25 July 2023

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

Nanda Malini’s album ‘Pahan Kanda’ includes a song, written of course by her principal lyrical collaborator Sunil Ariyaratne, titled ‘බෝ මැඩ වගුරන.’ It doesn’t exactly ridicule Buddhist lay practices but it laments them.

Adopting the voice of a poor mother, the song addresses the Buddhist devotee, who is urged to desist from pouring so many pots of milk to a bo tree, from the symbolic offering of food to the Buddha (buddha poojaava) and from lighting lamps and incense. The milk, the song suggests, could be given instead to her child. This ‘mother’ also suggests that the devotee toss some rice her way and that money ‘burnt’ on oil lamps, incense and such be used to placate ‘a burning person.’

This was not new back in the early 1980s when she came out with ‘Pahan Kanda.’ ‘What should Buddhists do?’ is an old question. The pursuit of truth along the Noble Eightfold Path to the exclusion of all else, is a common ‘position.’ On the other hand, the Buddha has not sanctioned or forbidden anything but instead suggests that an individual ought to figure out for him/herself what course of action is best, the consequences of which he/she would have to deal with of course.

People find succour in many form. Not all are inclined or ready to delve deep into the eternal verities. Meditation can take all forms. Lighting a lamp and reflecting on the flame could, theoretically, yield insight into the human condition. Reflecting on a floral offering could, theoretically, help one understand better the truths of birth, decay and death common to all things, ideas and rituals included.

Nanda Malini (or Sunil Ariyaratne) can critique a practice and suggest alternatives. The practitioner can embrace the suggestion. Or not.

Nanda Malini or Sunil Ariyaratne or anyone else who seem to have made a fashion out of ridiculing ‘Buddhist’ practices (in the name of ‘saving Buddhism from Buddhists’ no less) in word, tone and deed that are at odds with the kinds of approaches to things that the Buddha recommended mind you, have studiously avoided comment on similar or, in their book, even more outrageous practices of those belonging to other religious faiths.

The politics of selection, the turning of mole-hills into mountains, the belief that certain mountains are non-existent and of course the issue of ‘religious freedoms’ are all embedded in this particular discourse.

Gifts and gifting. What has the Buddha said about them? It’s all there in the Vacchagotta Sutra. Vacchagotta the Wanderer had once asked the Buddha if it is indeed true that he, the Enlightened One, had insisted, ‘gifts should be given only to me and not to others, only to my disciples and not to the disciples of others.’

The Buddha, denying having said any such thing, offers the following:

'Vaccha, anyone who prevents another person from giving alms causes obstruction and impediment to three people: he obstructs the donor from doing a meritorious deed, he obstructs
the recipient from getting the gift, and prior to that, he undermines and harms his own character. What I actually teach, Vaccha, is this: even if one throws away the rinsings from a pot
or cup into a village pool or pond, wishing that the living beings there may feed on them—even this would be a source of merit, not to speak of giving a gift to human beings.’

Thus, regardless of the nature of the gift and the object of veneration implied in the act of giving are irrelevant when it comes to obstruction. It is, simply, unwholesome.

The addendum is also very important:

'However, I do declare that offerings made to the virtuous bring rich fruit, and not so much those made to the immoral. The virtuous one has abandoned five qualities and possesses
another five qualities. What are the five qualities he has abandoned? Sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt: these are the five qualities he has
abandoned. And what are the five qualities he possesses? He possesses the virtue, concentration, wisdom, liberation, and knowledge and vision of liberation of one perfect in
training. These are the five qualities he possesses.’

It is up to each individual to make a call on virtue and the virtuous when giving is contemplated. As for those who pass judgment, deride and make self-righteous claims as well as issue directives (‘do this, and not that’) about how someone else should conduct him/herself in the use of resources that belong to the particular person, well, such people undermine themselves.

Nanda Malini and Sunil Ariyaratne aren’t exactly mocking the devout. They are, gently, suggesting an alternative. Not their business, but in the larger context of mockery practiced by the self-righteous whose selective attacks on Buddhsts also say a lot about their own virtue; they, the singer and lyricist, are hardly benign.

['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: 

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


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
The allegory of the slow road