By A Special Correspondent –
The totally deaf man has been participating in previous Buddhist Research Conferences when held in Colombo. This was the ninth. He has even presented papers earlier and participated actively in them. This time too he was an invitee but had attended with some hesitation because of his medical condition – a perceptive deafness but which the organizer and one close to her has pronounced on their own as “Total deafness”. This is where our story derives its spin.
According to most participants except two, the convener and the other, the Deaf man had surprisingly, splurged into action. That is why this Correspondent thinks there was a miracle, and the interlocutor was at least temporarily cured of his ailment, to hear Buddha’s word that was being spelt out by presenters.
The centre of attraction was Buddha’s exposition of Kalama Sutta about the significance of which one presenter dwelled at length before he came to present a model on Ayurveda which he and his team of academics had worked on. The more the interlocutor in question watched – no one had thought he was inhibited in listening as a former Professor, an expert on Buddhism, who was seated next to him had seen when the interlocutor was seen taking down notes and even checked if he had got it right-the interlocutor had been seen .being inspired by the presentations rather than been inhabited by any deficiency.
As the participants except the two we have mentioned had seen, and some even discussed, the interlocutor had not shown any sign of being inhibited from any ailment. He had gone from strength to strength to join in discussion almost every topic that was discussed. From all accounts, he had been the most active participant all round.
This is where some even discussed if a miracle had happened as the interlocutor was listening to words uttered by Buddha (Buddha-bhasita). That is also the topic of discussion in the town –the healing power when one listens devotedly, as the interlocutor seemingly did.
The story of the miracle, an unusual one which one often hears in Christian and Sufi circles, attracted our attention because it is rear to hear of the healing power of Buddha’s word, though one might think of the soothing power of the Buddhist Suttas when they are recited properly; or in Mahayanic context of repletion. That includes also “Pirith”.
We inquired from a number of persons who attended the Conference, a former academic included, the interlocutor for his version, over the criticism by the two critics.
So here is a part of our investigation.
The interlocutor’s version:
He says that those who question say that he spoke without hearing what was said by the speakers on these two specific points, namely, ‘Conflict and Conflict Resolution’, a paper presented by Ven,Telliwala Mettananda, , and another on ‘Kalama Sutta: Holistic approach for Strategic Management’ by D.S.Kalana Mendis, because he did not hear what was being said, because they say: ” I was ‘Totally Deaf.” Implicitly, he had spoken out of turn/ out of context.
He also claims that both the presenters, as others did, displayed their presentation in the form of Power Point presentation. These were quite clear for anyone to understand what was being said, not just in essence, but in detail. The Abstracts of the presentations were also published and given to participants .That might not give a full idea of the presentation but gives an indication of the trends.
He says that the presentation on the screen of Kalma Sutta and its application to a model, was so detailed and he saw him almost reading the screen text word to word.
Our view of the problems presented now is if the accusation that the interlocutor misunderstood both these presentations and others not discussed, is an imaginary one meant to discredit the interlocutor, not for what he said, but on grounds of his physical disability. Can such position be accepted in high academic discussion besides the lack of civility on the part of the two critics, and more importantly, in a Buddhist discussion.; and if such haughty concepts should not be contested using Buddha’s own logic, Kalama Sutta or otherwise.
The interlocutor has, on our inquiry, given us following details regarding the points he made over subjects discussed at the Conference.
1. Conflict/Conflict Resolution:
The interlocutor says it is absolutely clear in his mind that he was critical of the approach, of the author of this paper for confining the inquiry to a what he (the interlocutor) called a base element (the Term he had used speaking in Sinhala was “deena’ which means ‘pahath’) in societal behaviours while leaving out a higher element present in society, which Buddhist texts have emphasized. That is the aspect of ‘consensus’ as embodied in the concept of Mahasammata which he had called in Sinhala as a ‘Uttama dharmayak’, (a nobler concept ). Then he had gone to discuss how the concept of Mahasammata was imported into the Pali chronicles of Sri Lanka to show that that Buddha’s lineage was derived from the Mahasammata principle and not otherwise like Divine kingship concept. He had traced the development of the Mahasammata concept, how Buddha borrowed it from his kinsmen, the Sakyas, Mallas, and Licchavis and set up a Sangha along those lines.
He had also shown how the concept had settled into the minds of the Sinhalese people as seen from the observations of the 19th century British Civil Servant Percival Dyke who was the first Government Agent of the Northern Province who recorded that it was, the main national characteristics of the Sinhalese of the Nuwarakalawiya, to assemble in their Sabha, discus, deliberate, listen to elder’s and take decisions in consensus. The former administrator had summed it up as the “gregariousness” of the Sinhalese which he observed was, absent among the Tamils of the North.The Administrator had warned that the government’s grain policy would not work with the Tamils on this account.
The interlocutor had gone further and taking it from Dyke, had said, the result of the Sinhalese “gregariouness” was their massive and small irrigation works, the large reservoirs, canals and [casacading] village tanks and their continued maintenance. This he had said is to be contrasted with the Jaffna man’s Andiya wells, one in each garden in contrast to the communal enterprise of the Sinhalese “Wewa’ which pointed to the individual nature of Jaffna Tamils.
The interlocutor asks how his above observations could be called misdirection of the discussion presented by the author of the paper.
2. Kalama Sutta
The interlocutor explains that the presenter of the paper displayed details of Kalama Suuta on the screen for over 15 minutes, discussing the significance of its manifold implications. He says he cannot remember any one contesting what the presenter said/showed as the essence of Kalama Sutta and showing it was erroneous. He says he is subject to correction as the two critics have questioned his hearing ability.
We learn that the two critics have disagreed on the findings of the team (and one of them had left the room in protest when the presenter began to speak?). We learn that the other critic has claimed that she told the audience that the thesis presented was a fake. We on our assessment think this is an attitude revealing of the nature of prejudices harboured by persons organizing a Buddhist conference to highlight the significance of Buddhist teachings.
The interlocutor says he was not interested in the research team’s study on the application of Kalama Sutta to their research on Ayurveda. He was interested only in the Kalama Sutta itself, for his immediate purpose, seeing its relevance to present an alternate perspective to the present day discourse on knowledge, its transmission, (communications) and analysis. He had thought it could be effectively used particularly, to counter western media use, and methods of analysis. It is in this sense, he says, he thanked the speaker for the presentation. – and remembers emphasing it- the exposition of the Kalama Sutta. He had then asked the speaker to give him a typed copy of the discussion on Kalama Sutta part of the presentation as he intended to write immediately on the subject. He claims that his bona fides were quite clear.
He sees the public discussion on his physical deficiency from this point onwards is not really to vilify him as he understood, but it has been done by the critics to down-play the presentation on the Kalama Sutta, especially to repudiate the application to the model that the presenter and his team had worked out.
We could observe on our part that the debate over the model presented is a matter of opinion, on which there can be agreement or rejection by others. Opinions are not final. Besides, importing a person’s physical disabilities during an academic discourse being against civility as much as norms of academic discussion. It is most inappropriate in a Buddhist context.
We see that the interlocutor has been dragged into it. It is quite clear that it was because the two critics feel that the interlocutor’s words in favour of the exposition of the presenter on the Kalama Sutta, is not what they would have liked to hear from anyone. They would have expected a total denunciation as they did.
In our opinion, these two critics seem to have assumed that they have a total monopoly on interpretations and others do not have. That is some weird thinking, the very opposite of what Buddha taught in the Kalama Sutta and elsewhere. One may even ask if the objective the Conference was then to denounce the Buddha’s teaching itself as this duo’s actions finally imply?
The interlocutor when pressed for his views on this aspect declined to comment. He still thought it might have been a slip but when we pointed out to the elaborated repetition about his physical deficiency, and the naming of those who had written in empathy with him, as clearly indicating an offensive, he turned philosophical and reminded us of a Mahayanic saying that the dog instead of attacking the person who threw the clod of earth at it, runs to attack the clod of earth itself. The analogy is interesting but in our view, does not fully answer the situation.
The interlocutor says he spoke on other papers presented. These included
1. Rajagala inscription of King Mahasena which, in his view, pointed to an agreement reached between two temples in the Eastern Province.
This points to King Mahasena in a different role from what the Mahavihara’s Pali chronicles have shown. He had pointed to the Tooth relic being ceremonially brought from Mahayana controlled Abhayagiriya at Anuradhapura to Maha vihaea/Jetavanarma once a year as FaHien recorded, which pointed to a different situation. Mahasena was popular among people as a provider of irrigation facilities and was deified. That presented a different perspective, he had thought.
2. System of presnting Jataka stories through paintings and carvings
The interlocutor says he had suggested that the study should have explored why Jataka stories which are presented widely in our temples from Kandyan period to modern day. He had also pointed out that the tradition of paintings of Jataka stories and others can be traced to Polonnaruva and Anuradhapura periods as seen from traces of paintings at Demala Maha Seya and other places, and remains of paintings recently discovered at the base of Jetavanaramaya. He says he conjectured that the art of paintings widely practiced in SL, as against sculptures of Buddha’s story or Jatakas. He had shown the contrast at Sanchi and Bharut to which the author himself drew attention but had missed the far more life-size sculptural representations of Jatakas, including Mahayana Jataka story of Sudana, found at Borobudur, which virtually speak to the onlooker.
3. A psychology base study on Mental background of Widows
On the this issue as for reasons of anxiety among widows, he says he pointed out the view of Robert Know, who said that for Kandyan women widowhood presented no problem as there was already another man waiting on the side. Knox had called Kandyan women whores! The interlocutor had said that could be left out but the study had not taken into account problems of women/widows arising from sexual reasons. The author of the paper had agreed.
4. The application of Buddhist views in settling of mental confusion of modern women.
He says he complemented the author and had said the points raised by him over the earlier paper were answered here.
5.Chinese-Sri Lankan historical connection as revealed from recent finds of Chinese coins at Ethkanda Vihara.
He says he warned that the dates of coins (12th century A.C.) were no indication of the dates of their circulation here. On the Chinese side, there were no records of extensive trade in the Indian Ocean around the time of Vijayabahu I to whose time four of the coins were related. However, he had said that Chinese trading activities had extended to South East Asia at that time and Cola presence in the Archipelago might even have exerted a damper to any prospects of expansion to the Indian Ocean. He had also pointed out that Vijayabahu I had close relations with South East Asian countries like Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia and had even cemented these relations through a matrimonial alliance with a Malay princess. Malaya was under Burmese hegemony at this time. He had pointed to the origin of Raban Play as arising from the Malayan connection. The objective of this alliance was to get support for his endeavor to rid the island of Cola yoke. The interlocutor had concluded that the Chinese coins could have come as a result of this contact with S.E.Asia.
6. A study of Padhanagara
He had agreed with the presentation that Padangara which was originally meant for meditation later lost its significance and showed with examples, how they came to be used for other purposes.
7. Religious knowledge presented by inscriptions in the Southern Province.
He had shown shortcomings of this presentation. What was presented was mostly early inscriptions and that the author had missed important inscriptions like Galapatha vihare inscription of Parakrama bahu’s time at Bentara (a place where Sacred Tooth Relic was once deposited) ,and the inscription at Weligama temple.
He says he had been rather harsh, come to think of it, on the author for using translations of inscriptions without serious inquiry and said that young researchers should get out of this frame of mind. The case in point was his use of D.M.Z. Wickremesinghe’s translation of ‘Jinapatisaryia’ as ‘spreading antelope skins’ [in temples for Bhikkus]. He presented it as “Andun –divi-ham.’ This was a controversial issue, he had said and that it was hard to believe that kings used animal skins for Bhikkus to sit on when even today, Bhikkus are protesting over killing of animals at sacrifices and otherwise.; and that the idea could come from falling back on Brahmanic practice of using deer and tiger skins.
8.Representation of Buddhist features in Sinhala Women’s Magazines.
The interlocutor had shown that the author merely presented statistics but did not examine what the contents of the articles presented. He had pointed to the example of a daily Sinhalese newspaper publishing an account of ‘Kapiawastu relics’ a few months back when the problem of Kapilawastu itself had not been solved. He had also referred to his article being published in Buddhist Times recently, in an edited form.
9.Appointment of Ministers and Counsellors and their duties as revealed in Kautilya’s Arthasastra.
The interlocutor had said this was a theoretical exposition. Kautilya himself followed a different strategy in advising Chandragupta to carve out a kingdom for himself.
He had also said the study was useful for comparison purposes with modern day practices in the island. He had brought up the case of the controversy over issue of a letter to a drug importer by Prime Minister’s co-ordinating Secretary (Buddha Sasana Ministry) and the threat by Prime Minister’s Secretary to take Ven.Dr Olampe Sobhita to courts. He had said the Bhikku would be well defended in Courts and that he himself would the first to volunteer to give the first cheque to pay legal fees to defend the Bhikku. He claims he may have turned emotional on this point and says he had his own reasons which need not discussed here.
10. Problems relating to the method of teaching Buddhism in the school curricula.
The interlocutor had asked for extra time to discuss this matter and presented his past experience as a Dharmachari (Teacher of Buddhism) and problems he saw his children trying to cope up with Buddhist studies, and now what his grandchildren faced. Overall, he had agreed with the author that the curricula was to deep not only for grade V to VIII as the author assumed, but even for lower grades, and that teachers were not well equipped to teach. He had even suggested that Buddhist organisations may step in to train teachers .
To the last question we put to our interlocutor, as to if there was an attempt now to discredit him not by reference to his earlier writings and interventions at this Conference by exposing his medical condition in public because his observations did not support the position of the critics, he refused to give a direct answer. He said that the position presented by him should make things clear if he had misunderstood the proceedings or not, because of the physical deficiency referred to.
We wanted to get a balanced view. So we inquired from other participants, particularly, a senior academic who had been presented at the Conference. He swears that what the interlocutor has said is absolutely true. A few others confirmed. We did not ask the two critics because their position was clear from what they had circulated on the internet.
Our Final Comments
The discussion here also shows there is vested interest dominating issues rather than permitting free and fair dialogue. The tendency to scuffle any opposing opinions was what this discussions over the issues and naming persons and their physical debilities point to. All in the name of an academic objective. This is something questionable at a Buddhist conference where tolerance and Buddha’s words in Kalama Sutta should have dominated the discussion with all round Buddhist ideal of Metta.
We have reason to believe that from all verified accounts, the interlocutor’s contributions to this conference had been substantial and that unfortunately, he had been subjected to public ridicule by two critics.