in search of Thule
I went in search of Thule, (pronounced too-lee) with Joanna Kavenna, thanks to the British Council library, Colombo. I wish the Council offered a facility to place our comments on the books we read, which could be useful for the other library members and even other readers around the world. The book is 'The Ice Museum: In Search of the Lost Land of Thule' published in 2005, but had taken nine years to reach us here, perhaps longer than it had taken Kavenna to search for Thule.
Kavenna speaks about many people who had gone in search of Thule before her. It all began probably with Pytheas, the Greek explorer who travelled north around 330 BC to 320 BC. But Strabo the geographer, and historian considered Pytheas as "an arch falsifier'. Since these early times, the elusive Thule has interested many explorers and we are still searching.
Ultima Thule came to be considered as any distant place or unknown region or the extreme limit of travel and discovery during the early days when modes of travel were very limited. Yet today Thule means many things to many people, which has no relevance to the original Thule or the Ultima Thule. There are many business organizations using Thule as a brand name or for their business ventures and the United States named an air force base also as Thule. There is a Swedish rock band calling themselves Ultima Thule.
Among the more recent researchers is Arne Naess, the Norwegian philosopher, ecologist and mountaineer, who climbed mountains but did not consider it important to reach the summit or count the number of summits he had reached.
This book is not just about a journey through to the North Pole, but also an odyssey through the writings of all the philosophers, historians, adventurers, writers and poets who had visited all the spaces which had been considered or identified as Thule.
We meet Hyperboreans, "a mythical ancient tribe of the far North, a people who knew neither war nor injustice, neither age nor disease; they supped with divinities and invited Apollo over for a dance and dinner...an immortal race.." The myth of Hyperboreans had gradually merged with Thule.
The Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen went in search of Thule, as the ultimate limit of human exploration, the Ultima Thule, while on his expedition to conquer the Arctic.
She writes of gaps in the old myth of Thule, which "meant that Thule could be formed and reformed, depending on your anxieties and predilections.... a myth that could be made to fit, tailored and snipped at the edges, parts of it swept away....". How true this could be of all myths that have come down to us, and how true about human history too, we are making it fit what ever frame we want. Kavanna hints at the Germans who formed the Thule Society and tried to claim that Thule as the Pure Land, of the pure Aryans.
The author met the Sámi, who were more often called the Lapps, in Karasjok, a village by the Finnish border. "We were never Aryans. But our ancestors were in these regions for thousands of years, even before the Nordic tribes came." These people have also been called, Wildlappmanni, Scrithinfini, Scritobini and Screrefinni, and had been mentioned by Tacitus and Procopius.
The first post-independent president of Estonia, Lennart Meri, who rekindled the argument that Pytheas had not gone North, but arrived at the Gulf of Finland and that Thule is Estonia. He believes that Pytheas was referring to a meteorite which had fallen on Estonia and the resultant conflagration. The place where 'the sun went to rest'. In Estonian, Tuli means 'fire'! Meri believes it fell on the island Saaremaa where a lake was formed. For President Meri "Thule had been a thing, not a place.....it was an event when the sun fell from the sky." For it was a "piece of national memory, a national dream, forgotten during the [German] occupation."
Kavanna probably found her Thule, in the "languid summer evenings in Iceland,... a nature church, with everyone bowing to the scenery, ...with a cult of silence of pure white plains and unpopulated mountains..."
There were others who wanted to shift Thule further North, to Greenland. In 1910 Knud Rasmussen had established a trading post in Greenland and called it Thule, and the people who lived there as Thule Inuit. Then with the start of the Cold war, the U.S. built an Air base at Thule, realizing that it was equidistant between New York and Moscow.
The search for Thule "...was simply to satisfy humanity's thirst for knowledge....the spirit of humanity will never rest till every spot of these regions has been trodden, till every enigma has been solved". That is the story of mankind. "Thule represented all the explorers and writers imagining and traveling and trying to understand".
Kavenna's last stop was Svalbard (former Spitsbergen). The very strict rules and regulations to protect the country, her environment, natural resources and all life, as enforced in Svalbard is a lesson for all of us, all over the world, and we could really have our own Thule then. "The edicts were so strict that Svalabard became an invented reality,.....the Governor had environmental necessity on his side, sacrificing the interests of humans to the abiding beauty of the rocks..."
In the past historians, adventurers, scientists searched for Thule. Today the scientists in Thule (Svalabard) are trying to calculate the future, says Joanna Kavanna at the end of her own adventure, perhaps in search of her own Thule. We would never know if Pytheas invented Thule to fill the empty space in all our minds or if Thule had ever existed.
One of the themes for this years conference is - "Sufism as a way of life, celebrating life through love, compassion, forgiveness, and good neighbourliness."
Unfortunately today this is what is really missing among the seven billion human beings in the world. We talk of peace, when the word only means the absence of war. If we are to bring back love, compassion and good neighbourliness, then we have to eliminate war completely and for that we have to first understand who starts a war and why. It is then that we could use the Sufi Dharma to achieve what we have aimed for.
As I argued last year at this conference, I am not in favour of using the term Sufism. It demeans the great Dharma that is known to us by the term Sufi. All isms today create division, conflicts, hatred, envy, and in the ultimate form of destruction, lead to the most inhuman of human actions, called war.
War is legal murder. State sponsored murder, rape, plunder and destruction, but always justified by the victor. It is the loser who is always wrong, who is the villain. The winner is the hero, and will always have enough reasons, arguments. evidence to justify his mass murder.
"War is the pornography of violence. It has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it “the lust of the eye” and warns believers against it. War allows us to engage in primal impulses we keep hidden in the deepest, most private interiors of our fantasy life." Chris Hedges wrote.
"Tjaden reappears...., wondering just how a war gets started.
-Mostly by one country badly offending another,- answers Albert with a slight air of superiority.
Then Tjaden pretends to be obtuse. -A country? I don't follow. A mountain in Germany cannot offend a mountain in France. Or a river, or a wood, or a field of wheat.-"
The above is from 'All Quite on the Western Front' (1929), by Erich Maria Remarque.
Who really starts a war, is a question that has plagued mankind ever since he began fighting with his own brother.
It is said that one man caused the two world wars in the 20th century, followed by the Cold War. His name was Gavrillo Princip, a 19 year old Serb nationalist, who assassinated Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, one hundred years ago, on June 28th, 1914. World War I, caused the death of over 13 million of the armed forces. Even when the war ended in November 1918, no one really won the war. The Peace Treaty of Versailles led to the World War II which resulted int he death of over 50 million.
The end of the World War II led to all the subsequent wars int he Middle East, the Far East and most other present day conflicts all over the world. Thus we could blame all these wars on Gavrillo Princip, but in reality even WWI was a result of all the earlier wars by greedy power hungry despots throughout the history of mankind.
If we accept Jared Diamond's argument that 'agriculture is the worst mistake made by mankind', then the first woman who planted her own tree or a few seeds of grain could be considered as responsible for all subsequent wars on earth. When man planted a tree he would have claimed it for his own. Then he has to claim the land on which the tree grows as his own land. When another man planted a tree and it bore fruit, the other man would have coveted it, and grabbed it by force. That would have been Cain and Able's story, and the beginning of all wars since then.
It has always been for land, for the wealth on the land, and for the people to be taken as salves. Man was brainwashed into continuous war by the literature and the other artistic creations which extolled war and the murder and destruction. Made heros of the murderers.
Shaykh Nizam ad-din Awliya believed that possession of private property increased his attachment to them and led to unhappiness. He said that happiness lay not in accumulating wealth but in spending it among the needy.
Many people believe that Asoka waged war against Kalinga because it was his father's dream, or that as he had captured all the sea ports he wanted the last remaining port also to be his own. In that case it was pure greed which resulted in the massacre of thousands, and today people still watch and enjoy films made about this war. But is there any archaeological evidence that Asoka had ever waged a war against the Kalinga? If not, then it was only our ancient chronicles which had created this myth and described all the violence, probably just to show a contrast of the Chandasoka and later Dharmasoka. Then unknowingly perhaps this had contributed for the continuing war-mentality of the South Asian people.
"I vote for war, men who will risk no battles will never leave to their sons a household rich in gold and home-born slaves." says Prokrustes in 'The Bull from the Sea' by Mary Renault. (p. 22). "The House of Minos stood for a thousand years, because Crete had one law'. 'Yet it had fallen'. 'For want of law enough. It stopped with the serfs and the slaves. Men are dangerous who have nothing left to lose'" (p. 38). It is the power hungry rulers who use such men to fight their battles, by inciting hatred in them against their neighbours.
Shaykh Sayf ad-din Bakharzi wrote this poem -
"He who is not my friend - may God be his friend,
And he who bears ill-will against me, may his joys (in life) increase.
He who puts thorns in my way on account of enmity,
May every flower that blooms in the garden of his life, be without thorns"
The Shaykh also had said that forgiveness rather than retribution was the real way to peace and happiness in social relations.
Murshid Inayat Khan said “The religion of the mystic is every religion and all religions, yet the mystic is above what people call their religion. In point of fact the mystic is religion, for it is not any religion, it is all religions. The moral of all religion is reciprocity: to reciprocate all the kindness we receive from others, to do an act of kindness to others without intending to have appreciation or a return for it, and to make every sacrifice, however great, for love, harmony and beauty.”
Chapter 109 of the Quran. "Say: O you that reject faith! I do not worship that which you worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which you have been wont to worship, nor will you worship that which I worship. To you be your Way (or religion) and to me mine." (Quran 109:1-6) Then why are we fighting, with people of other faiths, and even with people who are of the same faith, but interpreting their religious beliefs in slightly different ways.?
As Mossarrap H. Khan at the New York University says, War news and books would be considered as 'Pornography of violence'. He has also argued that war in modern times, like festivals in primitive societies, demands human sacrifice. When we see on all news media the tragedy of the children killed in Gaza, it just shows that children are the ones easy to sacrifice or kill. Gaza is the most recent reminder of the ghastliness of war, but it is what has been happening ever since man began to fight his own brother, they kill not only the men, but the women and children, and they rape the women and take them as slaves. The rulers offer all these benefits to their armies, as an inducement, along with whatever wealth they could plunder from the enemy.
Over exposure to news media contributes to further violence and hatred. The tragedy of the children of Gaza increases the hatred of the people, not only in Gaza but of people who feel they are a part of the same community. Such exposure makes the other people, who view these images at a distance, and have no kinship or links with these families, become benumbed, indifferent and even apathetic.
Pankisi is a village in Georgia, close to the Chechen border. Kists, who live here are ethnic Chechens and Muslims and they are Sufis, following the 19th century Sufi mystic and pacifist Kunta Hadji-Kushiev, who preached a doctrine of brotherly love and non-violent resistance. Through song and dance they call for 'Marshua kavkaz', peace in the Caucasus.
Marshua Kavkaz, “No more war! Peace to the world”, is the motto of the organisation established by the Kist women. These women sing and pray since singing, tiredness and sweat purify their sins and generate the energy necessary to confront challenges.
According to Makvala Margoshvili, leader of the female Sufi brotherhood of Kadrija, a lot of challenges are still ahead of her and the other Hadjists (the term derived from the name of Kunta Hadji Kishiev, the founder of the brotherhood). They wish to promote Kist culture, draw people’s attention to the plight of the Caucasus and to prove their people are not terrorists or savages as they are often portrayed in Russia and Europe. The key characteristics of their beliefs are condemnation of war, love of peace, respect for adat (traditional law), forgiveness, abstention from revenge, asceticism and modesty. She is not the first Sufi woman, as Rabia-al-Adawiyyah was a disciple of the 8th century sufi Hasan al-Basri. In her teaching she had emphasized the power of love.
As we found sometimes in our past, and even today, militant Buddhists, who still claim to be following the Buddha who preached loving kindness to all living things in the universe, we also find militant sufi, among the followers of the great Sufi saints who preached peace and love. Probably it had happened as Sufi teachings became trampled upon by Sufism, just as Buddha Dhamma was swallowed up by Buddhism.
When Jamal al-Din al-Afghani called for Muslim-Hindu unity in India to get rid of the British it also created a rift against the Christians, which was the religion of the oppressor and this had affected the sufi universalism generally, laying the groundwork for the sufi-fundamentalist convergence. Rafiq Zakaria said, "It is ironic that the sufis, who were originally so liberal and tolerant towards followers of other faiths, should have been in the forefront of a militant jihad against them. Yet, this was understandable because they feared that the non-Muslims were bent on destroying Islam by taking advantage of the ineptitude and weakness of corrupt Muslim rulers."
Sometimes flags start a war, and are always used in war.
We should do away with all our flags which only divide people. Buddha Dhamma survived around the world for 2400 years without the need of a flag. It is an American, who came to Sri Lanka and claimed to have converted himself to "Buddhism" who decided that the Buddhists needed a flag. Colonel Henry Olcott became a Buddhist by reciting the Five Precepts. This conversion is a part of westernization of Buddha Dhamma. I do not believe that anyone can be converted to "Buddha Dhamma". A person could be converted to "Buddhism" which is so different from Buddha Dhamma, in the same way a person could be converted to Hinduism, but not to Vedic Dhamma. These are all the influence of the western Christian mindset, who always try to convert people. It is this mindset that planted the idea of a Buddhist flag in the minds of Sri Lankans. A flag was designed and later on it was even accepted internationally as the "Buddhist Flag".
I do not understand how and why people should convert from one religion to another. We do not convert from one race to another, or one nationality to another. I admire and love India, but I cannot convert myself to be an Indian.
It is ironic that flags which would have originated in the east, in India and China, had to come back to the east, introducing a symbol of violence and aggression into a culture of peace and non-violence.
I don't know, I have not been able to find out if there is a Sufi Flag. But what I believe is that Buddha Dhamma and Sufi do not need flags. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, a flag is just a piece of cloth, "or similar material displaying the insignia of a community, an armed force, an office, or an individual".
The origin of flags would have happened along with the origin of war, or human-human armed conflicts. When men are fighting against men, it is not easy to identify a friend or foe, unlike if man is fighting another creature. And when they are fighting in hoards, identification becomes still more difficult and that is why they could have used a piece of cloth to identify themselves, specially for the leaders to get their men to follow them. Thus it became a symbol of power and pride. The rulers forced first their own subjects to respect his flag, and then the people they defeated and conquered.
The use of a flag to identify a group of people, and to follow the flag is seen today even among lsrge tourist groups, when they visit overcrowded tourist destinations. The tour leader carries a bright piece of cloth on a stick, for his group to follow him, and the people in the group follow him without asking any question, and would dare not stray and get lost.
In Europe the first “national” flags were adopted in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Many of the leaders of that time adopted the flag of their patron saint to represent their country. In England, for example, the cross of St. George was adopted in the 13th century. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, flags had become accepted symbols of nations, kings, organizations, cities, and guilds. Guild flags bore obvious devices.
Instead of bringing down barriers, wiping out borders, all over the world, we are creating more borders, splitting up the land, from Telangana to Crimea we are hearing of more new borders, while we do not hear of countries merging together.
Today there is confusion even about the number of countries in the world. The United Nations records only 193 countries, because they do not recognize Taiwan. Nor does it include The Vatican and Kosovo. There are also countries which do not have their own identity, like Puerto Rico, and Palestine. When we have so many countries, it is inevitable that there are almost identical national flags of so many different nations. Monaco and Indonesia, Romania, Chad and Andora have identical flags. The only difference between the Indian flag and the Niger flag is that one has the Asoka Chakra while the other has an orange sun.
Even though a flag originated as a symbol of war, the Indian flag is an emblem of peace. Dr. Radhakrishnan had explained the saffron colour denotes renunciation, the white in the center is light, the path of truth to guide our conduct, green shows our relation to soil, to plant life on which all other life depends, and the Asoka wheel is the wheel of the law of dharma. How many, out of the one billion Indians really respect the Indian flag for what it means? And if a people in a country or a people of a faith respect their flag, then they should also show equal respect to the flags of other people. Instead what we see is people trampling on, and even burning the flags of other people, while expecting their own flag to be respected and honoured. Governments take action and punish people who dishonour their own flag, while often they encourage people to do the same thing to the flags of their enemies.
Taking the Indian flag as just one example, there is a Flag Code and also provisions under the Emblems and Names Act and Prevention of Insults to national Honour Act. But such respect and honour cannot be enforced, it has to come voluntarily.
The flag waving only widens the gap between religions and races. A flag is a symbol of superiority, aggression, proclamation of victory over the vanquished. Such behaviour should never be part of any religious movement. Identifying oneself with one group, by flag, language, dress code or political views alienates us from the others outside the group.
When it was labeled as a religion and was named Buddhism, the 'Buddhists' needed a flag. The name Buddhism and the flag separated it from people who were identified as non-Buddhists, whereas Buddha Dhamma could be followed by any person of any faith.
A true follower of Buddha Dhamma does not need a flag, because he is never going into battle against any other human being, he is never going to trod upon the lives of other people, and Buddha would never have carried a flag with him, when he led the Sangha to show the path of Nirvana to the people. In the same manner a Sufi would not need a flag either to go into battle or conquer other people. He would need a flag for his meditation.
I do not believe a true follower of Sufi would need a flag either.
At the Sufi shrine Daftar Jailani in Kuragala in Sri Lanka, where Sheikh Muhiyadeen Abdul Qadir Jailani is believed to have meditated for 12 years in the 12th century, at the annual festival they have a flag hoisting ceremony. I believe the flag hoisting has come through the Chrisianization of our culture, because we see such flag hoisting and flag poles at Christian festivals and also at Buddhist temples in predominantly Christian areas of the country.
I mention this here just to draw to your attention, that all over the world, we adopt, imitate, copy customs, rituals and way of life from other cultures, religions and languages, yet we try to still isolate ourselves within our own man-made barriers and try to fight with those on the other side. To mention just another example, in our country we had a three decades of armed conflict, where most of the people who died and suffered did not have any interest in the conflict. It was all because of the issue of language, Sinhala and Tamil, which is the only difference between the Tamil Hindu and Sinhala Buddhist. We speak two different languages, one Indo-Aryan and the other Dravidian. Yet there are nearly 1000 words of Dravidian origin in the Sinhala language, both people use so many English words in our speech, that there is practically no language barrier between us. And yet we fought each other, or in reality politicians created a division and got the people to fight each other, under two flags.
The only flag we need today is the plain white flag as a symbol of peace, for all humanity.
"Keep It Simple Stupid" is attributed to Kelly Johnson, the Lockheed engineer leading the team which built U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird spy planes. The KISS Principle became more popular as "Keep it simple, stupid" with an added comma. The story is that Johnson handed a set of tools to the design engineers with the challenge that the jet aircraft they were designing should be reparable by an average mechanic in the battle field using basic tools. The design had to be kept 'simple stupid'.
Next it became a catch phrase among software engineers, to keep the programs simple stupid so it could be maintained by an average developer under pressure in any environment. Yet the KISS Principle need to be used everywhere today, because we are all wasting so much time and space and energy keeping things abstruse and stupid.
We even have a word for it, Pleonasm, "the use of more words than are necessary to convey meaning" The Oxford dictionary gives an example, "see with one's eyes". pleonasms.com gives a long list of such redundant expressions, like "ATM machine", "face mask", "free gift", "kneel down".
Sometimes Pleonasms are used deliberately for emphasis like "the most unkindest cut" (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar 3:2) and we would not be able to use KISS in such situations. The Indian poet Vijayanand V. Gaitonde (VishVnand) gives a different interpretation to KISS as 'Keep on Indefinitely Speaking & Speaking' referring to "most leaders and politicians". VishVnand also uses 385 words to say it, but his definition applies not only to politicians but to some audio visual media presenters too.
Sometimes when we read huge tomes, which are called novels, running into several volumes or over one thousand pages, it comes to our mind that they could have used KISS, because, whether they use KISS or not, great novels have been written in much shorter lengths, sometimes even been called novellas, because such works do not qualify to be a "full length novel", which itself sounds like a pleonasm. We also meet the same situation in poetry too. UNESCO has imposed a minimum length for a book, it has to contain more than 49 pages. But for some reason they have not imposed a maximum length, so a book could be 50 pages or 5 billion pages. A book could have only 500 words, which could fit into one page, or if the publisher decided to print one word per page, it could run into 500 pages, and would be acceptable to UNESCO.
I am not aware if UNESCO accepted the 200 page book, 'What Every Man thinks About Apart from Sex' by Sheridan Simove, because all 200 pages are blank. KISS at work! Priced at $ 8.06 on Amazon, in 2011, the year it was published, it had outsold Dan Brown and J. K. Rowling. It also has an ISBN and claims copyright.
If UNESCO really supports man's creativity they should accept that a writer who conveys his thoughts or narrates his story, in a few pages or a few words, or without words, should be admired for his skill. A short and simple book which could be read and understood by many should be admired more than a long and confusing book which could be understood only by a few people, or by none at all. All religious leaders have explained their messages and teachings in the simplest of words, so that even the less educated and illiterate followers could understand. They preached to kings and academics and also farmers and peasants alike.
It was only later, when the agents of the religious leaders took over, that they made the teachings complicated and beyond the understanding of everybody. For the agents wanted to retain the knowledge among themselves. They could be feeling secure by keeping the knowledge obscure. That is probably why every world religion developed into so many different sects and divisions, each group interpreting the teachings in different ways, adding further to the confusion, of the already confused teachings. That is also probably why there are so many conflicts among people resulting from their failure to understand their own religious teachings.
It is time to use the KISS Principle to convey the religious teachings, make them easier and simpler for everyone to understand, not only one's own faith and creed, but those of others too. We should also use the KISS Principle in all school text books, so that children could read and understand them, even without the assistance of a teacher. But to achieve all this we need people who have really understood what they are writing about, and who have really mastered their language.
The KISS Principle could be used to explain how to unravel the Gordian Knot. Instead of trying to make a very lengthy explanation, we could say in a few words how Alexander had either cut it with his sword or pulled the pin which held the yoke. Today we cannot see the writing because of the words.
KISS is also what we find in Hemingway's Iceberg Principle and in his writing, which we also find in most of our Sigiri poems, in Japanese Haiku, and in Flash Fiction. That is why we even have one-word poems. They all confirm that 'Small is always more beautiful', as in everything else in Life and in all the Arts. That is why we used to say "Short and Sweet", instead of long and bitter.
Since everything simple need not be stupid, let us say Short and Sweet, or Short and Simple. Then we would be saving a few trees, which otherwise would be killed to make paper, or save energy for running the servers and internet service providers and reading device chargers, when we read our e-books or listen to audio books.
The term 'Pornography of Violence' has been used by many writers. It was explained by Prof. Robert Knox Denton of the State University of New York, "emotionally arousing material that focusses on doing harm to people in a way that, perhaps tacitly, seems to condone that behavior in order to gratify the author or reader". Denton also is the author of 'The Semai: A nonviolent people of Malaysia', perhaps the only nonviolent human community left on earth.
Pornography is said to have originated from Greek pornographos, 'writing about prostitutes'. Prostitute from latin prostituere, 'exposed publicly, offered for sale', which today and always could apply not only to women who offer their body, but to many others in many other fields, which have all become respectable or accepted business. Thus any literature or works of art depicting violence, related to, or originating from, any form of prostitution could be considered 'Pornography of Violence'.
"War is the pornography of violence" is a song by Brian Routh. It has a dark beauty, filled with the monstrous and the grotesque. The Bible calls it “the lust of the eye” [1 John 2:16] and warns believers against it. War allows us to engage in primal impulses we keep hidden in the deepest, most private interiors of our fantasy life." wrote columnist Chris Hedges in Truthdig. That is why we find that "Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes." Proverbs 27:20.
Britain has started 'commemorating the Great War'. It is a celebration really of the start of the first world war. No war should ever be called 'great', because there could never be anything great about massacring other human beings. Instead of celebration we should mourn the dead and all the people who suffered, and discuss ways and means of preventing another such crime. Simon Jenkins of the Guardian called it a 'media theme park', that there are even great war fashion shows, and that the Royal Mail has issued "A special souvenir selection that enables you to enjoy both the stories and the stamps". Even the British government is asking people to enjoy the death of 20 million with another 17 million wounded during this war.
The film critic David Edelstein used the term 'Torture Porn' for some horror films coming out today. He says "And just as women are objectified in so much sexual pornography, in torture porn, it is the victims which are objectified, reduced to mere conduits of our sadistic hunger."
Mary Anne Layden, Director of the Sexual Trauma and Psychopathology Program, University of Pennsylvania, wrote, "Pornography is a potent teacher of both beliefs and behaviours, and in fact provides the ideal conditions for learning." She was talking about pornography and sexual violence, "We also learn better when aroused...the arousal may come from excitement, joy, fear, disgust or sexual tension....Pornography can offer all these elements..."
We learn not only what is good and beneficial to us and to mankind, but more often the evil and harmful acts and behaviour. That is how pornography of violence breeds more and more violence. Violence on visual media cause more harm. As Layden says, "A split-second look at an image can convey more information than a split-second look at words. Words are often perceived as opinions while images are often perceived as events or facts."
'Pornography of violence' is with us too, not only when we go on and on about the 30 years of conflict, but also from the past, writing novels, poems, biographies, making films, winning awards and hitting best seller lists. In the beginning there was no violence. Man did not show any violence towards man or animal, and probably there was no word for violence. Today we do not have a word for the absence of violence.
As difficult as it may be to admit, we have grown up with and grown accustomed to violence as our model of “conflict resolution.” We may hold an unbearable grief inside ourselves at this state of our world – but we are no longer surprised by it.
We have to blame all historians and epic poets for the violence around us today. They have almost all justified violence and brain-washed us to believe that violence is the only way to resolve conflicts. The only literature without violence was found initially in the Jain and Buddhist writings, till we came to the Sufi literature.
"In 75 percent of the television programs sown during hours when American children are most likely to be watching, the hero either kills people or beats them up. This violence typically constitutes the 'climax' of the show. Viewers, having been taught that bad guys deserve to be punished, take pleasure in watching this violence." This applies to our countries too, when we see the amount of violence shown on television and films, and the way people are getting addicted to this enjoyment of violence. It is the implied threat of violence (and its strategic use) that has kept a population of 7 billion human beings controlled by the agenda of a few thousand intimate power brokers. Violence is the vehicle by which “power over” is maintained. Just as the sex industry thrives on pornography, the power brokers and the arms industry thrive on pornography of violence. The arms industry is probably today the largest single business on earth.
Even though the United Nations is supposed to unite nations and create an atmosphere of peace on earth, five of the UN Security Council permanent members are the biggest arms traders in the world. This means creating world peace is not in their best interest. They would never prevent pornography, sexual or violent, because it would not be in their interest.
Research could help us understand the Arts, and Arts could help us understand Research. Dr. Godwin Kodituwakkau, tells us in his book, 'Paryeshana Lokayata Pivisemu'.
Man's thirst for knowledge has been always insatiable. From the day of his birth, from the moment he opened his eyes, he has been thirsting for knowledge. From the time he can utter a few words, he begins to ask questions, he wants to know, he wants explanations. It is this thirst that has made it possible for man to move ahead of the rest of the animals, and for his civilization to grow so rapidly. Whether such advances in science and technology and commerce benefitted man and the universe is a separate issue.
It is this thirst that leads man to investigate, and to research. We were reminded of our own term 'Gaveshana' by Prof. Narada Warnasooriya, at the Press Council weekly discourse chaired by Prof. Sunanda Mahendra, on Dr. Godwin Kodituwakku's book. The original meaning of Gaveshana is considered as the search for lost cows. This would not have been just a wild disorganized search, but would have been well planned, based on the habits of the cows, the paths through the forest they could use, places where they would have strayed previously and all such factors. It would not have been a wild goose chase.
Dr. Kodituwakku has dedicated the book to "our young generation thirsting for knowledge to build their future world". 'Paryeshana Lokayata Pivisemu', written in simple language, is a roadmap for our youth to find their path to a stream of fresh cool water to quench their thirst. As Prof. Warnasooriya explained, we should always drink from a fresh flowing stream, and never the green slime on a pool of stagnant water.
Unfortunately today the thirst for knowledge gets turned off at a very young age. Some parents are too busy to answer all the non-stop questions raised by their children. They would either brush them off with a silly, meaningless response, or sometimes even warn the children not to ask so many questions. It could continue at school, if the teachers are not responsive to children's questions. The children would begin to think that it is wrong to ask questions, that it is wrong to attempt to find out about things, about what is happening around them. Their intelligence is further curbed by the time they enter grade 3, because the mothers push the children into 'total immersion' for the grade five scholarship examination. By the time this hurdle is crossed, the children have become robots programmed to 'study', with one objective, of getting through examinations.
It is probably why we do not find much research in any field in our country. Most research that is done is probably to jump one more hurdle, just to get another academic qualification or a position at a university. We hardly hear of any post-doctoral research projects, or publications. We do not hear of our academics engaging in any research during their sabbaticals. But we hear of plagiarism in scholarly publications, which had led to even 'academic ghost writing'. (Daily News March 5th, 2014).
Thirst for knowledge and our curiosity also leads us to the famous questions, which Buddha left unanswered, recorded in the Avyakata Samyutta. There were several questions which the Buddha is reported to have refused to answer. Among such questions were the existence of a self, Buddha's existence after death and about the cosmos.
Dr. Kodituwakku stresses upon students, that when we do research in whatever field, we need to be disciplined, we need to select our research objective with care and we should be able to share our knowledge. We should also be careful not to steal the work of others, and wherever we use data published by others, that we should acknowledge them.
Doing research simply for the sake of doing it, in order to publish a research report should never be our aim. We all have limited time, limited resources, and there are innumerable areas where research is urgently needed. Extending the vase-life of cut flowers by using chemical preservatives may not be one such urgent need. Flowers are meant to remain on plants and not in vases.
The annual 'Ig Nobel' prizes are awarded for Improbable research. Research that "first make people laugh, and then make them think". At their website, improbable.com, we find a quote by Isaac Asimov, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka' but, 'That's funny...'". The 2013 Ig Nobel prize for medicine went to a Japanese team "for assessing the effect of listening to opera, on heart transplant patients who are mice", and the Probability Prize for the study "Are cows more likely to lie down the longer they stand?".
The thirst for knowledge is unquenchable, and should always remain so. We have to remind ourselves to be "ehipassiko" (see and experience for themselves) rather than imprisoning ourselves in "evam me sutam" (thus have I heard). We must also share our knowledge. Going digital with all our research will be our greatest service to our future generations. Research data should be accessible by all, from anywhere, anytime, and for free. No one should have the right to monopolize, control, deny access or make a profit from their discoveries. "The creators who thrive today are the ones who use Internet distribution most intelligently. In fact, the ones who are most generous with their work often reap the most reward. People used to think of reuse as stealing; today, not letting others use your work can mean irrelevance." -Cathy Casserly, CEO, Creative Commons
Let me end with a short poem by the Nepali poet, Prakash Subedi.
"I opened my eyes to see the world
I closed my eyes and saw the world".
The SAARC literary Festival in Dhaka made me think that we could call South Asia as Tagoredesh. I met so many poets, writers and fellow travelers, from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and our own Sri Lanka. All of them held Tagore in the highest esteem, as the greatest literary figure of recent times.
Many moons ago, I wrote in this column, (20 June, 2012) about how we sang the Indian anthem and then the Sri Lanka anthem, at a ceremony in Colombo to honour Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, and how I wished we had a universal anthem which all of us could sing together. At the Literary Festival in Dhaka, all the Bangladeshi sang "Amar Shonar Bangla", while all the poets from the other seven South Asian nations stood at respectful attention. Instead of 'Bangla', if we had a word to include all South Asia, we could have sung this anthem together, because singing all eight anthems would not be very practical at such a festival. When they sing 'O ma' we could accept it as our 'O Mother Earth', and we all live under the same sky, breath the same air amidst our mango groves and paddy fields.
Or, as I suggested previously, we could use Gurudev's own composition, "Jana gana mana" as the national anthem of all our countries, perhaps changing a few geographical locations, because he had said, "In a sense it is more a religious hymn for all mankind than a national anthem for any country". It could be the 'Morning Song of South Asia' for now, and later to be made the 'Morning song of Humanity'.
The 2014 literary festival was organized by the WRITE Foundation of Bangladesh (Writers Readers Illustrators Translators and Educators Foundation), an affiliated Chapter of the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL). The theme was "Beyond Borders: Towards Trust and Reconciliation". The festival was not just the reading of the papers and poetry, but more importantly, the interaction of all the delegates and the young students from the universities. We crossed all our borders, all barriers, and became one family.
The delegates were from all wakes of life. We had a former Diplomat, a former Member of Parliament, a former Commissioner of Elections, Managing Directors and Directors of private business organizations, but who were also novelists, short story writers and poets.
As Ibrahim Waheed from Maldives (Indian Sahitya Akademy Award winner) mentioned, we have our political borders and we need passports, which he called 'stop-ports', because some of us, even within the South Asia region cannot pass a border without a valid visa on the 'passport'. Yet what we need for perpetual peace was described by Immanuel Kant in 1795, that one condition for perpetual peace was universal hospitality or world citizenship. People from one country should be free to live in safety in others as long as they do not bring an army in with them.
Among the Sri Lankan delegation was Prof. J. B. Disanayake who reminded us of the ancient links with Bangladesh, with our children's song, "Olinda tibenne koi koi dese/Olinada tibenne Bangali dese/Olinda sadanne koi koi dese/Olinda sadanne Sinhala dese". We have learnt of 'Bangali dese' from our childhood. (Olinda or Arbus precatorius, in Bengali is Kunch or Ratti and in English is Indian liquorice). Prof. M. A. Nuhuman and State Award winner Kamala Wijeratne, also read their papers and poetry.
To move on to the theme of the festival, Towards Trust and Reconciliation, it is evident that once we develop trust among all our people, reconciliation comes inevitably. Poetry and all forms of literature could bring the trust among us, because poetic language is common to all of us, whether we write in Bengali, or Urdu or Dhivehi, or Sinhala, we share the same thoughts and feelings. We also have so many words in common, that it is not so very difficult to understand the other tongue to some extent.
The South Asian Tower of Babel is not as complicated as the global Babel. We have managed to communicate with each other to some extent, within our Babel, because most of our languages have grown from same origins and we share so much in common. We have so many of the South Asian nations communicating across borders in common languages, or which could be understood by many. That is why we could understand to some extent and enjoy the Bengali poetry, even though we did not know the language.
We do not have to develop a common language, though at present we use English as our link, and as our 'Lingua Anglia'. And we can continue to do so, because there is a revival of the English language in our schools and universities, and we should be able to manage with it till such time as we could develop translations by our computers. Once we have instant translations of our South Asian languages into English or any other South Asian language our language barrier would disappear completely. By then also we could all meet in cyberspace, and we need not worry about all the geographical and political borders. We need not worry about the four-letter word 'Visa'.
All these borders and barriers were created by us and we have created rules and regulations and synthetic labels. It is our duty and responsibility to move beyond these borders. It is time for us to rewrite the entire history of mankind, to emphasize togetherness and humaneness, and use the study of history as a healing process and ensure that all human beings would become Peaceful and Useful.
Let us not take 'ekla chalo re' at its face value and walk alone, but sing together and walk together to a better, more humane world.
While seven billion children, women and men are starving, others are making an art of gluttony. The Catholic Church considers gluttony (over-indulgence and over-consumption of anything to the point of waste) as one of the Seven Deadly Sins, and St. Thomas Aquinas added gluttony is also the "obsessive anticipation of meals, and the constant eating of delicacies and excessively costly foods."(Catholic Encyclopedia)
All the culinary arts, science of food technology, the attempts to add flavours, create exotic varieties of processed food, are for those who have never known the pain of hunger, those who eat several meals a day out of habit, and not because they feel hungry. They have to force themselves to eat, they need to make the food look attractive, and tasty. Some of them also eat to flaunt their wealth.
"To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art". Francois de la Rochefoucauld the 17th century French writer had said, probably because he was not sensitive enough to realize the pain of real hunger. 'Art of Eating' is a magazine published since 1986, which says "the best food and wine are traditional, created when people had more time and food was more central to happiness than it is today." People really had more time on their hands, till they became their own slaves after they developed agriculture, which created hunger for wealth and power.
The Thai monk Phra Paisal Visalo talks about 'Mindful eating', while the Jewish scholar Dr. Jay Michaelson says "Eating meditation is among the simplest, and most profound, of mindfulness practices." and he teaches the practice at synagogues and schools. All this applies to those who do not have to worry about their next meal. A starving man searching for a scrap in a garbage dump would not be concerned about mindful eating or meditation.
While one billion people are going hungry today, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that each year, approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted. This estimate probably does not include the food taken away from the one billion hungry human beings to feed animals, so the other six billion could eat carrion. This also does not include all the prepared food thrown away by food vendors, the left over food in restaurants. This also does not include the food that is converted into alcohol, for consumption and for driving vehicles.
A new life-style disease that is spreading fast in the 'developed' countries, is named Bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder, when a person eats a lot of food in a short time and then tries to prevent weight gain by getting rid of the food, by throwing up or taking laxatives. This is a crime against society, in addition to being a disease, because this is a criminal waste of food. It is also much worse than Anorexia nervosa, willingly restricting their food intake.
Even the very poor, who have been starving for a long period, when they get to eat a little food, could also throw up, because their stomach could not retain the food. It is described by Knut Hamsun in 'Hunger' when the young man eats a whole serving of beef, and then throws up every thing immediately afterwords. At times his stomach could not tolerate even water, however thirsty he was.
Azdak teaches the fugitive ( Georgi Abashvili )"Put your elbows on the table, surround the cheese on the plate as if it might be snatched away at any moment...hold your knife like a small sickle and don't look at the cheese so greedily, your expression should be on the more sorrowful side, because it is already vanishing, like all beauty". Brecht was able to express in these few words, what the art of eating means to the poor and the oppressed, to the people who are hungry.
The man who has been starving, would not be concerned about 'table manners', which have been created as man believes he became 'more civilized'. Table manners too became an art. The best table manners for mankind should be to share his food and to ensure that no food is ever wasted, to serve on to his plate just enough to appease his hunger.
It is agriculture that had driven man to develop food preparations and eating into an art. Before he began to plant his own food, he had innumerable varieties of food, fruits, tender leaves and young tubers. Eating would never have been a chore, and as he would eat only when he was hungry, and not according to social customs at fixed times of day, he would have really enjoyed his food. The children would not have needed to be coerced, or forced to eat, because they too would eat only when they were hungry. And they too would not be having the same food at the same time every day.
As the choice of food became seriously limited, man had to eat the same food everyday, rice or wheat flour. He also realized that he could not find all the ripe fruit or tender vegetables, and what was available could not be eaten raw. He had to boil the vegetables, powder the grain and cook it, and such food would not be as tasty as the fresh raw food had been. Then man had to add salt, and spicy and aromatic herbs, and later harmful additives, to make the food smell and taste nice.
A true alms giving is when we feed a really hungry person, and not when we feed the already overfed, who have never felt a hunger pang, except when they have to fast before a blood test.
True happiness for a man should be, not when he sees an attractive spread on the table, with all varied aromas, but when he could sacrifice his meal to feed a starving child.
'A Hunger Artist' was written by Franz Kafka in 1924, describing the 'Art of Fasting'. Kafka begins the story, "In the last decades interest in hunger artists has declined considerably. Whereas in earlier days there was good money to be earned putting on major productions of this sort under one’s own management, nowadays that is totally impossible." The hunger artist had claimed that it was the easiest thing to fast. People came to watch the Hunger Artist in his cage, but the interest would fade in about forty days. In Kafka's story, the man was going hungry willingly.
We have hunger artists, in our part of the world, who also fast in public, in protest against social, religious or political issues. Though they start on a 'Fast unto Death', they give up or are forced to give up and only a very few die of hunger. There are also others who fast regularly according to their religious beliefs.
Today there are seven billion people around the world, children, women and men, who go hungry, not willingly, but because they do not have anything to eat. About ten million, most of them children, who are dying of hunger or hunger related diseases every year, that is about twenty people every minute.
"..it is the empty stomach that all sorts of incurable diseases find an easy prey." Rabindranath Tagore wrote in 'The Hungry Stones'.
Many other writers have dealt with hunger. The Nobel winner (1920) Knut Hamsun, in his first novel 'Hunger', wrote, "I was drunk with starvation; my hunger had made me tipsy." The young writer, without food for over three days, chewing on a fresh wood shaving, sees a vendor of cakes, "...the little table before her is sinfully full of nice things, and I turn away with distaste". Another day, in his hunger he starts sucking on his finger, and "Supposing I were to take a bite? And without a moment's hesitation, I shut my eyes, and clenched my teeth on it." But a few critics have seen this as a story about a self-imposed hunger, because of the young man's pride.
John Steinbeck, in 'The Grapes of Wrath' asks, "How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him--he has known a fear beyond every other." The story ends as Rose of Sharon, whose baby was dead, offers her breast to the old man dying of starvation.
"It is necessary to handle yourself better when you have to cut down on food so you will not get too much hunger-thinking. Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it......you could always go into the Luxembourg museum and all the paintings were sharpened and clearer and more beautiful if you were belly-empty, hollow-hungry. I learned to understand Cezanne much better and to see truly how he made landscapes when I was hungry. " Ernest Hemingway, 'Hunger is Good Discipline,' A Moveable Feast.
There are over seven novels titled 'Hunger', in English or translated into English, starting with Hamsun's novel, and including the work by another Nobel winner(1988), Naguib Mahfouz. The most recent is Jackie Morse Kesseler's young-adult novel published in 2010.
'Hunger Games' and the sequels became so popular around the world because we have all become hungry ghosts, hungry for violence and sensuous pleasure in different shades.
Children who suffer from hunger, from the moment of birth, till the day they die, in infancy or in old age, may not know what hunger really is. They would believe that it is a normal condition, to feel the fire in their guts, that the feeble bodies of skin and bone is normal for all human beings. They are not concerned about the appearance or the taste of their food, or about sugar or cholesterol.
For the poor, who do not know when and where the next meal would come from, "Hunger is the worst disease, conditioned things the worst suffering. Knowing this as it really is, the wise realize Nibbana, the highest bliss." Dhammapada, 203. Once Buddha is said to have waited till a hungry man was fed, before preaching a sermon.
All religious leaders have commented on hunger. "And [if] thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness [be] as the noonday:" Isaiah 58:10
“He who sleeps on a full stomach whilst his neighbour goes hungry is not one of us.” (Prophet Muhammad)
Again in Genesis 1:29, we find, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." No individual or political or business organization has a right to withhold this food from mankind. Every human being and every animal on earth should be free to have this food, without any controls or conditions. Yet ever since man became 'civilized', and he developed 'agriculture', the food shortages, starvation and eternal hunger for many people has being caused by man himself, and not by nature. Raymond Tallis, in his 2008 book 'Hunger' calls it "Starving amid other people's plenty".
In a way plants have been really more fortunate, they do not have to exert themselves to find food. W. H. Auden in 'Tonight at Seven Thirty' said "The life of plants/ is one continuous solitary meal,". Animals have to spend most of their life searching for food, and since man became a biped, he has been destroying most of the food sources, while hoarding what is left for the use of the selected few.
Whatever culinary and dining arts we may practice, let us also keep in mind that around the world over ONE BILLION human beings are going hungry today.