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WHY A PEACE NGO MIGHT NOT EMPLOY THE BUDDHA

by ratnawalli - September 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 7 September 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

In western as well as oriental cultures, Superheroes conquer rebellious mythical creatures and win their territory for humans. The heroes of more muscular ancient traditions get to kill their creatures, while those of the early Buddhist tradition, the Buddha and his arahat disciples triumph through a different methodology, as killing of any being is simply not done. Even so, some memorable mythical creature overcoming episodes of early Buddhist lore owe their existence to a very muscular and masterful strand in the tradition.

The earliest such episode is contained in the Mahavagga of the Pali Vinaya Pitaka (Vin. I, 24, 25 @ p32-35, Horner IV[i]full text). Here the Buddha, in order to assert His spiritual superiority before a large group of Brahmin ascetics with signature matted hair, gives an extended display of super-human powers (three thousand five hundred miracles). The first of these is the overpowering of the magical Naga in the leading ascetic’s fire hut. This involves leaving intact the skin, hide, flesh, ligaments, bones, and marrow of this Naga while fighting his fire with like fire. “When both were in flames, the fire-room became as though burning, ablaze, in flames. Then the matted hair ascetics, having surrounded the fire-room, spoke thus: “Beautiful indeed is the great recluse, (but) he will be harmed by the serpent.”” He isn’t. Towards the end of that night, the flames of the Naga are extinguished while the multi-colored flames of the Buddha’s psychic power remain on His body. The Naga, though intact in body end up in such a state that the Blessed One is able to throw him into the alms bowl and show him as …

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Basic Social Etiquette for the Buddha

by ratnawalli - September 8, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 24 August 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

“Buddhaghosa’s role, as well as that of Mahanama, the author of the Mahavamsa, was to translate the available material into Pali (see Mhv. Tika, i, 36, etc., loc. cit., pp. Ivi). As the Tika states, the Mahavamsa was a faithful rendering of the original Sinhalese source-material with the only change that it was put into Pali verse. Compared with the previous clumsy attempt at versification in the Dipavarnsa, Mahavamsa stands out as a work of considerable poetic achievement though it falls short of the elegant poetry of the Canonical metrical literature. The fact that it was a metrical rendering could have placed certain restrictions and limitations on the author as regards presenting a faithful rendering of the original material. In the case of the Bahiranidana there were no such restrictions, and undoubtedly one may suppose that it is even more faithful to the original Sinhalese source than the more elegant literary product, the Mahavamsa. It is partly on this basis that minor discrepancies in some proper names between the Bahiranidana and the Chronicles are to be explained, e.g. Issaranimmana, Kalingakula, Pakundaka, Tavakka, etc. (see notes to Translation). However, the word-for-word similarity between wholesale passages of the Bahiranidana and the Chronicles (see Geiger, the Dipavarnsa and Mahavamsa, 106 ff.) shows that there were no wide divergences between them. This similarity does not presuppose the fact that the chronologically later work was based on the earlier work, but that they go back to a common tradition.”

– (p XXIV, N.A. Jayawickrama;1962[i]full text)

 

‘Holmes, if we were to introduce this lady to the sources of Mahavamsa through carefully selected paragraphs like the above, do you …

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Generations of men lady. Ain’t just one man

by ratnawalli - August 12, 2014 at 8:13 am

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) under another title and with this title in Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 10 August 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

I heard Holmes chuckling to himself. In reply to my inquiring glance he said “Here is a lady Watson who should distribute her frenzy among hundreds of men instead of saving it for a single man”. I was astonished, for vulgar insinuation was the last thing I’d have expected from him especially in connection with a woman. With one notable exception Holmes was lukewarm in his appreciation of womankind, but he was invariably the gentleman. My disgust must have shown, for he said by way of explanation; “Her emotional excesses, her wrath should be directed against hundreds of men, chains of men linked to each other through pupillary succession instead of a single man”.

 

Perhaps I should save the reader from the intense irritation I felt at this elliptical way of talking (which actually made me throw the saltcellar against the wall inches above Holmes’ head), by stating outright that his remarks were directed at an article in the popular press (Colombo Telegraph) titled “Which Buddha? Whose Buddhism?” penned by one Tisaranee Gunasekara. As far as I could see the lady was fixated on one man, a monk called Mahanama, the fount, the father of all evil. I said so to Holmes. Then occurred one of those rare instances that I am likely to cherish in memory to the end of my days. Holmes paid me a compliment. He said that I had true insight, which outshines the best deductive powers. “Why, what have I said?” I asked trying not at all successfully to hide a pleased smile. “You just uttered the key word Watson, “father”: the Origin, Sire, and …

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Lord Buddha comes to Nagadipa

by ratnawalli - August 6, 2014 at 10:05 am

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 27 July 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

A picturesque Sinhalese belief, almost certainly sired by the Hela-havula movement has it that the term ‘Sihala’ has no relation to lion killing as that 10th century AD authority, Dampiya Atuva Gatapadaya claims[i], but is derived from the ‘Siv Hela’ or the quartet of Hela tribes; Yaksa, Deva, Naga and Raksa. It has no validity as a serious theory. A cursory examination into the antecedents of Yaksas, Nagas, Devas and Raksas would reveal them to be long-standing VIP citizens of the Indo-Aryan myth pool whose special clearance status; ‘fantasy-non human’ entitles them to unrestricted and simultaneous residence privileges in multiple States. However, the Siv-Hela theory works beautifully as allegory if it is bent to mean that the ancient Sinhalese, like all peoples in the morning of the civilized world, whose capacity for fantasy was yet un-dimmed, existed in an enriched plane of reality with the Yaksas, Nagas, Devas and Raksas; which quartet by reason of their habitation within the Hela life-world and their internalization by the Helas can be called Siv-Hela. Only, this bent version, emphasizing the Hela world’s orbit within the Indo-Aryan cultural universe won’t really assuage the indigenist yearnings of a Hela-havulist.

This cannot be helped Watson. There was a Yaksha called Chittaraja who was current among certain north Indian IA speaking peoples in the pre-Christian centuries. We know this because he makes a guest appearance in the Kuru Dhamma Jātaka[ii] (read). The king of Kurus bearing the name Dhananjaya, which is a well-known epithet of Arjuna, the third Pandava (p143, Vogel: 1926[iii]full text), …

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Sailing south and meeting the north

by ratnawalli - July 13, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 13 July 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Gautama Buddha, the pride of the Sakyas, c. 460-380 BC according to the latest consensus[i], was no empiricist. He lived in a wondrous world populated by myriad fantastic beings of the Indo-Aryan myth pool. A passage in the Chullavagga, an early text in the Pali Cannon gives us the Buddha’s eye view of the deep sea. According to Him, the great ocean, awe inspiring, astonishing and curious is “the dwelling place of mighty beings, among which are the Timi, the Timingala, the Timitimingala, the Asuras, the Nagas and the Ghandharvas” with the whole lot so constituted as to “stretch from one to five hundred leagues”.-(p32, Jean Philippe Vogel:1926[ii]full text

 

Going to the beach would have been such an adventure in the Buddha’s time.  How exciting then to have been a long distance trader from the north of India sailing to new, distant lands in the south. What marvelous travelers’ tales would have been brought back about what new creatures! Er… no. No new creatures. A northern trader sailing south would encounter the same old familiar creatures of the Indo Aryan myth-pool; the Yakshas, Nagas, Suparnas, etc. It’s very like that old science fiction plot device; when you are escaping the Earth, you are really flying back to it.

 

To come back to Earth Watson, don’t you see what happens? Northern traders sailing south are agents widening the geographical horizons of their known universe. After they have discovered the south, so to speak, the northern storytellers step in and start locating stories in the new southern settings, which they populate with creatures …

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Nagas come and pitch their tents in Naga-Dipa of Lanka

by ratnawalli - June 30, 2014 at 7:59 am

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 29 June 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

What if a part of Sri Lanka in the centuries before Christ had been named after a personage, a creature or a deity from the Celtic myth pool? We’d know that a people who were immersed in the Celtic myth pool were responsible for the naming. At the very least we’d deduce heavy, long-term and thoroughgoing involvement of Celts in Sri Lanka. That was an analogy. Here is the reality: In the last centuries before Christ, the part of Sri Lanka known today as the Jaffna peninsula was called Naga-dipa[i], after a species of creatures from the Indo-Aryan myth pool.

 

First, some background. As everyone knows, during the first thousand years before Christ, Indo-Aryan languages as well as ideologies and lore that were sired and mothered by the speakers of these languages, and so couched in them were spreading in south Asia, over land and later by sea. When the Christian era was just a few centuries in the future, this cultural package had arrived in Sri Lanka. The package was also delivered throughout south India down to its southernmost tip. It’s easier if you liken this to the spread of radiation from powerful radioactive nodes located in north India. If you took a metaphoric Geiger counter able to measure metaphoric radiation to the area corresponding to Tamil Nadu in the centuries immediately preceding Christ, it would beep. Loudly.

 

In order to beef up that beep with some percentages, let’s survey the corpus of pottery and cave inscriptions of Tamil Nadu during the period commencing two centuries before Christ and concluding one century after Him. Out of a total collection of 469 Tamil Brahmi …

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Are you perhaps a “Naga?”

by ratnawalli - June 15, 2014 at 11:06 am

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 15 June 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

I had a dream. Professor K. Indrapala was standing before me in a supplicating attitude. I asked him sternly “Are you perhaps a Naga?”, whereupon a bashful, almost hunted look flitted across his face and in the fraction of the second it took me to flick my eyelids over my stern eyes, he turned into a snake and disappeared through a crack in the floor. “Wait a minute”, I said to myself, for I was still in the dream and in the grip of fantastic logic, “that was all wrong! A Naga who has taken human form transforms back on two occasions; neither of which arose just now. Why did he transform?”

Let me explain. My dream was weaved from the Indo Aryan myth pool[i], the Buddhist portion of it. Deep in its most ancient recesses lives a disrobed Buddhist monk, who got himself ordained without disclosing that he was a Naga. He was expelled by the Buddha when disclosure came accidently. His story is told in the Pali Vinaya Pitaka. In his human form, the Naga asked for and received ordination (from the fraternity of monks) with the aim of obtaining a human birth through adherence to the noble precepts. One night in the Jetavana Monastery, when his cell mate had stepped out, the Naga fell asleep. The other monk came back to find the whole cell bulging with snake coils. Later, in front of the customary assembly of monks, Lord Buddha said to the Naga; “Ye Nagas are not capable of spiritual growth in this doctrine and discipline”. After the Naga had gone away, all sad and sorrowful, the Lord declared; “There are

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Concerning us and the “Naga”

by ratnawalli - June 5, 2014 at 10:29 am

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 1 June 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Just last week my mother shouted me down when I told her that the god “Sakra” of the Buddhist canon was the same as the Aryan god Indra.

“Indra, the most vividly realized Vedic god, embodies the powerful Aryan warrior…the continuing popularity of Indra, which is reflected in a large number of tales told about the heroic deeds, and even more so about his ability to change his shape at will, his trickery and his sexual adventures…  His fame…is still well reflected by his prominent and active position in the Pali canon where he is called Sakka (Skt. < Śakra).” – (pages 55, 83, Witzel and Jamison:1992[i]full text

I questioned her concern about Sakra: did she perchance think that he was an integral part of Buddhism proper? She answered, yes the Pali canon described the realities, events and beings actually experienced by the Buddha; the Sakra whom the Buddha actually met and conversed with was therefore integral and not some Vedic flotsam; kindly stop holding such ‘mitya dristi’. Was she aware, I asked, of how many Vedic continuities there are in the canon? What about the Buddha’s attitude towards women or more glaringly his attitude towards the Asuras? According to the Pali canon, Rahu, the Asura, listened to a sermon of the Buddha which brought enlightenment to many in the assembly, but not to him, who, as an Asura, was unfit. Where did she think that came from if not from Buddhism’s anchorage in the Vedic myth pool?

“…one of the most characteristic aspects of Brahmanic mythology is the ceaseless rivalry between the gods (Devas) and their kin, the so-called Asuras. Perhaps

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Attack of the Mutants: ICES (Colombo) and other accidents

by ratnawalli - June 4, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 18 May 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Where the mainstream academics are not very alert, discerning or prolific, the lunatic fringe will soon grow like a cancer and outweigh them in respectability. This happened in Sri Lanka to an unbelievable degree across a wide swath of social sciences including history, linguistics and anthropology. The mainstream was not vigilant enough in watching out for the mutant. Maybe there were just too many mutants. Mutants backed by other mutants, who fronted for yet bigger mutants.

In the 1990s, which was much more the day of the mutants than the 2010s can ever be, International Centre for Ethnic Studies (Colombo) engaged on a project to promote the official languages provisions in the 13th and 16th amendments to the constitution. They organized workshops in collaboration with the Department of Official Languages, made some films and last but not least, commissioned a study[i] by Mr. Theva Rajan, who now enjoys the distinction of being one of the two elected members allocated to New Zealand in the Transnational Constituent Assembly of Tamil Elam. ICES (Colombo) published Mr. Theva Rajan’s study (text) with a foreword by ‘Editor, ICES (Colombo)’, a ghost title[ii].

This study deals with the important subject of Tamil as official language. In its early pages, it manipulates ancient linguistic history to ruthlessly edit out the Sinhalese language from the equation. Clearly, ICES (Colombo), which was then going through its mutant phase,[iii] felt that such an enterprise deserved support and placed their institutional resources and reputation behind it. Nothing is more gallant than the way Mr. Theva Rajan acts to defend the honour of Tamil whenever Sinhalese obtrudes historically to …

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When ICES Colombo made excursions into the lunatic fringe

by ratnawalli - June 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Published in my  Column in The Nation (print edition here) and Colombo Telegraph on Sunday, 11 May 2014

By Darshanie Ratnawalli

Once upon a time, when the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, Colombo was not as respectable as they are now, they commissioned Mr. A. Theva Rajan, currently a member of the Transnational Constituent Assembly of Tamil Elam, to conduct a study on the status of Tamil in Sri Lanka, past and present, as part of an ICES project to promote the official language provisions of the 13th and 16th amendments to the constitution[i]. The Head of ICES during this period was Radhika Coomaraswamy. The study was completed in 1992 and was first published in 1995 (Text) with a foreword by a mysterious personage called the ‘Editor, ICES Colombo’.

An ‘Editor’ is an oddity for ICES, Colombo. All Editors are identified by the relevant ICES journal, every one of which is and has always been published by ICES, Kandy. I have a hunch that ‘Editor, ICES Colombo’ was conjured out of air to stamp a special ICES seal of approval on Mr. Theva Rajan’s paper (making it the second stamp of approval. The first being the distinction of being commissioned).

Mr. Theva Rajan now represents the lunatic fringe of Sri Lankan studies in history. That his comfort zone was firmly in the lunatic fringe, even then, when the ICES was trying to sanitize him via institutional approval, becomes clear by the second page of the first chapter of his paper. Consider this bon mot;

“The earliest Brahmi inscriptions of Sri Lanka are generally said to be in the Prakrit language. Rather than denoting any particular language Prakrit simply means “old language”. To further complicate the matter, among experts terms differ. …

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