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30th May 1999

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Mirror Magazine

    The Buddhist ethos?

    Though the most revered day in the calendar for Buddhists , Vesak Poya has passed almost unnoticed, its perhaps still germane for at least a retrospective look at what Vesak really means. The spirit of the Vesak celebration looks increasingly subdued with each passing year, even though the spirituality of the celebration is gradually being subsumed.

    The underlying theme of the Vesak holiday is in these days not quite the spiritual, and this tendency is symbolised for instance by the pervasive use of loud speakers in most Buddhist temples.

    The culture of the blaring loud speaker has shattered all notions that associate Vesak with quiet contemplation and reflection on the nature of life, and paradoxically the sounds that shatter the serenity of Vesak these days mostly emanate from the confines of Buddhist temples themselves.

    But perhaps its not unusual, or shocking that Vesak evolves closely in parallel with the trends and tendencies manifest in the contemporary evolution of Buddhist culture in the country.

    The Buddhist ethos that prevailed does not obtain anymore, or else that ethos is being gradually breached or being eroded by new tendencies.

    For instance, there is an the increasing trend of an upsurge in “Mahayanism’’ funded mostly by certain Japanese Mahayana Buddhist organisations .

    The Japanese Mahayana funders with substantially fat kitties cultivate young, and should we say upwardly mobile cellular phone carrying monks. It’s a cushy ethos and sub - culture that these Mahayana monks seem to have established, with their ability to move around and make friends in high places.

    One monk with a Mahayana past has gone as far as to succeeded in getting a road renamed in Colombo after him, in breach of all local government rules or conventions. Another saffron-robed, bespectacled monk on the eve of Vesak was seen brazenly having his dinner at the Coffee Shop of the Hilton Hotel on Friday night, in the company of a well-known local singer and some foreigners welcoming the Buddha’s birth , enlightenment and passing away with a club sandwich. In parallel, there are also the insidious attempts that are being made to establish a Japanese style Bikkhuni order here, and the Mahanayakes have been unable to discipline the renegade monks by invoking the Vinaya rules. All this and more has resulted in a gradual erosion of the respect and influence of the monk on the individual and society , and this is undoubtedly detrimental to a society that is in danger of losing most of its core cultural values. But this, then is sermonising to the Moon, is it not.

    Cricket capers

    Crickets World champions last week made a dramatic exit from the world cricketing stage, which was almost as dramatic as their sudden ascendancy to cricket’s pinnacle with a theatrical victory at the World Cup final in 1996.

    To the vanquished Sri Lankan cricketers however, we must say thank you for all the glorious moments in an otherwise dark period in our lives. But as things turned out, the champions won cricket’s crown, but lost their heads in the process. At this nadir, they seem not only to have lost the crown but their self respect and the affection of supporters as well, after a palpably ignominious tournament exit. When the Sri Lankan captain began suing the Sri Lankan newspapers, and then refused to talk to all Lankan journalists in England but chose to write to British newspapers instead, it appeared that arrogance was the skipper’s middle name. It seemed the writing was on the wall for what was to come. Its almost out of the apocryphal, this story of a once popular and humble breed of cricketers turning arrogant and becoming unpopular at home and throughout the world. But its perhaps best to contemplate in this Vesak week, the impermanence of glory and all that is material.

    As a tonic, there is also suitably a reminder in the Buddha’s words that “success and failure are two imposters to be treated on equal terms.” But on a more mundane and a more practical dimension of thought, the story of Lanka’s World Cup success and the recent debacle should at least impart a lesson, that nobodies who become somebodies and reach the pinnacle of their fields of endeavour, have to meet the same people they passed on their way up as on their way down.

    That maybe a homespun homily, but having got that off our chests, we hope not without a little mischief that cricket’ s ephemeral fortunes reflect in larger terms the vicissitudes of the human condition itself.

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