Thursday, 3 May 2012

I saw my friend in Jaffana

I planned to got to Jaffna alone, so that I would be able to see for myself the Jaffna Peninsula and its people  without  opinions  and prejudices.

I was to see my friend for the first time and I informed him of my visit.  He at once invited me to come and stay with him.  It was very kind of him and my intention was not to put him into any inconvenience and therefore booked a room in a lodging in Jaffna Town.  I left early in the morning to take a bus from Kandy to Jaffna.  The morning bus had left by the time I arrived and the next bus to Jaffna would be a few hours after;  not wanting to delay my departure further, I took a bus to Vavunia from where I was told  that I could take a bus to Jaffna.

The bus was comfortable but the voyage was long and tedious on the A9 road which is under construction.  When I finally arrived in Jaffna and installed myself in the lodgings it was  nearly six in the evening.  I called my friend, he was expecting my call.  He was surprised I had already occupied a room in  the  Thinnakural Rest.  He said he would come to see how I am installed. 

My friend came with his wife to see me.  I was happy to see them. We sat together and spoke generalities.  He told me not to worry about the Jaffna people as they are a peaceful people  despite the  opinions one may have because of the past events.  Most of them are occupied in their different pursuits not to bother about  differences of clients or visitors. 

It is only the politics that has marred the image,  but the Jaffna voting population  turns to the available politicians  as they know less about others.  That he said is the fault of the political leadership in the South.  There should be a presence of the SLFP and the UNP so that the people may have a choice despite the sentimental attachment to their Tamilness. 

My friend has organised a group in Jaffna which meets to discuss matters outside religion and politics. The group is called the “Quantum Studies”, he says he has not the pretension to call it
a get together of intellectuals, though they discuss philosophies and philosophers. But they are the gentle middle class intelligentsia who likes to understand  modern thinking and modern  interpretation of philosophies.  Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Dipak Chopra, Osho, Gopi Krishna and even Roger Penrose are some of those that they have chosen to read and discuss.

My friend says that what is seemingly  apparent about the Society in Jaffna is  that they are serious, and the religion dominates their lives. They seem to be more concerned with the here after, rather than the here and now -the present moment and enjoy life, developing personal relations  meet together  to celebrate events such as a Birth day, listen to music or engage in other pursuits joy and happiness. 

The lack of  it has created a sort of a  generation gap and that  seems to distance the youth from the older generation, and seek a different life style  awaiting an opportunity to leave  Jaffna to seek greener pastures abroad.

I told him that the greener pastures one seeks abroad will not be as rich as what they find if they delve  deeper within their own country and society, leaving aside religious and communal differences.

My friend knows that, as he has travelled much and lived abroad for a long period of time. As the interesting conversation we had let the time pass without it being observed, my friend and his wife said that they have to leave and left promising  to see me again.

I had no planned itinerary  and visited Jaffna  as it took my fancy.  I will relate more about Jaffna; places I visited and my thoughts about what I saw and heard in another article leaving this to my contact with a friend from Jaffna  who had remained  “just” a mental image  until I had finally met him in flesh and blood. He lead me into Jaffna that I did not know, and made me meet some  people with more progressive ideas.

We have a habit of turning  to academics, scholars, eminent persons, administrators, and even politicians, to feel the pulse of a society or a community, but rarely do we try to look at a society through the “eye” of the middle class that makes a society throb with life or contracts with its inactivity or  being driven to accept falsehood   led stray by interested parties,  like  what Osho  says  explaining the quantum mechanical process  that, “…  During fear, the etheric body shrinks and during love it expands.” The middle class therefore  is the “etheric body” to measure the state of the society or the Community.

Two days later I had once again the pleasure of meeting my friend, he had come with a young friend of  his who had returned from UK where he was studying Law.  He is also a member of his group of Quantum Studies.  We sat in the shade of the Hotel Compound for a very pleasant conversation.  Though young Janan had mature ideas and could speak of freedom, belief systems, and misconstrued political concepts with a mature manly attitude.

I asked them what they expect of  Quantum studies. They said that it is nothing scientific, but the people have lost their creativity to think on their own and decide things for themselves.  It is the same like the   disciplinary controls extended  by a family, even when you have come of age to understand what is right and what is wrong .

Some political parties make automates of the Tamil people.  They want the people to think like them and do what they ask them to do.  Why cannot they leave the people alone allowing them to understand things on their own and be creative or original in their choice of politics or whatever ?  Is it not politics that is creating all the problems the people do not want ?

People do not want confrontational politics, because they know that affects peaceful existence. But unable to understand this fundamental necessity  of being” original and creative”, they look to others to tell them what they should do and obviously follow wrong advice,  and when it is too late to turn back they become aggressive treading along  the  “wrong path” towards which they had been directed.

Hence said Janan, in our group we try to be original and creative.  We respect our traditions and customs but we should not let those  benumb our creativity , the search to find new thoughts, new ways of  expressing our thoughts , understand philosophies our way.  My friend agreed and said  that Juddu Krishnamurthy had a great way of teaching, he  stimulated one’s thoughts . He posed questions, but did not give the answers

We continued thus long into the evening.  My friend invited me to his place the Saturday evening the day before I was to leave Jaffna, to meet the members of the group of Quantum Studies.  I had presented my friend the book I had written “ Mind-Matter and Meditation ” of which he was very pleased.  He said he would present it in turn to his group.

I was to be picked up by my friend  at five in the evening.  I was a bit late as I had to prepare my bags and pay my hotel bills.  However my friend was kind enough to wait and take me on the pillion of his motor bike.   The pillion riding is not my favourite way of transport nevertheless I had no alternative.

I was very well received by every one present at my friends home .  Being a hot day we sat in his garden.  I felt myself quite at home as my friend had already spoken about me and they almost knew me from my friends description.  But they were surprised that I was a simple man in a white sarong and a shirt with a white beard. 

They immediately talked about being pleased to meet me and how different I was from what they expected me to be.  I had already met my friend’s wife and young Janan.  There were two elderly gentlemen, apart from my friend’s family.  There were about twelve of us. We were served with  home made delicacies and  tea.  After small social talk there were more important things to be discussed. 

One elderly member of the group said how unfortunate it is that as a result of Mr. Bandaranayake’s language policies swabhasha was given importance  depriving a whole generation the priviledge of being educated in English. The other gentleman disagreed  on the ground that the language policy of Mr.Bandaranaike, what ever its defects gave an impetus for the improvement of the written National languages updating it to meet with modern development of science and  technology.  There is a point in that as I see a remarkable development of the Sinhala language today compared to what it had been before.

My book on Buddhism was circulated among every one present. I was asked to say some thing about Buddhism and when I said that Buddhism does not believe  in a creator god some of them were surprised  and asked me why then some temples are said to have statues of Hindu Gods .  That I told was the Hindu influence. 

My friend said perhaps that may be because of the natural instinct of fear.  The primitive man prayed in front of large trees and  hanged a branch torn away  from a tree to beseech the protection of an unknown “power” when he went hunting. Similarly  we seek that protection from fear of the unknown for survival.  He said even the God Ganeshan  was invented  recently. The worship of Gods has the fear factor  as its base.   But we follow without question traditions, and  belief systems that have been instilled into us from our birth.

The priest who recites Sanskrit Slokas  without even understanding them is an ordinary man  and not a saintly man endowed with special powers of the Brahman.  That my friend said, is why in the group of Quantum Studies, they discuss matters outside traditional religious beliefs, in order to keep the mind free from fear and “sacred” bonds. 

In that respect Buddhism is outside the Hindu religious environment  from which it sprang.  It is a philosophy that gives importance to mind and thoughts, purification of which through meditation allows to breaks bond of attachment to Samsara to arrive at a state of no-suffering.
The elderly member of the group, said that it is a pity that they know little of the Sinhala people.  There is an information gap.  In the South the Tamils  live along with the Sinhala and they seem to understand each other.  But in Jaffna the only interaction with the Sinhala is limited to Sinhala sales men and some boutique keepers. 

He went on to say that there is no social interaction with the Sinhala in order to understand them as compatriots , ordinary people like them.  The Sinhala are portrayed by the Politicians as a different people  out to destroy the  Culture of the Tamil people, isolate them, and refuse their political emancipation.  Why, he said , should the Tamils have a special devolution of power if we can live like the Sinhala ?

At this point a Birth Day cake was presented by my friend and his wife to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of his brother.  We sang “Happy Birth Day to you” and partook of the delicious cake. Birth Day parties are not common in Jaffna.  But it was part of  the Quantum study group to introduce celebrations and entertainments not  to let life be spent on  elaborate religious activities, depriving a little enjoyment  with families which would eventually strengthen family ties. Our elderly friend said, “ it is a good idea and I do not mind celebrating my birth day next time. ”

They said they were pleased to have met me and discuss different things in a cordial atmosphere as if we were old friends .  Our young friend  the youngest in the group who had been silently listening , broke his silence to say that  each one of us seek freedom from fear, and from being under control, and it is in that complete freedom one enjoys life.  To sit in a corner and meditate is to get away from enjoying life.  He said that the three years he was away abroad was the happiest period of his life as there was no social or religious obligations  and no one behind him to control the way he lived.

The elderly member of the group laughed and said that he says that because  his parents wanted him to return home.  I said that we all feel happy when we live abroad because we escape from all our obligations, and  we become free to do what ever we want without being questioned by the elders.  But that is in a way a  selfish attitude and some sort of a deluded freedom. That freedom is short lived. 

Our young friend said that in order to break away from traditional bonds is also to learn to think freely and be original and accept other ways of living and learn  philosophies without the prejudices that had been inculcated into one from the childhood. It is this absence of training to think freely that makes one a prey to political and religious fanatism.

As a people we are  all the same whether we are separated from belief systems, language, and different cultural traditions .  We are beings traversing the Samsara which is defined aptly by  Bikkhu Brhamali, that “ Samsara, rather, is  how we as human beings experience the world, our internal view, what goes on in our minds . Because it is a personal experience, Samsara will inevitably be slightly different  for each one of us. But the common thread is  that we experience a seemingly endless sequence of births, and deaths suffering without apparent  beginning or end…..”

At this point we wanted the charming young lady who was with us , who had studied Sinhala and is working as a translator to  contribute  to the  discussion .  She had been silently listening to us without interrupting our discussions. But she now joined us to explain her own experience of a philosophy that had been Introduced  from India of which she is a follower. It is the  Raja Yoga which she practices and explained Jangama Dhyana where a yogi concentrates on a point between the eyebrows, and the mind thus concentrated  looses its location between the eyebrows and watches the mind itself.

Now it being rather late we decided to terminate the pleasant evening we enjoyed together   which was for me a most memorable occasion..  We said our good-byes and sadly took leave from each other hoping to meet some time somewhere once again.

On my arrival at home after the four days of my very pleasant stay in Jaffna, I received the following  e-mail from my friend:

“ Charles, I was very happy to have had the opportunity to meet you and present you to my friends.  All my friends liked you very much. …Next time you come to Jaffna you don’t have  to stay in hotels, my friends want me to tell you that you can stay with any one of them, any time you come…… I did not call you yesterday because I knew you would have been tired, after that long journey from Jaffna to Kandy.   We invite you to come to Jaffna again before going  back to France….”

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