A story retold for the young and old
By D. C. Ranatunga
The story of Angulimala (one who wears a garland of fingers) is well-known in Buddhist literature. We hear often in sermons of this infamous serial killer who was trying to collect a thousand fingers to prove to his teacher he had killed a thousand people, and many are the books where the story has been recorded. Now it has been retold by Dato G. K. Ananda Kumarasiri in his latest publication, 'Angulimala'.

He is also the author of the 'Living Buddhism Series' and 'an alphabet book' to introduce Buddhist terms to the young. In what he called the 'Buddhist Pedagogical Approach', he also wrote "My First Word Book", an innovative effort to teach children the English vocabulary based on Buddhist pedagogy.

'Angulimala' is a heavily illustrated book, with a coloured drawing on each of the 70 pages providing the young reader a fine opportunity to follow the story in picture form. As the author says, a child of three can follow the story by the pictures and the story is threaded together through the picture captions. Teenagers and adults will enjoy reading it and parents will find the story a useful guide to parenting. As the author explains, Angulimala's is the dramatic story of a person's dual transformation from a diligent, virtuous student (he was then known as Ahimsaka - the innocent) to a notorious serial killer, and once again into a compassionate, spiritually perfect Arahant. The author's style of presentation targetting a wide readership ranging from children to teenagers and adults, is a success.

Explaining the significance of the story of Angulimala, the author shows how it provides invaluable insights into human development. It illustrates how a decent person with strong 'Saddha' in living a virtuous, noble life can be dramatically transformed when misguided. It demonstrates that 'Saddha' and 'Viriya' are important personal traits for one's development and success, provided they are well directed. When misdirected along an evil path, these qualities can make a person as passionate in achieving his or her evil mission.

The story also illustrates how an evil person can be transformed to lead a virtuous life through 'Metta' (Loving Kindness) and 'Karuna' (Compassion). The story also highlights the reality of the law of 'Kamma' and the pivotal role of the mind in human thinking and behaviour.

The author points out that the life story of Angulimala also underlines the Buddha's advice not to judge people on the basis of their outward appearance and behaviour.

Instead, Buddha advises to try and understand the underlying factors that lead people to deviant behaviour and redirect them on to the right path.

The world within covers
A gay Lincoln, does it really matter?
Was the towering figure of the man who rescued the US from the gravest crisis in its history, a homosexual? Most revered of US Presidents, an enormously complex figure, homespun philosopher, wily politician, ruthless warrior - yes, Abraham Lincoln.. who else? But a shattering new book by an US sex researcher, C.A. Tripp, claims that Lincoln was gay!

The book, titled "The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln" saw the light of day recently. The author died soon after he had completed the manuscript and it is known that he, too, was gay and was also a former protege of sexologist Alfred Kynsey.

Presenting a welter of evidence, Tripp concluded that Lincoln was "predominantly homosexual." Tripp has filled his work with provocative evidence and clues. He cannot be faulted in his account that, as a young man in Illinois, Lincoln routinely shared his bed with other men. The first was Billy Green who is reported to have once exclaimed that Lincoln's "thighs were as perfect as a human being's could be." Of course, the argument remains that same-sex bed-sharing was common in the small, tight spaces of American frontier settlements; yet, from the age of 28, Lincoln spent four years sharing his bed with his close friend, Joshua Speed.

Also, Lincoln wrote during this period, a provocative poem in which he joked that two men who marry each other can make no children. Tripp also claimed that when Speed moved away to get married, Lincoln had declared: "I am now the most miserable man living. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell." Clearly, Tripp pointed out, Lincoln was heartbroken over Tripp's desertion.

The clues don't end here. Lincoln's own step-mother said he was "not very fond of girls" and the New York Sun newspaper carried an account that described Lincoln's unhappy life "throughout which he was unable to forge an emotional bond with any woman, including his wife." The writer who originally co-authored Tripp, Philip Nobile, has also denounced Tripp, describing him as a man who saw homoerotic overtones in everything.

But does it all have any relevance? Lincoln may have led his own tortured life, longing for a man to lie next to at night, but he is still the man who rescued the US from its worst crisis in history. He played his part, didn't he? - Carl Muller

Saul Bellow chastised America for its own good
By Roderick Nordell
Saul Bellow who died on April 5 was too cornucopian a writer to need anyone else's words. But just maybe the prose master with the street-kid defiance would accept the poet's epitaph hoped for by Robert Frost: "I had a lover's quarrel with the world."

For all the highs and lows, the eloquence and vulgarisms, the comedy and pain, Mr. Bellow was on the side of humanity he often had to chastise for its own good. A would-be biographer once compared him to Frost's "Drumlin Woodchuck" - "As one who shrewdly pretends/That he and the world are friends."

But pretence was in short supply with Bellow. The real-life storms over his alleged politically incorrect remarks were weathered rather than explained away.

Amidst the tributes following Bellow's passing what comes to mind is a character in which he said he saw himself, Henderson, in a watershed novel, "Henderson the Rain King" of 45 years ago. Henderson is an American who goes to the Africa of Bellow's imagination for salvation.

He's ill when he leaves. But it's just some disease, he says, "Otherwise I'm well." At the time British novelist John Wain wrote, "Mr. Bellow writes with such energy that to read him is like clinging to the rigging of a China clipper in a high sea.... [He] is deliberately not supplying any answers. He is supplying questions."

Three decades later there's an echo in "More Die of Heartbreak" (than by nuclear radiation, says a character). It deplores a time when "love is replaced by Health, and Health is obtained by anatomical means." A key line is "what is sent forth by the seer affects what is seen."

Bellow continued writing into the 21st century, garnering more honours than any other US writer (though this all-American was born in Canada).

But the stats - a Nobel, a Pulitzer, a Presidential Medal, three National Book Awards - tell only part of the story. And so do the evocative titles: "Dangling Man," "The Victim", "The Adventures of Augie March" (his breakthrough bestseller), "Seize the Day", "Herzog", "Humboldt's Gift" (based on Bellow's poet friend, Delmore Schwartz), "The Dean's December," "Him With His Foot in His Mouth", and "The Last Analysis" (a play that didn't last long even with the help of players like Sam Levene), "Ravelstein" (inspired by another friend, scholar Allan Bloom).

In a rare book of nonfiction, "To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account" (1976), Bellow applied his descriptive gifts to the ironies of actually traveling to Israel.

Then comes a discussion of the Mideast situation: "I have been hearing conversations like this one for half a century. I well remember what intelligent, informed people were saying in the last years of the Weimar Republic.... Such intelligent discussion hasn't always been wrong. What is wrong with it is that the discussants invariably impart their own intelligence to what they are discussing. Later, historical studies show that what actually happened was devoid of anything like such intelligence."

But Bellow finds exceptions to the idea "we've come to believe that passionate intensity is all on the side of wickedness." And that's the thing about Bellow. He's known as a realist. He can bring to life the details of any environment.

But his realism is not limited to the surfaces of life. "A book, any book, may easily be superfluous," he writes. "But to manifest love - can that be superfluous? Is there so much of it about us?"

Like many an author, Bellow's reported private life had turbulences like his prose. Those who know see some of it relived in his fiction. The work is what lives on. Here, all in one, we have the Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Peck's Bad Boy of American literature - all somehow coming back to Bellow's moral accountancy. - The Christian Science Monitor

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