A pictorial extract from 'The Great Revival' - a forthcoming publication by the Buddhist Publication Society (BPS) to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the restoration of Upasampada in Sri Lanka and the service rendered by Velivita Sri Saranankara
Sangharaja Thera.

Photos by Sarath Perera

For centuries Buddhist texts were on ola (talipot) leaf. The practice is still being continued. Prior to writing with the 'panhinda' (stylus), the cured leaf is unrolled and both sides are buffed and polished by pulling the leaf strips back and forth on a smooth cylinder of arecanut wood.


The impetus given by the Sangharaja Thera to the study of the Pali language and the Buddha's teachings resulted in the establishment of 'pirivenas' attached to the temples where the young monks are taught the Dhamma. Hundreds of monks attend the Sangharaja Pirivena, established in the name of the distinguished monk, at the Malwatta Vihara.


Shadows beneath canopies of shade

By Carl Muller
Psychoanalysis is perhaps the strangest of all occupations; but it does provide a literally inexhaustible storehouse of material that increases each day. To the writer, it provides an adventure with much of the romance and much of the practical detail.

Madhubhashini Ratnayake is an adept. Her stories have always sought to break down the fences of mystery; raising the stones under which mind-creatures lurk; putting us in closer contact with the human mind and what makes it tick. Suddenly, we realize that there are no priests and initiates, no confraternities of the saved and unsaved, of the reasoning and unreasoning.

Nor are there human communities of latter day saints or sinners. What we come face to face with are the raw convolutions of human nature, popping like stars in a cabalistic firmament which has its own weird, even harmful effects.

There is nothing really arcane or mystic about it. What she employs is the commonest instrument of all - her own human self, utilized to the fullest in an effort to understand all around her.

Her new offering, "Tales of Shades and Shadow" (Vijitha Yapa Publications, Colombo, 2003) was short-listed for the 2001 Gratiaen Award, and the Preface by Rajiva Wijesinha underscores the fact that "(her) stories... exemplify the development of a talent that is committed to understanding society at large rather than any particular segment.... (There is) a sure command of theme as well as plot, (exemplifying) the writer's unusual and compelling skills”.

Some years ago, Madhubhashini, in a rare visit, gave me a copy of "Driftwood". I found the stories in it vastly psychoanalytical and most kept one on the edge-of-the-seat. "Tales of Shades and Shadow" is just as in-depth and engrossing and the trick is (as I found out for myself) to read, then re-read. The self is brought into question and there is the altogether human aspect - so many characters with their own hopes and fears, goals and anxieties, prejudices and pretensions, weaknesses and strengths.

This is the real heart of the matter - the human mind and how it operates. Every knee-jerk, every jibe, every pronouncement, every deed, every provocation, is drawn back finely to the mind and how it works. Every story has its own subterranean layer. The shadows materialize even beneath the canopies of shade.

What Madhubashini excels in is, simply put, the heart of the matter. The human mind can be a dark, forbidding place. To delve is to do so at risk, yet she has not faltered.
To her, it is not expedient to simply formalize the study of humankind in all its aspects so that it can be understood. She deliberately leaves many of her stories "open" to endings, finales that the reader with his or her own mind could conjure. She bases her stories on human functioning and behaviour but they are not grounded in the laws of interpersonal communication.

"Tales of Shades and Shadow" is a book of many mind-storms. Even Amita, who wants to kill the cat that shatters the composition of house and home, has to admit: "I raised my hand, but I couldn't hit it. Everything I am, everything I learnt, the thousand years of being human behind me, wouldn't let me bring the broom down upon it. I couldn't do it!"

And then she sobbed: "It is evil...."

The change comes upon Amita so quickly. Is this how swiftly hatred replaces love? But even when she strikes out, she says:

"I lashed out only when I was sure of missing it.." Did love persist? Did that first feeling of love deflect the blow that would make hate the victor?

We find, in this progression of stories, that the human mind persists in its strange, unreasoned way. Today, it is characteristic that machines execute the many functions of life. We have devices that substitute for the human hand, the eye, the senses.

It will not be long before this remarkable animal we call Man will be only an attendant of the vast products of his invention. But areas still persist in their independence - understanding, sympathetic comprehension, intimacy, dark hatred, deep jealousy, frenzies of soul and carnal prepossession. All our advances in the age of technology are but an exoskeleton.

Madhubhashini's forte is in the stripping away of the carapace. She has the undiminishing gift of reaching through the rock walled defences to grasp the substance within.

Sometimes it is a lustrously beautiful thing. Oft times, it is a worm-ridden, ugly crepitation... and every time, it is the mind within - the "old Adam" perhaps, but the very essence of what makes us so human.

Take the following excerpts:

From "The Proposal"- Duleep has asked Sadhana to marry him, but the girl watches for the mind-flare that must come from the lady of the lawn in the adjoining garden. "The lady moves slowly towards the flower beds.... (she) stretches out a hand. But it does not touch the flowers. The other hand stretches out too.... The breasts come forward, thrusting upwards. Stretch, stretch.... and the lady widely, slowly, enormously - yawns.

"Sadhana stares at her for a moment.... Then she looks straight into Duleep's eyes. 'Oh Duleep,’ she says. 'The lady yawned. And I am sorry. I can't marry you."

What was the connection? The lady told her, in a fiercely-acted mind-message, that hers would be a life of yawning dreariness, that there could be no defloration in Duleep's bed, just as her reaching fingers would not touch the flowers. Wasn't the studious Nalaka the better? Of course, he was....

Nostalgia, going back, the reverse pilgrimage, is what "The Kite" is all about. A suspicious wife tracks her husband and son to a little park and there she finds her son, alone under the trees, making mud pies. Torment turns to disbelief. Her husband was meeting no "other woman". "He was naked up to the waist.. A brown, prancing, perspiring man, running about everywhere, laughing with abandon, his eyes on the sky, on the kite with a string at its heart which held it firmly to earth."

Why would her husband appropriate his son's kite to be the boy his son was? Was his job, his marriage, his well-ordered home a cell he had to break out of every park day? Was he playing truant from being a husband?

I could go on and on. "Tales of Shades and Shadow" is a collection that demands to be read - and several times over.This is a book that gives analytical writing a new unvarnished face.

It is a blend of psychosis, of the gentler understanding of inner worlds, and a debunking of conformist trends.

Gladden your heart
If you have been on the look-out for a clear, concise, simply written and entertaining book on 'heart-friendly' living, consider your search as over. Dr. Shyam Fernando's book is it. And at Rs. 290 it is a give-away.

Let me tell you first what this petite volume is not. It is not yet another boring collection of homilies or overbearing and paternalistic instructions for people. Nor is it a book of rules for patients with diseases such as heart trouble, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, although Dr. Fernando deals with the important aspects of these common maladies in sufficient depth along the way.

You will not find in his book long, impractical and indigestible tables of food values and vitamin and mineral contents of hundreds of food items, that are almost impossible to convert into everyday meals.

Incredible as it may sound, Dr. Fernando does not burden readers with even one quotation from the great and the good that often makes them feel awfully guilty about the peccadilloes of their past life styles. He does not weary readers with even a single word of medical jargon, or attempt to embellish his book with any hard-core stuff (such as impressive looking references), that are usually intended more to show the writer's erudition than to help readers.

Dr. Fernando's book tells you what you need to know about heart attacks and their causes, and how to minimize the chances of your getting one through sensible eating, physical exercise, stopping or reducing alcohol consumption and keeping an eye on your blood pressure and blood glucose. There is also a chapter each devoted to managing stress and providing answers to common misconceptions.

Dr. Fernando has a marvellous knack of summarizing and simplifying complex subjects and apparently contentious issues. To do that sort of thing with the available mass of medical scientific evidence and then present the factual and widely accepted core in simple, clear and readable diction is an extraordinary talent possessed only by a minority of the very best among scientists, medical or otherwise. Let me test you a little bit here to support what I have been telling you. Do you know what the acronym BMI stands for, and what your BMI is?

Do you know what your maximum pulse rate ought to be during aerobic exercise, and how to derive that rate? Do you know whether coconut oil is good or bad for you? Is garlic 'good for cholesterol'? Dr. Fernando's book gives the clearest, most accurate and most succinct information and advice that I have read so far regarding the questions I have posed for you above, and hundreds of other useful things you may wish to know about healthy living.

The tables given in the book are without exception extremely helpful, easy to refer and particularly relevant to the Sri Lankan context. Key points are re-iterated in brief, explicit, well placed and unequivocally worded 'boxes'.

The graphics are delightful: their layout is testimony to the care and expertise that have gone into creating them.

Dr. Fernando has loads of experience in teaching medical students, nurses, paramedics and other health care professionals. This experience must have helped him to write such an attractive book although, disappointingly, so few medical teachers are also good writers. It is doubly difficult to write for lay persons on complicated and often controversial topics without losing accuracy and currency. Dr. Fernando achieves this with his lucid and uncluttered prose style. His long professional experience as a popular consultant physician is likely to have helped him to identify accurately the audience he is addressing, although so few specialists are known to advise their patients sensitively and succinctly with evidence - based information.

A few words about the cover design: I think that it could hardly have been bettered. One glance at it will impel you to purchase and read the book. So go ahead and buy it.

As most people know, yielding to temptations in moderation, provided they are not illegal, addictive or fattening, is good for the heart. Reading 'Mind Your Heart' is sure to gladden you heart whether it is young enough to be my grandchild's or as old as mine.
This book won the GR Handy Memorial Award for the Best Publication in Cardiology for the year 2003, awarded by the Sri Lanka Medical Association.

Back to Top  Back to Plus  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.