The story of a Namashudra

 

Water Hyacinth - Namashudra

 

 

"This was a community that remained neglected away from the watch of the nation's administration. The people born in nature, lived in their own way and even died in their own way. The name of the history of life and death is 'prisnika' - growing up like the Water Hyacinth and dying like it, uncared for." (Manohar Mouli Biswas)

 

Eichhornia crassipes, was banned in Ceylon by the Water Hyacinth Ordinance of 20th March 1909, prohibiting import, distribution or possession of the plant. It had been introduced by British colonials to India in 1890 and Sri Lanka in 1905 as an ornamental plant 'Cinderella of the plant kingdom', and came to be known locally as 'Japan Jabara'. It has been blacklisted in India too, where it has come to be termed 'Bengal Terror'.

 

Manohar Mouli Biswas belongs to an ethnic group identified as Namashudra in India. There are many such groups popularly identified by the term Dalit. Biswas compares their people to water hyacinth probably because of its high adaptability, tolerance to pollution and toxicity and resistance to disease and pests. Yet the Namashudra are not an introduced alien group, but indigenous people of South Asia, and an indispensable part of society.

 

Biswas wrote his autobiography as 'Amar Jibane Ami Benche Thaki' translated by Angana Dutta and Jaydeep Sarangi as 'Surviving in My World: Growing Up Dalit in Bengal'. Dalit, from Sanskrit 'dal' - broken, ground down, is a name these groups had found for themselves, in place of Harijans (God's Children coined by Mahatma Gandhi) and Untouchables. There are over 170 million Dalits (17% of Indian population). About these statistics Biswas comments, "We were only used in the head count for making the Hindus the majority. Socially, economically, culturally and educationally, we were a massive heap of garbage at the bottom."

 

Manohar Mouli claims he belongs to the branch of their caste named 'Biswas' (Trustworthy?) while the other two branches are 'Sarkar' and 'Mandal'. The other 'castes' who lived in their region are Jele, Malo, Muchi, Chamar, and Dhopa. "They were hardworking people by birth. Labour is another name for life to them.", says Biswas.

 

How wonderful it would have been if these people could continue to live their innocent lives without succumbing to greed and envy, introduced by the urban culture. These people were happy with what they had, and also were always ready to share. They did not sell their milk or food. If there was excess, it would be shared with another family who did not have enough food. In such ways they should belong to the highest castes in the country, reminding us of the words of the Buddha. "Action makes a man an outcaste, Action makes a man a Brahmin" (Vasala Sutta).

 

Manohar Mouli Biswas mentions Richard Biswas who wrote 'Jatiya Jagaran' (1921) who had to sit in a separate place within the classroom at the Moolghar High School. His father had to build a low stool for him. This incident reminded me of how a lab attendant at the Kankasanturai Cement Factory had to sit on the floor because the supposed to be 'high caste' staff would not allow him to sit even on a bench, and these people were not allowed to enter many of the Hindu kovils.

 

The author's mother was of the Matua faith, propagated by Harichand and his son Guruchand. she would pray to Hari-Guru when children fell sick. They were heroes who were fighting for the dignity and respect these people deserved, by developing the Namashudra community, spreading formal education on secular lines and fighting against prevalent social evils.

 

 

 

There were Muslims in some of the villages, and Biswas draws our attention to the unity which prevailed among the two religious faiths, who lived as one community. "Even though we Namashudras and the Muslims fight among each other over work, we live in the same place, work on the same fields. We do not look down upon each other; we do not hate each other". At the time of the partition, many Hindu Shudras opted to stay in East Pakistan because "We who live on Shalpa (white water lily) and Shaluk (blue water lily) flowers of the fields, whether we are Hindu or Muslims, we are the same- there were no divisions among our forefathers. We are one, and staying united we will dwell in this country. No one will be able to separate us."

 

Long before the time of Biswas, there had been speculation that many Shudras would convert to Islam, and the Hindu Mahasabha had been worried in the early 30s that even Ambedkar would convert, thus depriving the majority count of the Hindus.

 

Not all Brahmins would agree to perform the Durga puja in the Dalit villages. The Brahmins who attended were considered to be of a lower status 'baun' by the other Brahmins. Watching this ceremony as a child Biswas had not seen the dark skinned man who was killed by Durga as an evil force, but as another human being on this land.

 

By a strange coincidence, while I was reading 'Surviving in My World', I received the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Comparative literature and Translation Studies, which carried the interview of the writer, Manoranjan Byapari, who also happens to be of the Namasudra caste. He mentions one of the translators, Prof. Jaydeep Sarangi who organized a conference on Dalit Writings.

 

It is time now for them to give up identifying themselves as Dalits, and only as human beings, Homo sapiens sapiens. Let me end with a line from the book, "Now it sometimes occurs to me that we were the children of the sun - the infinite power of the sun was present in us and we lived on the strength of that infinite power" May they continue to have the strength of the infinite power.

 

 

July 8, 2015, 9:38 p.m. » Tagged: Dalit , Namashudra ,

copyright of ideas

 

 

When a person, still wet behind the years, yet who probably believes himself to be the greatest writer-to-be of the 21st century, is worried that a highly respected, very senior author could steal his ideas, it turns the whole concept of copyright and plagiarism upside down. A creative writer could always have a few hundred ideas bursting to come out of his mind, and the same ideas could be in the minds of many. I would feel really honoured if another writer used my ideas to create a better work of art.

 

However, the question arises, if an idea could be copyrighted.

 

"In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, process, system method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodies in such work." (section 102, US Copyright Act.) In Australia, copyright protects the original expression of ideas, and not the ideas themselves. In UK "Intellectual property is something unique that you physically create - an idea alone is not intellectual property".

 

It would be nearly impossible to trace the origin of ideas. That is probably why Isaac Newton had said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants". There are people in the West who believe that Aristotle's logic and Euclid's geometry are original ideas. But this has been disputed in the East. Babylonians and Egyptians were aware of geometry and trigonometry long before the Greeks. While in India, there is evidence that during the Indus Civilization they had used circle-drawing instruments as early as 2500 BCE.

 

David Hume explained that "when we analyse our thoughts we can reduce them to simple ideas copied from previous feelings or sentiments....Ideas come from sensations". Since all sensations and feelings would be common to most people they probably would get the same ideas.

 

Had Thomas Robert Malthus been alive when Alfred Russel Wallace published his paper on Natural Selection, or when Charles Darwin published his 'Origin of Species', would Malthus have taken them to courts claiming they have stolen his idea? Both of them may have been influenced by Malthus, but could we say they copied his idea? It would not be possible to draw lines between, plagiarism, being influenced by another's ideas, or developing an idea independent of all previous such ideas.

 

Isaac Assimov quotes from Thomas H. Huxley who had exclaimed after reading 'On the Origin of Species', "How stupid of me not to have thought of this." Assimov explains, "The history of human thought would make it seem that there is difficulty in thinking of an idea even when all the facts are on the table. Making the cross-connection requires a certain daring."

 

The concept of rebirth, Karma and Anathma had been around long before Buddha and Mahavira. Ficus religiosa (Asvatha or the Bo tree) was venerated at least about two thousand years before the birth of Buddha. Among mankind, who was the first man to have got an idea of a God, and then about an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent monotheistic God, and could this person claim copyright?

 

There are over 300 versions of Ramayana. We would never know if Rama, Sita and Ravana were real persons, or if they had been the products of a creative genius, and who this genius could have been. But there has been no blame placed on any of the creators of different Ramayana versions for stealing the work of another. Which came first, Dasharata Jataka, Ramayana by Valmiki or Pauma Charya by Vimala Suri? When and where was the origin of all the Jataka stories, or closer home, who created Mahadenamutta or Andare?

 

There have always been accusations of the theft of ideas or creative works. Sometimes manuscripts get stolen, and are later published by others, and the owner of the original work is left helpless. There have been instances where films and 'tele-dramas' have been copied from works of reputed authors, without any acknowledgement or compensation.

 

When E.T. was produced in 1982, Satyajit Ray is reported to have said that it would "not have been possible without my script of 'The Alien' being available throughout America in mimeographed copies." Arthur C. Clarke too had mentioned striking similarities of E. T. with The Alien. Ray had been working on The Alien in the early 60s and had discussed the story with Arthur Clarke in 1964, the script was written in 1967 and it had been taken to Hollywood in 1967, to Columbia Pictures but never produced. Steven Spielberg denied copying Ray's script. Indian newspapers still continue to bring up this issue.

 

Shakespeare has been accused of borrowing or copying from stories created by earlier writers. A poem 'Romeus and Juliet' had been written in 1562 by Arthur Brooks. Luigi da Porto had written 'Newly Found Story of Two Noble Lovers' in 1531, and before him Masuccio Salernitano (born Tommaso Guardati) wrote a short story, 'Mariotto and Ganozza'. Archaeologists had found two skeletons of a man and a woman, who had died young, buried over 5000 years ago, only 25 miles from Verona. But It was Shakespeare who captured the whole world with his creation based on the story.

 

Anyway since no one has found a single original manuscript written in Shakespeare's own hand, the controversy continues about who wrote these plays, says Mark Anderson in 'Shakespeare by Another Name'.

 

There is really "nothing new under the sun", and even this statement is as old as history. There is nothing we can claim as our own, as our original ideas, which no one has ever thought of, before us.

 

 

 

 

June 30, 2015, 11:43 p.m. » Tagged: ideas , copyright , plagiarism

Nightmare Merchants

 

 

As I was reading 'The Lost Symbol', I began to wonder if a symbol had been really lost, or if Dan Brown had lost himself in all the ancient scriptures and Masonic beliefs and practices. If Brown had really studied Masonic rites, symbols and their meanings, along with the Bible and the religious philosophies and writings, and if he had understood even a fraction of what these scriptures had tried to tell him, he would never have written this book.

 

Perhaps his motive would have been only to get a superficial view of the scriptures, so he could weave a story that could sell. He was not creating a literary work, but producing a very marketable commodity. He could have developed a great work of fiction around the ideas and all the information he has included in this book. He could have written a novel to make us think about our religions, our religious teachings, ancient scriptures and modern interpretations. He could have made us search for our own Word, Symbol or Truth, made us ascend or descend the stairway in search of it, or search within or without ourselves for God or the Word.

 

Unfortunately he laced his story with unimaginably cruel and violent thoughts and actions, to make it popular, to attract the sadomasochist readers, so he could sell copies of his book in millions, and then sell the film rights too. Many people would have read this book as it is "thrilling and entertaining" with the "most terrifying villain to date". Brown is called the "world's most popular thriller writer" by his publisher.

 

A 'thriller' is described as a work of literature, that uses suspense, tension and excitement as its main elements . As Steve Bennet says, a thriller "tend to be adrenalin-rushing, gritty, rousing and fast-paced". It does not mean that a thriller has to include so much violence and cruelty in it. An imaginative writer could bring in all the suspense and tension without violence.

 

Brown seems to be leaning towards what could be classified as 'Pornography of Violence'. (Life Into Arts, 24-09-2014). Brown has the skill, imagination and story telling ability to have written this novel without including any violence, or at least could have tried to do it with less violence. As it is, those who read this novel as a thriller, would skip all the valuable information that is given here about Freemasons, about the Bible, about Christianity and the scriptures and also about Washington and all the landmark buildings in the city. These readers also would skip the long descriptions and arguments about the interpretations and the hidden meanings of the scriptures.

 

The National Geographic, among other journals, also raised the issue of the accuracy of most of the information given by Brown in this book. On Sep. 15, 2009, Brian Handwerk pointed out 8 myths in the 'Lost Symbol', which include the statements by Brown about Washington street grid according to Masonic symbols, or that the Masons descend from Knights Templar.

 

Dan Brown also involves Noetic Science in the story, probably not understanding that by other names it was known in Asia for several thousand years. But the person who named this new western science as Noetic Science, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell, had understood the concept to some extent, when he described his feelings as he was returning from the moon landing as a 'Samadhi' experience.

 

On the other hand, anyone who would try to read The Lost Symbol for all the information and ideas covered here, would probably skip all the violence in order to read the book, or throw it aside half-way to the end, and miss all the revelations and theories put forth by the author. If Handwerk is correct these readers would not be missing anything, but those who read the book with all the details would be accepting a lot of disinformation.

 

As a fiction writer, Brown has the right to use his poetic license to distort the truth and even give complete untruths. The Freemasons could find it offensive and the real people mentioned in the book, who are now dead, would not be able to defend themselves.

 

This is unfortunately what we find in most of the so-called thrillers and also in historical fiction written for the sole purpose of making money by hitting best seller lists. These writers, who are encouraged by their publishers, are not worried about the inaccuracies or false data they gave in their books, or about encouraging readers to enjoy violence. We find that in many historical films produced in our country in the recent past, attempting to rekindle communal, racial hatred, and justifying violence in the form of wars. A war hero is almost always the victor. If Hitler had won World War II, he would have been the hero, Hitler the Great, and could have won the Nobel for Literature instead of Churchill.

 

Prof. David Morrell wrote 'First Blood' to show the evils of war, how it affects the minds of soldiers in the 'killing fields', even after they return home. But with the instant popularity of the film Rambo, based on First Blood, he joined the bandwagon to sell nightmares instead of dreams, and that is why we should call people in the film industry who sell violence as Nightmare Merchants instead of Dream Merchants.

 

Our heroes should be those great human beings who have struggled hard, sacrificed their lives to prevent a war, or bring a war to an end without more killings. Our heroes should be those who made new discoveries or introduced new inventions that have benefitted mankind and all life on earth.We should write about them, even when we write 'thrillers'. The biographies we write should also be about them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 23, 2015, 7:51 p.m. » Tagged: The Lost Symbol , Dan Brown , poetic license

Nightmares

 

 

"History is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake." says James Joyce, through Stephen Dedalus, in Ulysses. This line has been quoted often, and all over the English speaking world it has been studied, commented upon, speculating on what Joyce meant by them, and what it means today. Karl Marx had put it another way. "The tradition of dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living."

 

A blogger, identifying himself as Mack, comments on both statements on the point of contact between Marx and Joyce, that "History is the hinge upon which their dialectic hangs." He says, "for Marx 'History is Trauma, an unbearable weight which oppresses present generations in the form of the 'spirit of the past' that continue to haunt the living'....for Joyce 'History is equally traumatic'.

 

Marx is trying to awaken people, who have not realized they are in a nightmare, in the same way that Plato tried to get the people to come out of the cave.

 

Most of us are not aware that we are in a nightmare, because we perceive them as dreams and we hope for a happy ending. We are like the proverbial crab in the pot, dancing happily as the water in the pot gets warm, till it is too late to jump out.

 

The nightmare goes back into pre-history, or the history before history. History would have been pleasant, even after man began to walk on his hind legs and freed his forelegs to handle objects. This history began to change as man began to use tools, which later were also used as weapons, against all life on earth, including his own brother, and that is where the dreams gradually change into nightmares, as greed takes over.

 

There were many forces and agents who ensured that man would not wake up and also ensure that man continued to believe he was only dreaming. There were agents of the ruling elite, the agents of religious institutions, who used creative arts, alcohol, narcotics and other mind controlling methods, to ensure that man did not wake up from his nightmare. There had been many instances where some men in some parts of the world had been awakened, and when they were out of the nightmare they tried to waken others too. But it was never for long, because these men were put back to sleep, sometimes by the same people who awakened them, or by their agents.

 

It is really the written history that has become a nightmare, because all the records, writings, all the monuments are about violence, murder, plunder, torture, rape and destruction. Almost all written records and literature deal with the evil acts and evil thoughts of man, and there is hardly any mention of the good deeds done by man, or efforts to make this a better world for all of us to live. What we read in our fiction, what we see in our films and drama, are extensions of the nightmare, and we enjoy watching them. We enjoy watching how fellow human beings are robbed, molested, tortured and murdered, and then we enjoy when the villains or the bad guys are punished in the same manner, by the heroes and good guys.

 

Ever since weapon manufacture became a business, these manufacturers, their intermediaries and the users have continued to earn great profits, becoming the biggest business in the world. Manufacturers of toys for children too jumped at this opportunity and their best selling products are toy weapons, from bows and arrows and swords to machine guns and laser weapons. Many writers of children's books too have earned good profits by initiating children on their nightmare journey by writing about crime and war, showing criminals, plunderers, murderers as heroes.

 

Unfortunately, even about the time before history, before his story came to be recorded, it has been interpreted to show only man's violent nature. That is why our anthropologists still continue to talk about hunters and hunter/gatherers of prehistoric times, whilst there is sufficient evidence today that the early humans were gatherers, living on fruit and vegetables. It is when man began to get a taste for carrion and began to kill innocent animals that he started giving nightmares to the animals, and to their own children. For a man who could cut down an unarmed, helpless animal, could easily use the same weapon to cut down another man or even a child.

 

There have been many books written about particularly horrible nightmares in the history of mankind. Stevan Weine wrote 'Memories of Ethnic Cleansing in Bosnia-Herzegovina' (1999). Philip Short write 'Pol Pot, The History of a Nightmare' (2006). There are people who will try to sell anything to make money, even creating nightmares. One such movie was 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' (1984) and a series based on this had earned $ 370 million. The idea had come to Wes Craven from a reported death of a young boy who had escaped from the killing fields in Cambodia, who had died in the middle of a nightmare.

 

New York Times reported in May 10, 1981, about the mysterious death of 18 Laotian refugees in their sleep, within a period of four years, believed to have been frightened to death by nightmares. There could have been many such deaths during the very dark periods in history, like in the nazi concentration camps.

 

Today doctors have given a name to it, SUNDS (Sudden Unexpected Nocternal Death Syndrome), or Oriental Nightmare Death Syndrome, and also Bangungut Syndrome, because many Filipinos had died of nightmares and their word for nightmare is bangungut.

 

Let us try to wake up from this nightmare. Wish you sweet dreams.

 

 

June 13, 2015, 2:20 a.m. » Tagged: nightmares , nightmare of history , Joyce , Marx , violence

Raping the raped

 

 

There are many novels, poems, films and plays written about rape and victims of rape, some even glorifying the rapists.

 

The Daily News on May 21, 2015 carried an article by Tom Rawsthorne, about rape at Oxford and how no action is taken against the rapists. Indian media reported that the defense lawyer for the four accused in the Delhi rape and murder case had said, "Why don't people first control their daughters? I'd burn my daughter alive if she was having pre-marital sex, roaming around with her boyfriend at night".

 

It is the usual practice among most defense lawyers to attempt to blacken the character of the rape victims, but this statement by the Delhi lawyer is taking it to the extreme edge of depravity. In the 1961 film 'Town Without Pity' during the occupation of Germany by the U.S. army after the World War II, four drunken soldiers rape a young girl and the whole town turns against the rapists. But a 'criminal' lawyer turns the tables so successfully to blacken the girl's character and show the soldiers as the victims, that the whole town turns against the girl forcing her to commit suicide.

 

In our part of the world, the Laws of Manu still dominate our thinking. He wrote, "Day and night woman must be kept in dependence by the males (of) their (families), and, if they attach themselves to sensual enjoyments, they must be kept under one's control......Women must particularly be guarded against evil inclinations, however trifling (they may appear)..."

 

"But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." Matthew 5:28. (I am giving the reference here for anyone to look up the entire chapter and not this quote out of context.) We could interpret this to mean that all the advertisements depicting women as sexual objects are targeting men to commit adultery. Or we could use these images to meditate on impermanence, trying to see through all the makeup and photoshopped images, and see a skin-bag full of filth.

 

About pre-marital sex, there had been a very interesting decision by the Madras High Court in June 2013, "Once the sexual relationship between a man and woman is consummated, they become husband and wife, and rituals are but formalities for societal satisfaction." Even though many people had criticized this decision, it should be admired as a way of protecting women's rights.

 

In the reign of Shamshu-ilu-na c. 2200 BCE, when Rimum, son of Shamkhatum, has taken as a wife and spouse Bashtum, the daughter of Belizunu, the priestess(?) of Shamash, daughter of Uzibitum, it has been called a contract for marriage. This is just another contract like the other contracts for the sale and purchase of slaves, real estate, harvest, or the rental of a house.
 

"Marriage retained the form of purchase, but was essentially a contract to be man and wife together...the bride-groom's father providing the bride-price.....the bride price...was in excess of that paid for a slave".

 

It is all male-female bonding, which happens among all animals. Among the early humans, when the woman domesticated a man, it was just to be her partner to manage her children. It is only when they began to acquire property and wealth in the form of land and stockpiles of food, that the woman wanted to have her man bound to her for life. Man would never have wanted to be tied down to one woman, but the woman would have realized if her man went to other women too, then her property would have to be shared with them or perhaps she could even lose all her rights to this property.

 

With agriculture and landownership, as man began to play the dominant role, the land owners who later became the rulers of the landless, had to ensure that their wealth and power could be passed on to their progeny. Unless there bonding with their women were not made public, at a public ceremony, these people would not have been able to establish who their sons were. Thus in the beginning the legal bonding, which later came to be known as marriage would have been confined to those who enjoyed wealth or power or both. For the powerless and the poor, all they had to pass on to their children was the misery and suffering. Children would not fight each other for such inheritance.

 

When a man purchased a wife, or a father gave away a daughter to a man at a price or with a price, often the woman's consent was not sought. Thus it would have been socially and legally sanctioned rape. Probably that is why we hear of marital rape today, because women dare to speak about it, but do not dare to separate from such a man, due to legal, economic and social restrictions.

 

If there is such a thing called love among two people of opposite sex, why is it that they need to promise in front of God, or all their family and friends, that they shall stay together till death do them part, and then sign a legal document and get a license to live together, enjoy sexual pleasures and produce children? Our promise to each other should be enough. This legal marriage makes it just another business contract, to ensure that the partner could also enjoy the wealth owned or earned, and they could pass them on to their children.

 

Rape, violent, statutory, consensual or marital, is still a violation of the basic rights of a woman. No woman should be made to suffer in silence.

 

May 29, 2015, 12:50 a.m. » Tagged: rape , sexual violence , media

Marakoku

 

 

 

Marakoku was written in 1993, and had won the State Literary Award in 1994. Yet it took 22 years to cross the great divide from Jaffna to Colombo. It was only after Upali Leelarathne had translated the great novel by Kanthiah Nadesan (Theniyan) from Tamil to Sinhala as 'Kula Anaganavo' that I was able to read it.

 

This gap between just 20 million people living in one small country of 65,000 sq.km. was created by language. Man believes that he is the only animal on earth who is gifted with the ability to communicate using language. But because in his arrogance he began to use different languages we have continued to widen the gaps between ourselves.

 

There was no such gap in this country for the past one thousand years or more, and a crack appeared only with the invasion of Europeans. The crack widened into a huge gap and English became a bridge for us. But the handrails of this bridge were removed around the mid twentieth century. Since then no one bothered to repair and maintain the bridge, and there were also several attempts to burn it down. Today it is probably beyond repair. The gap is also too wide for us to even think of building a new bridge.

 

The only way to cross the divide is going down into the ravine and climbing up on the other side, which not many of us could do. Upali Leelarthne is one such hero among us, as a translator. We have in our country many writers who are called bilingual, because they are able to write in English in addition to their mother tongue. But a true bilingual in our country is one who can write in Tamil and Sinhala, the urgent need of the day.

 

It has been a long, silent and unsung service by Upali to our literature and to our society. He has so far translated 42 books from Tamil to English, not only novels, and short stories, BUT children's stories and biographies as well. He is a creative writer too, with 8 novels to his credit. Upali Leelarathne has won recognition and awards in India several times, but is ignored by our own organizations offering literary awards.

 

Mara Kokku has been called the 'Gamperaliya' (revolt in the village) from the North, but it was a greater revolt leading to greater changes than what we saw in Koggala. Because in the north, it was the struggle not only among the haves and have nots, but among the touchables and untouchables. Theniyan uses many symbols in his novel. One is about the Kanda Shasthi festival, of the battle between the Sura (enacted by touchables) and Asura (enacted by the untouchables). The Sura always win, just as it has happened through the history of mankind.

 

In this story, the old three-legged teapoy is covered with a green tablecloth with flowers embroidered in white thread. A woodcarving of a lone stork stands on it on one foot, as if in deep meditation. This carving, known as Mara kokku is there throughout the story, by the easy chair on which Vijayalakshmi spends the whole day. A stork would be rewarded for his patience as he finds a fish, but would Vijayalakshmi be rewarded for her long patient waiting.

 

Theniyan wrote about the plight of the people in Jaffna, the elite who were chained to their traditions, to preserve their family honour and status, while the poor people were shackled to the other end of the chain, suffering a far worse fate. We cannot blame the owners and managers of the temples when they try to prevent the untouchables from entering and desecrating their holy spaces. We cannot blame the younger generations who realize they are oppressed, that they need not accept a position of being less equal in society, who believe that the gods belong to them too, or they too belong to the gods.

 

Upali has translated many books by Indian writers, bringing them to us, the same way he brought the North to us, to enable us to learn about the culture, social life and religious practices in the North of Sri Lanka, and also South India. We can learn more by reading these novels, short stories and biographies than by making flying visits to these places as tourists or as pilgrims.

 

When we read the creative works by Upali Leelarathne, about the people living in the present day tea country, we realize we knew hardly anything about the people and their culture, even though we have travelled through tea country so often.

 

Upali takes us through the time when the British planted tea in the hill country, destroying all our beautiful, valuable forest cover, and pushing the people who lived in the region into small pockets of infertile, inaccessible remote villages. The people who were brought at gun point from South India, in the same way the British took Africans to America, worked like slaves in the beginning. But gradually they began to receive more benefits and a certain amount of freedom, because they banded together under trade unions and had politicians fighting for their rights. The village folk in the region had no organization to fight for their rights and no politicians took any serious active interest in their wellbeing.

 

To learn about these people, and more importantly, to learn how they lived in peaceful harmony, how they coexisted and how they broke down the language barrier, is why we must read these books. We learn it from Upali Leelarathne's own life, in the way he became a real bilingual writer and in the way he is sharing his knowledge and experience with all of us.

 

We need more translations between Sinhala and Tamil, and we bow our heads to Deshabandhu Sirisumana Godage and Mrs Godage, for their commitment to publish these books.

 

 

 

 

 

May 13, 2015, 3:29 a.m. » Tagged: Tamil novels , Sri Lanka , Sinhala translations , cast issue in Jaffna

Religious Tolerance and Harmony

 

 

Wesak is considered as the most important day of the year for all who follow the Buddha Dhamma, because it is accepted as the day of birth, enlightenment and passing away of the Buddha. Since the Universal Truth explained by the Buddha, and the path He showed us to escape from our suffering, has been converted to a religion, it was most appropriate for the Buddhist and Pali University to have organized an International Conference for Religious Tolerance and Harmony, which was held on April 22 and 23, 2015.

 

The keynote address was by Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, the President Emeritus of Interfaith Alliance, the leading non-partisan advocacy organization aimed at protecting religious freedom. It was very interesting to listen to the views of a Senior Pastor of Northminister Baptist Church from the other end of the world, which made us realize that whatever the geographical location, whatever the faith and belief, whatever the cultural background, that we as human beings share the same thoughts, same feelings and same needs and desires. He reminded us of the importance of "walking together" towards a peaceful, happier and a better world. "Walking together means journeying alongside each other with respect for each other, becoming comfortable with each other after getting to know each other, and learning from each other. Walking together involves commitment to staying on a shared journey even when it is difficult, moving faithfully toward a shared goal, knowing that the journey itself is as important as the arrival and that there will be no arrival without a shared journey."

 

Dr. Gaddy had a message for the people who quote scriptures out of context, their own or of other religions. "No one text of scripture can represent the truth to be found in an entire book of texts. Taking specific scriptural texts out of their historical and literary context and reading them in isolation from the over-arching truth found in the whole of the scriptures allows prejudiced and mean-spirited people to turn the scriptures of our religions into weapons with which we attack each other rather than sources of truth that beget love that brings us together."

 

When we have forgotten, or refuse to accept, the teachings of our own religious leaders, sometimes, we need an outside force to push us back into rational thinking, to accept reality. It happened in 1881, with the publication of 'The Buddhist Catechism' by Col. Henry Steel Olcott from Orange, New Jersey.

 

Among the others who presented their views were senior members of clergy of different faiths, young academics, not only from Sri Lanka, but also from India, Maldives, Myanmar, Korea, Netherlands and USA. There was a Catholic priest who was a Buddhist scholar, who had studied Buddhist philosophy for his doctorate, a lady who was born a Muslim but had adopted Buddhism, and a Buddhist monk who expressed his views in Tamil. There were also trilingual muslim delegates, who could bridge the language gap in our country.

 

It was a great achievement by the Vice Chancellor of the university, Ven. Prof. Gallelle Sumanasiri thero to have been able to organize this conference, and having being able to get the total support and the cooperation of the entire university, of the academic and non-academic staff and the students and the student union. This is the only university in our country with a department of religious studies for the study of all religions, together with other languages, not only Pali, but Tamil, Hindi, Chinese and English.

 

If we are to live in harmony with people of other faiths, it is necessary to learn about these faiths, their beliefs and practices, for it is only then that we could clear any misunderstandings, prejudices and fears that have been pushed down our throats by extremists factions. Democracy could divide people, politics could divide people, but God and religions should never be used to divide people.

 

Ven. Prof. Sumanasiri thero mentioned that Buddha was not born a Buddhist, Christ was not born a Christian, Mohammad was not born a Muslim, and that they all preached to non-Buddhist, non-Christians and non-Muslims. All religious leaders preached love, kindness and compassion. None of them preached hatred, none of them intended their teachings to create conflict among mankind.

 

The Five Precepts are simple practices that can be followed in everyday life by anybody anywhere. The Panchashila can be discussed, adapted and practiced even by those who have no adherence to either Buddhism or even by those who profess atheism. India adapted the Panchasheel Treaty in 1954, as the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

 

At a gathering of writers recently, the meeting began with the reciting of the Five Precepts. There were protests by open minded writers who were Buddhists, that it was wrong to make only a Buddhist religious observance, when there were writers of Hindu, Muslim and Christian faiths also present. This is a mindset we have to get out of, that any function in this country should begin with Pansil. As much as we have to tolerate other religions, we also should not expect the other faiths to tolerate such actions by the majority. Buddha Dhamma, and even Buddhism existed for over 2400 years without a flag, and a need for a flag was created because we wanted to imitate and ape the west, just as we created a national anthem just because the British sang God Save the King and the Indians began to sing Jana Gana Mana.

 

The Islamic views on religious tolerance and acceptance of the right for others to believe and practice other religions was presented by several Islamic scholars, at the conference and it was very heartening to be assured by them of their offer to work together towards peace and harmony in this country.

 

One of the papers presented was about Spirituality as a healing process, that it is an inseparable bond with every religion. In the field of counseling and psychotherapy spirituality has been recognized as a successful treatment process. Practicing meditation of loving kindness helps to counteract hatred and its related defilements, which leads to compassion. A question was raised how the counsellor could advise Mettabhavana to members of the armed forces. There was a response, that if everyone was guided by love, by loving kindness and could empathize with everyone, there would not be a need for an armed force in the country.

 

There was a research study to identify the potentials to build up the inter-religious integrity through religious interpretation on social responsibility, with special reference to the main four religions of Sri Lanka: Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.

 

Another delegate quoted from Prof. K. N. Jayatilleke, "Not a drop of blood has been shed throughout the ages in the propagation and dissemination of Buddhism in the many lands to which it spread; religious wars either between the schools of Buddhism or against other religions have been unheard of."

 

At the final session, it was also brought to the attention of the delegates, that in addition to all the papers presented and the formal discussions, there were more informal discussions and sharing of views among the delegates, outside the conference hall, which too were of much significance, because the close interaction, understanding and the respect shown to the views of others were all a major contribution for all of us to "walk together".

 

During the lunch break, the delegates could serve themselves, and enjoy all the different dishes laid out, or select one dish only, or not accept any of them. They had the freedom of choice, and no one forced them to partake of the meal, and no one looked down on the others for consuming a different food than what they preferred. Once Ven. Prof. Sumanasiri said that was the kind of freedom we need even with our religious faiths.

 

There was a reference to a religion as a rope which tethered man to a post, like a cow tied to a tree, limiting his movements and preventing him from mingling with others. A comment was received that if the rope is removed the cow could run onto the rail track. Religions could be ropes, even Buddhism, but Buddha Dhamma has never been a rope, because the Dhamma allowed man to roam freely in search of the truth and his salvation, to be Ehipassika, to seek and see the truth by himself.

 

It is for this reason that the Buddhist University was an ideal center for a conference on Religious Tolerance and Harmony. As the majority religious faith in this country, the followers of Buddha Dhamma, just as they have a right to safeguard their faith, they also have their duties, responsibilities and obligations towards the others who live in this country. Those of other faiths too have their rights and the freedom to practice what they believe, but they also have their obligations, and responsibilities towards the others.

 

Thus on the day we celebrate Wesak in our country, and all over the world, let us listen to the words of the Buddha, on Loving Kindness towards all life on earth. Let us look at our fellow human beings, as our own family, without trying to look at them as outsiders, without labelling them by their race, or their faith, or their caste.

 

 

May 4, 2015, 1:45 a.m. » Tagged: Religion , harmony , tolerance

Going back to Worship of Nature

 

 

Going back to Nature Worship could be the solution to the present day spread of violence, sometimes aggravated by religious conflicts. We can worship nature, not in the way it was interpreted by our early anthropologists, but the way we worship our parents and our gurus. Then we can still adhere to our faith, be it Buddha Dhamma, Hindu Dhamma, Christianity or Islam, without any conflict within ourselves, or in the society, while also worshipping nature.

 

In the beginning there would have been only nature worship, with Mother Earth as the Mother Goddess. The Great Mother was the Mother of all life in our solar system.

 

On Mother Earth, human beings would have been totally non-violent. Since the female was the life giving principle, and she gathered the food for her family and was closer to nature, they worshipped the feminine. It is only when man tasted carrion, probably during a famine, that he got a liking for it and began to kill animals for his food. The killing brought out the violence and sadistic nature in man. When he became the provider, he also took control of the family, and with his aggressive nature, he set aside the passive, non-violent female deities with powerful, violent and aggressive male deities.

 

The new male dominated religions, even though all of them professed peace and co-existence, and the gods were all said to be benevolent, later interpretations resulted in conflicts and competition, and the ruling classes exploited them to gain more and more power and wealth, by inciting brother against brother for the love of god.

 

When we worship the sky, the sun, the moon and the stars, when we worship rain and the rivers, the trees and the mountains, we do not have to fight with each other because all nature belongs to all of us and we belong to nature. We are all children of Mother Earth, in addition to being the children of God, or Brahma, if we wish to believe.

 

The water flowing down a river does not discriminate between man and animal, or among men of different races, creeds or castes. The light from the sun falls down on all of us. None of us can claim the sun belongs to us, and not to other people on earth. Then there would not be any necessity to fight each other for the possession of our sacred object. There would not be any necessity to convert a person from one form of worship to another.

 

If a man can use an axe to cut down a tree, it would not be difficult for him to use the same axe to cut down a fellow human being. He would not do that if he considered the tree as sacred. Man would not pollute a river if he held her sacred.

 

One more reason we have to go back to nature worship, specially the worship of Mother Earth, is because it has now been accepted by many scientists, that Mother Earth is a living goddess.

 

Gaia was the name given by the Greeks to Mother Earth. Today people are reluctant to accept that Earth Mother could be a living organism, because then they have to accept that they are molesting, violating, abusing and torturing someone alive.

 

Gaia is sick, and dying. She would have self diagnosed the sickness as cancer. It would be in her interest and instinct for survival to destroy and eliminate the cancer cells completely. The cancer cells are mankind, which are spreading all over the world, destroying all other living organisms. Either man has to control himself, and stop all destruction, beginning with destroying his own species, or let Gaia destroy the entire human race. The only way to stop this destruction is by worshipping Gaia as we would our own mother, and worshipping all other natural forces.

 

Lynn Margulis talks about endosymbiosis as the most likely explanation of the origin and evolution of life on the planet we know as Earth. We have to get out of our anthropocentric mindset, that man is superior to all other life and we are the masters of the universe. In reality, we do not exist as separate entities, but we only co-exist with around 30 billion other life forms including the bacteria and virus forms.

 

We do not know if Lovelock and Margulis had studied the teachings on Paticca

Samuppada, or the Law of Dependent Origination. "The causal interdependence applies to all things from the natural environment, which is an external, physical condition, to the events of human society, ethical principles, life events and the happiness and suffering which manifest in our own minds."

 

One thing we have to be very careful is never to let nature worship be institutionalized. This could once again lead to allegiances, loyalties, conflicts, divisions, and we could get back full circle to a new segment involved in religious conflict. As an example if we are to worship the moon, let us not argue or begin to fight who is on the moon, a man, a rabbit, or a duck.

 

The Romans worshipped the two faced god Janus. His temple doors were open in times of war, and closed when there was peace. Let us get together to close and seal the doors of the Janus temple forever, so that it will crumble into dust and disappear from the face of Mother Earth someday. Why I am not suggesting that we destroy the Janus temple is because it would be another act of violence, and we need not resort to violence even against any person or object, for time and nature will take care of it.

 

April 29, 2015, 2:39 a.m. » Tagged: Nature , religion , religious harmony