11 November 2015

Susantha Karunaratne’s animisa lochana poojawa

More than two millennia ago, an exceptional human being and according to some one endowed with the greatest mind ever, Siddhartha Gauthama, the Enlightened One, stood for a week in front of the tree Ajapal.  This was upon attaining Enlightenment.  The Buddha, we are told, paid tribute, showed gratitude and taught lesson by this simple but significant act of gazing upon the tree that given him shade in the long moments of reflection that resulted in the fruition of Nirvanic comprehension. Hour after hour, day after day, for an entire week, Lord Buddha gazed upon the tree, without blinking once. 

Tree. Inanimate. Symbolic.  One might say it was unnecessary for someone who has vanquished his kleshas, but then again, it also indicates ‘teacher’ and exemplifies the virtue of humility.

Gratitude is rare.  We prefer to indulge ourselves by believing that are achievements are self-wrought.  I am thinking of gratitude and remembered Lord Buddha’s sath sathiya (the Seven Weeks post-Enlightenment) and especially the first week where the focus was on unwavering appreciation because of a man called Susantha Karunaratne.

I met Susantha because his 7 year old daughter, Yathra, was representing Sri Lanka in the Girls Under 8 category at the World Youth Chess Championship. Yathra is the current Girls Under 8 Chess Champion of Sri Lanka.  This doesn’t say much because at that age, it is more luck than anything else that sees someone win and another lose.  It is more about the other person making a blunder than one’s chess skills.  Still, ‘Champion’ does have market value and parents do market such things to get their children into better or at least more popular schools. 

Yathra attends a primary school in Kurunegala.  Susantha, like his wife, is an artist. He used to do some work in advertising, graphic design and printing, but had ‘retired’ recently because he, like his wife, wanted to pursue his passion, painting.  They are not super wealthy and live frugal and simple lives, not necessarily out of poverty as out of choice.

I assumed that the girl was attending a big-name school in Kurunegala. ‘Maliyadeva Balika?’ I asked the father. He said ‘no’ and explained.

‘It is possible to get her into Maliyadeva because of her achievements, but we thought this was wrong.  She goes to a primary school in Kurunegala. It is a good school. The principal has done a lot of hard work to turn the school into what it is now.  He has helped Yathra a lot. He encouraged her and gave her a lot of recognition.  The entire school knows her.  It would be wrong to abandon this school for a big school now. It is a primary school. Once she finishes the 5th year we can try to put her into Maliyadeva.  We are grateful for what this school has given our daughter.’

The Karunaratnes live in Kalugamuwa, located between Narammala and Kurunegala.  Yathra is a Grade 3 student at the S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike Model Priimary School in Wehera, Kurunegala.  According to Susantha, this was a school that had been on the verge of being shut down.  It had been revived 4 years previously and much work had been put in to make it a school that parents consider sending their children to. 

Wijayananda Dharmasena, the Principal of the school, I am sure, is old enough and wise enough to understand that people like to graze on greener pastures.  I feel that at the back of his mind, he must have wondered how long young Yathra would remain in his school.  He must be proud, though. 

Susantha Karunaratne is a self-effacing man who is highly talented. He can paint. He writes poetry. He is soft-spoken. He can crack a joke and he can laugh. He is simplicity personified.  He is not at all interested in changing the world to fit his dimensions of perfection. He is not a teacher. He is just himself.   

Susantha and his wife, I feel, gaze upon this school in a manner that is not too dissimilar from Lord Buddha’s gaze on the tree Ajapal. There’s gratitude. Humility. Example. A lesson.  Some would say, ‘bodhisatva gunaya’ or exemplifying the virtues of a to-be Buddha.  Susantha would laugh and say ‘you are kind and good-hearted’ to such a person. 

This was first published in the Daily News on November 6, 2010
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