Back in year 2006, my research team at the University of Moratuwa was studying the odor guided locomotion behavior of Brown Dwarf Mongoose found in Sri Lanka. We were beginning to see that the mongoose had a very sharp sense of smell, and that it could locate a trace of explosives buried under the ground from as far as 3m. Seeing the potential of using this carnivore to detect antipersonal landmines, we were exploring different techniques to train them to trace explosives only based on the sense of smell. Knowing that this animal exhibits other interesting capabilities like exploiting the inertial dynamics of a snake’s body to buy time to attack them from unexpected angles, ability to find and eat wild herbs in a sequence with a stereotypical structure of intervals to form an anti-venom in it’s blood through planned digestion, and so on, I started to talk to various experts about this animal. Dehiwala Zoo helped me a lot and even offered to be a collaborator in order to secure permission from the Wild Life Authority to keep mongoose in the University premises. In the meantime, I came to know that a Special Task Force Commander based in the Eastern province was a good contact point to get more information about useful behaviors of the mongoose he had noticed. Seeing a good collaborative opportunity to set up a centre to train this animal to detect antipersonal landmines, I requested an officer I knew, to take me to meet him in the East.
Having secured official permission from the STF headquarters, we set up a date for the trip to East. Due to some urgent work in the University, I had to leave Colombo little later than I was advised to leave. On the way, the STF officers who gave me transport were giving me assurances that the East I may have imagined is not what it is. They were telling me stories about how people of different ethnicities were living in harmony, how Muslims do paddy cultivation, how Buddhist monasteries survived amidst some fighting, etc. However, I continued to be the nervous civilian academic in the group. Watching how vegetation changes from the wet zone to the dry zone so quickly, I was wondering if training techniques of mongoose to detect landmines in the dry zone should be different from that in the wet zone, because the soil moisture that disperses the smell plays an important role to form the smell gradient. That gave me added motivation to start collaboration with somebody physically located in the affected zone.
It was dusk by the time we reached Aranthalawa. I requested the officers to briefly stop at the place where a bus load of Buddhist monks were massacred by LTTE, just to pay homage to them. They allowed my request. I got off the vehicle, and slowly walked towards a concrete slab erected as the memorial among some dry zone bushes. It was so silent, and no trace of human habitat was to be found in the vicinity. I looked around and quickly imagined how the incident might have happened. The helplessness of the monks, the brutality of the massacre, and the mindset of the assassins started to make swirls in my mind. I didn’t have a good training in meditation at that time, but I tried to do a silent satyakriya for the monks, wishing them to enter the path of healing leading to Nirvana one day, so that they don’t have to be born again to this World of wars and hatred.
Yesterday, I saw a commemoration notice on facebook, published by a well known office bearer of Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU). A comment underneath the notice by a supporter said “If Tamils could do that; pigs can do the same in the future too. Beware!”. My mind quickly rushed back to the brief Satyakriya I did at the site seven years ago. A series of questions began to flow through. Why did LTTE choose to kill those monks? Why not many other monks in still meditation in forest monasteries located in several places in the North, North Central, and Eastern provinces, when they were far more easy targets? What is special in the way the monks who were massacred practiced Buddhism? Did exploitation of Buddhist monks as political objects play a role in the build up of hatred leading to the Aranthalawa massacre? If so, how far JHU that shed tears now is responsible for the massacre?….
Last night, my daily meditation was not normal. It was a struggle to observe waves of thoughts rising and passing. Finally I managed to build up a fairly stable compassion towards all parties involved, including the LTTE that killed those monks. Then I thought of writing this brief note for the benefit of those who are struggling to stay connected with Sri Lanka amidst all political bigotry going on.
We can avoid future gruesome incidents like the massacre in Aranthalawa, if we understand the nature hatred. If you carefully watch how hatred rises from within us, you may see that it works like a vine trying to wrap around branches. To stay stable, it makes you generalize the reasons for hatred across groups that are convenient for you to recognize, because tracing the true causes and analyzing is a tough thing to do. Our residual intensions play an opportunistic role here. They push these generalizations in various strange ways. If you have some residual envy towards some ethnic group, the currents of hatred will make you believe that they are responsible for your agony. Those LTTE cadres who perpetrated the massacre may have been victims of this phenomenon. If so, and if they are still alive, may they be free from such anger towards others and may they be free from hatred from others. If JHU’s exploitation of Buddhist monks played a role in the massacre, may all Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka attain the wisdom to stay within the ten precepts, gain courage to follow the path of sila, samadhi, and panya, to attain total freedom from compulsions (Nirvana), so that they will not be political prey anymore. If JHU intentionally exploited Buddhist monks knowing the end result, may they be free from such ill will. May all others, including president Rajapaksa, who may have the slightest hope of staying in power by agitating hatred and paranoia among different ethnic groups, be free from such ill will, greed, and self centeredness. May Sri Lankans see lasting peace, and may all its ethnic groups celebrate their cultures side by side in peace.
Revisiting Aranthalawa Bhikku Massacre by Austin Fernando