20 September, 2019

Blog

Striking The Match

By Dharisha Bastians

Dharisha Bastians

Dharisha Bastians

Hardline monks did not riot or burn in Aluthgama and Beruwela last Sunday night. They just struck the match upon their platforms and watched the towns burn

“They hold harthals now even for small, small incidents. When the LTTE was killing all communities indiscriminately nobody held harthals” – President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport on Sunday, 22 June

Inside the Welipitiya mosque premises, the floors and walls of the little scripture learning room are smeared with fresh blood. Benches and desks are strewn around, chairs upturned, as villagers bore the wounded and bleeding into the small room beside the main mosque, tending to them there until the fighting subsided and they could be taken for medical treatment. Three men – a tile layer, day labourer and shop owner perished in what residents called face-to-face clashes on the night of 15 June in the Welipitiya village, a tiny, ethnically mixed settlement off Dharga Town Aluthgama. All three victims were Muslims.

Standing between the mosque which was housing the women and children of the village during the Sunday night rioting, Muslim residents of Welipitiya say they fought assailants whose faces they could not see, after a peppering of bullets shortly before the fighting erupted had brought down the power lines in the area. The morning after, the small narrow street is cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape because of the fatalities. The yellow tape ironically forms the divide between the Sinhalese and Muslim sections of the street, with four policemen on each side stationed to ‘secure’ the two warring outposts. Except that residents on the Sinhalese side of the village are devastated by the deaths of their Muslim neighbours and insist the mobs that bore down on the Welipitiya mosque were people they did not know. Sinhalese homes were not spared in the mob violence that raged on the street that night, making residents on both sides of the crime tape divide curse the ‘outsiders’ for the massive damage from what the entire neighbourhood calls senseless violence. Residents described how a bullet that killed one of the victims had pierced his heart and exited through the spine. A shot to the head had killed another. The third allegedly succumbed wounds inflicted by bullet that pierced his stomach or hip. Bullet holes and ricochets are visible on high walls, empty bullet casings lie on roadside, some of them waiting to be marked for evidence.

Yet in a sinister twist, the medical reports record all three deaths as fatalities from slash wounds. According the Justice Minister and Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader Rauff Hakeem, who has ‘gone rogue’ over the past week, the medical reports of the three gunshot victims have been fabricated. He is also insisting that the gunshots that killed the three Welipitiya residents were not fired by civilians. Hakeem and his ministerial colleague Rishard Bathiudeen have publicly called proscription of the hardline Bodu Bala Sena group and legal action against the group’s rabble-rouser in Chief, Galagodaththe Gnansara Thero, the man who threatened to ‘end’ Dharga Town Aluthgama in one night a few hours before the riots broke out. After the two Ministers openly criticized the Government and demanded a ban on the BBS at last week’s heated cabinet meeting, an angry President Mahinda Rajapaksa retorted that arresting the fierce monk would ‘turn him into a hero’. Action against the BBS and its rampaging monks, would worsen religious tensions in the aftermath of Aluthgama, the President countered.

But 10 days after the worst communal violence Sri Lanka has seen in decades, things look bad enough.

The destruction

Hundreds of Muslim homes have been destroyed or partially damaged. Four people – the fourth victim a Tamil watchman of a farm raided by mobs in Mathugama on Tuesday (17) night whose name the authorities never revealed – are dead. Eighty eight people, including 16 Sinhalese and at least two Buddhist monks were injured in the violence. Hundreds of families have been displaced in the 48 hour riots that reduced some homes and home businesses to ashes that fateful Sunday night. Intermittent clashes between religious or ethnic groups are being reported in several areas, including the capital since Sunday, 15 June. Last weekend, an abhaya shop in Dehiwela was pelted with stones and on Tuesday night, a shop in Beruwela was torched by an unknown group. On Saturday (21) morning, news that the Panadura No Limit showroom had been completely gutted by in a pre-dawn fire shattered an uneasy calm that was settling over southern and Western Sri Lanka. The Panadura showroom is the largest in the No Limit chain. The well patronized Muslim owned clothing chain has been on the hardline groups’ radar for well over a year. Their allegations against the enterprise have bordered on the preposterous: the monks claim devious management schemes to hand out free sweets to make Sinhalese women infertile and convert Sinhalese staff members by marrying them off to Muslim employees. The authorities are still investigating the cause of the fire, but theories currently being floated are an electrical short circuit and an attack motivated by the fact that the No Limit showroom did not participate in the Harthal to protest the Aluthgama violence that was held in Colombo last Thursday (19). The clear assumptions by the police even before inquiries are concluded, is that it was either an accident or the attackers were angry Muslims. This partisan behaviour on the part of the police has been even more apparent in its treatment of the moderate monk and sworn Bodu Bala Sena rival, Watarekke Vijitha Thero who was found bound in a ditch in Panadura last week, with slash wounds on his body.

Two justice systems?

The police claim the monk had confessed to staging the attack and inflicting the cuts upon himself, including the partial circumcision that was attempted on his person. The Government’s law enforcement arm which is prevented from arresting BBS monks accused of inciting communal riots on 15 June for fear of a Sinhala Buddhist backlash, took Vijitha Thero into custody straight out of his hospital bed last afternoon and produced him before the Panadura magistrate who remanded the monk for one week. Police claim investigations have revealed CCTV footage and telephone records that provide evidence that the attack on the monk was staged. The Judicial Medical Officer’s report also found wounds on Vijitha Thero’s body to be self-inflicted, Police Spokesman SSP Ajith Rohana told the press last weekend. But since being discharged from hospital yesterday, Vijitha Thero has rejected the police version of events, and insisted that his lawyers enter a not guilty plea. Confessions obtained under duress have no standing in a court of law, the monk’s lawyers said, hinting strongly that their client would reveal his version of events in police custody through an affidavit over the next few days. Irrespective of the merits and demerits of the investigation and its findings, the process of law initiated against Vijitha Thero for filing a false complaint reveals that the system is alive and well in specific cases of interest. Due process and punishment, it would seem, depends strongly on the type and affiliation of the perpetrator.

As the politically aware citizenry reels from the shock and horror of a 21st century ethno-religious riot, much of the despair stems from the knowledge that the horror of Aluthgama was a long time coming. The stage was set when wave after wave of unchecked extremist hate speech, when shadowy attacks on Muslim and Christian places of worship and trade unfolded across the island. The foundation was laid in the impunity Buddhist hardliners enjoyed when they launched campaigns against the Dambulla mosque, the Kuragala Sufi Shrine, the Halal food certification and the Fashion Bug textile factory in Pepiliyana last year. For 18 months, while liberals raged and Muslims politicians and civil society groups pleaded, President Rajapaksa and his Government airily dismissed the Bodu Bala Sena, Sinhala Ravaya and Ravana Balaya antics as ‘sulu sulu siddheen’ (minor incidents) and buttressed it with platitudes about Sri Lankan unity. When the attacks began to be flagged internationally, at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and across the Western world, the Government hit back hard, calling the reaction ‘disproportionate’ and without basis, since the religious tensions were no more than ‘isolated incidents’ that were being dealt with through a legal process, wherever evidence was available. Needless to say, extensive video evidence has been available in nearly every instance. But 18 months after the attacks intensified, the Government is yet to prosecute a single assailant, monk or layman.  Desperate and helpless to alter the conduct of a Government in which they participate, Hakeem and other Muslim representatives are increasingly reaching out to international partners and diplomats, to express their fears about the fate of Sri Lankan Muslims in an increasingly minority-unfriendly climate.

Internationalisation of Aluthgama

For a Government that resents the ‘internationalisation’ of domestic issues, as it faces censure at multilateral forums like the UNHRC, the Aluthgama violence could not have come in a worse week. Visiting Colombo last week were two senior officials – one from the UN Political Affairs Division in New York, the other from the US State Department. UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco began a four day mission to Sri Lanka last Thursday (19), for wide ranging discussions with Government officials and other political stakeholders in the country. With tensions still running high, the religious violence in Aluthgama and the adjoining town of Beruwela would dominate the discussion, especially between Fernandez-Taranco and Minister Hakeem. Held at the Minister’s residence last Friday, in the presence of liaison officers from the Ministry of External Affairs, President Rajapaksa’s Justice Minister gave damning testimony about the victimization of the Muslim community by Buddhist hardline groups over the past 18 months, culminating in last Sunday’s violence. Minister Hakeem told the UN Assistant Secretary General that he expected justice for Sri Lankan minorities and equal protection of the law, in light of recent events. The Minister made similar interventions US Ambassador Michele Sison, during a meeting with them last week.

Both meetings have incensed the regime. Minister Hakeem is being warned to watch his public remarks on the anti-Muslim violence, after he made several statements to the international press that the Government perceived as being damaging, especially originating from a cabinet minister. The SLMC Leader is already in hot water for taking the anti-Muslim attacks to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay during her visit to Sri Lanka last year. With the UN investigation into alleged war crimes and major human rights violations in the last stages of the war scheduled to kick off next month, Pillay made a timely intervention – possibly the last of her tenure – by appointing Pakistani advocate and lawyer, Asma Jahangir to be one of the independent experts that will be supervising the OHCHR investigators. Jahangir, who was the former UN Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, is a strong advocate for religious tolerance and reported on Sri Lanka’s religious issues in 2006, following a visit to the country the year before.

Chilling Govt. statements

At the UNHRC in Geneva, which is currently in session, the Sri Lankan delegation was forced to defend itself against remarks made by Germany, Norway and Canada, about the religious violence in Aluthgama. The statement delivered on Friday before the Council, was the first official Sri Lankan Government statement on the riots. Its contents would bear startling testimony to the Rajapaksa administration’s handling of the issue, and its ideological positions on the violence and its instigators. The Sri Lankan Government statement to the Council that only in March adopted a resolution that included demands that Sri Lanka work towards ending attacks on religious minorities, pointed to two points of instigation in last Sunday’s clashes; and both involved a Muslim aggressor and a victimized Buddhist monk. The Sri Lankan delegation failed to make mention, even in passing, of a rabid, anti-Muslim rally by Buddhist hardliners in the heart of the Aluthgama town, where religious tensions had threatened to erupt only 72 hours before following a roadside incident, in which a monk was allegedly assaulted by two young Muslims on Poson Poya Day. It did however refer to stones being pelted at the vehicle convoy of the same monk on Sunday night, shortly before the violence in Aluthgama broke out.

White-washing and downplaying the role of the hardline movements and dismissing their part as being unrelated in ‘isolated’ attacks on minority communities has brought a new tragedy and a new persecution to the Government’s door. Yet it persists, in undermining the pain and suffering of the Muslim community, not only over the past 18 months, but last week, when some of them lost lives, livelihoods and the roof over their heads in instigated, senseless violence. Violence a long time in the making, tensions long foretold and the kind of shame that takes decades to live down. Gnanasara Thero’s hate speech against Muslims did not begin in Aluthgama last Sunday. It has been growing increasingly rabid, increasingly violent and inciteful for 18 long months. The Government that arrested journalist J.S. Tissanayagam, politician Azath Sally and human rights activists Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan under sections of the Prevention of Terrorism Act dealing with an incitement of communal tension, has been criminally derelict in the case of Galagodaththe Gnanasara.

No blood on BBS hands?

Privately, the Government persists with the theory that the Bodu Bala Sena cannot be directly linked to the Aluthgama riots. The railing monk, his open threats against the Muslim settlements in the area, his clarion call for the Sinhalese to “awake”, these are only auxiliary to the violence. But after months and months of similar rhetoric, wild allegations and calls to arms, why does the Government fail to connect the dots or read the writing that has been on the wall since Gnanasara Thero first began his ranting?

In besieged Dharga Town the morning after, the mood alters among residents often. They are angry or profoundly sad by spells. Sometimes, they become introspective. The attacks on their places of worship, their holy books, these seem hardest to bear. “Do you remember, how upset they got, even the Government, when the Mahabodhi temple was attacked in India,” Mohammed Najib says, his face pale and drawn as dawn breaks over the riot rocked town. “Can they not imagine our pain, when our neighbourhood mosque is attacked? This is the place we go to pray, where our children go to learn the Qu’ran,” he recounts, sadly. “Only animals attack places of worship.”

The Bodu Bala Sena and its fierce monks may not have marched with the mobsters last Sunday night. They may not have carried the fuel cans and petrol bombs, or pointed out the Muslim homes and businesses to the mob. The blood and ashes, they may not be on their hands. But the words, the anger and the suspicion that wrought the attacks against Muslims in Aluthgama that day, unfolded first upon their platforms. So in the end, the Bodu Bala Sena did not need to do much. They had already struck the first match. All they had left to do was to watch it all burn down.

Courtesy Daily FT

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Latest comments

  • 27
    4

    Very Bold Statements.written wth Courage,imprtiality and with determination to tell the Truth to the World.Bravo

    • 16
      3

      I whole heartedly agree with you. The true story as it should be told. We have seen and heard so much of lies and ruses from authoritative sources, that, at times when they do tell the truth, we tend not to believe them, and consider it to be some kind of a sinister move to fool us again. This is the present state of our Union. Sad situation to be in.

      • 12
        5

        And then they came for Rauf Hakeem and he did speak!

        Rauf Hakeem so called Minister of Justice is the scum of the earth. He did not say a word when the Chief Justice was illegally impeached last year and a CORRUPT Rajapaksa regime stooge put in her place.

        Rauf Hakeem did not speak out when Tamils were arrested and their lands grabbed in the north. Rauf Hakeem did not speak out when Christian Churches were burned.
        He is an INSULT to the idea of JUSTICE!

        • 2
          1

          Having a Sinhalese for the Ministry of Justice in this land of lawlessness is impossible/troublesome – hence a non-Sinhalese like Rauff Hakeem was installed and kept there so easily.

          • 0
            0

            The police claim that they cannot arrest GAG because he has not broken the law by inciting hatred and no one has made a formal complaint. Why does not Rauf Hakeem go to the Aluthgama police station with the victims and witnesses of the violence and make a complaint and set the wheels in motion to arrest GAG? Because venal Rauf is scared of the Jarapassa brothers!

            Although Gnanasara’s hate speech delivered at Aluthgama town on June 15th was widely spread in internet, and the video is still on You Tube police claim to be unaware of his hate crimes.
            Meanwhile in a parallel universe of Sinhala Buddhist Modayas, the police media spokesman said that United National Party MP Mangala Samaraweera could be taken into custody under 1955 No. 32 Official Secrets Act. He said that police had received information through media and Attorney General’s advice had been sought. Mangala is doing a great service for democracy and the rule of law in this Miracle of Modayas by exposing Gota the goons DEEP STATE which is a state within a state that runs the Rajapaksa military dictatorship with its facade of elections to fool the Sinhala Buddhist Modayas!

        • 1
          0

          Thanks A lot Dharisha!
          The fault dear Dodo lies less with Hakeem and more with the corrupt dead leftists VASUDEVA NANAYAKKARA who as Minister of National Languages and Social Integration should have presented and passed in Parliament the Bill on the Prevention of Hate Speech and Incitement to Racial and Religious Hatred 2 years ago.
          The shameless coward Vasu whose menika,Nimalka Fernando, is a Japanese NGO big bucks Human Rights “activist” runs his Ministry like a family Business with his SON in charge and has been sucking up to Jarapassa and his corrupt cabinet of clowns from the SLFP – rather than do his job!

        • 0
          0

          For general information: our ministerial titles are misnomers, and sometimes border on the ridiculous. Hakeem is in truth Minister of INjustice – he is man haunted by the circumstances he has been trapped in and is desperately looking for an honourable exit. He is shackled by his own indecision. When you talk with him, look into his sad bloodshot eyes – look deep and you will see the tormented soul – see the hurt at having been betrayed and abused by his masters – see the anguish at the impotence at not being able to safeguard his brothers in faith. The concept of collective cabinet responsibility passed by a long time ago (actually this concept does NOT exist in Sri Lankan politics) but Hakeem is still old enough to know that nothing but opprobrium will be his reward for talking to those who will pass judgement on the government that he belongs to.

    • 13
      1

      Dharisha do not be naive – there is no treat of a Sinhala Buddhist backlash is GAG and Balu Sena is arrested.
      They are not protected by the Buddhist people who despise them, but by Gota the war criminal.

      There will be a huge sigh of relief among Buddhists when GAG is arrested and BBS banned for they have brought a bad name to Buddhism and what the Buddha Taught.

      The backlash will be from Gota the Buddhist Terrorist when BBS’ GAG is arrested. Gota the Goon MUST be forced to RESIGN and sent to Hague for a war crimes trial. Until that happens there will be Buddhist Terrorism and impunity in Sri Lanka.

  • 6
    3

    MaRa and Gota is not worried about this up rise in racial violence because they are the ones who initiated and controlling it.

    They think they are in full control and they can use thugs as they want and thugs won’t go out of control. They are controlling the international terrorist like KP, Karuna and others like kittens. So BBS is nothing.

    Mangala, Vijitha Thero would be put in prison if they make much noise about surging racism & violence. All going in Rajapakse direction.

  • 6
    1

    A good analysis of the most recent events and the build up for same. It is least likely the government will effect a course correction. There is bound to be more suffering and more blood shed in the coming months. The government may yet be unaware that it is building up a Frankenstein in the form of BBS and it may be too late even when the wider society realises it!

    Sengodan. M

  • 5
    5

    In July 1983 it was the UNP Govt (with 5/6th of the Parliament with them) and now it is the SLFP-Coalition of the Rajapakse Govt – enjoying overwhelming support of the people. Does this mean the Sinhalese- the largest section of the vote bank – are racially and religiously prejudiced. Does this mean those noble qualities of tolerance, peaceful co-existence with “others” and non-violence – the very core of the Buddha’s teachings have not taken root in the Lankan Buddhist psyche. That, beginning from 1958 it was some of the leading Buddhist priests who have preached and carried out this violence means the Sinhala race is immune to the Buddha’s teachings? How is that we do not see priests seeking alms in the mornings now?

    If the Sinhalese remain savage-like after 2,500 years of familiarity with Buddhism, it well may be the seeds so far have fallen on rocky soil – save a very small number. We know of many Westerners, who have taken on to Buddhism, living exemplary pious and non-violent lives. I do not mean to denigrate the Sinhala race but the question needs to be addressed by all right-thinking people.

    Kettikaran

  • 2
    22

    yet again muslim biased article not surprisingly by Bastian. a well drafted sinister plot to put the blame on sinhalese and sympathise thug muslims who spread the violence

    • 10
      1

      Thana Kolla, without making racial comments, Rest In Peace!

      • 1
        11

        buru mike is doing the same laundry work for muslims. you’re now qualified to be the police spokesperson

    • 2
      0

      Balu Kela Kolla, canines have no business barking in places places meant only for humans. STFU.

      • 0
        1

        pathetic soul navin, may you rest in peace…animals such as you are meant to be laid in a grave

    • 3
      0

      Ela H kola,
      Although that swine Gandasara carried out this operation the real culprits are none other than the serial killer looking blood thirsty Gota and the psychopath racist Champika with the blessings of the Babahukum Babanis President Mahendra.

      If or when the maniac Gota is gone the country will be safe and sound.
      When Wijeweera was gone the then murderous JVP was gone thus the rest fell in line. When Prabakaran was gone the LTTE was gone too.
      Now its the turn of either Babanis or his rabid brother.

      No need to worry about Gandasara, he will anyway be [Edited out]

      • 0
        1

        Tsunami Hora, you’re another scum sleeping with muslims in a mosque.

        but i agree with you that gon raja should be chased away.

        we need a stronger sinhalese buddhist hardliner to be the president

    • 2
      0

      ela kolla: enjoy your anonymity, because if you were ever caught, there would be a serious realigning of your internal plumbing system, and your facial features would be rearranged so that even your own mater familias will not recognise you. (If you do not comprehend what I have written, have a word with anyone who has survived one of the regular bust ups at Welikade and old Bogambara.)

      • 0
        0

        spring koha, i think your experience in surviving a regular bust ups at Welikade and old Bogambara is appreciated

  • 11
    2

    Dharisha, thank you, for making things so clear to people who live far away from the violence, esp. the conclusion:
    ”The Bodu Bala Sena and its fierce monks may not have marched with the mobsters last Sunday night. They may not have carried the fuel cans and petrol bombs, or pointed out the Muslim homes and businesses to the mob. The blood and ashes, they may not be on their hands. But the words, the anger and the suspicion that wrought the attacks against Muslims in Aluthgama that day, unfolded first upon their platforms. So in the end, the Bodu Bala Sena did not need to do much. They had already struck the first match. All they had left to do was to watch it all burn down”.

    Nobody should forget:
    On11 May 2014 a Sri Lankan government Minister told an audience in Paris: ‘’the Sinhala race is about to be wiped out by minorities that entered the island under the welcome protection of a benign host population’’ – https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/champika-ranawaka-is-conning/

    • 7
      2

      Davidson Panabokke

      “minorities that entered the island under the welcome protection of a benign host population’’

      Champika is confused.

      My people provided sanctuary to Kallthoni asylum seekers from North/South India. Those who arrived on our soil were well looked after by my people.

      Could you pass this message to him.

  • 11
    3

    ela kolla

    “yet again muslim biased article not surprisingly by Bastian.”

    As an aryan Sinhala/Buddhist intellectual you should attempt to elucidate the CT readership what you perceived to be impartial happenings in this land.

    Please give it a try.

    “a well drafted sinister plot to put the blame on sinhalese”

    We know Aryan Sinhala/Buddhists are/were blameless. In fact they are the victims. Blaming the victims has become the norm in this part of the world. As a Sinhala/Buddhist patriot you must defend the honour of your people as you see fit. If necessary you should be willing to die for the cause. Sooner the better. I will be right behind you.

    Be a man/woman.

    • 6
      9

      stinky vedda,
      you’d better go back to your cave without talking nonesense

      • 5
        2

        ela kolla

        “you’d better go back to your cave without talking nonesense”

        You better go back to your ancestral motherland in Tamilnadu and continue talking nonsense.

      • 1
        1

        @elu kolla,

        Machan elu kolla, you are Kolla and I am Lapatiya. both are getting too much of negative points being supporters of Nanasaara. Now everybody realize that you and I are correct as our Police has found the Mastermind behind the Aluthgama clashes. Police are going to charge him not only for the man behind Aluthgama attack, but revealing Top State secret, that our Boss, Gota is wearing a “American Lankat”. Not only that he has revealed that our Boss is covering that American Lankat with our great National Flag. Now Everybody realized that Galagoda Gandasara is innocent with this new development. If not timely action from our Brave Police Officers most important top secret related to the National Security would have gone to the enemy hands and Madam Pillay and the Tamil Diaspora would have had a field day. “Sellanda Kollo” kiwwalu Kollo.

  • 5
    1

    basrian,it is an excellent one and deserves A plus.we are proud of you. thanks CT.
    -sundaram

  • 3
    1

    Whilst all this violence is going on the prelates now called Mahanakiyas of Asgiriya and Malwatte are more concerned about motor racing! Very soon it will be time for the Theravadins to confront the Jathivadins.

  • 3
    0

    Excellent exposition. Bensen

  • 4
    0

    it is a great piece of writing with a detailed account of Alutgama incidents.

    Putting an end to extremism lies in the hands of the government who is turning a blind eye to recent development. few political elements do not understand the economic impact of unrest despite long drawn-out war which devastated the country economically and mentally for which UK took us to task.

  • 3
    0

    Time has come for the civil society to speak out and also provide information for the UN inquiry. Its time we all join hands to wipe out communal hatred, religious hatred and class hatred from Sri Lanka.

  • 1
    5

    “Only animals attack places of worship.” I wonder what you said when the buddhist statues were blown to bits by the Taliban.

    • 2
      2

      whats the point havin statues when there arent any budhists living in afganistan.

      • 3
        0

        Modaya, Afghanistan and Pakistan were Buddhist countries before the Arab invaders arrived in the 11th century. How do you think those statues got there? Built during the night by Gnanasara?

        • 0
          0

          Yes, you right, Buddhism has been around for what – something like 2400 years? But Islam appeared on the planet only 1430 years ago. Obviously Buddhism would have had its influence in all the neighboring countries. After which Islam was introduced, people liked it and accepted it, whilst rejecting the Buddhist philosophy. This is what has actually happened. Therefore you see all the ancient statues turned into ornaments of archaeological value, whilst the newer religion flourishes.

          People cannot be forced into conversions overnight. They need to first understand it, experience it, begin to like it, receive real benefits of it and then they become more ready to accept it.

  • 1
    0

    Compassion and the Individual

    Tenzin Gyatso; The Fourteenth Dalai Lama

    The purpose of life
    ONE GREAT QUESTION underlies our experience, whether we think about it consciously or not: What is the purpose of life? I have considered this question and would like to share my thoughts in the hope that they may be of direct, practical benefit to those who read them.

    I believe that the purpose of life is to be happy. From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affect this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don’t know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness.

    How to achieve happiness
    For a start, it is possible to divide every kind of happiness and suffering into two main categories: mental and physical. Of the two, it is the mind that exerts the greatest influence on most of us. Unless we are either gravely ill or deprived of basic necessities, our physical condition plays a secondary role in life. If the body is content, we virtually ignore it. The mind, however, registers every event, no matter how small. Hence we should devote our most serious efforts to bringing about mental peace.

    From my own limited experience I have found that the greatest degree of inner tranquility comes from the development of love and compassion.

    The more we care for the happiness of others, the greater our own sense of well-being becomes. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. This helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the ultimate source of success in life.

    As long as we live in this world we are bound to encounter problems. If, at such times, we lose hope and become discouraged, we diminish our ability to face difficulties. If, on the other hand, we remember that it is not just ourselves but every one who has to undergo suffering, this more realistic perspective will increase our determination and capacity to overcome troubles. Indeed, with this attitude, each new obstacle can be seen as yet another valuable opportunity to improve our mind!

    Thus we can strive gradually to become more compassionate, that is we can develop both genuine sympathy for others’ suffering and the will to help remove their pain. As a result, our own serenity and inner strength will increase.

    Our need for love
    Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another. However capable and skillful an individual may be, left alone, he or she will not survive. However vigorous and independent one may feel during the most prosperous periods of life, when one is sick or very young or very old, one must depend on the support of others.

    Inter-dependence, of course, is a fundamental law of nature. Not only higher forms of life but also many of the smallest insects are social beings who, without any religion, law or education, survive by mutual cooperation based on an innate recognition of their interconnectedness. The most subtle level of material phenomena is also governed by interdependence. All phenomena from the planet we inhabit to the oceans, clouds, forests and flowers that surround us, arise in dependence upon subtle patterns of energy. Without their proper interaction, they dissolve and decay.

    It is because our own human existence is so dependent on the help of others that our need for love lies at the very foundation of our existence. Therefore we need a genuine sense of responsibility and a sincere concern for the welfare of others.

    We have to consider what we human beings really are. We are not like machine-made objects. If we are merely mechanical entities, then machines themselves could alleviate all of our sufferings and fulfill our needs.

    However, since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. Instead, we should consider our origins and nature to discover what we require.

    Leaving aside the complex question of the creation and evolution of our universe, we can at least agree that each of us is the product of our own parents. In general, our conception took place not just in the context of sexual desire but from our parents’ decision to have a child. Such decisions are founded on responsibility and altruism – the parents compassionate commitment to care of their child until it is able to take care of itself. Thus, from the very moment of our conception, our parents’ love is directly in our creation.

    Moreover, we are completely dependent upon our mothers’ care from the earliest stages of our growth. According to some scientists, a pregnant woman’s mental state, be it calm or agitated, has a direct physical effect on her unborn child.

    The expression of love is also very important at the time of birth. Since the very first thing we do is suck milk from our mothers’ breast, we naturally feel close to her, and she must feel love for us in order to feed us properly; if she feels anger or resentment her milk may not flow freely.

    Then there is the critical period of brain development from the time of birth up to at least the age of three or four, during which time loving physical contact is the single most important factor for the normal growth of the child. If the child is not held, hugged, cuddled, or loved, its development will be impaired and its brain will not mature properly.

    Since a child cannot survive without the care of others, love is its most important nourishment. The happiness of childhood, the allaying of the child’s many fears and the healthy development of its self-confidence all depend directly upon love.

    Nowadays, many children grow up in unhappy homes. If they do not receive proper affection, in later life they will rarely love their parents and, not infrequently, will find it hard to love others. This is very sad.

    As children grow older and enter school, their need for support must be met by their teachers. If a teacher not only imparts academic education but also assumes responsibility for preparing students for life, his or her pupils will feel trust and respect and what has been taught will leave an indelible impression on their minds. On the other hand, subjects taught by a teacher who does not show true concern for his or her students’ overall well-being will be regarded as temporary and not retained for long.

    Similarly, if one is sick and being treated in hospital by a doctor who evinces a warm human feeling, one feels at ease and the doctors’ desire to give the best possible care is itself curative, irrespective of the degree of his or her technical skill. On the other hand, if one’s doctor lacks human feeling and displays an unfriendly expression, impatience or casual disregard, one will feel anxious, even if he or she is the most highly qualified doctor and the disease has been correctly diagnosed and the right medication prescribed. Inevitably, patients’ feelings make a difference to the quality and completeness of their recovery.

    Even when we engage in ordinary conversation in everyday life, if someone speaks with human feeling we enjoy listening, and respond accordingly; the whole conversation becomes interesting, however unimportant the topic may be. On the other hand, if a person speaks coldly or harshly, we feel uneasy and wish for a quick end to the interaction. From the least to the most important event, the affection and respect of others are vital for our happiness.

    Recently I met a group of scientists in America who said that the rate of mental illness in their country was quite high-around twelve percent of the population. It became clear during our discussion that the main cause of depression was not a lack of material necessities but a deprivation of the affection of the others.

    So, as you can see from everything I have written so far, one thing seems clear to me: whether or not we are consciously aware of it, from the day we are born, the need for human affection is in our very blood. Even if the affection comes from an animal or someone we would normally consider an enemy, both children and adults will naturally gravitate towards it.

    I believe that no one is born free from the need for love. And this demonstrates that, although some modern schools of thought seek to do so, human beings cannot be defined as solely physical. No material object, however beautiful or valuable, can make us feel loved, because our deeper identity and true character lie in the subjective nature of the mind.

    Developing compassion
    Some of my friends have told me that, while love and compassion are marvelous and good, they are not really very relevant. Our world, they say, is not a place where such beliefs have much influence or power. They claim that anger and hatred are so much a part of human nature that humanity will always be dominated by them. I do not agree.

    We humans have existed in our present form for about a hundred-thousand years. I believe that if during this time the human mind had been primarily controlled by anger and hatred, our overall population would have decreased. But today, despite all our wars, we find that the human population is greater than ever. This clearly indicates to me that love and compassion predominate in the world. And this is why unpleasant events are news, compassionate activities are so much part of daily life that they are taken for granted and, therefore, largely ignored.

    So far I have been discussing mainly the mental benefits of compassion, but it contributes to good physical health as well, According to my personal experience, mental stability and physical well-being are directly related. Without question, anger and agitation make us more susceptible to illness. On the other hand, if the mind is tranquil and occupied with positive thoughts, the body will not easily fall prey to disease.

    But of course it is also true that we all have an innate self-centeredness that inhibits our love for others. So, since we desire the true happiness that is brought about by only a calm mind, and since such peace of mind is brought about by only a compassionate attitude, how can we develop this? Obviously, it is not enough for us simply to think about how nice compassion is! We need to make a concerted effort to develop it; we must use all the events of our daily life to transform our thoughts and behavior.

    First of all, we must be clear about what we mean by compassion. Many forms of compassionate feeling are mixed with desire and attachment. For instance, the love parents feel of their child is often strongly associated with their own emotional needs, so it is not fully compassionate. Again, in marriage, the love between husband and wife – particularly at the beginning, when each partner still may not know the other’s deeper character very well – depends more on attachment than genuine love. Our desire can be so strong that the person to whom we are attached appears to be good, when in fact he or she is very negative. In addition, we have a tendency to exaggerate small positive qualities. Thus when one partner’s attitude changes, the other partner is often disappointed and his or her attitude changes too. This is an indication that love has been motivated more by personal need than by genuine care for the other individual.

    True compassion is not just an emotional response but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude towards others does not change even if they behave negatively.

    Of course, developing this kind of compassion is not at all easy! As a start, let us consider the following facts:
    Whether people are beautiful and friendly or unattractive and disruptive, ultimately they are human beings, just like oneself. Like oneself, they want happiness and do not want suffering. Furthermore, their right to overcome suffering and be happy is equal to one’s own. Now, when you recognize that all beings are equal in both their desire for happiness and their right to obtain it, you automatically feel empathy and closeness for them. Through accustoming your mind to this sense of universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems. Nor is this wish selective; it applies equally to all. As long as they are human beings experiencing pleasure and pain just as you do, there is no logical basis to discriminate between them or to alter your concern for them if they behave negatively.

    Let me emphasize that it is within your power, given patience and time, to develop this kind of compassion. Of course, our self-centeredness, our distinctive attachment to the feeling of an independent, self-existent �I�, works fundamentally to inhibit our compassion. Indeed, true compassion can be experienced only when this type of self- grasping is eliminated. But this does not mean that we cannot start and make progress now.

    How can we start
    We should begin by removing the greatest hindrances to compassion: anger and hatred. As we all know, these are extremely powerful emotions and they can overwhelm our entire mind. Nevertheless, they can be controlled. If, however, they are not, these negative emotions will plague us – with no extra effort on their part! – and impede our quest for the happiness of a loving mind.

    So as a start, it is useful to investigate whether or not anger is of value. Sometimes, when we are discouraged by a difficult situation, anger does seem helpful, appearing to bring with it more energy, confidence and determination.

    Here, though, we must examine our mental state carefully. While itis true that anger brings extra energy, if we explore the nature of this energy, we discover that it is blind: we cannot be sure whether its result will be positive or negative. This is because anger eclipses the best part of our brain: its rationality. So the energy of anger is almost always unreliable. It can cause an immense amount of destructive, unfortunate behavior. Moreover, if anger increases to the extreme, one becomes like a mad person, acting in ways that are as damaging to oneself as they are to others.

    It is possible, however, to develop an equally forceful but far more controlled energy with which to handle difficult situations.

    This controlled energy comes not only from a compassionate attitude, but also from reason and patience. These are the most powerful antidotes to anger. Unfortunately, many people misjudge these qualities as signs of weakness. I believe the opposite to be true: that they are the true signs of inner strength. Compassion is by nature gentle, peaceful and soft, but it is very powerful. It is those who easily lose their patience who are insecure and unstable. Thus, to me, the arousal of anger is a direct sign of weakness.

    So, when a problem first arises, try to remain humble and maintain a sincere attitude and be concerned that the outcome is fair. Of course, others may try to take advantage of you, and if your remaining detached only encourages unjust aggression, adopt a strong stand, This, however, should be done with compassion, and if it is necessary to express your views and take strong countermeasures, do so without anger or ill-intent.
    You should realize that even though your opponents appear to be harming you, in the end, their destructive activity will damage only themselves. In order to check your own selfish impulse to retaliate, you should recall your desire to practice compassion and assume responsibility for helping prevent the other person from suffering the consequences of his or her acts.

    Thus, because the measures you employ have been calmly chosen, they will be more effective, more accurate and more forceful. Retaliation based on the blind energy of anger seldom hits the target.

    Friends and enemies
    I must emphasize again that merely thinking that compassion and reason and patience are good will not be enough to develop them. We must wait for difficulties to arise and then attempt to practice them.

    And who creates such opportunities? Not our friends, of course, but our enemies. They are the ones who give us the most trouble, So if we truly wish to learn, we should consider enemies to be our best teacher!

    For a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential, and for that, an enemy is indispensable. So we should feel grateful to our enemies, for it is they who can best help us develop a tranquil mind! Also, itis often the case in both personal and public life, that with a change in circumstances, enemies become friends.

    So anger and hatred are always harmful, and unless we train our minds and work to reduce their negative force, they will continue to disturb us and disrupt our attempts to develop a calm mind. Anger and hatred are our real enemies. These are the forces we most need to confront and defeat, not the temporary enemies who appear intermittently throughout life.

    Of course, it is natural and right that we all want friends. I often joke that if you really want to be selfish, you should be very altruistic! You should take good care of others, be concerned for their welfare, help them, serve them, make more friends, make more smiles, The result? When you yourself need help, you find plenty of helpers! If, on the other hand, you neglect the happiness of others, in the long term you will be the loser. And is friendship produced through quarrels and anger, jealousy and intense competitiveness? I do not think so. Only affection brings us genuine close friends.

    In today’s materialistic society, if you have money and power, you seem to have many friends. But they are not friends of yours; they are the friends of your money and power. When you lose your wealth and influence, you will find it very difficult to track these people down.

    The trouble is that when things in the world go well for us, we become confident that we can manage by ourselves and feel we do not need friends, but as our status and health decline, we quickly realize how wrong we were. That is the moment when we learn who is really helpful and who is completely useless. So to prepare for that moment, to make genuine friends who will help us when the need arises, we ourselves must cultivate altruism!
    Though sometimes people laugh when I say it, I myself always want more friends. I love smiles. Because of this I have the problem of knowing how to make more friends and how to get more smiles, in particular, genuine smiles. For there are many kinds of smile, such as sarcastic, artificial or diplomatic smiles. Many smiles produce no feeling of satisfaction, and sometimes they can even create suspicion or fear, can’t they? But a genuine smile really gives us a feeling of freshness and is, I believe, unique to human beings. If these are the smiles we want, then we ourselves must create the reasons for them to appear.

    Compassion and the world
    In conclusion, I would like briefly to expand my thoughts beyond the topic of this short piece and make a wider point: individual happiness can contribute in a profound and effective way to the overall improvement of our entire human community.

    Because we all share an identical need for love, it is possible to feel that anybody we meet, in whatever circumstances, is a brother or sister. No matter how new the face or how different the dress and behavior, there is no significant division between us and other people. It is foolish to dwell on external differences, because our basic natures are the same.

    Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home, If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another.

    If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self- worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others.

    I believe that at every level of society – familial, tribal, national and international – the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities.

    I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness. It is the practice of compassion.

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    “Only animals attack places of worship”. But Muslims should be allowed to assault Buddhist monks!

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    Some good questions raised on the flimsy explanations to the violence advocated by buddhist extremists.

    One has to ask who will benefit from the consequences of riots against the muslims, both within SL and in the international arena?

    Definitely not the common people – the middle and lower middle classes from almost all ethnic/religious groups- will suffer as a result of the ecomomic problems that could result. The muslims do have a disproportionate sway in the business community, due to their ancestral connections and business acumen, not just in SL but all over Asia. So destroying their businesses does not help improve the SL economy, rather the opposite. in the shrt term, the sinhalese businesses that compete directly with muslim businesses tragetted might benefit, but in the long term, the sinhalese who do not have the same extensive business and support networks of the muslims will not be as successful as the muslims have been. THe result will be economic malaise for EVERYONE.

    It seems that the military is becoming more and more active in the business sphere in SL. Can they mount a credible challenge to the strength of the muslim business community? I am not so sure. Burma, Noirth Korea and Eqypt provide ample examples of mismanagement of the business community by military involvement. China too was in this fold until the reforms of Mao, and as we write here, the chinese military is continuing changing tact to encourage more genuine local entrepreneurship and less communist-party controlled industries.

    The other obvious winner from these acts of violence and the consequent national and international agitation are the Tamil secessionists. Having won the battle for the UN war crimes investigation, these events will bolster the case against the current government in the eyes of the international investigators. Facts and fiction will both become indistinguishable and thus confirmed “truth”, especially with the SL government opposing the said investigation. Linking the riots to the military will bolster the case against its head. I believe that many Tamil secessionists are pushing for the war crimes tribunals to lead to a referendum on separation and creation of an Ealam. The muslim-sinhala riots and their aftermath will help them in their goal for not just the reason stated above (involving international perception), but also in the ground in SL. The muslims have been a key link between the sinhala-heavy military and the Tamil speakers in the civil war. They provided key language skills and intelligence assistance to the military. Creating tension and a split between these 2 entities, in a “divide and conquer” strategy, will help the Tamil secessionists, especially if they are pursuing a covert resurgence of violent secessionism.

    In this light, it would be prudent for all who support a united single nation, to be wary of all their hear and all they read. Skepticism is the best strategy when dealing with the media coverage of any news items, especially on the Internet and more so if the internet is your ONLY source of such news. A collection of news items from a variety of biased sources does not nurture a well-informed mind.

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    Oh where is the that great scholar K A Sumansekera’s (LEELA) comments on this,im very keen to hear his favorite words such as

    a dollar a day
    wahabis
    diasporians
    our way of life
    pillay police

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