20 February 2015

Post-war notes: Theraputtabhaya spoke to me this morning

Richard Bach says somewhere in his book ‘Illusions’ that the answer to any question that is in your mind, whether clearly formulated or resident as a vague, query mark without word or formulation, is right before you.  He recommends the random opening of any book and assures that the page will contain answer and also give flesh to that which earlier resisted articulation.  Now if ‘book’ was considered a metaphor for all things that educated, clarify and elaborate, then the exercise of intellect and heart would draw some degree of truth-value from anything and everything.

It makes sense.  If the universe is contained in a grain of sand then anything can be obtained from anything else.  The key to knowledge-extraction then would be, in Budddhist terms, the ability to exercise reason (following the guidelines, for example, of the Kalama Sutra) and of course the karmic endowments that empower or limit such deployment. 

This Nawam Poya morning (February 17, 2011), my mind was not cluttered by any question.  It was blank. I knew I had to write my column and two more for the Sunday Observer before 2.00 pm. So there was some ‘cloud’.  I didn’t know what to write about.  I was at my friend Jayanath Bodahandi’splace.  There was a programme about the so-called minnows of the Cricket World Cup on Star TV.  There were some tea cups, books and newspapers on the coffee table.  Among them, Walisinghe Harishchandra’s ‘Sithiyam sahitha pura vidyaava: Anuradhapura urumaya ha eya rekumata kala aragalaya’ (Archaeology with maps: the heritage of Anuradhapura and the struggle to preserve it], a 2001 version of the book first published in 1912, put out by Visidunu Prakashakayo. 

Random Page had a number, naturally.  189.  Random page had a random paragraph gleaned from the Mahawamsa (The Great Chronicle), which I translate/paraphrase as follows:
‘The great king Dutugemunu, having united the Lankan State and being duly crowned, offered various posts to his main generals, the Dasa Maha Yodayas (the Ten Giants). The giant Theraputtabhaya was not interested.  When asked why, he had responded, ‘Because there is another war to be fought’.  ‘Which?’ the King asked.  ‘I will fight relentlessly and without mercy the thieves that are the kleshas,’ he answered.  The King objected again and again, but Theraputtabhaya appealed for reconsideration. Finally, with the King’s permission he re-entered the Order, developed his faculties and attained Enlightenment.’

We are today in a post-war nation.  And yet, not all wars have been fought to a satisfactory conclusion.  This is true of the individual and the collective.  There is a time to fight and to fight without any quarter asked or given. That’s how the LTTE was vanquished. There is a time to reflect. A time to recognise that the conclusion of a single war does not imply that all other irritants and monstrosities have been dealth with or happily surrendered or perished. 

Different wars require different approaches, different methodologies, different human competencies, different tools.  Post-war is never an easy time for lengthy conflicts engender cultures and ways of being that survive the end of the clash of arms.  Institutions and laws tend to indulge in slumber, tweaked mechanisms are slow in unravelling and indeed are deliberately left tweaked for reasons of convenience and ancient antagonisms re-emerge to be marked ‘present’  and ‘continuous’. 

Theraputtabhaya’s was a personal quest.  The lesson, however, is not inapplicable to the collective, i.e. community, organization and nation.  The end of a righteous war is cause for celebration.  The end of a war does not suggest that righteousness can be or needs to be retired.  Indeed the success of righteousness should ideally inspire its application to different context.  This is the glue that holds together the necessarily different tools and human resources in the matter of meaningful engagement of those other enemies.

There are many books that await opening. Many answers to questions that are not asked or seem not to have answers.  The answer is never so far away that it cannot be accessed.  This is true for everyone, from leader to the led, the subjugating to the subjugated, the insulting to the insulted, the robber to the robbed. 

Reading is a good thing. I plan to be voracious about it.  How about you? 


Malinda Seneviratne is the 'Editor-in-Chief' of 'The Nation and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com.  This was first published in the 'Daily News' (February 18, 2011)



sajic said...

Random 'openings'. A friend once told me that she doesnt read the Bible according to a prescribed daily reading note. She just opens it
and reads whatever is on the page-gives her food for thought and a message for the day. Interesting.