Thursday, 17 May 2012

Paticcasamuppada or the Dependent Origination.

The  teachings of the Buddha is deep and profound , but it becomes complicated and complex  the way it is being  explainesd..

The profound most teaching of the Buddha is in the Abhidhamma, but the Buddha left it out from the ordinary beings the prtajjhana as the profundity of that Dhamma would have confused them.

If Paticcasamuppada is seen as a  Dhamm that encompass the whole of the  teachings of the Buddha then the meaning of  it would be more comprehensible.  Therefore without any pretention to be a specialist of the teaching or having a perfect understand of the teaching I explain what I have understood of the  Paticcasamuppada with the intention of knowing it better from others.

Paticcasamuppada the teaching of dependent arising  has 12 steps. Of this the first is Avijja (Ignorance) which has nothing to do with knowledge, education or learning.  It is simply the ignorance of the reality of phenomena.  The misconceptions such as, that every thing is permanent, every thing gives pleasure and satisfaction and that there is a self that indulges in worldly pleasures.

A being existing with these  wrong conceptions carry on activities  that have future Kammic resultsa (kammavipaka) which are  therefore the Sankhara( mental formations) the second step of the Paticcasamuppada, arising through avijja (ignorance).

The primary consequence of Kamma is  the life or rebirth resulting  through the accumulated Kamma. The rebirth  results in producing  vinnana (consciousness) in the beginning of the life, which is the third step of the Paticcasamuppada.

Vinnana (consciousness) arises with the mental factors  such as passa (contact) vedana(feeling)  sanna (perception)cetana( volition) and formations (sankhara) along with a material body (foetus). Hence  mind and form(nama-rupa) which is the forth step of Paticcasamuppda.

Along with the mind -form (nama-rupa) comes the eyes, ears, tongue, nose, body and mind- the six sense faculties (salayatana), which is the fifthe step of Paticcasamuppada.  These senses are the faculties that sense the outside world by coming in contact(pasaa) with objects. Passa (contact) is the  sixth step of the Patciccasamuppada.

The most important experience we have from the sense faculties (slayatana ) coming in contact (passa) with the objects is the feeling (vedana). These feelings(vedana) are varied according to the object that come in contact with the six different  sense faculties.  Feelings (vedana )is the  seventh step of the Paticcasamuppada.  Feelings (vedana) are  either pleasant and create desire to have more of it or unpleasant and create desire to get rid of them.  This desire (tanha) to have more of pleasant feelings (vedana) or  get rid of them is the eighth step of the Patticcasamuppada

Then through desire arises the intense desire to possess and enjoy what is pleasant, this utmost desire to enjoy more of what is pleasant is  upadana( craving) which is the  ninth step of Paticcasamuppada.

This craving (upadana) makes us slaves to objects of desire for which we have a craving (upadana) and prepares life  in ways to get what is craved for,  and thereby make kamma to satisfy the way we have prepared our lives to enjoy or possess that which we crave(upadana).  That way of life we adopt to satisfy our craving (upadana) is the bhava (existence) which is the tenth  step of Paticcasamuppada..

In existing the way we have chosen to live, we make  life producing kamma which is the re-birth (jati).   Rebirth or Jathi is the eleventh step of the Paticchasamuppada.  In rebirth  we experience old age, death and suffering that comes with the rebirth.

This suffering through old age(jara),death (marana) and all the suffering coming along with that is the twelfth step of the Paticca samuppada.  Each step of the Paticcasamuppada follows the previous and that is the sequential conditions with its following results that make up the Paticcasamuppada or dependant origination.

In this twelve steps the last two jati( rebirth) and jara (old age and illness) marana (death) and soka parideva( grief and lamentation  which is suffering in the larger context make up the Samsara.

Birth is the necessary condition to experience  suffering .  If there were to be no birth there would be no suffering .  Hence each step conditions the following until we come to suffering .  The dependent origination (paticcasamuppada) shows us that the last step  “suffering “ is the result of the beginning  condition of  avijja (ignorance)

Hence we see why the Buddha explained this teaching of dependent origination (paticcasamuppada).  It explains the four noble truths  beginning with Suffering., the cause of suffering and how suffering arises.

Knowing the paticcasamuppada makes us  understand the causes of suffering and find the means to reduce this suffering.   As suffering begins with avijja (ignorance) there is a way to eliminate avijja. As birth is the cause of suffering  the way to eliminate suffering is to end future rebirth.

The re-birth and suffering  the last two steps of paticcasamuppada taken together is the Samsara the cycle of  births and deaths. Samsara is not the world  but how we as human beings experience the world. The Samsara is our views of life and how we live through it. Nevertheless each one of us goes through life in his own way but
yet goes through the endless cycle of births and deaths .

Hence Paticcasamuppada shows us both the suffering and  also shows at what  is  Samsara.

In order to find a way to end suffering, we have to go to the beginning of the Paticcasamupada, to  Avijja (ignorance).  When we understand  the true nature of Avijja (ignorance) we can eliminate  aviija the first step of Paticcasamuppada.

As each step is causally dependent on the other it follows rthat elimination of the first eliminates the second and so on until we end the  twelfth step of suffering.  Similarly even if we do not eliminate avijja , if we could weaken it then the subsequent steps too get weakend and less of suffering would be the end result.

In order to eliminate avijja we will have to understand what it is. When we know that it is a distorted outlook of life, unable to see things as they are, then we will know that it is the result of the delusion of not understanding  the reality of Anicca (impermanence) dukkha ( suffering) and anatta (no-self)  Hence avijja (ignorance) being the root of the cycle described in Paticcasamuppada, it is the beginning of all suffering ?

But avijja is a delusion of realities of life , a distorted view of reality. What contributes to this delusion ?

What contributes to this delusion are the five nivarana (hindrances) –thinamiddha (lethargy), kamachchandha( desire for sence objects), vyapada( ill-will) uddacca kukkucca( restlessness and worry) and vicikiccha (doubt)

Sronger the hindrances stronger is the delusion.  The hindrances such as anger and desire themselves distort how we look at things.

In order to weaken the hindrances, which would in turn weaken the  avijja and following steps of the Paticcasamuppada we will have to reduce the   hindrances which are also the defilements(kilesa) of the mind.  How can we do that ? It is by following the noble eightfold path.

This is how the Paticcasamuppada is seen as an all encompassing  teaching of the Buddha.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Mobs, Monks and the Problem of Political-Buddhism: explaining matters to Kalana Senaratne.

Mr.Kalana Senaratne’s article of the 5 May,2012 on the above subject is confusing.  He mixes religious doctrine with matters outside it.  One should not bring in Buddhist teachings in order to condemn human behaviour and people’s attachment to traditions and accepted religious norms ,  sanctity of  all that  belongs to the performance of religious rituals.

Buddhism is the oldest religion of Sri Lanka, apart from what ever belief system King Devanampiyatissa followed before the advent of Buddhism.

Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lankan during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa.  That was between the years 250-210 Before Current Era, where as Islamism is quite recent. 

Mohamed while in Mecca was said to have begun receiving the revelation from God in the year 610 of the Current Era. Islamism was brought to Sri Lanka by Arab traders only in the 8th Century. When the Portuguese and the Dutch came to Sri Lanka the Arabs fled to the Kandyan Kingdom where they were given protection.

Therefore when Buddhism was introduced to Sri Lanka there were no other  religious faith in Sri Lanka.  The King Devanampiya Tissa was the king of the  whole of Sri Lanka.  He after accepting Buddhism offered the Island  of Sri Lanka to the Buddha Sasana.  Therefore the Buddhists believe that this country has been sanctified by that offering  and there are four gods that protect the land where the teachings of the Buddha has taken root.

Therefore Mr.Senaratne  what you say, “It is always a curious and odd little matter, to witness how even Buddhists become so obsessively attached to ‘sacred’ lands and in protecting them, commit acts seemingly prompted by hatred, delusion and ill-will.” seems to be through your ignorance of Buddhist history.

Land is by itself not sacred but it becomes sacred by virtue of the sacred purpose for which it had been offered.  Therefore, your reference to Vasala sutta and the rest has no relevance to why a land  is considered “sacred” by the Buddhists.

You say Mr.Senaratne: “…. that a land becomes a ‘sacred’ (or Buddhist) land not by anything else but only by the words and deeds of those inhabiting that land. Even a place of religious worship would lose its sacredness if, in the guise of religion, all manner of nefarious activities are carried out therein. In such cases, your virtuous neighbour’s backyard becomes more sacred than the ‘sacred’ land or place of worship…”

But all what you say is rank nonsense.  You state those irrelevancies, through your failure to have investigate why land could be “sacred” before writing your article. When a Buddhist Monastery is built along with a Temple, it has to be maintained. As the monks devoted their time to meditate, study the scriptures or write commentaries, they did not have the time to prepare their meals, cultivate the land and grow vegetables for consumption, performs the religious rituals, and prepare ceremonies etc. 

So what the King did when he constructed a Monastery and a Temple for worship was to donate a large extent of land to the temple.  The Temple in turn gave lands to various people who in return performed various services to the Monastery and the Temple.  There were the drummers who performed religious rights and participated in temple ceremonies, the land was given to people for cultivation to provide paddy, and other agricultural produce for the well being of the monks.  There were others who cooked the meals and kept the Monastery and the Temple clean. 
These lands given to the people to perform various services were sacred land that cannot be sold. And consequently all that land offered by a King to a Monastery and a Temple became “sacred temple land”, which cannot be sold out to any one outside the temple.  And the owner ship of the land by the temple is eternal.  Therefore no one can put up a building on a temple land and reside in it for a number of years and then claim it as his land, as that land would always belong to the temple.

Then you say a whole lot of  things you do not seem to have understood.  You say, “.. However, these are not ideal times and ideal societies. Laws and regulations can be enacted empowering ministers and other officials to declare a particular territorial area a sacred land.”

If you refer to lands reserved for places of worship as “puja bhumi”, these are not new land that has  been declared  as “sacred land” but these are the original land offered to a place of worship demarcated by providing  new visible boundaries, so that the place will not be desecrated  by putting up buildings and other unauthorised constructions.

Then you continue your harangue , “And of course, this is not a practice limited to Buddhists alone. But when mob violence is seen to be propagated, as was done in Dambulla on the 20th of April – when a number of Buddhist monks and laymen stormed a mosque in Dambulla and demanded the dismantling of that mosque – we know, very well, that something is not quite right; not only in the ‘sacred’ land of Dambulla, but also in this supposedly Buddhist-country.” 

Nothing is wrong Mr. Senaratne in this supposedly Buddhist-country, but what is wrong is the way you look at it without knowing the history of the “supposedly Buddhist-country”.
Then you write on the Dambulla mob attack, putting the whole blame on the Buddhist priests, it is worth quoting:

“The immediate concerns arising from the unfortunate vulgarity exhibited by some Buddhist monks and their lay followers have been already highlighted. In what was said by some of the protesting monks, there are the obvious traces of violence, racism, religious extremism and that burning desire, if necessary, to cleanse the territory concerned of the ‘other’ (the ‘other’, in this case, being the follower of the Islamic religion). How this plays out politically – domestically and internationally, both against the country and against Buddhism – is easy to understand “

This  is an unnecessary , unfair attack without looking at the problem objectively , and leaving room for nefarious activities of followers of some religions to mark there “rights” by placing a statue  or converting a shop to a prayer room to later claim that place so “marked” as their rightful place of worship and construct a place of  their religion adjacent to an  existing place of  worship on a land “sacred” to that existing place of worship having received it as an offering by an ancient King.

In that case that Temple has the right to reclaim its ownership to the land on which unauthorised  religious activities are being carried out .  The fault in that case is not that of the Buddhist priests or the supporters( Dayakayas) of the temple, but it is the fault of the people who have used a temple land as a place of prayer with the ulterior motive to claim that land later as theirs by the mere fact that they had prayed in a place there on that land.

It is unnecessary  to go through Senaratne’s  very long article,  as  what has been written above may perhaps make him understand  why the Buddhists Monks have taken up the issue in Dambulla  and demand the removal of the Islamic Prayer room which is on temple land.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Three Days in Jaffna

I took lodgings at Thinnakural Rest.  A room with AC is expensive at Rs.2750, 00 per day. A room without AC would have been half that price but they said only rooms with AC were available.  I therefore had no alternative.  The room was tolerably clean.  I turned off the AC as the heat without was supportable.  The personnel were kind and friendly.  Though the Rest as a rule did not provide meals, dinner and breakfast could however be ordered in advance.  It was at Tinnakural Rest I saw the Udayam paper, I had heard of  its racist and separatist view with news twisted to attack the Government, and the Army.

I was tired after the long journey by bus from around six thirty in the morning on the 25th April and did a shower and rested a while before I went out for dinner.  I was told by the friendly  Rama at the desk that I could have a good Jaffna style dinner at Mango, a restaurant owned by a Jaffna Tamil from Canada.

I walked  to the Nallur Subramaniam Temple. It is a very impressive brick coloured structure with a large three arched entrance standing on white carved pillars with a beautifully  sculptured Gopuram.  There are several other temples around it and it has a large sanded court yard where the people come to sit on the sand and talk.  It is an old temple with lot of history, originally constructed on the instruction of the King of Kotte. In the evening there are lots of devotees who enter the Temple with offerings. 

I met a man from Colombo with his driver.  They had come to pay their respect to God Murugan.  They spoke to me and when I said I was going to a restaurant called Mango and said I don’t know where it is .  The young man  called a woman coming to pray in the temple and asked her for directions.  I was later to meet them again at Nagadeepa. Jaffna is after all a “small place” !

I went to the Mango Restaurant and had a Dosai. The servers were very kind, a young girl who served me said  her name is Priya and that she speaks a little Sinhala. They were all friendly and pleasant except the owner a Tamil man from Canada, I smiled at him and wanted to speak to him but he ignored me.  I thought coming from Canada he may be one of those     “ diaspora Tamils”  The young girl who served me said that the boss has many restaurants in Canada. May be he has some LTTE connection  as well.

I came back to my hotel and had a chat with  Rama at the desk.  He spoke to me about the Indian Delegation and said that the delegation had asked the government to  have talks with the TNA.  I said, that the delegation had asked the President Mahinda Rajapakse to persuade TNA to come for discussions.  It is not the President who should persuade them but the Indian Delegation as TNA is more apt to listen to the Indian Delegation than the President.

Rama then said yes, the delegation will persuade the TNA.  Then a man who was reading the Udayam said that the Dambulla mosque has been demolished.  I asked him whether the information is in the Udayam and if so it is likely not true and we will have to await confirmation.  Rama said it is probably unconfirmed information.

As political discussions are better left out in such places, I wished Rama good night and went into my room.

To-day the 26th April, I had decided to go to Nagadipa.  I got up in the morning and went to Nallur town to have my breakfast. It is a busy day the buses, cars, three wheelers ,motor bicycles and bicycles had hit the roads.  The roads were full of school children riding their bicycles.  I had never seen a town before where there are so many women and school girls on bicycles, and motor bicycles. It was a lovely sight to see the women in their  saries,  churidhars and kameez with fluttering shawls whisk past you without a care in the world. I went into a small  way side restaurant and ate two piping hot dosai with curries, washed it down with plane tea without sugar.

Walking back I saw number of bicycles stopped at the gates of the Nallur Sbramaniam Kovil within on  the court yard there were people worshiping with their hands held over their heads.  I moved carefully through the morning crowds, cars, buses, bicycles, vespa scooters and motor cycles.  I walked into a small boutique with vegetables and fruits.  There was a woman at the counter.  I asked her for some plantains and  incense sticks in Sinhala.  I showed her the plantains and showed her my four fingers for four bananas. She did not know the Sinhala word “suvanda kuru”.  I demonstrated it and she laughed and brought me a packet. How easy it is to converse with people even if you do not know the language ?  How can therefore, there be an ethnic problem  ?

I went to the hotel and asked Rama to get me a three wheeler to go to the bus stand to take the bus to Nagadeepa.  The three wheeler came soon after Rama told him to take me to the bus stand for me to take the bus to Nagadeepa. The three wheeler did not know Sinhala or English, he said to Rama I had to take the bus to Kurikattuvan.  Rama said that the three wheeler is called Mahesh and he will show me the bus to take. Mahesh not only took me directly to the bus and helped me to get in , but also spoke to the driver, probably to say          “ he is aSinhala handle him with care”.

When I got in to the bus which was full, a woman got up to give me her seat, I sqaid no, no in Sinhala, with a smile             and  said  I will remain standing.  Then  a young man got up and gave me his seat.  How kind they were ? In Kandy no one showed me that kindness to respect me for my old age. 

I looked around the Bus stand to see whether there were soldiers with or without guns.  There were none, nor did I see any on my way to the bus stand, but yet  TNA speaks of the Army interfering into the lives of the people in Jaffna.

The roads interior are still under construction and the bus trip was a bit too tiring. The bus stopped at a village area where most of the travellers descended.  I asked someone whether we had arrived at the destination and the man said no and said that he will tell me when to get down.  After a while the bus came to a stand on the way in to the boarding area where we had to take a boat to Nagadeepa.

The place was controlled by men and women of the Navy.  They were kind but doing their work without discrimination.  Everyone is treated equally.  There was no harassment.  We were asked to wait until the return of the boats that had gone to Nagadeepa.  When the time came for us to board, the Navy personnel asked us to follow  one after the other  and put on a safety gear before we get into the boats.  Every one did as was asked and soon  the boats began moving. 

It took about fifteen minutes to reach the other shore. We walked along the paved path and stood before a heavily decorated entrance with a multi coloured gopuram to a Hindu Temple. We had to take our shoes out and enter and to, my surprise the entrance was to look at a huge “backside of a cow lying in a sleeping position”.  That  must be some thing sacred to the Hindus.  I could neither hear nor see any sign of the presence of a Buddhist temple.

The place was crowded with tasteless sculptures of gods goddesses and  animals sacred to Hindus.  I asked a man where is the Buddhist temple .  He asked me to walk down the tarred road and the temple is at the end of it.  The sun was shining spreading its heat all over.  I had left my shoes at the entrance to the Kovil I did not bother to walk back to collect them.  I walked bare foot on the tarred road heated in the sun. It was very hot but nevertheless I continued until I reached the Nagaddeepa temple with its bo trees.  The place was simple and far more attractive than the multicoloured Hindu Temples.

On both sides of the road leading to the temple were boutiques run by the Sinhala and Tamils selling delicacies  of Jaffna , palm based sweets and dried heart of young palms fronds. Childrens’ dresses , bottled water and fruit juices.

The temple is completely renovated. The place  is clean, with attractive shrine rooms.  There is a large lodgings for the priests.  But the place is markedly absent of yellow robes.  There was a chain of devotees from South, coming and going away but not a priests was present to see them and speak to them. Which is of  essential religious significance to the Buddhists.  In the hall of a shrine room were displayed the photos of  VIPs with the Priest the The President , the Prime Minister and other Government Ministers and Namal Rajapakse. 

The High Priest who may have gone through lot of suffering under the terrorists, has finally been relegated to a prominent place and the ordinary Buddhsits are perhaps not considered important to be met by him. If so he may have got a junior priest a Samanera to be present at the premises for the people to make their respects and make them observe the five precepts.  What is important to the Buddhists is to be in the presence of Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.  The people return from Nagadeepa unfulfilled of that  Buddhist tradition.

The army is constructing a different entrance and a quay for future boats that would come directly to the temple. 

After spending few hours meditating  before the Dagaba and the Bo tree, and having had not the pleasure of meeting a priest, I came away.  On the way I was called by a Navel Officer in his quarters.  He invited me to have lunch. As I was not hungry enough  to have lunch at the time I refused thanking him profusely for his kindness and generosity.  He invited me inside and offered me a cold glass of water which I relished. He told me that the place is protected by the Navy and they have a contingent of about 20 Navy personnel.

I asked him whether people object to the presence of the Army in Nagadeepa.  He said they have not received any complaints by the people.  He showed me a medical centre they have and said they are there to help the people in  case of accidents or even if a boat were to capsize.  All the boats that bring in pilgrims  are maintained by the Navy, and all who come whether they are Buddhists, Hindus or Christians  are taken care of by the Navy personnel. Therefore there is no reason for the people to complain.  If there are complaints those are through political interests , but the Navy or the Army are not politically motivated.

I asked him as Nagadeepa is of Buddhist interest  why there  shouldn’t be more Sinhala families settled in the area.  He said it would not be appropriate to bring people specially to settle down in the area, but as there are already Sinhala people running shops and boutiques on the sides of the road leading to the temple, some of them may eventually acquire land and bring down their families, which is a far better way of having Sinhala settlements.

I told him that Sinhala government servants do not like to serve in Jaffna considering it a remote area.  He said it is “remote” to the extent to the weather which could be extremely hot and the water which has a salt mixed taste. But he said after drinking that water for some time one gets used to it.  In the case of the navy personnel they get fresh water brought to them.  Once you get used to the place Jaffna is not different from the south.  And the land he said is vey fertile and could easily grow any agricultural product.  

He said he is from Ratnapura and his colleague from Ampitiya, but they are quite adopted to the place.  I thanked them and took leave of them, The officer asked me not to miss Dambakolapatuna where Venerable Sangamitta landed with the sapling of the Bo tree.  The place has no Buddhist Monk but is maintained completely by the Navy personnel.  I promised him I would go there and continued my walk on the unbearably hot surface of the road moving from time to time on to the shaded areas on either side of the road.

To my great relief  at last I found my pair of shoes.  Having put them on I  joined the out bound queue of people to Jaffna. We took the boat back to Kurikattuwan and the bus from there to Jaffna.

After returning to Jaffna, I walked the busy streets to see the Jaffna town. There are small and big shops on broad streets.  The streets crisscross without a set order. There is a  huge yellow painted building a shopping mall, where boutiques are jammed full of ware from glass to fabrics. The bicycle is a common means of transport used equally by men and women.  Small shops selling all sorts of items  hobnob with banks , restaurants , shoe shops, and shops of dresses for men, women and children.

I walked up to the only  Buddhist Temple in Jaffna town, the  Nagadeepa . It is  in the centre of the Jaffna town.  There is a pilgrim’s lodge in front of the Temple, where I saw for the first time two soldiers guarding the place.  The Priest was telling a group of Sinhala visitors that the terrorists had razed the temple to the ground, and cut all the branches of the bo-tree. It has been rebuilt since, largely from the contributions received from Buddhist pilgrims and donations by people. 

The Bo tree has sprouted again and grown back to be a strong healthy tree proud to be reborn into a “hateless society” to bring the communities together through trust and affection.  The priest says he does not go alone to the town to avoid any possible incidence, he goes accompanied by a soldier.

Speaking to  the people around the temple, I found no animosity towards the temple.  When I asked for directions they willingly showed me the way to the “Sinhala temple”. I found a  three wheeler  not far away from the temple.  I was feeling tired. I had been told that you could have the best ice cream in  Jaffna at a place called Rivoli.  I asked the three wheel driver to take me to Rivoli the Ice Cream parlour.

He started off by switching on a music cassette. To my surprise it was Sinhala music he was playing.  At the moment I did not say any thing.  He took me to the Rivoli.  I paid his fare and invited him to come and have an ice cream with me. He agreed and we ordered ice creams.  I asked him why he played Sinhala music. 

He said he loves Sinhala songs.  He says he cannot sing the songs but he loves the music.  He can play musical instruments and play the tabla.   He plays music with his friends and some time even for wedding receptions.  He prefers to play Sinhala music.  He drives a Jaffna –Colombo bus during day time and in the night he takes out his three wheeler.  He can speak a little Sinhala but he would like one day to sing Sinhala songs.  But he said, he is to be married.  His  girl friend is in France.  She will come to India and he will meet her and get married in India, and then he will go to France with her.

It is wonderful I thought to meet and speak to people.  From what ever back ground we come there is always some thing  that binds us, and in conversation you find that basically we are human beings with interests not too far apart from each other.  To understand that inane similarity one has to love people for what they are, without colouring the relationship with prejudice.   My hotel was not far away from Rivoli, and the three wheeler offered to take me there.

Rama was at the desk.  I told him that Mahesh  the three wheeler he booked for me was very good, and that I would like to have him the following  morning to take me to the bus stand for me to take the bus to Keerimalai.  I asked Rama whether he could get me dinner that night. He called the man who takes orders and asked what he could give me. He asked me whether I want a fish curry, I said that I would prefer a vegetarian meal.  He agreed to prepare me string hoppers with a potato curry.  I agreed.  I retired to my room  to take a wash.

Thereafter I returned to have my dinner, and after having taken a cup of tea, went back to my room and slept.

The following day the 27th April,  the three wheeler came as arranged, it was not Mahesh but another.  He took me to the bus stand  and showed me the bus to Keerimalai.  I managed to find a seat.  Soon more people boarded the bus, the conductor  wanted to fill the bus with as many people as he could . The heavily loaded bus heaved off from the bus stand and on the way the conductor determined to take every one into his bus, pushed and shouted at the people already crammed in side the bus to make way for others.

Eventually we came to Keerimalai.  It was an empty abandoned place, where you feel lost.  There is an old lonely Na tree with its huge trunk and spreading branches. There was a half broken down hut ,  and empty sandy space extending to no where.  A little way off was just a decorated entrance to a Kovil .  In side was an old Kovil being re-constructed. There was no body any where to be seen?  Near a broken down Kovil further away I saw a  three wheeler, as I approached it I saw the passengers getting down.

They were a family from Colombo. The old gentleman is a retired accountant of a Bank.  Keerimalai was  where he had lived as a child. He was with his wife and daughter. He wanted to show Keerimalai to his family.  He showed me the broken down houses and Kovils, these are the result of destruction by the terrorism he said, what good did it serve destroying them he asked me.  They have to be rebuilt again, “ they were very sacred places to the Tamils” he said. 

I asked him where is the famous Keerimali pond where the water is not salty despite being next to the sea.  He told me that they were going there.  I accompanied them. This is the first time he is visiting the place after the end of terrorism.  He was happy at least now he can come and see the place where he was born without any fear. 

The pond is very large and half of it is separated for women. It is clean  and  covered with a wall around it. There is a gaping hole on one side through which fresh water seems to come.  It is a must for the Hindus to bath in it.  We looked at it from outside and went to the area where there were rests for pilgrims.  The old gentleman had hired a three wheeler. I had to find some sort of transport myself. 

I took leave of them and wandered away.  I met a police man who said that I may be able to get a three wheeler from where the dilapidated half broken  hut stands.  I walked up to the place.    I saw a three wheeler  having a cup of tea, and asked him whether he could take me to Dambakolapatuna.  He said he will come but I should pay three hundred rupees ,  it was worth double that sum under the circumstances I was in at that god forsaken place destroyed by the terrorists. We took a very good well carpeted road to Dambakolapatuna.  I asked the three wheeler to stay for me until I finish visiting  the temple and then take me to the bus to Jaffna .  The man agreed.

The place is worth a visit. It is a well preserved area with a Dagaba, a Shrine room and a place for a priest to live.  There is no priest, but the place is maintained by the Navy.  They have even a replica of the boat in which Venerable Sangamitta had come bringing along with her the sapling of the Bo tree. The sea is a beautiful opal green.  The beach is clean and beautiful.  There is a Navy officer to explain the significance of the place. 

There are very clean toilets, a shop where one could buy biscuits or such other immediate necessities and a place you can have a free drink -an infusion of “beli kola” .  After visiting the place and having a pleasant conversation with the Navy personnel I took the three wheeler to the bus to Jaffna.

There are no villages  close to the Dambakolapatuna. There were large stretches of uninhabited land.  There were no army personnel any where.  I wondered why in that situation TNA complains that the Armed Forces are interfering into the life of the people in Jaffna. And all these visiting foreign delegates are gullible to accept these “lies” accentuated by  TNA to mislead them.

I took the bus back to Jaffna.  I took a three wheeler to Mango restaurant .  I asked for a Madras style Thali.  A tray served with an assortment of different curries and rice.  I did not like it, but it filled my stomach.   That evening I went there again for dinner and had  idly, a typical Jaffna Tamil dish.

On my way back to Hotel I met my friend , who presented me his friend Janana. We came to hotel and sat out side the hotel and chatted until it was night.  I slept well that night.

The following day I called the three wheeler  who took me to the hotel the previous night.  He spoke a little English. I wanted him to take me to Jaffna Library I asked the three wheeler to come back to take me to see the bottomless well in Nilaverai . 

The original  library had been burnt and a new one has been built thereafter.  The building is a remarkably beautiful edifice.  The garden that surrounds it accentuates the scenic beauty of the place.  Even there  there were no armed soldiers to guard the place which falsify TNA’s claim of the Army’s interference into the life of Jaffna people.

The library books are in a sorry state.  Some of them are torn and in bad condition.  It appears that the library lacks a workshop to re condition the books, by re binding them and putting new covers. Having books in shelf is not enough if the books themselves are not a pleasure to handle. The interior of the library has to be refurbished to make it worthy of its reputation. The library personnel are pleasant and showed a readiness to help. I had expectation of seeing a really good clean library with shelves full of good books, well arranged according to some order.  I was really disappointed with the library which has such a reputation.

I came out of the Library and met the three wheeler, who said he cannot , unfortunately take me with him as he has another hire. He had however, not to disappoint me, asked his brother to come with his three wheeler  to take me any where I would like to go.  It was very considerate of him  I thought, and hired his brother to take me to the “ bottomless well” at Nilaverai.  He did not speak either Sinhala or English.  But now I am used to being with these friendly Jaffna Tamils who I could   trust to take me and bring me back safe.

I remember when I told my Jaffna friend that my family said that I should not go alone to Jaffna as it is not safe, his friend laughed loud and said, “ they must be thinking that we are all terrorists in Jaffna.”

We went a long way on very good roads to Nilaverai.  The land with red earth is undoubtedly fertile.  We came past land cultivated with all types of vegetables, papaws , tobacco and numerous other fruits.  The land which were uncultivcated, I later learnt were those that belong to people who had left Jaffna to foreign countries.

After a long drive we came to the famous well. It is not very large.  The water is a beautiful blue like the blue of a sapphire.  It is protected with a wall. There were two Soldiers guarding it.  I spoke to them. One of them said that the fresh water it contains is enough for the whole of Sri Lanka, “ it is after all a bottomless well .”  No body uses that water just now.  Eventually the water may be used for drinking purposes said the Soldier.

Now from there I wanted to go to Kandurodai, where there had been archeological excavations in which they had discovered 56 little dagabas.  The three wheeler had no idea where it was .  I asked the Soldier and he promptly went to a small boutique near by and asked a man.  He gave us the directions and we continued our way.  The roads were good and carpeted.  We finally came to a junction of three roads. 

The driver asked some young men on the road side for directions, and I told in Sinhalese the place name and there being a Buddhist temple.  They did not understand Sinhala.  They called another man who knew Sinhala, and he told  the driver  where  the temple is.  I was very happy that the young men were kind enough to call some one  who could speak Sinhala to help us, without saying carelessly they did not know .

We finally arrived at the Kathurogoda Ancient Vihara.  There was already a bus and a Van.  The Sinhala man to whom I spoke was not very friendly, he may have thought I was trying to ask him for a lift in his van.  Sometimes I observed a  contrasting difference between the Jaffna Tamils and the visiting Sinhala I met in  Jaffna .

The temple is without a priest.  There were two shrine rooms.  The special attraction at the temple is a number of  small dagaba like constructions of different sizes spread about the place within a short distance from each other.  There are 56 of them. The area is  surrounded by bushes and palm trees. The ground around which the structures are, is  neatly  covered with green grass.  The whole place is covered with this  same grass and the path ways have been neatly cut through the green grassland.  There was a soldier who takes care of the place.  He told me the significance of Kthurugoda.

The lord Buddha visited Nagadeepa to settle a dispute between two kings.  Returning to India after settling the dispute,  he came to this place, Kathurogoda to rest a while.  The Monks who were residing at Nagadeepa heard that the Buddha had come to rest at Kathurogoda.  Then sixty of those monks who were Arahants  came to keep the company of the Buddha.  After some time the Buddha left them and went to India.

The sixty monks continued to stay at the place. The King of Jaffna at the time was Sangilia.  He did not like the presence of the Buddhist Monks at Kathurogoda.  However as the people in the villages around were pleased to look after the monks King Sangilia could not send them away.  One day the monks were served with a meal with a mushroom curry.  After partaking the meal all the sixty monks died. 

The people cremated the bodies in sixty different places , and built the dagaba like structures over the remains.  The different sizes of the structures indicate the seniority of the monks. They have found only 56  tombs and four others have still not been found. It had been suspected that the King Sangilia had got the food prepared for the monks poisoned before they were offered by the people.

There is a strange phenomenon surrounding the place.  The green grass in the place remain the same size whether there is rain or not.  And they do not get discoloured under the hot sun during the dry season.  In the evening the area surrounding the structures remain cold, some times very cold while just out side this area it is very hot.

After  hearing that sad story, I prayed before the graves of the 60 Arahants and departed.  I came to Jaffna late in the evening.  I came to the hotel, took a wash and slept. I got up and after another wash dressed. It was the last day of my Visit to Jaffna and my friend in Jaffna had invited me to spend the evening with him, his family  and the members  of his group The Quantum Studies.

The  following morning I asked Rama to get me a three wheeler to  go to the bus stand to take the eight thirty bus to Kandy.  It was Mahesh who came to take me and I was happy. Rama left his desk and came out to wave me good bye and to ask me to come again.  And such were the friends I made in Jaffna.

The terrorists occupied Jaffna from 1986 to 1995 and they were chased away by the Sri Lanka Armed Forces in 1995.  There after Jaffna was under the protection of the Army and hence Jaffana did not  suffere from terrorism.

Now there is no observable military presence in the north.  There are camps but they are discrete and the soldiers do not interfere into the lives of the Jaffna people.  As my friend said the Sri Lanka Armed Forces are not unknown to the Jaffna Tamils as they had been there for 30 years and some of them are friends of the Jaffna Tamils and visits them as friends. It is the TNA goons that make stories to discredit the Armed Forces

Monday, 7 May 2012

Kandy to Jaffna by Bus.


Kandy bus stand at the “Good Shed”  is a mess.  If Kandy is to be beautified it has to start with the good shed bus stand. The buses jammed all over the place is a public danger.  The dark dirty  space behind the stationed buses is an eyesore.  It is dirty, smelly and completely disorganised. A place  where people constantly gather is without toilets. The toilet facilities in public places  in Sri Lanka are scandalous and is another story.

If some one at the Kandy good shed bus stand is in urgent need of a toilet one has to go all the way to the Kandy Railway Station, which has a semblance of a toilet which satisfies an urgent need but a shame for the main Railway Station of the great city that houses the most venerated relic of the Buddha.

At the Goodshed Bus Stand where buses ply to distant towns in Sri Lanka , there is no information stand . If the buses could be parked somewhere else and the bus stand is used to  pick up voyagers to different places the congestion could be avoided .  But that is for the “planners” to decide.  I came to the bus stand  that 25th April, 2012 to take a bus to Jaffna.  The, “  five thirty bus to Jaffna just left ” told  me a man waiting to take a  bus to Kekirawa.

“When is the next bus to Jaffna,” I went round asking men who looked like bus drivers.  I t was nearly  six in the morning and no one new about the “next  bus” to Jaffna.  I asked the driver who was seated on the driving seat of a bus which showed the direction to Vavunia.  He said the six fifteen bus to Jaffna has been cancelled (first time I heard), and  said  that I should take the bus to Vavunia and from Vavunia take a bus to Jaffna.  I accepted  the suggestion and boarded the bus to Vavunia. 

The bus could take about 64 seated passengers, and more standing passengers to short distances. The bus started off at around 6h 30 am.   We were taking the A9 to Jaffna the seats were comfortable for a long journey but the radio blaring  popular songs was more disturbing than entertaining.  

The bus was going past Akurana a drab uninteresting township along the A9 road with dirty broken down boutique fronts squeezed  against each other. Then through Alawatugoda with lot of shops of timber merchants, few unattractive restaurants , cultivated and uncultivated barren land, and  through  Warakapola to Matale.

I was wide awake and wanted to chat with some one, but my neighbours the passengers next to me were sleeping with their mouths open. At Dambulla the bus was  less crowded, I was uncomfortable in the bus which continued with short stops to drop passengers or to take new.  I was completely exhausted when the bus after four hours of non stop driving marked a brief stop for tea and toilets.  As usual toilets are the most unpleasant, and the construction of the most remarkable A9 road way should also provide clean toilet facilities to travellers that take the road.

The bus started off on its way to Vavuniya. My neighbour was a young soldier returning to camp after a short holiday. I asked him whether he was in the Army when the terrorists were eliminated.  He said that he was then  a soldier in  General Charlie Gallage’s platoon.  He was one of the 8 soldiers that tracked the terrorists.  The army was divided into small platoons with few soldiers in each. Some of his colleagues were killed in the battle.

It was no battle he said because they did not know from where a  bullet would come from, the last phase of the battle was the worst as they were stalking through trees and bushes with only a rifle in hand.  The terrorists were shooting at them with heavy artillery. They had to shoot more often  at  where the sound of shooting came without actually seeing the terrorists who were shooting at them.  

I had to put questions to him to make him talk as he would not relate that “episode of his life” on his own.  He told me that it was a period he is trying to forget as it was like a terrible nightmare.  He never thought he would  come out of it alive, his friends were getting killed and he could not do any thing to help them.

I asked him whether he helped to evacuate the civilians .  He said of course it was the worst  part.  The civilians escaping in such large numbers were  not expected. He had to leave the gun to help the people coming towards him while the terrorists were shooting from behind them.  There were men, women and children some of them were with gun shot wounds.  They were coming from all over.  He had to help them along with other soldiers making them take cover from artillery fire that seemed to be coming from every where, and  take them to safety and come back to stalk the terrorists.

There were the women soldiers helping the civilians running away from the terrorists.  They helped  carrying the children of the women who were  running away with their children in arm. It was terrible when they were all killed with the children in arms and some of the running away civilians when a suicide bomber among them detonated the suicide bomb.

I asked him whether he saw civilians being shot. He said that  some had died from artillery fire and one really cannot imagine what it was like he did not know who was shooting and who was dying, those memories he said, still haunt the nights making him sleepless. I asked whether he could have  shot at civilians mistaking them for  terrorists. 

The people were  running away from the terrorists  crying and calling for help.  They did not have guns and there was no reason to shoot at them, even the terrorists may not have shot at the civilians but any thing could have happened in cross fire, he said.

I knew that he was tired answering my questions.  I touched his arm tenderly and said, “ I promise  I will not ask you any more questions.”

Right along the way, there was construction work on A9.  They are  widening the road in some places  and there are mounds of  red earth  all along the sides of the  road which they spread along the roads and flatten them using heavy machinery which resulted in long delays  for buses and other vehicles on the highway. We were now in Vavuniya, I said goodbye to the young Soldier and went looking for a bus to Jaffna.

I boarded  a bus to Jaffna.  It was fairly  crowded.  Nevertheless I found a seat, sat comfortably on   it and spoke to the man  who was seated next to me.  He was a male nurse in the Army Hospital in Kilinochchi and he travels every day from Vavunia.  He said that though the hospital is for the Army personnel the hospital takes urgent cases of civilians.  In an emergency the Army sets up temporary hospitals, as many as possible as it happened during the recent tsunami warning.  The Army was ready for any eventuality. 

The Army he said  does not interfere into the  every day life of the people .  The army is confined to the camps with the security staff on duty within the camp site.  We did not see soldiers with guns  on the roadsides . The TNA speaks as if the Soldiers are seen every where making life difficult for the civilians.  It is not true. However, I have yet to see Jaffna where,  according to reports coming from anti government press, and the Udayam the worst of it in Jaffna, the Army soldiers are everywhere.

On the seats on the  other side of where I was seated  were two elderly gentlemen, seated one behind the other. They were talking to each other from that uncomfortable sitting positions

I smiled at one of them and asked him whether he was going to Jaffna.  Yes he said he is returning from Batticaloa where he attended the  funeral of a very old man a relative of his friend behind.  He asked me  where I was from. I  said I am from Kandy.  He asked me whether I was a Sinhala,  when I said yes, he said with my beard he took me for a Muslim.

After that he started talking to me in Sinhala. He had worked for the Education Department, and his friend was his Director.  They are both now retired.  He said his first wife was from Baticaloa.  She had died. His daughter is working in Colombo.  He is now married to a woman from Jaffna.  His name is Mahendran.  

Vavunia I thought is less congested.  There were large land space and  new houses are being built.  There is a military camp, which looked  discreet in that large space.  There is a mixed population of people in Vavunia.  It is springing back to life after the terrorist “war”.

We were now coming to Omanthai the male nurse seated  next to me showed me where the terrorists stopped the vehicles and checked.  There were lots of rooms and sheds.  I imagined how they may have boarded the buses and looked hard at the passengers and asked for their identity cards

Omanthai is now the only check point on A9. In fact that is the only check point in Jaffna.  A soldier boarded the bus and started checking the identity cards.  I gave him my passport. He said the passport has to be registered and asked me to get down and go to see the registering officers.  The conductor of the bus accompanied me.  The two Soldiers on duty were pleasant  young men.  One of them entered the details of the passport in a register and asked me to sign.  That was all.  I came back to the bus which  started off immediately.

The bus was passing through Puliyankulam, and at Mankulam the retired Director of Education left us.  A young man came to sit on the vacated seat.  I turned to Mahendran who was now speaking to me in Sinhala.  I was telling him that I would like to go to Nagadeepa and he immediately started telling me what bus to take and gave me direction. The Tamil place names were difficult for me to keep in my mind and the young man who is now occupying the seat behind Mahendran  took my note book and wrote the names in Sinhala.

I asked him where  he learnt to write Sinhala, he said he learnt it on his own.  He is a Railway Guard working in Trincomalee.  He joined us in the conversation .  His name is Haran.  Haran’s aunt had fallen and broken her knee cap, he was going to Jaffna to take her in an Ambulance he had hired, to a Private Clinic in Colombo.  He was a nice friendly young man still not married he said.

I told them that I am in fact from France and came to Sri Lanka to see my ailing brother.  Mahendran was keen in knowing how much one could earn for a month in France. I  said the difficulty in comparing income in different currencies.  The Euros converted into Sri Lanka Rupee may be a large amount of money but cost of living is very high and what seems a large sum of money in Sri Lanka Rupees, is not enough for a person living in France.

That was why the INGOs were very happy to live in the North of Sri Lanka as they lived a luxurious life which was impossible in their own countries.  And that was also why some of them who were asked to leave the North during the  Military Operations left Sri Lanka unwillingly, as the terrorists did not harm them. They organised the Human Rights Watch.

I asked Mahendran  how he learnt Sinhala and he said he had worked with Sinhala people while in Batticaloa and he learnt it speaking to them. He said after all if you begin to like people you would like to speak to them in their own language.  He said his  first wife was from Batticaloa and there is a difference in Batticaloa Tamil and Jaffna Tamil. Then he said with a broad smile, you see the language problem is not only with the Sinhala but also with the Batticaloa Tamils and the Jaffna Tamils.

Haran joined in to say that  like the spoken Sinhala is different among the Sinhala people in the South and those of  the hill country, there is a difference in the Tamil spoken by the Jaffna Tamils, Baticaloa Tamils and the Estate Tamils.  That may be why he said it is easy for the Tamil people to learn Sinhala.  There are many, he continued, in Jaffna who speak Sinhala, partly because many Jaffna Tamils were working as government servants or merchants in the south  and had contact  with the Sinhala people. It is the politicians who intervene to make language  a problem.

Now the bus was speeding  through Kilinochchi, which the terrorists wanted to make it their capital city. I saw the beautiful monument for the heroic Soldiers who died in battle .  I thought of numerous  terrorist friendly Ambassadors like Robert O Blake  and Japanese envoy Yashoushi Akashi flying direct to   Kilinochchi to meet Thamilselvam.  Now in Killinochchi of that past only a few broken  houses gape on to the  road. The new Kilinochchi is developing fast and new buildings are coming up and the now carpeted A9 is like  a grey ribbon stretched beautifully in a lush green landscape.

There is much to be done but what has already been done is heartening.  There are road side shops and restaurants. The vegetable stalls are full of numerous varieties of vegetables and fruits.   The bus came to a stop at a way side restaurant.  The male nurse said good by and left.

Haran led me to a toilet, it is the same old filth and lack of proper toilet facilities that angers me.  The buses are taken by locals and if there were to be foreign tourist there would have at least been a few tolerable  wayside toilets, as it is the locals that take buses they cannot expect such  luxury and had to jump over animal and human faecal remains to stand some where to ease one self.  It must be terrible for women.  Besides the beautiful roads and buildings that is coming up some one has to be conscious of  providing proper sanitary conditions.

The people in Kilinochci were kind and ready to serve.  They were dressed  well and looked healthy.  The red earth is fertile, there is much land available for cultivation.  There is room for every one I thought, the vast space of land would be ideal for  multi ethnic settlements.  There should be more Sinhala in the North which would facilitate a more meaningful reconciliation. Because the Tamil people I have so far met are not anti Sinhala as the TNA  goons make them out to be.  When it comes to voting, they vote TNA as National political parties are absent.

There is the potential for the growth of new ties to bind the Communities.  For that the Government should have the courage to ban the TNA and remove the 13 A , so that we will be a real Sovereign State with out  having to do things at the dictate of India, America or others, who are strangers to our cultural ties. 

The Udayam news paper is anti Sinhala and they propagate  falsehood to put Tamils against the Sinhala. There was recently a report, “..With Sri Lanka dropping five places in the World Press Freedom Index from 158 in 2010 to 163 in 2011, the country’s press freedom today lies suppressed with the parliament not passing legislation for a Right to Information Act, not granting justice for the disappearances, assault and murders of journalists as well as economic pressures.”

This is shameful on the part of the World Press , to say that the “…’s press freedom today lies suppressed with Parliament not passing legislation for a Right to Information…” without verifying the falsehood reported in the Papers like Udayam or even Thirikural to separate Communities and spread rumours as “news”  , which the government has not banned. In reality in the interest of the country and in order to facilitate reconciliation of Communities, Udayam, Thirikural, Daily Mirror, TamilNet, Transcurrent, Groundview, etc.should be banned.

I asked Mahendran what he thinks of the Army being there in Jaffna.  It is a nuisance isn’t it, he pu the question back to me.  Then I told him the Army would be useful to discourage another attempt at terrorism.  It will not happen again he said.

Who knows ?  It is better to be prepared I told him.

There were army camps barbed wired, but very neat and orderly.  There were no soldiers  out side .  The camps have been  set up without making them look harsh encroachments, but as environment friendly space. The camps were not among the villages and cannot say they disturb the lives of  the people.   I expected more  army camps but they were few and far apart.

After Kilinochchi we reached the Elephant pass.  Here the roads are still  under construction.  Elephant pass is the link between the Jaffna Peninsula and  the mainland. We saw the salterns at a distant. The road was passing through vast stretches of almost barren swampy land on either side and then the  shallow  seas.

We were going past Chavakachcheri where  the palm trees stand like sentinels watching over land.  Green trees lush with heavy foliage  reminded me  of a Sothern landscape.  There were mango trees in abundance.  The coconut tree is another common sight.  There were new and old houses, with gardens  of  trees with green foliage. The margosa (kohombo) tree is common and so are the  murunga trees with  “fruits” the drumsticks, hanging from the  branches.  There were also bo-trees (banyan trees) growing wild.

We finally arrived  in Jaffna a busy city with people , cars, buses and women on bicycles. The city is cleaner than what it was in Kandy.  It has not been  affected by terrorism.
We entered the bus stand which was a bit crowded  but much more cleaner than what it was at the Kandy good shed bus stand.  I had told Mahendran I had booked a room at the Thinakural Lodge. Haran was late  for his appointment with the Ambulance that was to take his aunt to Colombo.
He took leave of us not forgetting to give me his telephone number and asking me to come and see him if I happen to come to Trincomalee.  “If you come I will arrange a Railway Bungalow for you to stay”,  he said and waved good bye.  Afterwards when I tried to phone him I found the telephone number I had taken down was wrong.  I am so sad I am unable to call him.
Mahendran said he will arrange a three wheeler for me.  He said, “ as you are a stranger they will charge you too much”.  He took me to a three wheeler and arranged with him to take me to the hotel for Rs.250.  Mahendran told me that  it is reasonable and left asking me several times not to forget to telephone him.
They were so nice people .  They accepted me as a friend and helped me to put me at ease with them.  It is Sampanthan and his TNA that spoils building relationships with the people in the North.