4 December, 2020

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Pope Francis, Theodicy, And Maithripala

By Jagath Asoka

Dr. Jagath Asoka

Dr. Jagath Asoka

What is the significance of Pope Francis’ visit? What is going to be his message to Sri Lankans: Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims? Is he going to share the message of “Compassion, Forgiveness, and Mercy”? Compassion (Maithri), forgiveness, and mercy are the recurrent, common themes in all religions.

Pope Francis’ visit coincides with a watershed moment, both politically and spiritually, in Sri Lanka. Politically, it is not the time to gloat, avenge, or take revenge; spiritually, it is the time for deep reflection. This is just a new chapter in Sri Lanka; the same old characters, donning new costumes and masks, who have undergone a certain belated political metamorphosis, are, now, in charge of Sri Lanka. So far, only the first combined sentence, literary, is written: Maithripala Sirisena (MS) is our new President, and Ranil Wickremesinghe (RW) is our new PM; we must hold their feet to fire, and fire them if they don’t keep their promises. MS promised that he would not contest for a second term; an unprecedented, bold new beginning in Sri Lankan history, a renewed nostalgia for gentleman-politicians, not sycophants, thugs, or benevolent dictators. If MS and RW do not deliver what they have promised, we must send them to perdition sooner, not in ten years, but in ten months. I believe in an old truism that is implicit in the Bible: Give absolute power to a person if you want to find out his or her true nature, one of the recurrent messages of the Bible. We have seen so many sleazy, unctuous politicians who are worse than the devil incarnate, come and go. Our job as citizens is not over, unless we do what we do only for personal gains and aggrandizement.

Sri Lanka is a country where people despise demagoguery of politicians, who thrive by feeding popular prejudices; disdain dishonesty, contemn sanctimonious display of piety, and scorn the callous display and flaunting of bigotry and unbridled thuggery. This is not the time to take an eye for an eye, or shed the blood of your brothers and sisters who have violated and wronged you. Now is the time for reflection, and now is the time to figure out how to write this new chapter. Pope Francis’ visit will be the impetus that would initiate this new beginning, this new chapter, and a divine afflatus for those who believe in deities and divinity.

Pope Francis

You do not have to be a Catholic to admire and revere Pope Francis—the Dalai Lama of the Christian World—who has been praised, admired, and revered for his humility, simplicity, compassion, commitment to ease suffering in the world, and to build bridges between people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and faiths.

The message of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy resonates and reverberates deeply in the collective psyche of all Sri Lankans, who have experienced the devastations of war, a tsunami, mudslides, political violence, and abuse.

Without compassion—our strong desire to help alleviate the pain of those afflicted by suffering or misfortune and our feeling of deep sorrow for others who are going through suffering and misfortune—there will not be any forgiveness and mercy. Compassion, forgiveness, and mercy are inextricably intertwined with suffering.

In Sri Lanka, there are two major theological trends (1) Buddhism and Hinduism; Buddhism, based on the teachings of the Buddha and Buddhist traditions; Hinduism, based on the Upanishads and other Hindu traditions and teachings, (2) Religions of Abrahamic traditions: only Christianity and Islam (Judaism is almost non-existent in Sri Lanka).

According to the Buddha, “All life is sorrowful, and sorrow and suffering are ineluctable realities of life.” In Christianity, theodicy—comes from two Greek words which means God’s justness—is the technical and somewhat highfalutin term used to describe why there is suffering—the problem of suffering in the biblical traditions and its discourse. Given the current state of affairs in this world, how can God be just and righteous and be in control? If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and all loving, why there is so much suffering in this world? My humble questions to Pope Francis are: How are you going to explain to Sri Lankans that compassion, forgiveness, and mercy is the answer to suffering and privation in their lives caused by a war, a tsunami, mudslides, violence, brutality, vulgarity, stupidity, and thoughtlessness? What is your answer to suffering in this world?

What Sri Lankan Buddhists and Hindus think of suffering is based on the ideas originated from the Upanishads. Basically, all the gods, all the heavens and hells, and all the worlds are within us; they are magnified dreams, and dreams are just manifestation of energies of our body, in symbolic forms, in conflict with each other—like love and lust; hatred and compassion. The entire universe is a manifestation of divinity, so we must affirm life and say “yes” to suffering and privation, including brutality, vulgarity, and thoughtlessness which are just temporal apparitions.

In a nutshell, when it comes to suffering, the Bible has different answers and interpretations—I am saying this with the proviso that it is not the same as reading the Bible yourself. Here is what the Bible has to say why there is suffering in this world: The first thing that you would notice in the Bible is that the authors disagree, and there are discrepancies. In the Old Testament, Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah proclaim that people suffer because God is punishing them for their sins; God is punishing his people in order to get them to return to him. If you return to God, suffering will be alleviated. But Job disagrees with this point of view. According to Job, people who do what God wants, sometimes, suffer; they experience the most misery. So, according to Job, it is the innocent, those who obey and return to God, that suffer the most; in fact, God facilitates and allows suffering, even though he has the power to stop suffering. According to Daniel and Revelations, it is not God who makes us suffer, but the forces of evil that make the innocent suffer. According to the Book of Proverbs, it is neither God, nor the forces of evil that make us suffer; the universe is set up in such a way that the righteous are rewarded and the sinners suffer—sounds almost like Buddhism; if you are righteous you will be rewarded, and if you are sinful, you will suffer. In the New Testament, it is explicit that the suffering and death of Jesus brought salvation and atonement. To a non-believer, was sacrificing God’s son, a human sacrifice, absolutely necessary for our salvation? After all, God prevented the sacrifice of Isaac, even though He was the one who commanded it. God could have forgiven us without sacrificing his own son. What was the lesson that he was trying to teach us by sacrificing his son, and making him suffer for our sins? The Bible says that God intervenes in our world for good; God’s intervention is behind in our idea that praying works, but if God intervenes, it seems like he is selective and inconsistent in his response to suffering. My theological questions are: Does God love everyone, including the Buddhists and Hindus and have a wonderful plan for their lives? If he does, when is He going to intervene with their suffering? If he does not, does He suffer with them?

The ideas promulgated in the Gospel of Judas—one of the Gnostic Gospels that did not make into the New Testament—make more sense than the ideas that are found in the Bible: According to the Gospel of Judas, this world was created by lower, malignant deities—a bloodthirsty rebel and a fool. So, we were made in the image of a bloodthirsty rebel and a fool, not in the image of one true God, as the Bible claims. It seems like this explains why some people behave like bloodthirsty idiots, and Sri Lanka has its share.

I think Pope Francis epitomizes the role of religion today, and he does interpret the symbols of the Bible in terms of connotations, not denotations. It is ridiculous to go back to the old-time religions. What was proper 2000 years ago is not proper today; the virtues of the past are the vices of today, and many of the vices of the past are the necessities of today. The old-time religions and their metaphors, symbols, and rituals have become somewhat obsolete and dysfunctional. We do not worship Zarathustra just the way he was; we don’t worship the flighty Aphrodite, who is not wearing a nighty, because Zarathustra and Aphrodite belong to another age. The real horror today is what we see on TV all the time, all over the world. Some people are stuck with their old-time religions, images, symbols, and literal interpretation based on denotations, not connotations. It seems like some people are eating the menu, not the meal.

If you are a Buddhist, you can find some Buddhism in Christianity. When you read the following saying of Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas, you would think that it is a saying of the Buddha: “He who drinks from my mouth will become as I am, and I shall be he.” To say that we must wake up to the Jesus within us would be blasphemy for Christians. You cannot identify with Jesus; you can only imitate Jesus. To say “I am God,” as Jesus did would be blasphemy, too. To say, “I am the Buddha,” would seem somewhat presumptuous, even though the message in Buddhism is that all of us are just a manifestation of the Buddha consciousness, and we just don’t know it. The idea that you must love your neighbor and the idea that do unto others as you would want them to do unto to you are found not only in the Bible but also in other religions.

I do not know about you, but I find that the answers given so far—in all religions—do not satisfy me. What can we do to make people think and make them more tolerant of the people who disagree with them? I have heard a plethora of asinine answers form Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, about suffering, death, rebirth, etc. I know one thing: If we want to help this world, we must teach our children how to live in it; we must do everything to alleviate pain and suffering in this world.

Perhaps, we do not have a permanent solution to suffering, but we can response to suffering. The basic idea to suffering in Buddhism—now, I am paraphrasing and interpreting Buddhism: if the earth is covered with broken glass, just wear shoes!

And our conversations will continue…

Note: This website displays many voices; it is an endless, unrehearsed intellectual adventure in which in imagination we enter into a variety of modes of understanding ourselves; sometimes we become disconcerted by the differences and dismayed by the inconclusiveness of our discussions. I think only a very few people have the maturity. As we have seen, when it comes to politics, religion, and science, the literacy is very low. It takes some maturity to participate in this intellectual adventure without going crazy. It takes some courage and decency to keep this conversation relevant, decent, and alive!

Sincerely, I want to thank Rocco Panangadan for reviewing this article.

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    Dear Jagath,

    belated greetings for the new year. I was thinking of your articles – concidently, you have posted the current one. Great :) welcome back to CT forum :)

    • 4
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      Why is it great?

      Give me just one good reason.

      No wonder with people like you being so liberal with compliments the internet is littered with garbage.

      • 0
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        Go back to his previous articles – FIND IT YOURESLF PLEASE what I found his writing style.

        • 2
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          “what I found his writing style.”
          school teacher: length of duration of time from prince of wales road to kottoruva.

          How about rowland `harry potter` better than werewolf mahawamse No??

          We all learnt from Ayn to be bombastic and objective 100 years ago.

      • 1
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        Welcome back Dr. Jagath…

        The sun has dawned but the fox is still howling in the backyard in the forest thinking its still the midnight in the Twilight Zone. I think this time this howling is a sign of the death which stalking to trap the animal and to lock him up in a corner to draw its last breath out of its stinky, corrupt and evil body which is housing the fox’s darkened soul. I mean Mahinda mama is talking again.

        Let us wish that death soon overtake the soul of Mahinda to relieve him from this agony of losing the power and wanting to be back again in the steering wheel to take all of us on one last big ride like how the Pied Piper took those rodent souls into oblivion.

        Before any unfortunate thing might happen to any innocent persons, someone should help his soul to leave its lodging in the wretched body of MR and help it to return to its origin.

        MOCK SEWER LA BAY WAR…..

    • 1
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      Jagath,
      There are 7 billion people in the world and each one has couple of billion neurons and trillions of synapses in their brains, and connections and firing patterns of those synapses define each individual. So Humans are very complex and unique. Anyway, nobody doubt about the ultra wiseness of great teachers like Jesus, Buddha, Krisha. Average people are still trying/struggling to learn and realize their 2~3 thousands years old teachings of human behaviour.
      If you get a complex word like ‘suffering’, or idea like ‘human life is suffer’, how these 7 billion people interpret these words or the saying? 7 billion ways? Is it possible these words/questions mean exactly the same for all 7 billion people? Then how do you expect those great teachers old teaching would answer each and every individual (It is 7 billion different questions with same words??) ? When you say you are not satisfied with any of those great people’s answers, to me it says you have your own answers, isn’t it great!! (according to Krishna and Buddha teaching, you will never know what I wrote here, only I know)

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        AVB, the Article is mumbo jumbo. only,sounds very learned. See Solon’s comments below 5.27pm.

      • 2
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        “”(according to Krishna and Buddha teaching, you will never know what I wrote here, only I know) “”

        ‘Nine Million Bicycles’ in Beijing thats a fact
        from the album ‘Piece By Piece’.

        Everything you can imagine is real.

        Who sees the human face correctly:
        the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?

        To draw you must close your eyes and sing.
        Pablo Picasso no es Papa pero 21st centenary Genius.

  • 6
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    The present regime should invite the Dalai Lama for a visit though it China will oppose strongly.

    As a Buddhist majority its a shame that SL cannot invite a fellow Buddhist leader into the country.

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      Great then I will also return to the home country on his arrivals.
      If world banned Mynmar monks got the permisions why not DlAMA… anyway this will have greater pains to China who are the powerful partners of the devellpement projects being carried out in the country under MR.
      MR s idea to iinvite Pope was to twist the mindsets of the chistians in the country. or Could not help denying his wife s beloved requests.

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      If not possible, bring him to Rameshwaram, and let all Sinhala Buddhists travel by trawlers through Mannar to see his “Darshan” and receive his Triple-Gem Blessings.

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      Matilda Ellepola,

      He was only the political head not a Rin Poche teacher at any of the schools they run.

  • 2
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    The sinhalise are moaning the loss of our president Rajapaksa. Pope must cancel the trip.
    Thought I inform this and get out of this hell hole!!!!!still wasting time Asoka????

  • 1
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    Dear Dr.Jagath,

    Its been great to read your writing after a long time. But I feel it miss your natural flow, which I loved so much.

  • 1
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    Very interesting piece. Food for a great deal of thought.

  • 2
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    Dr Jagath Asoka

    Aren’t you being presumptuous? You are not a theologian.

    How can you say:

    Quote:
    I do not know about you, but I find that the answers given so far—in all religions—do not satisfy me. What can we do to make people think and make them more tolerant of the people who disagree with them? I have heard a plethora of asinine answers form Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, about suffering, death, rebirth, etc. I know one thing: If we want to help this world, we must teach our children how to live in it; we must do everything to alleviate pain and suffering in this world
    Unquote.

    Pray tell us Dr Jagath, which Religion orders you to be intolerant of people who disagree with you? To my knowledge intolerance is a trait of people who are ignorant – people who do not have religious guidance.

    And are you going to teach your children all by yourself how to live in this world without any reference to the guidance provided in any of the religions? To do this, have you considered how many wheels you will have to reinvent?

    And how do you think you are going to “do everything to alleviate pain” by disbelieving in the guidance provided by the world’s religions? Do you think alleviating pain and suffering is prescribing Panadol for headache?

    It is not the fault of religion if you “have heard a plethora of asinine answers from Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, about suffering, death, rebirth, etc.” I take it by asinine you mean “stupid”. It is your fault for not taking the trouble to educate yourself from authoritative sources.

    And by the way, there is no authentic source to establish, that Jesus ever claimed he was God. On the contrary he repeatedly said to his disciples he was just an ordinary man sent by God to transmit God’s guidance.

    It is not clear though why you brought religion into this mumbo jumbo of an article, published with a huge photo of His Holiness.

  • 1
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    Any man does not need any organised religion to know right from wrong.
    All religions are guilty, historically, of mass crimes against humanity in past years of human history.

    We have seen how the clergy of the supposedly the most compassionate religion, Buddhism, behaved recently.

    Leaders who piously pray in public & on TV commit misappropriation of peoples’ assets, use militia to enforce one religion in preference to another, desecrate damage and destroy properties of other religions, and even prevent prayers in places of worship.

    Religion, if accepted, should be a private code of behaviour.
    Religion should have NO links with government.
    It was said that ‘religion is the opium of the masses’ – this is correct in sri lanka.

    Let the Pope preach and depart, making his followers happy.
    But he is also head of a state – The Vatican.
    Hence our head of state has to receive him according to diplomatic norms.

  • 0
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    Well I don’t question what a man does for a living.

    I was going to reply to this pompous arrogant DR. looking to cut his teeth in his craft seeking publicity.

    Then my job was made easy by Solon above.

    Thank you Solon.

  • 2
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    Buddhism is not a religion. Nor is it a philosophy or a science. It is a phenomenology that fills the gap between philosophy and science.

    Buddha did not claim to be God. He was an extraordinary human being who attained Enlightenment through cultivating his mind power to see the universe as it really is/was/ will be.

    The majority of Sinhala Buddhists, including the clergy, who have never had access to the Sutta Pitaka, do not understand this. They do not understand that the crux of Buddhism is the Four Noble Truths.

    In Kalama Sutta, the Buddha says that people should understand what is true through personal experience, not because of is said so by religious or any other authority. THus he made a distinction between conventional truth and absolute/ultimate truth. He equated the FNTs with the latter because anyone could test their veracity through mind cultivation (samma sati).

    The FNTs say that cyclic existence (samsara) is dukkha; that craving (tanha) and attachment (upadana) are the main reasons for the arising (samudaya) oF dukkha; that there is a path for the cessation (nirodha) of dukkha; and that path is the magga (the Middle Path or the Noble Eightfold PAth). He derived the Ti-lakkhana of existence–dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anatta (no self) and anicca (inconstancy)–from the FNTs.

    Buddha said that anyone could personally test each of the ti-lakkhana through mindful meditation by concentrating on breathing, heartbeat, sense organs, etc., thereby investigating oneself rather than relying on others for verification. For example, breathing tells you about impermanence and asoulity/”no self” AND THE ABILITY of the mind to control dukkha.

    Buddhism is the only “religion” that says a being has no self or soul because everything in the phenomenal world changes from moment to moment. In this sense, there is no static human being identifiable as “I” or “me.” Every human being is a composite of the Five Aggregates–rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana. These aggregates of craving tempt people toward tanha and upadana, which only mind consciousness can partly control.

    The implications are clear. If we are all composites of the Five Aggregates, by harming others we harm ourselves and vice versa. If the aggregates are in constant flux, no one can have a static self or soul. If that were the case, what is the point of craving for things beyond what you need for a modest way of life? Thus Buddhism promotes the theme of small is beautiful, modest consumption, individual and collective human and animal rights, ecological preservation, etc. Buddhism acknowledges the interdependence, interaction and interconnection of all elements of our multiverse. Buddha saw the galactic nature of the universe more than 2,000 years before science.

    Western pundits and their remnants in Sri Lanka consider all these to be untestable metaphysics. The Orientalists who translated the Pali word dukkha as mere physical suffering did much damage to Buddhism by projecting it as a negative ‘religion.’ Science cannot test the complex dynamics explicated in the dependent co-origination (paticca samuppada) formulation that summarizes the crux of Buddhism. That shows the limitation of science, not the truth of Buddhism.

    Finally, the magga provides an exemplary code of ethics and morals for all of humanity to observe irespective of religion, ethnicity or any other distinction. It has three dimensions–panna (wisdom), sila (ethics/morality) and samadhi (mental cultivation). No religion can object to any of these three. If journalists can try to apply these criteria in their daily work on a voluntary basis, there is no need for professional codes of ethics, press councils and other controlling mechanisms.

    Buddhist phenomenology needs to be applied in the administrative structure of Sri Lanka. It needs to be applied with adequate explication to dispel the potential fears of Hindus, Muslims and Christians that the magga does not impinge on their exemplary way of life. The magga is not what the BBS stands for. A major step would be to educate the putative Buddhists who have lost track of the crux of Buddhism.

  • 1
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    What a coincidence and a pleasant surprise ! Welcome back Dr.Jagath Asoka ! Two of us were discussing about you yesterday in this forum and I’m sure he will be excited to see you here.
    Never mind about the substance or a few critical comments, but it’s you who we love to see taking part here after such a long time and really missed you Sir.
    The substances discussed here at times are complex and who ever who could understand can do so and the others who couldn’t can do anything they want. No complaints. We are back in a democratic nation I guess !

    There are so many things we all cannot understand and we really don’t have to understand everything in the world. The knowledge or the intellect is not the same for everyone. We cannot blame anyone for that.

    As a simple person, I do not believe in dissecting and seeing certain things, religion or people to understand it. Understand if you can or just leave it as it is, without dissecting or probing into it, wasting time. There are so many things a human cannot understand or explain. The best way is to believe in something, have trust in people, love people or some one, have faith in some religion, if possible and these stuff will give peace and happiness for ordinary folks like us.

    Trying to dissect, analyze and compare religions is not useful, possible, just a waste of time and energy but it’s up to individuals.

    Dr Jagath Asoka’s write ups are always different, interesting,thought provoking, intellectual, at times may be even controversial but never a boring stereo type ones. That’s why he’s different from many others and we, many of us like them. One cannot cast unreasonable remarks about his writings, just because one couldn’t understand it. Just take it easy, it’s simple as that and no need to get worked up, get angry or boil your precious blood. After all, nothing is perfect in this world, people or even religions for that matter.

    Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism etc., are all just man made religions. Some people are practicing and some are not. So what ?
    It’s no big deal. Anyhow, arguing or fighting over these things are really childish and not a thing any real intellect would do. Many countries destroyed, people got killed, communities dismantled, properties demolished …all in the name of religion or race and it’s totally wrong, against humanity and just absurd. But people do it anyway. That’s how humans are created by the god or what ever.

    Life is interesting but painful at times or the other way about.

    • 0
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      Dear Bruz

      CT is not a forum for idle gossip, riding rough shod without justification over peoples’ hallowed beliefs, or to just pretend one is learned in the subject chosen for discourse.

      This is what Dr Asoka has done. The Article contains a huge photo of the Pope, reference to Buddhism and other religions, and then trashes them saying that Religion does not give satisfactory answers to issues faced by humanity. The ignoramus then gives the impression that his knowledge of religions is limited to “the plethora of asinine answers form Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, about suffering, death, rebirth, etc”.

      This is not the standard expected of a writer who has chosen to write in CT under an onerous title “Pope Francis, Theodicy, And Maithripala”.

      From your “essay” I gather you only skim articles and not serious about the content. So clearly CT is not for you Bruz. If Dr Asoka cannot justify what he has stated, CT is not for him either.

      If you are looking for a place to read idle gossip, or a way to spend the free time without sweat, may I suggest you visit the following website:

      https://triviaoftheday.wordpress.com/

      Make it your homepage!

  • 0
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    What a magic? Pope is very Lucky. I now believe in God. It is God’s will that Pope should not sake hands with a dictator who has blood on his hand.

    • 0
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      Yea, the All Seeing Monstrous Eye sees all. They can command & and conquer the world. Hail to the Owlies.

  • 0
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    Welcome Back Dr. Asoka

  • 0
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    Dear Solon; Thank you for the piece of advice.
    But I do not take all CT articles seriously, except a few written by unbiased, neutral, humanistic, sincere or honest columnist, even if their views are different from mine. Giving due respect to others’ opinion is my resolve. I love satire and enjoy the kind of honest ones from Dr.Jagath Asoka or anyone.
    Life or anything should not be taken too seriously. Any one can write anything they want and we could just read or leave it. Of course reading something we like is pleasure but why get agitated if we happen to see something not so palatable ? My motto is ‘just read’, continue reading if it’s interesting. Not agreeing with the author’s opinion or finding fault with the writer is not my way. I just enjoy reading and simple life. My visit here is not to correct others or complain about write ups. My believe is that “No one knows everything”, be it religion, history, politics or anything.

    Religions cannot be easily explained or understood. They are complex, have no depths, are invisible, they have infinite powers..I wouldn’t try to understand because it’s impossible for anyone!

    Writers at times, pour out their mind, depending on their mood, good or bad effect of past and present experiences. People seldom have a permanent mind, it revolves, rotates.. The sun and the moon, the planets have influence on their mood swings etc.,if you believe what I say.

    Don’t be too serious, just take it easy pal.

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