13 May 2023

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable

Rock-paper-scissors is a game usually played by two people where each player simultaneously forms the shape of one of the three objects using an outstretched hand. Accordingly, a closed fist would be a rock, an open hand would be paper and a fist with the index finger and middle finger extended denoting scissors. Victory could come in one of three ways: paper would wrap rock, rock would blunt scissors and scissors would cut paper. If both choose the same shape it is a draw but would be followed by an immediate replay.

While it appears to be random, some would contend that the game can be played with skill, where one recognises and exploits the non-random behaviour in an opponent.  

It’s all about trying to get into the mind of the opponent, anticipating the next ‘move’ based on what has been ‘played’ before and quickly choosing one’s own move to trump that move.

There’s another game, if you wish to call it that, where one’s own mind is investigated and response to certain situations, events, words or actions is decided upon. This ‘game’ was not named but it could be called ‘Rock-Sand-Water.’

In the ‘Book of Threes’ (‘Thika Nipatha Paliya’) of the Anguttara Nikaya (‘The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha’), there’s mention of the Buddha employing inscriptions as an analogy to explain the different ways in which an individual could deal with anger. The recommendations consequent to the explication require no elaboration.

The Buddha spoke about three types of individuals whose response to anger is like inscriptions on a rock, in sand and in water. Accordingly, the anger of the first type remains as would an inscription on a rock. It is not quickly effaced by the action of wind or water. The anger of the second type is like an inscription on sand or soil, it doesn’t last long. Finally, the anger of the third type is like writing on water. It disappears immediately.

How does this happen? Here’s the quote from the Lekha Sutra or the Discourse on Inscriptions:

‘Where a certain individual, when spoken to roughly, harshly or in an unpleasant way is nevertheless able to be congenial, companionable and courteous, it means that he or she has cultivated the quality of dealing quickly and effectively with irksome matters or situations. 

It constitutes a rule of thumb. We could always ask ourselves ‘rock, sand or water?’ Moreover, it need not be limited to dealing with things that could cause anger. The principle has multiple applications. What do we do with grief? How do we deal with sorrow, loss or defeat? It would not be out of place to apply it to the happier flip side: joy, acquisition or victory. We might believe that dwelling on the sunny side of things cannot be harmful. True, but moderation will ensure that no one’s sentiments are hurt and it will also insure us from the potential damage that pride and inflated ego could cause.

There are accepted fist-signs for rock, paper and scissors. In the case of rock, sand and water, what is required is a mind-exercise. A bit of symbolism may not be out of place and indeed could act as an enabler. Clenched fist for rock, we could keep that. An open palm for sand. Fingers in a trembling movement for water. We would immediately understand which of these describes our response best.

Anger, hatred, jealousy, disenchantment and grief: we could etch them all on rock or, put another way, deal with them as though we have carved them deep in the mind or written them down in indelible ink.  Anger, hatred, jealousy, disenchantment and grief: we could write these down in sand and the work of wind and water will be far more swift. Anger, hatred, jealousy, disenchantment and grief: we could let the relevant words fall on water and watch them instantly disappear.

Rock, paper and scissors make an interesting game. Rock, sand and water: a game of a kind, yes, but reflection thereupon could very well placate our anger and the anger of the world.   

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart