does better, offers more flowers, lights more lamps, donates more money and material. When someone builds a taller or bigger temple or statue, it only creates a senseless competition, which does not benefit man or beast or Mother Earth, it would only deplete more of our natural resources. It takes away our happiness and it leads us down dead-ends, and leads us away from the Path.

The Noble Eightfold Path is open to any sentient creature, irrespective of his race, creed or caste. The realization of the Four Noble Truths will lead us to ultimate happiness.

Till such time we can still be happy, to some extent. We are happy when we are satisfied with what we have. To be satisfied we need to know when to say enough. If we do not form attachments to material wealth or impermanent life forms, they cannot deprive us of our happiness when the attachment is broken. Our happiness goes away when we are disappointed. If we can accept a failure or a loss, when we realize nothing is permanent. Then we can retain our happiness.

We believe a Buddhist is a person who seeks the refuge of the Triple Gem who observes the Five Precepts. The refuge of the Triple Gem has today become a meaningless greeting as an attempt to ape the Western concept of ‘May God Bless You’, which has a meaning only for a person who believes and has faith in God.

The Five Precepts have become an empty ritual recitation, preceded by the seeking of refuge with the Triple Gem. Observation of the Five Precepts is hardly seen today, among many of those who claim to be Buddhists. All Five Precepts are broken every day, by most people who recite it, and they break them without any feeling of guilt or remorse, and hardly any thought at all. Consumption of alcohol and flesh of dead creatures is going up day by day. Taking what is not given, or what does not belong to us is also increasing. We take what is not given to us, by fraud or by force. Family values are deteriorating and sexual misconduct is seen openly and with no regard to social norms or existing laws. In order to cover up all these inhuman and anti-social activities, we have to resort to falsehoods and suppression of the truth.

To follow the Path shown us by the Buddha, and to be “Useful” and “Peaceful”, we really do not need the Five Precepts or any such guidelines. We do not need rules and regulations to be laid down by a religion, by the society or by the State. True discipline is what comes from within ourselves. Unfortunately, even during the time of the Buddha, there were a few Bhikkhus who strayed from the path and Vinaya rules had to be laid down. We claim to be the most advanced intelligent animal form on Mother Earth, if such a claim is true, then we should be able to realize what is right and wrong, what is beneficial and what is harmful to ourselves and to others and live accordingly.

All this has been discussed over and over, for the past 2600 years. Man is aware of the problem, but he does not want to accept it. He does not want to give up his tanha (craving), even though he knows tanha leads to dukka. Man is aware that craving for more wealth, more power, more sensual pleasure only leads to more grief. But he clings on, while pretending that he wants to find an end to his dukka. Man knows attachment brings only grief, but he is forever looking for more attachments. He knows that life is dukka, that life only brings more suffering. He knows that in today’s world, in today’s society there is more and more suffering. Yet knowing this he brings forth more children, knowing that they will probably suffer more. We have to think again if the need for children is more a selfish desire and peer pressure.

Man studies the Tripitaka. Listens to the Sutra and to sermons, day in and day out. He listens to the explanations, and to examples from the Jataka stories, but all that ends up like water over an upturned vessel, or a vessel full of sewage. When man offers flowers at the feet of the Buddha statue and recites the gatha of offering the flower, he does not contemplate on the meaning and purpose of the offering. If he did, he would not try to offer a million flowers.

Man is taking a greater interest in meditation than ever before, yet meditation does not help most of the people who seek it, because they cannot and do not want to let go of all the confusion in their minds. They want to continue their labours to fulfill their cravings and still seek temporary solace from meditation, believing it would strengthen their mind and body, in the same manner an athlete would take a performance enhancing drug. The purpose of meditation should be to rid ourselves of avijja (ignorance) and tanha.

On this great occasion, let us stop deceiving ourselves and everyone else. Let us contemplate on the teaching of the Buddha, instead of reciting it mechanically. Let us try to be Peaceful and Useful.

May 19, 2011, 8:38 a.m.

Buddhism in India

from the Daily News Wesak Annual, 2011

“As the most creative social philosopher in our history, Buddha has symbolized an alternative of possibilities of organizing society, an alternative to the hierarchical and inegalitarian principles of Brahminism”. Wrote Prof. Uma Chakravarti, commenting on Kancha Ilaiah’s book, “God as Political Philosopher, Buddha’s Challenge to Brahmanism”.

There are many people inside and outside India who try to believe that Buddhism has disappeared from India. But Buddhism has been known and practiced from the time of the Buddha and will continue to be of religious importance in India, even if they did not have the neo-Buddhist revival initiated by Dr Ambedkar. Buddhism has only been absorbed to some extent into the greater Indian popular religion which is now known as Hinduism, the same way that in Sri Lanka, the other Indian religions were absorbed into the popular religion known and accepted as Sinhala Buddhism.

Kancha Ilaiah in his book has tried to study Gautama Buddha as a political thinker, and Buddhism as a school that emerged to challenge contemporary Hindu society and its hegemonic ideology of Brahmanism. He also claims that Buddha was the forerunner of all political thinkers, in the East and West, pre dating Manu, Kautilya, even Confucius, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Looking at the issue from his viewpoint there is never a question of Buddhism as a religion disappearing from any country.

The problem we face today is that we have been brainwashed by people like Max Muller, by interpreting the Eastern beliefs and practices from their Christian point of view and also because they had their own agenda. The Christian educated Anthropologists and sociologists could not label the Indians either as polytheistic or monotheistic. Because to them there is either one Supreme Being or there are many Gods. They probably could not or did not want to accept that their term God could not explain the Indian concept of Absolute Reality or Infinite Principle, the Western Languages were too poor to express the philosophy of the East.

One example is Max Weber’s “Religion of India”, where he treats Buddhism in the same lines as Jainism, grouping them together into one chapter as the two great heterodoxies. Weber admits that “Buddhism diffused to all areas of India; Jainism to considerable portions of India”. But in the very next paragraph he begins, “This was only transitory. Although Buddhism later completely disappeared from India, it developed into a world religion…” Here he has created two myths, one that it disappeared from India and the other that Buddhism became a world “Religion”. Because Muller and Weber did not understand the Buddha’s teachings, they grouped it under other religions, as the West knew it. The Oxford Dictionary defines Religion as a “particular system of faith and worship” and “human recognition of superhuman controlling power and specially of a personal God or Gods entitles to obedience and worship”. By categorizing Buddhism as a religion they very conveniently made Buddhism to be absorbed into the new Hinduism.

That is probably why Romila Thapar had to say, “Buddhism was not just another religion. It was the result of a more widespread movement towards change which affected many aspects of life from personal beliefs to social ideas”. (Asoka and the Decline of the Mauryas).

We have to read this alongside “What the Buddha Taught” by Walpola Rahula. “Among the founders of religions the Buddha (if we are permitted to call him the founder of a religion in the popular sense of the term) was the only teacher who did not claim to be other than a human being, pure and simple. Other teachers were either God, or his incarnations in different forms, or inspired by him.” He also said “Man’s position, according to Buddhism, is supreme. Man is his own master, and there is no higher being or power that sits in judgment over his destiny.”

Even for a native Indian it would be very difficult to identify and isolate a pure or orthodox Indian religion. Hinduism is considered the oldest religion in the world and the third largest. But there are major basic differences with all other world religions. Hinduism as we know it today is of recent origin, and it is a politicized term to engulf all Indian popular religions. The term Hinduism had first been used as a geographical reference, and then to the inhabitants of the land across the Sindhu, and still later to mean all the people in India other than Christians and Muslims.

Hinduism stands alone as a religion without a Prophet, it is difficult to group orthodox and heterodox sects and there is also no conversion. Instead of converting people of other faiths, they just absorbed the entire community to become a sect within the Hindu society. Hinduism could be seen as a huge ocean, into which numerous rivers flow, and once the river waters mingle in the ocean, we cannot distinguish water from one river and another. It will all taste the same.

Religious compromise was the way the Brahmanical sects continued to retain their supremacy. By the end of the 1st millennium, local cults with new social groups led to the development of the Puranaic religion, and more popular Vedic deities were subordinated by Vishnu and Shiva. The Bhakti cults developed from Saivisim and Vishnuism and also the “sramanic religions’ of Buddhism and Jainism. The ritual of sacrifice had by then developed into the worship of icons, as practiced by the Buddhists. Bhakti cult is said to have spread from about the 12th century, from South India and spread Northwards, after the decline of Buddhism in the South. They also have the concept of ‘Ishta Devata’, the worship of a personal god, where they tend to concentrate their prayers on one deity or a small group of deities, though most devotees are ‘polytheistic’.

The numerous small cults all over India gradually merged into much larger religious communities ending up as Hinduism as we know it today, with a multiplicity of beliefs and interpretations, unlike in any other religion. This evolution was not a linear progression, with new sects branching off, according to Thapar. “It is rather a mosaic of distinct cults, deities, sects and ideas and the adjusting, juxtaposing and distancing of these to existing ones. New deities could be created and linked genealogically to existing ones.”

There is a school of thought which says Advaita Vedanta is ‘Buddhism in disguise’. Advaita (Non-dualism) asserts that the real essential identity of the Jiva is nothing other than Brahman itself. Swami Vivekananda has stated “during the decline of Buddhism in India, Hinduism took from her a few cardinal tenets of conduct and made them her own, and these have now come to be known as Vaishnavism”. Prof. M. D. Nalawade, former Head of the History Department, Pune University has stated, “the walks of people in the ancient times from one sect or religion to another, from native religion to Vedic, Vedic to non-Vedic religions, that is Buddhism and Jainism, and then back to Mixed-Vedic or Brahmanical religion, although outwardly have changed them in adopting different religious names, and ultimately, the Brahmanism, popularly called Hinduism, they continued to practice many of the customs and traditions they liked most and were most difficult for them to unalienate. And to their convenience Brahmins have very skillfully converted Buddhist forms of worship and prayers quite in consonance to Brahmanical or Hindu ideals.”

Prof. Nalawade also claims that vegetarianism came to India only from Buddhism, and that pre-Buddhist India saw the practice of animal sacrifice and that vegetarianism was not known among the Vedic Indians. He also claims that in pre-Buddhist times the cow was never a sacred animal and Brahmins of those days were very fond of the flesh of the cow. He says that Buddha was the first saviour of cows in India. The concept of Ahimsa was absorbed into Hinduism from Buddhism and Jainism, even though it had been briefly mentioned in the Upanishads.

It is accepted by most Indian scholars today that the worship of icons, images and symbols had been revived by the Buddhists and Jains in India, although the origins could be traced to Pre-Vedic Harappan culture which had disappeared during the early Brahmanic period. According to L. M. Joshi, visiting holy places (Tirtha Yatra) had also originated with the Buddhists. He says that the first image that was manufactured in India for the purpose of worship was that of the Buddha. Most of the Buddhist shrines in Andra Pradesh, as it happened all over India, had been converted for Brahmanical worship with the decline of Buddhism in India.

There are many such examples found all over India. In Badrinath “the original Buddha image is still worshipped as that of Vishnu”. Even the temple at Buddha Gaya had been in the hands of Mahanta Shaivites till about the end of the 19th century. L. M. Joshi also claims that the Puranas were written mainly to claim Buddhist places of worship. He says “not only Buddhist holy places and shrines were occupied and transformed into Hindu Tirthas and devalayas and the occupation of non-Brahmanical places and sanctuaries were strengthened by invented myth or pseudo-history (purana), but the best elements of Buddhist culture, including the Buddha, were appropriated and homologized in sacred books”. He also states that Tantrik Buddhism started in South India and Potalka Parvata as the early seat of the origin of Vajrayana (L. M. Joshi, Studies in Buddhistic Culture, 1977)

The eminent surgeon turned Indologist, K. Jamanadas has attempted to prove that the idol at Tirupathi is that of Avalokitheshvara Bodhisatva, in his book, ‘Tirupati Balaji was a Buddhist Shrine’.

Swami Vivekananda believed that the Jagannatha temple of Puri (in Orissa) is an old Buddhist temple, though it is now claimed to have been built by Chodaganga Dev in the 12th century. Vithoba (or Vitahala) of Pandharpur in Maharashtra has been identified as the Buddha by R. C. Dhere. The image is accepted by many as the ninth avatar of Vishnu. Dr. Ambedkar also believed that Vithala was really an image of the Buddha. Lord Ayyappa shrine at Sabarimala, a remote village on the Western Ghats in Kerala, is also believed to be an ancient Buddhist shrine, though the Ayyappans believe it to be of Hariharaputra, the son of Vishnu and Shiva. Yet the devotees still chant “Swamiye saranam Ayyappa“!

Draksharama, near Ramachandrapuram in Andhra, was originally a Buddhist chaitya, which was later converted into a Hindu temple. The Linga is said to be one of the Ayaka Stambhas of the original Chaitya. The Buddhist temples in Andhra have the five vertical pillars made of white marble, which are believed to represent the five major incidents in the life of the Buddha. In the Garbha Griha of the Amareswara temple of Amaraviati (Guntur district, Andhra), there is a typical white marble lotus medallion slab of this type.

The seven Rathas at Mahaballipuram had been built by Buddhists and the sudden abandonment of the unfinished Rathas could have been due to the persecution of the Buddhists, as the Kalabhras gradually lost their political power..

One more example is the temple of lord Mallikarjuna at Sirisallam in the Nallamalai hills, which is claimed by both Hindus and Buddhists, and is believed to be another Buddhist shrine in Andhra, pre-dating the Mahayana developments in the region.

At Ellora in Maharashtra, we can see very clearly where Buddhist caves had been later converted to Saiva temples.

Dr Radha Banerjee, reviewing the book, ‘The Econography of Avalokitesvara in Mainland South East Asia’ says, ‘He ( Avalokitesvara) is a lamp for the blind, a sun shade for those scorched by the sun, a father and mother to the unfortunate. He is also a physician with great healing powers. Avalokitesvara is also said to possess the traits of the Vedic Purusa, Siva, Indra, Vishnu and Surya, which has helped to bridge the gap between the Hindu and Buddhist faiths’.

Though Hinduism is not known for religious persecution, there had been a few unfortunate incidents in the past, and a few incidents recently which were of course politically motivated, and had nothing to do with the faith of the people.

Perhaps what we should study is the fantastic religious tolerance found in India, among all the different sects and faiths engulfed within Hinduism, to find ways for such tolerance among the Buddhists and Hindus in Sri Lanka.

Buddhism is and always should be far more tolerant than even Hinduism.

May 12, 2011, 8:41 a.m.

අසා සිටියා ඔහු මෙෙස්

ෙලෙඩක් මරණාසන්නව ෙරා්හල් අෑදක වෑතිර සිටියි. ඔහුෙග් ප්රානය රදා පවතින්ෙන් විදුලි උපකරණවලට පින් සිද්ද වන්නටය. ඔහු බලන්නට එන අමුත්ෙතා් ඔහු සිටින්ෙන් සිහි නතුව යෑයි සිතා ෙනාෙයක් කතා කරති. ෙලඩා ගෑනම ෙනාෙයක් ෙද් කියති. ෙමි සියල්ලම ෙලඩාට අෑෙස්. ෙමි දුර්ලභ අත්දෑකීම වස්තු ෙකාට ගත් ෙහා‍ද නවකතාවක් මම මැතකදී කියවීමි. - ෙමෙහම කියන්ෙන් ෙමෙස් පෑවසුෙවි 2010 ස්වර්ණ පුස්තක සමිමානය දා මුඛ්‍ය ෙද්ශනය කල මහාචාර්ය ෙජ්. බී. දිසානායකයන් ය.

එ් ස‍හන් කල ෙපාත - අසා සිටියා ඔහු ෙමෙස් - දයා දිසානායක විසින් ලියන ලද නවකතාවයි. පළකෙල් සරසවි ෙපාත් හලයි.

Eavesdropper නමින් ලියන ලදුව 2007 වසෙර් ෙහාදම ඉංගීසි නවකතාව ස‍හා රාජ්‍ය සමිමාන ලෑබුෙවිය

Sept. 16, 2010, 10:35 p.m.

Babli

Babli is my 4th Sinhala novel, after "Vessan Novu Vedyn' (1st Sinhala e-novel), 'Chandraratnage Bhavantara Charikava' (short listed for Swarna Pusthaka) and 'Asa Sitiya Ohu Mese' (the Sinhala version of 'Eavesdropper" which won the State Literary Award for the Best English Novel)

Babli is the story of a young village girl who has the courage and the faith in what she believes in, to fight against all odds to save her faher's life.

The book will be available from Sarasavi Bookshop from Sept. 18th, at the BMICH International Book Fair.

Sept. 15, 2010, 9:49 p.m.

the cow in the cybercafe

the cow in the cybercafe

daya dissanayake (2004)

‘If I stay here for one more day, I’ll have to kill myself’ said the girl in khaki shorts and white t-shirt.

‘Why?’ asked the girl in the flowered cotton frock, without taking her eyes off the book she was reading.

‘Because I don’t want to end up in a loony house’

Micky, the girl in khaki shorts, was walking up and down on the grass lawn. Ruvanthi was seated on a wooden bench under an avocado tree. Ruwanthi continued reading. Micky walked non stop, a dozen steps to the edge of the lawn, then back to where Ruwanthi was seated. Every few minutes she looked at her wrist-watch. Then she would look up at the sky through the thick foliage and heave a sigh.

Sometimes she unclipped her mobile phone from her waist. She would hold it up, stare at it for a while, walk around holding the phone up to the sky, and then close the flap in disgust.

‘Why couldn’t you build your house where you could get a good phone signal?’ she would ask her friend, not expecting an answer.

When she got tired of walking, Micky came and sat beside Ruwanthi.

‘I have to find a cyber café’ she said after a while.

Ruwanthi did not take her eyes off her book.

‘I thought you were my best friend’ Mickey said after another long silence.

Ruwanthi took Micky’s hand and squeezed it, without a word. She closed her book. The continuous chatter of the squirrels and the birds was occasionally interrupted by the mooing of a cow grazing in the grassland below the house.

‘Try this’ Ruwanthi’s younger brother ran up to them, offering a ripe guava to Micky.

‘No. Thanks’ Micky said.

‘Take a bite first, then throw it away, if you don’t like it’ Ravi appealed. Reluctantly Micky accepted the fruit. Ruwanthi grabbed the other one.

‘Have you washed it?’ Micky asked.

‘Why should i?’ Ravi asked. ‘We are not offering it to the Buddha’ he added.

‘It is direct from the tree. It has been washed by the rain’ Ruwanthi told her friend.

‘But still’ Micky hesitated.

‘It is cleaner than all the junk you get in the city’ Ruwanthi assured her, taking a big bite off her fruit. Micky began to nibble at the fruit slowly, but once she got the taste of it, she smiled her thanks to Ravi.

‘Malli, do you know any house in this village, which has a telephone’ Micky asked.

‘The only telephone is at the post office’

‘Can you show me the place?’

‘Sure. But I don’t know if the phone is working’

‘Let’s go’ she jumped out of the bench, dragging Ruwanthi along with her.

As they walked down the gravel road Ruwanthi noticed that all eyes were on Micky. She noticed the look of disapproval on the faces of the elderly women, and the smiles on the faces of the young men, as Micky passed them in her tight fitting shorts. Ruwanthi tried to avoid their eyes. She knew the women would comment about it to her mother.

When she saw the small red sign board of the sub-post office, Micky looked around and had to ask Ruwanthi where the post office was. Ruwanthi pointed at the open window to one side of the entrance to the small house. They looked into the room through the window. Micky saw the table and two chairs and an old fashioned telephone on the table. There was no one inside.

‘Are they closed?’ she asked Ruwanthi.

‘No. They close it only if the whole family has to leave the house for anything. I will call her’ Ruwanthi said and walked into the house. Micky watched her friend walking straight in and go towards the kitchen calling someone by name. A young woman came out, wiping her hands on the cloth she had wrapped around her waist, over her frock.

‘We want to make a phone call’ Ruwanthi told the woman.

The woman noticed Micky, when she came out of the house, and she invited them to come in and be seated. Micky was too impatient.

‘I just want to make a phone call’ she said.

‘I don’t know if it’s working today’ the woman said, leaning against the door-post. Micky looked at Ruwanthi, in desperation.

‘She has to make an urgent call. Shall we try if it is working’ Ruwanthi appealed. The woman went in to the post office room to check the phone. They followed her in to the room. She was rattling the cradle.

‘It’s dead’

‘When will they repair it?’ Micky asked.

‘I don’t know. It works on and off. May be if we try in another hour, it would be working, or it may not work for another week’

‘Then how do you communicate with the outside world’

‘Why, the postman comes every day. He brings the letters and any telegrams or messages from the Main Post Office’

‘How can you wait for several days to get a reply for any message?’ Micky wanted to know.

‘If it is urgent we can send a telegram’ the woman said.

‘How can you send a telegram if your phone is not working?’

‘I can send it through our postman, he will be here sometime today’

‘This is the 21st century’

‘So what?’ Ruwanthi asked.

‘There is some ripe jack fruit, would you like to have some?’ the woman asked, ‘we plucked a really sweet fruit today’

Ruwanthi looked at Micky. She shook her head.

‘We are going to the tank for a bath’ Ruwanthi told the woman.

‘Then you shouldn’t eat jak fruit right now’ the woman said, walking up to the road with them.

‘I’ll send a message if the phone starts working’

‘Are we going for a bath?’ Ravi asked.

‘I just told her that, to avoid having the jack fruit. Micky didn’t want to stay’

‘But shall we go to the tank?’ Ravi asked again. Ruwanthi once again looked at Micky.

‘I didn’t bring my bathing suit’

‘You don’t need it, I’ll give you a cloth. Come on, enjoy your visit to our village, don’t look so glum’ Ruwanthi pulled her friend towards home. Ravi was already running towards the village tank.

Micky did not want to wear a cloth and she refused to wear a sarong either.

‘That’s what we all wear, when we bath in the tank or at the well’ Ruwanthi told her.

‘Can I get into the water like this, in my t-shirt?’ Micky asked.

‘Yes, if you want to. This is not a hotel pool, there is no one to ban t-shirts’

The tank was not far away, the gravel road lined on either side by neem and tamarind trees, led to the tank bund.

In ancient times it would have been a huge tank, but due to poor maintenance more than half of the tank was now a grassland, and there were even a few trees growing in the old tank bed. Micky was amazed at the beauty of the distant hills and the glistening water beckoning them to come in.

‘Are you sure this water is clean?’ Micky asked.

‘We have been bathing in this from the time I can remember, so I don’t know why you should worry’

‘But people wash clothes, they bathe their cattle and all those germs would be in the water’

‘I have never thought about it, but there must be some kind of natural disinfection. We don’t have to Chlorinate this water’

Micky hesitated for a long time before she got into the water.

‘Eeek. Something bit me’ Micky almost jumped out of the water. Ravi began to laugh.

‘Why are you laughing?’

‘They won’t bite you, they are harmless fish’ Ruwanthi said with a smile. ‘don’t worry about them’

Micky had watched in amazement the ease with which her friend wrapped the cloth around above her breasts her and got out of her clothes.

‘What if the cloth gets untied?’ she had asked Ruwanthi.

‘It won’t’

Then Micky noticed that elderly ladies wrapped their clothes around their waist leaving the upper body bare as they bathed.

Ruwanthi was glad that Micky could forget her electronic world and enjoy the luxuries offered to her in the little village. Micky was swimming about, playing with the young boy. She tried to pluck a water lily and got entangled in them. She had got used to the mud and silt by then.

Micky wanted to go back home to change into dry clothes and threw the towel across her shoulders covering her wet shirt. As she picked up her mobile her face darkened again. She asked Ravi if he could go to the post office again to find out if the phone was working again. Ravi could not understand why this girl was so obsessed with the telephone, but he took off at a run, still in his wet clothes.

‘Don’t you feel more refreshed than if you had been in a hotel pool?’ Ruwanthi asked.

‘I don’t know. My whole body smells of mud, tell me how I can get connected’ Micky said in the same breath.

‘I told you before we left the city, that we are going to a remote village, which is not a part of your global village. I told you not to expect all the things you enjoy in the city’

‘Yeah, but how would I know that my mobile would not work here. When you told me you didn’t have a telephone at home, I was not worried because I expected to connect through EDGE from my phone. As long as I had my notebook and phone I hoped to be connected to all my friends and Sundeep Dougal and all the music and all the news of the outside world’

‘Who is Sundeep Dougal?’ Ruwanthi wanted to know.

‘If I can get connected, I will show you’ said Micky in exasperation. ‘Please Ruwi, tell me where I can find a phone that works or a place where I could receive mobile signals’

‘I don’t know. There is no one in our village who would know where a phone would work’

At lunch, Ruwanthi watched as her mother kept on filling her friend’s plate. It seemed that the tasty delicacies on her plate had momentarily pushed aside her e-world. Micky kept on asking about each dish. She could not identify most of them.

‘They are all either from our own garden or plucked from the fields’ Ruwanthi’s mother told their visitor.

‘You will never get cancer by eating this, like from the food you have to eat in the city’ Ruwanthi added.

‘Why?’

‘Here we don’t use any food poisons on what we grow, like chemical fertilizer and pesticides’

‘You mean we eat only poisonous food in the city?’

‘Yes. That’s why I come home whenever I can, to breath fresh air, eat fresh healthy food and relax’

‘But I can’t relax. I feel suffocated, when I cam cut off from the rest of the world’

‘Forget the rest of the world and enjoy your stay’ Ruwanthi’s father told her.

‘I can’t. There must be several hundred messages piled up on my e-mail server’ said Micky.

‘Most of it would be junk mail, why should you worry about junk’

‘That’s what is worrying me. When my mail quota gets filled up, I will miss all my important mail’

‘It depends on what you mean by important’ Ruwanthi said.

‘Importance is a very relative term’ Ruwanthi’s father added, but Miky ignored him, probably thinking what would this old village farmer know about what was happening out side his village.

After lunch Ruwanthi wanted to go back to her book. Micky came to sit beside her, with her notebook. She started writing. Ruwanthi glanced at the screen, to see that Micky was composing e-messages. It would keep her quite for sometime, thought Ruwanthi going back to her book.

Mickys fingers flew over the key board. Ruwanthi’s eyes skimmed over the pages of the novel. A lone squirrell chirped nibbling at a guava. A few cows grazed lazily under coconut trees below the garden.

The quiet tranquility did not last very long.

Micky closed the notebook with a snap.

‘Because you told me you did not have electricity in your village I came prepared with two extra batteries for my notebook and one for the phone’ Mickey said in an accusing tone.

Ruwanthi went on reading.

‘Why didn’t you tell me mobile signals did not cover this village?’ Micky asked again

‘I didn’t know’ Ruwanthi said, without taking her eyes off the page.

‘How can you say that? You live in the city with me, you use a mobile phone and use the internet and e-mail just as much as I do’

‘I have never used my mobile here, so I did not know it wouldn’t work. I can wait till we go back to the city, to get into the internet’

‘May be you can. But I can’t’

‘Try reading a book’

‘I don’t read books. Who reads books anyway?’

Micky walked up to the window.

‘You don’t have a TV. You don’t have DVD to watch a good movie. You don’t even have a good music set up’

‘Listen to the birds, it is much more relaxing than the wild noises you call music’

‘But your bird song is often supported by farting cows’

‘Don’t be so vulgar’

‘I don’t know why I ever thought you were my best friend’ Micky stormed out of the room. She went in search of Ravi.

‘Ravi, have you ever climbed that hill?’ she asked, pointing at the range of hills on one edge of the village.

‘Many times. Would you like to go? The view is wonderful from the top’

‘Is it difficult?’

‘There is only a foot path, but it is not very difficult’

Micky went back into the house. She wanted Ruwanthi to go with her. Ruwanthi was reluctant to leave her book, but Micky was her guest. She tried to tell Micky that climbing the hill was not easy, but Micky insisted.

‘Let’s take the camera, we can get a few good shots from the summit’ Ruwanthi said.

‘I have my phone camera’ Micky patted her belt.

Ruwanthi persuaded Micky to change into her long denims, warning her about thorny shrubs on the path they had to climb. She was more concerned about the disapproving looks of the women they would pass on the way.

They climbed over fallen trees, crept under creepers, and paused for breath whenever they reached a flat stretch of the foot path. Ruwanthi tried to point out to the city girl various plants, flowers and the birds. Micky looked dutifully at what ever was shown to her, but her eyes came back to the screen of her mobile phone. She had it switched from the moment they began their climb.

Suddenly she would stop, turn around in a circle, holding the phone high, walk back a few steps, and then forward. Ravi watched in amusement, and Ruwanthi sighed. Micky would give up in disgust and continue the climb. The stop once more, the moment she saw even a faint trace of a signal.

They reached the summit. Ruwanthi spread her hands to show the breathtaking beauty of the valley beyond.

‘It’s working’ Micky jumped up in delight. Ravi had to hold her by the shoulder to pull her away from the edge of the rock.

Micky sat down to play with the keypad on the phone. She did not see the slowly flowing river across the valley, or the mountain range on the other side. She did not see the towering cones of the giant cane clinging on to the trees. She did not see the temple, in the middle of the vast green rice fields. She did not feel the cool breeze soothing her tired limbs.

Her eyes were on the screen, reading and then replying to all the messages she had received. Ruwanthi and Ravi sat on the rock, enjoying the beauty spread below them. They knew every hill top, all the big trees and every rice field, below them. Yet they would never get tired of this view. It was worth the climb.

After replying all the messages, Micky began to talk on the phone. The other two walked away a little distance, to give her a little more privacy.

‘My battery went dead. I forgot to put the spare battery in my pocket, when I changed into slacks.’

‘We can come again tomorrow, if you like’ Ravi said.

‘Yes. I have to. I’ll bring my notebook so I could check my mail too’ Micky said.

20.25, 02-20-2004

Aug. 31, 2010, 3:53 p.m.