Opinion

The themagula, thilakshana and other Vesak thoughts

Summary

In these days of socially distancing, self-isolation, sequestering and being subjected to all manner of restraints, perhaps it is worth considering the possibility of freeing the mind. It is free to lose itself in wild indulgence in sound, fury and all that glitters. It’s Vesak and so we could, alternatively, consider what could arguably be a more profitable deployment, that of deep reflection and the true discovery of the ways of things and processes. Yes, once again, the anicca, dukkha and anatta clearly evident and yet unseen in everything around us including customs acquired and practices confused with doctrine.

There are things to talk about today. We could discuss the bipartisan House Resolution introduced by US Congresswoman Deborah Ross on Sri Lanka. It called for an ‘effective international mechanism for accountability,’ and a ‘permanent political solution’ in Sri Lanka. The resolution regurgitates the oft-uttered lies about territorial claims. Attempted land-theft, really. Anyway, it is a product of ignorance, arrogance and worse, it is easily refuted, never mind the fact that refutation is a medicine too weak to cure pernicious affliction. Yes, we could talk about this resolution and the politics of creative, racist and chauvinist Tamil historiography. We could ask Washington about Israel, Palestine, butchery, silence and humbuggery.

Later.

We could also talk about India. India, Prime Minister Modi and in fact each and every Indian pundit convinced that Sri Lankans must inhabit their version of Sri Lanka’s reality. We could talk about the Indian fixation with devolution in Sri Lanka in a context where India’s history of federalism was a) a mechanism made imperative for territorial enhancement and indeed the creation of a nation where none existed, or at least nothing even close to the ‘gathering’ that the British left behind, and b) a relentless process of centralization.

We could dwell on a characterization of the Modi administration by Avay Shukla in ‘The Citizen’ titled ‘Mr Modi may continue to rule, but can he govern?’ Shukla puts it this way: ‘[H]e demolished federalism by pulling down as many as nine elected state governments and rewriting [India’s] relationship with Kashmir, putting the goal of Hindu rashtra on the front burner with CAA and NRC, extracting the Ram Mandir judgment from the Supreme Court.’ And then we can talk of hypocrisy.

Later.

We could talk of the proposed move from chemical inputs to organics in agriculture. We could move from input-replacement to system-replacement. We could question things taken for granted in this sphere, the theories which are of the ‘goes without saying’ kind and the fact that such ‘eventualities’ are also describable as ‘came without saying.’ In other words, the fact that theory in the social sciences (in this case the hegemonic ‘science’ called Economics)  is seldom ideology-free.

We can point to the nay-sayers that ‘no can do’ was the chorus response to those who said the LTTE can be and should be militarily defeated. We could tell those who cry ‘name a country that has succeeded,’ that if show-success is ‘must’ then progress of any kind is impossible. We can tell the optimists that the LTTE was not defeated overnight, that the necessary preconditions included adequate human resources, training, hardware, streamlining of intelligence operations, political will and above a citizenry by and large convinced that it was possible. The last, as always in any national endeavor, is non-negotiable. We could discuss this.

Later.
We could talk of Covid19 and how it has changed the world, our nation, our communities, our workplaces, our families and ourselves. We can talk of the realities — their embellishment and/or their discoloration. The ‘could be done but wasn’t’ makes for comment. The grandstanding of the bystanders who do nothing but salivate at the misery of others could also be discussed.

Later.

Today is Vesak (as I write this). A celebration of and a call to reflect on the themagula, i.e the birth, the ascension to enlightenment and the parinirvana or the moment of release from samsara, associated with Prince Siddhartha, the Ascetic Siddhartha and the Buddha Siddhartha Gauthama respectively. That’s more or less the official definition of Vesak. It could also be a moment that calls for reflection on the thilakshana, i.e. anicca (impermanence), dukkha (sorrow) and anatta (non-self or ‘substanceless’ if you will) associated with all things.

Some, for example Pope John Paul II, would characterize the doctrine or the Word of the Buddha, as a negative soteriology, believing it is a call for detachment or some kind of conviction that the world is bad. That, however, is a particular and particularly erroneous reading of the dhamma. The call, on the contrary, is for comprehension. It is about understanding the thilakshana by observation and the exercise of the intellect; a knowing which consequently makes for more wholesome engagement with the world and with self. It is an exercise that can be used to obtain the path to enlightenment and progress along it. It is also a framework that can inform all action outside of what might be called the strictly spiritual terrain.

In these days of socially distancing, self-isolation, sequestering and being subjected to all manner of restraints, perhaps it is worth considering the possibility of freeing the mind. It is free to lose itself in wild indulgence in sound, fury and all that glitters. It’s Vesak and so we could, alternatively, consider what could arguably be a more profitable deployment, that of deep reflection and the true discovery of the ways of things and processes. Yes, once again, the anicca, dukkha and anatta clearly evident and yet unseen in everything around us including customs acquired and practices confused with doctrine.

Reflection is also possible on the incomparable qualities of the Buddha and through such reflection build resolve to shape a different sense of being. In other words, reflection on the following: Araham (having eradicated all defilement), Samma Sambuddho (having discovered alone and understood fully the Four Noble Truths), Vijja Carana Sampanno (endowed with knowledge and conduct, theory and practice), Sugato (adept at choosing the right word at the right time and always to the benefit of the listener), Lokavidu (having understood absolutely the nature of the world), Anuttaro Purisa Dhamma Sarathi (a teacher incomparable), Satta Deva Manussanam (a leader unto one and all, people and the gods), Buddho (awakened from delusion and ignorance) and Bhagava (endowed with special powers on account of merit acquired).

This space is usually for political commentary. And so, since this is Vesak, and since the other discussable issues flagged above are also important, it might not be out of place to point to one of the most useful tools for the consideration of all things, political intrigue, designs for control and exploitation, turning myth into fact, myth-models into history included — the Buddha’s Charter on Free Inquiry as articulated in the Kalama Sutta.

‘Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another’s seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, ‘The monk is our teacher.’ [Instead], when you yourselves know: ‘These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,’ enter on and abide in them.’

And let’s conclude with this wish: ‘May all beings be joyful and secure; may they be happy within themselves. Whatever living beings there be, without exception, movable or immovable, long or huge, medium or small, subtle or gross, visible or invisible, dwelling far or near; born or coming to birth, may all beings be happy within themselves.’

Sabbe satta bhavantu sukhitatta.

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Director/CEO of the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute. These are his personal views. malindasenevi@gmail.comwww.malindawords.blogspot.com.]

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