19th October 1997


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Buddhist ideology: an emphatic reflection

Buddhist Democratic Political Theory and Practice
By Nandasena Ratnapala
Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Sri Jayawardenepura

By Roshan Peiris

Professor Nandasena Ratnapala's book has a refreshing and erudite approach to Buddhism, in the context of Buddhist democratic political theory. It is intriguing to find that while the so-called superior Western nations indulged in religious wars such as the Thirty Years war, and showed a remarkably sustained approach to religious intolerance, the followers of the Buddha practised religious tolerance.

Professor Nandasena writes, 'The democratic spirit in King Asoka (born 303 B.C. and died 203 BC) is observed in the way he preached and practised religious tolerance. Such an attitude is in keeping with Buddhist teachings. Not only the Buddhist Sangha but ascetics and religious men in other faiths were respected and assisted by it.''

It is ironical that our colonial masters who set out to teach Asians and Africans the rudiments of the practice of democracy, showed a marked intolerance in their colonies to the religions of those people. Professor Nandasena points out that the necessity of an ethical basis flows from the Buddhist ideology and it underscores the political acts as well as individual acts undertaken by those in power. It is perhaps the absence of such a basis that accounts for the very many problems and prejudicial attitudes in modern democratic states.

Prof. Nandasena debunks the theory that Buddhism as a religion encouraged retreat from society. The greater part of the Buddha's life was spent is cities rather than in solitary confinement in forests. There are many interesting and instructive observations made by the Professor. He says that in so-called democracies ''political power is associated with families. People accept as leaders only scions of certain families or clans.'' Buddhist thinking rejects this, he says. In Kutadanta Sutta ''political power by inheritance in the family line is rejected'', he adds.

Another observation made in the book is that however lowly born, one could nevertheless aspire to develop oneself to the highest potential.

Political power according to Buddhist theory is best exercised by involving the people in the decision making process, in decision implementation and decision evaluation process. Today with so much stress on the democratic process, these aspects are often neglected.

The Professor says that individual morals contain principles that could be applied even today in industrial relations, for example between employer and the employee.

The relationship between these two should be established on mutual respect, kindness and understanding. In illness and injury the employee should be protected and assisted''. Modern Trade Unions today cannot boast of such principles, clearly laid down in Buddhism centuries ago.Judicial officers were allowed in the true practice of Buddhism to "do their duties confidently and fearlessly'' to help in the welfare and happiness of the people.

Of self-effort it is stated in one of Emperor Asoka's Minor Rock edicts No.1, that it is the road to both economic and social development.

The edicts of Asoka influenced by Buddhism stress that a ruler's objective should be the winning of peoples' affection, by beneficial acts carried out for the welfare of the people.

Professor Nandasena in this compact book of only 134 pages has packed in adroitly and cogently Buddhist Democratic Political Theory and Practice. This book makes for stimulating reading and succeeds in sustaining the interest of the reader.

It is published by the Sarvodaya Vishva Lekha Publishers, Ratmalana.

Commemoration of Brahms and Schubert

The Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka will present a concert of orchestral music on Friday, October 24 at 7.30 p.m. at Ladies College Hall. The concert will commemorate the 100th death anniversary of Johannes Brahms and the 200th birth anniversary of Franz Schubert. Brahms is famed for his neo-classical style while Schubert is best known for his songs, better known as "Lieder".

The Orchestra will perform one of Schubert's well known works, the "Unfinished Symphony" and two popular Hungarian Dances by Brahms. The Orchestra is conducted by Lalanath de Silva.

The soloist for the concert will be Gayathri Attiken, who performs Beethoven's 4th Piano Concert in G. This particular concerto was perhaps Beethoven's most mature Piano Concerto. Gayathri Attiken was a winner of the 1994 Concerto Competition and performed Beethoven's 3rd Concerto. She has since performed at numerous concerts including in Saint Saen's "Carnival of the Animals".

The last SOSL concert featured Sri Lankan Composers and oriental ballet with Khema, Ravibandu and Mihiripenna.

Reconstructions and readings of plays

The British Council together with the English Association of Sri Lanka presents 'The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht' readings and reconstructions by Gamini K. Haththotuwegama and Haig Karunaratne with special reference to 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' on Wednesday October 22 at 5.30 p.m. at the British Council hall.

The programme offers an 'illustrated study pack' based on 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle' which will focus firstly on the implications of the play, Brecht's approach to theme, character, situation, the relevance of theatrical, concerto - like epic theatre and 'alienation effect' to these, and secondly, on the experience and actual creative compositions of Haig Karunaratne as music director of Ernest MacIntyre's production 'The Caucasian Chalk Circle'.

The programme presented by Gamini K Haththotuwegama and Haig Karunaratne will be of special interest to Advanced Level students and Undergraduates studying English. The programme is open to all on a first-come first-served basis.

Dinner Theatre at the Oberoi

The Secretary Bird

Lanka Oberoi together with The British Theatre will present "The Secretary Bird" a comedy by William Douglas Home on October 23, 24 and 25 at the Lanka Oberoi. The play is produced by Derek Nimmo directed by Roger Redfarn, and designed by Terry Parson.

The cast includes Gerald Harper, Jane How, Neil Daglish, Sarah Alexander and Pamela Cundell.

Dramatist William Douglas Home's long writing career has been marked by some rather spectacular successes and nearly as many equally resounding flops. But then the younger son of the 13th Earl of Home and brother of former British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home was never known for his consistency. For example, his short-lived political career. Standing at different times as a Liberal, a Tory and an Independent, he finally drove his brother to ask him one morning just where his affiliations lay. "Wait until I have read the papers" was his reply.

That's what made him the fascinating writer he was- his ever changing moods, his perversity and above all else, his eccentricity; traits that would colour not only the way he went about writing his plays, but more so what he wrote into them. A perfect example is "The Secretary Bird", the next 'British Airways Playhouse.'

"The Secretary Bird" dinner show is co-sponsored by Stassen Foods and Capital Radio. The entire cast will be flown in by British Airways.

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