Exactly two thousand three hundred and twenty two years ago when Indian Emperor Asoka’s son arrived in Lanka with the bowl of the Dhamma and presented his father’s priceless gift of the Buddha’s philosophy to King Devanampiyatissa atop Mihintale rock on a Poson Poya, the Triple Gem of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha has been [...]


Only love douses hate, not the hell fire of hate


Exactly two thousand three hundred and twenty two years ago when Indian Emperor Asoka’s son arrived in Lanka with the bowl of the Dhamma and presented his father’s priceless gift of the Buddha’s philosophy to King Devanampiyatissa atop Mihintale rock on a Poson Poya, the Triple Gem of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha has been the refuge of its people and the attendant tenet of non violence to all beings   their creed.

One of the fundamental dictates of the Buddha was “Hatred does not cease by hatred but can only be doused with love.” It was not merely towards another human being but to all living beings on earth as manifested in his message” May All Beings Be Happy.”

This staff of ahimsa, of non-violence of Jain origin and adopted and reinforced by the Buddha was the sole staff Mohandas Gandhi employed to  defeat the massive fire power the British wielded and had at their disposal to crush the first sign of rebellion and retain safe the Kohinoor diamond that was India on their Imperial Crown.

But in the face of non violence which Gandhi used as his staff and implement, the awe inspiring British cannons fell silent, their armoury melted as did British hearts and the ‘nauseating and humiliating spectacle of a onetime Inner Temple Barrister, now a half naked fakir” as Winston Churchill was to describe Gandhi, “striding up the steps of the Viceroys Palace and there to parley with him on equal terms” signaled the surrender of British might on whose Empire till then the sun had never set, before the simple staff of non violence that Gandhi bore.

And how were the mighty British laid low? How were they reduced to the dust and made to leave a continent they had exploited to the full and still unsated yearned for more?  The answer lay in the ancient wisdom of India, in the philosophy of the Buddha which one man employed as his only harmless but potent weapon of attack: Non violence, Love to all, no matter how the enemy responds. It’s the same with the teachings of Christ, who lived five hundred years after the Buddha, who exhorted his fellow men to turn the other cheek if slapped. Not from a position of cowardice but from inner strength. For else, one is but reduced to a puppet dancing to another’s tune and fancy.

That episode in recent times serves as a powerful demonstration of how hatred can be overcome with love, how non violence, ahimsa triumphs over the most evil of intentions and actions.

All that the Buddha had preached was embedded in that Bowl of Dhamma that Emperor Asoka’s son Arahant Mihidu gifted gratis to the Lankan King Devanampiyatissa that Poson Poya day two thousand three hundred and twenty two years ago.

Sadly, however, through the years the pristine message became mistranslated, misinterpreted, distorted, even warped beyond recognition and what survives though some core still remains, is largely a deformed form most of  all Lanka still mistakenly hold as the Dhamma the Buddha preached two thousand five hundred years ago in the far off plains of Northern India.

But, as said before, some core still survives. For instance, the Kalaama Suthra invites all to question the doctrine of the Buddha and not to accept it without determining for oneself its validity. Where it is blasphemy in other religions to question the scriptures, the Buddha gave his followers a licence to question his teaching before accepting his doctrine.

And central to his teachings was ahimsa, non violence and tolerance and the dictate that how so much one is wronged, to harbour hate is to burn oneself with the fire of hate, that hate will not end in hate but can only be doused with the gentle rain of Love and Compassion.

Easter Sunday’s attack, of course, would have needed a monsoon of rain to douse the hell fires of hate and rage that dwelled within the communities torn apart by the mass tragedy. That is understandable. It’s only natural. But to harbour hate and go living, breathing, eating, drinking, sleeping, dreaming and waking up the following morn harbouring ill will only does harm to oneself.

If one follows the religious code not only of the Buddha but all other religious leaders, you will find that an ‘eye for an eye’ attitude as Gandhi once said, ‘only serves to make the whole world blind.’

The Chief Prelate of the Asgiri Chapter of the Siam Order, the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanaratana Maha Thera, declared in his Poson sermon his animosity towards the entire lot of Muslims in this country for the vile deeds of a handful.

He said – and it’s recorded on video so none can claim it’s a distortion of his speech -  that:

n Muslims have poisoned Sinhalese and exhorted the Sinhalese not to eat at their restaurants hereafter. But is there any evidence of a single case of a Sinhalese found dead after having a biriyani at a Muslim eatery. None.

On that blissful Vesak full moon eve when Prince Siddhartha was in the process of attaining enlightenment and giving up his earthly and mental attachments one by one and reached the stage where he relinquished his desires forever and still realised that he hadn’t achieved the ultimate and that one more fetter kept tied to samsara’s wheel, to the law of cause and effect. He realised then that what he had to shed was his own ego that still kept him bound to the wheel, he had to shed his ignorance and only then did he realise enlightenment.

So when The Chief Prelate of the Asgiri Chapter of the Siam Order the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanaratana Maha Thera declared on Poson Poya day that Muslims have poisoned Sinhalese – without having a shred of evidence – he should not be condemned, but to be pitied.

Secondly when he said

n That a Muslim doctor had made thousands of Sinhala women sterile with the intent of decimating the Sinhala race what is the proof he had – especially when the inquiry is still going on and the law enforcing authorities have still not concluded their investigations, with the findings still to be given to the Attorney General to file action in court and justice to be done in a court of law and the offender yet to be found guilty or not. The Venerable monk’s haste to prejudge the issue is not to be condemned. It is to be pitied.

Thirdly, when the Venerable Mahanayake of the Asgiri Chapter blithely tells his people

n not to go to Muslim countries what does he mean? Does he mean that all those house maids presently serving there who contribute eight billion bucks to the nation’s economy too must pack up their bags and return home pronto merely because of the prevailing Islamophobia in the island? Can you imagine the damage that will be done to the economy if the Venerable monk’s advice was literally followed? And the monk should not be condemned but only to be pitied.

Fourthly, The Chief Prelate of the Asgiri Chapter of the Siam Order the Most Venerable Warakagoda Sri Gnanaratana Maha Thera said

n that some upasika ammes have come and said that Muslims should be stoned. This contemplation of violence against any being on earth goes against the very grain, against the very heart of what the Buddha preached.

Even as Jesus Christ said on the cross looking at the mob below braying for his blood, father, forgive them, for they know not what they do, the venerable Maha Thera must not be condemned out of hand, but in the best Buddhist tradition should be pitied.

Rajitha smokes his war pipe over Mangala’s Chinese cigarette planMinister threatens to commit political hara-kiri over fag issue

The Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne came out storming from his anti cigarette corner in the cabinet ring to spar with his colleague Mangala Samaraweera this Monday and to deliver him a knockout blow over his decision to allow Chinese cigarettes to invade the local market, merely because a few thousand Chinese working in Lanka couldn’t do without their daily puff of Chinese smoke.

After all he had won his anti fags boxing colours at every World Health Organisation Summit not for nothing but for appearing to be the great defender of the anti smoking faith. And to learn that in his absence from Lanka attending the World No Tobacco Day in Geneva on 31st May receiving rounds of applause and accolade after accolade for his holy crusade against the vice of smoking, he had been upstaged the very same day he was flaunting his achievements on a world stage before the WHO body that the Finance Minister had announced his intention to proliferate smoking in Lanka by opening the floodgates to Chinese cigarettes would have certainly got him the goat.

RAJITHA: Unsheathes sword to stub Cheena fags

This Monday, the Health Minister took his gloves off to deliver punch after punch to the Government’s Finance Minister in what you certainly can call a home and home no holds barred brawl.

Addressing the World No Tobacco Day, organised by the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) held at Waters Edge, Minister Senaratne said:

“There are only 6,000 Chinese workers in Sri Lanka at the moment and there are around 10,000 Indian workers in the country. What will happen if the Indian workers too demand that they need to smoke their own country brands? In addition there are Russian and many other nationalities working here. If we permit the Chinese brands then others too will demand their brands. It will lead to chaos.

His ire is understandable. At the WHO summit, he had just been appointed as the as the First Vice President giving priority to the Asia Pacific Region coming under his purview. He was first appointed to the same position in 2017 mainly because he was seen as an ardent advocate of the anti smoking lobby whose wish and determination was to reduce the Lankan tobacco industry to ashes.

Now here was the Finance Minister at home in Colombo opening the door to China to send their nicotine sticks to Lanka so that the nation could have a variety of choice. It was almost as if Mangala had pulled the rug under his feet and brought Rajitha’s crown of stubbed cigarette butts  tumbling down.

And what was it that sparked the Health Minister’s anger this week?

The announcement Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera made in Colombo  on World No Tobacco Day that he intends to open the sluice gates to foreign cigarette imports hitherto dammed. Merely because the Chinese envoy requested him to do so,

Minister Samaraweera held a press conference on 30th of May and declared: “The Chinese embassy earlier informed me that these Chinese expats consume cigarettes in large quantities and they only smoke cigarettes originating from China and not the locally manufactured cigarettes. There is a significant demand for foreign cigarettes among the expatriate community in Colombo, particularly from Chinese nationals who largely depend on cigarettes imported through informal channels. Therefore, it’s better to let cigarette imports through proper channels, which would also allow the government to earn revenue.”

He has a point there, of course. According to a recent research report, the government was estimated to have lost Rs.18 billion in cigarette tax revenue in 2017, as a record 583 million illicit cigarettes were estimated to have been smuggled into the country in that year.

The same logical point can be used to justify giving legal cover  to the import of drugs merely because those charged with preventing entry fail in their task.

He further said: “Sri Lanka is a free country, and if someone who is in the right legal age wants to consume foreign branded cigarettes, they should be able to do so.”

Rajitha’s stance is that such an open door policy would further the hazards of the nation’s health. He said: “The government already spends twice the amount of money it received as tax revenue from cigarettes to treat those who suffered various illnesses resulting from smoking.”

But whilst the Health Minister is talking of the hazards to the nation’s health to win more accolades at World Health Forums and the Finance Minister is expounding his liberal bohemian philosophy to ‘live and let live’ none is talking of the economic damage that is being done and will be done to the nation’s economy if Mangala opens the floodgates to foreign fags, be it Chinese or otherwise or Rajitha wills to ban smoking altogether.

First let’s consider Rajitha’s obsession with the evils of smoking. His pet hobby horse has been to warn the danger of smoking as being a primary cause of heart disease and how much it costs the Health Ministry each year as a result of it.

But is that correct. Or is it highly exaggerated. Does smoking drain the Health Ministry’s budget to the extent Rajitha wants us to believe? Or is he, disguising with statistics, blurring the real picture to promote himself as Lanka’s Vizier in the World’s fashionable elite eyes, to be the Lancelot of their admiration?

Take for instance:  What was the budget allocated to the health sector in 2018?

A total of Rs. 178 billion rupees. That is not only for the Health Ministry which is under his present purview but also for the Indigenous Health Ministry. With this Rs. 178 billion, all doctors, nurses and staff salaries have to be paid, the bills for all medicines have to be met, building and medical equipment maintenance, the building of new hospitals – in short the whole gamut of Lanka’s free health service was done last year with this allocation of Rs. 178 billion, not only in the western health sector but also the Ayurvedic sector.  And what was the contribution made by the cigarette industry in the same year, in 2018, to the government treasury in taxes: Rs. 125 billion.

And what’s the deficit? Rs 52 billion. People seek medical treatment anyway, whether they smoke or not. Unlike non smoking Government Ministers who take the first flight to Singapore when an attack storms their heart at Government expense, the poor of this country have to make do with the resources available.. If this Rs. 125 billion contributed as taxes each year on average by the tobacco sector was not available, will it not force the Government to seek  the sum as loans from elsewhere?

It’s time to call Minister Rajitha’s bluff. And drill him further to provide hard evidence as to the the correlation between the cost of smoking and the cost of the entire health service in this country. The public are peddled with this inane argument that the health service is crippled and lacks funds because people having to be treated for smoke related diseases of the heart, drain the financial fluid from the Health Budget.  And that, if not for this vice,  all would be hunky dory. Then say, Mr. Rajitha Senaratne what caused your woe, why the non smoker you are, made you go to Singapore?

He is on record saying that the unregulated Beedi is better for health than the regulated cigarette. Wonder on what WHO evidence he said it?

What gave him the empirical evidence to boost the humble rustic hand rolled unregulated beedi? The beedi comes without health warnings. It comes now with a ministerial certificate when the Health Minister declared beedi is better for the health than the cigarette. Perhaps it’s his preferred brand that, as far as tobacco is concerned, brings the least to the state’s coffers but perhaps fill the pockets of others. But no talk of banning that. No, that is s master’s choice. By Royal Appointment.

Now take Mangala, the Finance Minister.  The egalitarian, liberal Minister whose forthrightness in many matters is much to be admired. Whilst others play to the gallery, he sings to the stalls. Unfortunately for him he has that incorrigible tendency to shoot from the hip and to miss the bull’s eye. And often end up getting his own foot shot by his own boomeranging bullet.

He said: “Sri Lanka is a free country, and if someone who is in the right legal age wants to consume foreign branded cigarettes, they should be able to do so.”

Fine. Why ever not? Bit whilst we can appreciate the Bohemian lifestyle and clap the liberal attitude the question must be posed: The nation cannot live on liberal cake however one’s fancy may take to it but has to survive on coarse bread to feed the masses gnawing hunger.

Thus as the Finance Minister of this country when he announced his willingnessness to open the floodgates to Chinese cigarettes did he not realise the immense damage he would cause to the local tobacco industry.

Perhaps, it’s time again to refresh his memory.

As the SUNDAY PUNCH commented on June 2nd, two days after his announcement of giving the green light to the Chinese cigarette invasion:

n The cigarette industry contributes to the government treasury in taxes: Rs. 125 billion.

n it’s not only the Rs. 125 billion it contributed last year – if one takes the last ten years it has contributed  Rs 815 billion.

n The tobacco industry provides direct and indirect employment to over 200,00 people They comprise the vast network of hundreds of wholesalers, thousands of retailers, leaf purchasers, local; suppliers and others down the chain whose life, whose livelihood, whose businesses are positively impacted to the benefit of the nation’s economic health.

n The livelihood of over 20,000 farmers who engage in the cultivation of tobacco and face the threat of having the sod cut under their feet by Sirisena who declared  his intention last year to totally ban  tobacco cultivation in the year 2020 – provided, of course, he is optimistic enough to believe he will be returned as president by the masses and can execute his threat.

And this is the golden goose the Health Minister for reasons of his own  swears to strangulate, the local industry the Finance Minister intends to  enfeeble by opening the floodgates to cheap Chinese cigarettes whilst living off its beefy contribution to the national coffers.

But where there’s smoke there’s fire. That’s probably why cigarette packs carry a hazard warning.

Taking umbrage at the Mangala’s announcement that he intended to let the cigarette barons in to foul the island air with smoke, the newly appointed World Health Organization’s Field Marshall to the entire Asia Pacific Region, Rajitha Senaratne couldn’t stand the prospect of inhaling not only the expected smoke but suffer the insult doled out to his new fangled position as the anti smoking war lord of the region. Not even three weeks at his post and Chinese fags assail him.

And what does he do. He delivers an ultimatum to his own government and gives the order to the Finance Minister to stop the Chinese fag invasion. With his new found WHO badge of being in command of the Asian Pacific Region, he says : “There are only 6,000 Chinese workers in Sri Lanka at the moment and there are around 10,000 Indian workers in the country. What will happen if the Indian workers too demand that they need to smoke their own country brands? In addition there are Russian and many other nationalities working here. If we permit the Chinese brands then others too will demand their brands. It will lead to chaos.”

And then goes on to demand of the government: “I will not let anyone import Chinese cigarettes and if that happens, sitting in the Cabinet will be problematic for me. I will resign.”

Sadly, for him, no one cares a damn. Though many around the cabinet table would have gladly offered him the sword to commit political hara-kiri had he only but asked for one. If he had looked at the Prime Minister for support, answer came there none. That perhaps is understandable for the Prime Minister would not have wished to make a drama out of  smoke between his two able ministers. He would have with patience waited for the smoke to dissipate and vanish into thin air.

But more surprisingly, when  Rajitha looked to the Worshipful Master, the president of the Masonic anti smoking Lodge for support to come to the aid of his lifelong cause and vocation apart from filling and drilling teeth, neither did answer come. Both Prime Minister and President, it appears absorbed the moment in disdainful silence.

How ironic – and how sad, isn’t it -  that the anti smoking champion Rajitha Senaratne who has claimed that cigarettes had led to the death of many a man should himself willingly lay down his political life and will his political death for the sake of a Chinese fag?

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