teachings and realities of modern life
of Gautama Buddha on the Fundamental Realities of Existence by Dr.
Earnest Abeyaratna. Reviewed
by Prof. M.H.F. Jayasuriya
The author of
this little book or ' essay' as he himself calls it was at one time
the Director of Agriculture. As such, he was essentially a man of
science, but unlike the usual scientist, he appears to have had
a receptive and discerning mind, not only in his scientific pursuits
but also in his outlook on the meaning of life in general.
Though he was
born and brought up in a god-fearing Anglican family, he appears
to have become disillusioned early in his life with the faith of
his ancestors and drawn towards a critical study of the Buddha Dhamma,.
Here he soon
found the answers to the questions which had been vexing him all
along. This little book of 54 pages which was written by Dr. Abeyaratna
in the evening of his life, bears testimony to his firm belief and
conviction in the validity of the Dhamma as a healing balm for the
ills of the modern world.
The book consists
of two parts. Part I is a general survey of the familiar, yet core
concepts of the Dhamma - the four noble Truths, the three singnata
(anicca, dukkha and anatta), kamma (the Law of moral causation &
rebirth), paticca samutpada (Dependent Origination, which is the
'piece de resistance' of Buddhist Thought), all these and many more
are explained from the point of view of a trained scientist.
he goes on to describe the Noble Eightfold Path, following its traditional
threefold division into sila (moral practice) samadhi (mind culture),
culminating in panna (the liberating knowledge of things as they
The truth of
anatta, the Buddha's unique teaching that, in reality, all compounded
things, man included are lacking in a self or abiding substance
(atta) is discussed in depth.
of meditation which results in the purification of mind, morality
and right view (sammaditthi), has rightly been emphasised as the
pivotal factor in the whole process of liberation.
Part II of
this book discusses the implications of the Buddha's findings for
and its relation to other religions is examined with an open mind.
The scientific and empirical nature of the Buddha's discoveries
being such as to ensure the universal validity of the Dhamma for
as long as life exists.
both young and old, especially those who like the author are looking
beyond their traditional and ancestral beliefs for a more reasoned
and rational explanation of life's realities and complexities, this
little book should serve as a stepping-stone for further serious
study of the Buddha Dhamma.
of Lanka in the light of political ideologies
Satana (The Final Struggle)-by Dr. Sarath Amunugama. Reviewed
by Dhammike Amarasinghe
In a public
lecture delivered at the Peradeniya University in the '60s, the
late Prof. W.S. Karunaratna said that the biggest lacuna in contemporary
Sinhala literature is the paucity of books which stimulate thinking.
Amunugama's recent book Antima Satana stimulates thinking, whether
one agrees with all his conclusions or not. Indeed some of the detail
of his analysis is likely to be controversial although one might
go along with his basic theses.
The test of
a work of social criticism is whether the writer raises relevant
issues and whether they are subjected to critical analysis. By this
criterion Dr. Amunugama's book deserves a discriminating reader's
attention. It is one of the best books published in Sinhala in recent
The sub title
of this book is "an examination of political ideologies".
However, one must not form the impression that it is purely an academic
text on political theory. The rather extended first chapter which
takes its title from the book itself deals exhaustively with current
and past political ideologies. The treatment is more thematic than
The other four
chapters are devoted to a critical examination of the present state
of affairs in Sri Lanka in the light of the theoretical exposition
in the opening chapter.
It would be
natural for any reader to expect that in an examination of current
problems a writer who is actively engaged in politics would take
a partisan stand. However, and not surprisingly at that.
has not permitted the politician in him to get the better of the
social scientist. Indeed if in the course of this book the author
shows any nostalgic affection it is towards the LSSP which he at
the same time subjects to a withering criticism.
The title of
this book also is perhaps inspired by the well-known LSSP anthem.
(However, the final battle he proposes for the LSSP in a separate
chapter is different in strategy if not in ultimate objective from
the original scenario.) Far from being partisan, Dr. Amunugama in
fact indicts his whole tribe - the politician as a species. At one
point he says, "It will therefore be seen that it is the politicians
of both sides who have made the economy a disaster.
In the name
of state intervention they have sent public funds down the drain."
(p.32 my translation.)
The main theme
of the first chapter which deals with political ideologies is the
ability of capitalism to overcome its contradictions as not foreseen
has become the dominant economic system in the modern world, together
with the advent of social democracy as the high water mark of the
The next chapter
is devoted to a criticism of the vision and the performance of the
LSSP. It is the author's thesis that if not for its doctrinaire
adherence to Trotskyism, and Marxism in general, the LSSP could
have served the country better.
In spite of
his harsh criticism the blinkered vision of the hard core Trotskyite
ideologues of the LSSP, the author has generous praise for the LSSP's
contribution to the upliftment of the down trodden and for its principled
espousal of the cause of the minorities.
out the late Dr. N.M. Perera as a stalwart whose competence the
country could not benefit from adequately due to the LSSP's dogmatic
In this chapter
the author suggests the need for the LSSP to make a realistic reassessment
of world trends and turn to social democracy so that it may refurbish
its political heritage in the service of those at the bottom of
To my mind
the most important chapter in this book is the third, the title
of which may be most aptly and idiomatically translated as "The
mess we have got into" (The original takes from the title of
a novel by Piyadasa Sirisena, the early 20th century writer who
bemoaned the then decadence of Sinhala society as he saw it).
As can be expected
"the mess" is the present tragedy of Sri Lanka in all
its aspects. As mentioned earlier the story would have been complete
with a more detailed and searching inquiry into the lack of foresight,
recurring breaches of faith and down right chicanery which brought
us into this sorry pass. Anyway the author who as a practising politician
has to be circumspect in sensitive areas goes as far as he dares.
In other areas he is more open and does not spare even his kind
as seen in the quotation given earlier.
education and language media policy pursued for long years comes
in for deserved condemnation. Till as late as the 1950s we had rural
children from ordinary homes learning English and competing on equal
terms with those from English speaking homes. (In fact by the late
'50s we had a bi-lingual generation: of which the author himself
- though not from a rural school himself - is a distinguished member.)
When the need
of the hour was to give the tool of an international language to
more and more rural children (while fostering our own languages
and culture) and thus give them access to the world of ever advancing
scientific knowledge we shut ourselves up from the world. We threw
away even what we had. The author's iconoclasm in relation to this
and some other relevant subjects is refreshing.
are many more icons to blast if we are ever to progress as a nation.
Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore titles his memories. "From Third
World to First".
If any of our
leaders took it into his head to write his memoirs (God forbid)
the most apt title would be "From the Third World to the Underworld".
chapter deals with media freedom and media responsibility. In the
last chapter the author reverts to the subject of education and
elaborates on the educational issues raised earlier on.
Much of the
text is interspersed with anecdotal references. The author draws
heavily on his varied experiences as an academic researcher, civil
servant, international civil servant and politician.
This adds to
the readability of the book. He has adopted a post-modern style
of interspersing philosophical analysis with a first person narrative.
This enables him to bring an immediacy to the subjects under discussion
which we rarely see in Sinhala writing.
a simple and lucid style which helps in introducing modern political
concepts to a wide readership, including political activists. At
least a few discerning readers would have benefited if the titles
of the works of the large numbers of writers referred to had been
indicated in footnotes or a bibliography.
only a few in our country seem to have yet realised the gravity
of the all pervading crisis we are facing today as a nation. We
still continue to bask in ancient glory and we still continue to
foist the blame for all our ills on the 'foreign imperialist'.
If Dr. Amunugama's
book helps to shake the faith in some of these myths and to exorcise
some of these bogeys it would have served a very useful and urgent
As the author
quite rightly points out, civil society must share the blame with
the politician for the mess that we are in.
was formerly of the SLAS and ex-Chairman, Insurance Corporation)
concise guide to the Anglo- Sri Lankan lexicon part X by Richard
Another large category of the fauna of Sri Lanka recorded
in the second editions of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED2) and
Hobson-Jobson (H-J2) concerns reptiles. Snakes will be examined
initially. Four names are included, the first of which is anaconda,
the most idiosyncratic and puzzling word
in the Anglo-Sri Lankan lexicon. While 19th century writers used
it as a synonym for the Ceylon python, it is now used universally
for the largest snake in the world, a South American Boa. Boyuna,
a name for another South American Boa with as mysterious an origin
as anaconda, would appear to have made a journey of transfer in
the opposite direction. In addition, there is the more familiar
and distinctly local tic-polonga, and rock snake, which is a synonym
for python. It is probable that the generic term polonga will be
included in the OED3. Date of first use is provided in brackets.
Sinhala henakandaya. "[Occurs in Ray, in a List of Indian Serpents
from the Leyden Museum, as 'anacondaia of the Ceylonese, i.e. he
that crushes the limbs of buffaloes and yoke beasts,' but not now
a native name in Ceylon, and not satisfactorily explained either
in Cingalese or Tamil.] A name (a) originally applied by English
writers to a 'very large and terrible snake of Ceylon' (? Python
Reticulatus, or Python molurus); but (b) made by Daudin (? through
erroneous identification, or mistake as to the source of the specimen)
the specific name of a large South American Boa (Boa
murina Linnaeus, Boa anaconda Daudin, Eunectes murinus Wagler, Gray)
called in Brazil sucuriu, or sucuriuba, to which it is now attached
in the British Museum Catalogue, and London Zoological Gardens.
(c) loosely applied to any large snake which crushes its prey."
There is no
mention of Donald Ferguson's late 19th century theory that the word
was derived from the Sinhala henakandaya, or "lightning-stem,"
the colloquial name given to the Brown Speckled Whipsnake. However,
the revised New Shorter Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary
does give such a derivation: "Unexplained alteration of Latin
anacondaia python, from Sinhalese henakandaya whipsnake." The
entry in the third edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED3)
will be revised accordingly.
The list of
snakes by (John) Ray mentioned in the dictionary, dated 1693, is
in Latin. The earliest reference in the English language is dated
1768 and comes from "Description of the Anaconda," a letter
that appeared in the Scots Magazine (1768:673). This purports to
be an account of a giant anaconda near Colombo, in which it is written:
"The Ceylonese seemed to know the creature well; they call
it ANACONDA, and talked of eating its flesh when they caught it."
reference in English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka, which is
not included in the entry, is by J. W. Bennett from Ceylon and its
Capabilities (1843:115). Bennett is the first to equate the Ceylon
Python or Rock Snake (Sinhala pimbura) with the anaconda: "The
Pimbera, or rock snake, is said to be the Anaconda or Anacondia
of ancient writers."
The first reference
from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka included in the
entry is by Charles Pridham from A Historical, Political and Statistical
Account of Ceylon (1849:II.750): "Pimbera or Anaconda is of
the genus Python, and is known in English as the Rock Snake."
Sirr writes in Ceylon and the Cingalese (1850:I.206): "The
largest of the serpent tribe in Ceylon is the anaconda, (belonging
to the genus Python), and is far from being uncommon in the island."
A second reference
from English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka included in the
entry is by James Emerson Tennent from Ceylon (1859:I.196): "The
great Python (P. Reticulatus Gray) the 'boa' as it is commonly designated
by Europeans, the anaconda of Eastern story, which is supposed to
crush the bones of an elephant, and to swallow the tiger, is found
. . . in the cinnamon gardens."
writing in Ceylon, Pearl of the East (1950 :234) provides
a postdating reference: "Pythons were known, formerly, as anacondas."
There is a
corresponding entry in H-J2 that begins with a caution for users:
"This word for a great python or boa, is of very obscure origin."
Nearly a century and a quarter after this was written, the derivation
of anaconda remains uncertain to many, despite Ferguson's henakandaya
Sinhala ? "[Tupi bui-una, 'serpens obscurus' (Martins). Carried
by the Portuguese from Brazil to Ceylon.] a. A large water-snake
of Brazil of dark colour (? Boa aquatica). b. A harmless snake of
The sole reference
comes from Goldsmith's Natural History (1774:II.429): "The
Boyuna of Ceylon is equally a favourite among the natives."
The species to which this name was applied has yet to be ascertained.
The derivation, claiming that the word was carried by the Portuguese
from Brazil to Ceylon, lends some credence to the theory that anaconda
is not of Sinhala origin but a South American name similarly transported
by the Portuguese.
This word, the Sinhala generic for a number of viper species, is
likely to be included in the OED3. At present the earliest reference
given in the related entry, tic-polonga, is by Knox (1681:29). However,
Knox uses polonga (although he describes the pala-polonga and the
tic-polonga): "There is another venomous Snake called Polongo,
the most venomous of all, that kills Cattel. Two sorts of them I
have seen, the one green, the other of a reddish gray, full of white
rings along the sides, and about five or six feet long."
There are many
references to polonga in English literature pertaining to Sri Lanka.
These I have passed on to the OED as historical evidence to enable
the editors to determine whether the word merits a separate entry.
The likelihood is that the Knox reference will be transferred to
a new entry to head these later references, the first of which is
by Jacob Haafner from Travels on Foot through the Island of Ceylon
(trans.1821:65): "The boys all called out together - Polanga!
Polanga! - and at the same time drawing me back by my clothes, they
saved me from almost certain death."
provides a reference from fiction in Lost in Ceylon (1861:142):
"I rested upon the lowest branch, about five feet from the
ground, and there saw two serpents: one, a polonga, of reddish grey,
about five feet long; the other, noya, or cobra, about four feet
in length; but both engaged in deadly contest with each other."
R. L. Spittel,
writing in Wild White Boy (1957:30), provides a later reference
from fiction: "The Veddas would not touch the flesh. They told
Hans that the killer was a polonga, a species which liked to sun
themselves on grazing grounds and bit any animal that disturbed
(1859). Sinhala pimbura. "A python, especially Python reticulatus
The sole reference
given is by Tennent (1859:II.127): "A rock snake, Python reticulatus
. . . a beautiful specimen at least ten feet long." However,
there is an earlier or antedating reference, for Robert Percival
writes in An Account of the Island of Ceylon (1803:302): "The
rock-snake is an immense animal, extending to 30 feet in length.
I have myself seen one 22 feet long, and about the thickness of
a man's thigh: and I was told that much larger ones were to be found
in the island. I had a transient glimpse of another as he glided
past me through the bushes in the neighbourhood of Columbo; in size
he seemed to exceed the one I had formerly seen. The rock-snake
inhabits chiefly the rocky banks of rivers. His colour is grayish
with broad white streaks."
(1681). "Zoological. (According to Madras Manual of Administration
III.154, adaptation of Sinhalese tit-polonga, formed on tita in
combination with tit-, speck freckle, spot, mark + polonga viper.
The form with tic- is apparently due to substituting tik 'spot,
freckle, mark, spot on tiger-deer,' for tit.) A venomous snake of
India and Sri Lanka: the chain viper or necklace snake, Daboia Russellii."
reference given is by Knox (1681:29), but this is to the generic
polonga. Although not recognized by the dictionary, it is John Davy
who provides the earliest reference in An Account of the Interior
of Ceylon (1821:85): "The snake, called by the natives the
Tic-Polonga, is difficult to procure. It is considered, and I believe
justly, the most dangerous snake in the island. When full grown,
it is from four to five feet long; and, in proportion to its length,
it is very thick. Its head is small, and nearly triangular; its
tail is tapering, round and short. The colour of its upper surface
is a dark, dull, brownish grey; of its under surface, light yellow."
Being the most
dreaded venomous snake on the island, there are a host of references
to the tic-polonga and its bite in English literature pertaining
to Sri Lanka. For instance, Major Forbes writes in Eleven Years
in Ceylon (1840:I.343): "I have known a native to recover from
the bite of a tic-polonga; he was a wederall (native medical practitioner),
and, being near his own house when the accident happened, was carried
there in a state of insensibility: on rallying, he helped himself
to their usual remedies, and eventually recovered; but for months
after he felt great numbness, not only in the leg where he was bitten,
but in the whole of that side. One part of his treatment was having
a thin earthenware vessel filled with live charcoal placed on his
is Thomas Skinner, who writes in Fifty Years in Ceylon (1891:89):
"A cry was heard that a pioneer had been bitten by a tic-polonga,
the most venomous snake known in Ceylon, said to be much more so
than the cobra de capello . . . In half an hour, at the most, we
all supposed he would succumb to the poison; but listlessly to resign
ourselves to inaction seemed too hard-hearted. My powder-flask contained
the whole extent of my field materia medica. How was it to be applied?
I laid the man down, and with my pen-knife deeply scored the bitten
arm. I then emptied a charge of gunpowder over the wound, and applied
a match to it. I repeated this several - it may have been five or
six - times, and sent the man away to the camp, never expecting
to see him alive again."
I have a penchant
for the following enigmatic reference by Williams (1950 :235):
"The bite of the ticpolonga is almost certainly fatal if one
waits to be bitten."
There is a
corresponding entry in H-J2 that has as its headword both polonga
and tic-polonga. The OED, however, adheres to the strict policy
that a headword has to be a single word or compound.