04 December 2023

Reflections on things left unfinished

[pic by Ruwan Balasooriya]

My sweetest childhood memories are of Kurunegala. ‘Kurunegala’ was not the capital of Wayamba for me. It was not a bustling township, not for me. Kurunegala, to me, was the home of my maternal grandparents. It was where we spent all our school holidays. It is a place of magical memories.

Among them, one which is indelibly etched in my mind is early morning pirith. It was customary for my grandfather to wake up early, his head covered with a shawl for it could be quite cold at that time and sit by the radio listening to the recitation of the thun sutra.

He didn’t turn up the volume. It didn’t make me jump out of bed. It just blended with the birdsong that indicated night was done. I didn’t know the meaning. I didn’t ask and he didn’t venture to explain. We didn’t mind.

When I was older, there were days when he would get us; that’s my sister, brother and myself; to read from the Maha Pirith Potha which contained the Mangala, Rathana and Karaniya Metta sutras. He knew these by heart. He recited along with us, pausing whenever we stumbled over a word that was particularly difficult to pronounce. We didn’t know what it meant. He didn’t tell us. We didn’t mind.

Years later, I did learn the meaning of the Pali stanzas. The music lingered though because what wafted out of that ancient radio was pleasing. And therefore from time to time some lines would pop up in my mind.

Sometimes it’s a line from the Ratana Sutra (Jewel Discourse) which is found in the Sutta Nipata and is usually chanted to bless those who face any form of evil, negativity, sickness and fear of death. I ‘hear’ the Karaniya Metta Sutra (Discourse on Loving Kindness). Today it was the Mangala Sutra (Discourse on Blessings) and I can’t really figure out why. Two verses came to me.

The first:

Pa.tiruupa-desa-vaaso ca
pubbe ca kata-puññataa
Atta-sammaa-pa.nidhi ca

Living in a civilized country, having made merit in the past,
Directing oneself rightly:
This is the highest good fortune

‘Pa.tiruupa-desa’ could be translated as ‘ideal land’ or ideal country/nation. A place, then, of wholesome social order. It’s easy to conclude, ‘we are not blessed.’  So we can ask two questions. First, is there a pa.tiruupa-desaya and if so where is it, what is its name? If there isn’t such a land, we can ask, ‘how do we create such a land?’ We could also abandon the search for a pa.tiruupa-desaya and the creation of one. The Mangala Sutra is not prescriptive after all. It simply says, if such and such things are evident, then it is a blessing.  

This side of the pursuit of enlightenment, the lay person does imagine ideal communities, ideal social systems. So it is essentially a political project. In such a land, perhaps, it is easier for people to reflect on the elements of the doctrine that could lead to ultimate emancipation. It is good to think of creating such a community and system, as advocated by the Buddha in the Chavalata Sutta (Firebrand Discourse) where four types of people are discussed: those who practices to benefit neither themselves nor others; those who practices to benefit others, but not themselves; those who practices to benefit themselves, but not others; and those who practices to benefit both themselves and others.

So, on to the second stanza that came to mind:
putta-daarassa sa"ngaho
Anaakulaa ca kammantaa

Support for one's parents, assistance to one's wife & children,
Jobs that are not left unfinished:
This is the highest good fortune.

This line in particular: anaakulaa ca kammantaa or jobs that are left unfinished. In relation to the first one referred to above, the unfinished job is that of creating the pa.tiruupa-desaya. The ‘how’ of it is a challenging task. If people knew, we would not be inhabiting this nation that is so far removed from ‘wholesome,’ and is almost the polar opposite of a pa.tiruupa-desaya.

Of course one might say that such a ‘pure land’ is an impossible proposition. And yet, we do have reference to such an abode in some Mahayana discourses where two elements are privileged, wisdom and compassion.

The fourth type of person described in the Chavalata Sutra is best prepared to undertake the task of creating the pa.tiruupa-desaya. Such a person would want to engage in practices that benefit that person as well as others.  And such a person needs to be empowered with wisdom and compassion. Thus, we can conclude that the cultivation of these is the pathway to finish the unfinished job(s) related to the pa.tiruupa-desaya.

Today, thirty one years after he passed away, I feel my grandfather’s presence and I offer him what merit has accrued to me for a swift journey to the end of samsara and for the compassion and wisdom necessary to play his part in delivering the pa.tiruupa-desaya, be it in some well-defined territory or in the more elusive land that is his mind as he listens, contemplates and acts upon conclusions reached.

While wisdom is being acquired, compassion can be wished and that could very well be what my grandfather probably wanted for himself and others.

['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 the 281st article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below]


Other articles in this series: 

Rukshan does not age

Autumn days and nights thirteen centuries apart

Texts are ancient, transcription error-ridden

The naked truth

The poetry of resistance 

Dung-lies and flower-truths

The word as a sword held to the throat of truth

Residents of and residency in heart and mind

Merit, integrity and seniority in the superior courts

Hunters and 'victims' of immemorial light

The unbearable lightness of pause

Magic carpet to Dutuwewa

Gauze, blood-stained and torn

Seasons bookeneded by leaves on park benches

Writers' blocs and dead lines  

Stop Press!

The world shall not be emptied of poetry

Reclaiming the everyday with solidarities of tender fury

An Aussie broke a SLan heart in Ind for Afg

Writing magical pieces about something beautiful when time permits

The scattered archives of art and protest

Friendship that keep friends permanently at 16

Amherst: silent, rural, poetic and serendipitous 

The virtues of unemployability

A breathless hush at the close

Ahmed Issa, fearless and audacious in Gaza

Let us take a deep breath now...

How Grolier Poetry writes 'Harvard Square'

Let us write beautiful poetry

Following children and their smiles

Let's plant words in cracks and craters

Re-weaving lives and love

When the earth closes upon us...

Let us now march to the battleground of words

The most pernicious human shield

Who bombed Frankfurter Buchmesse

The truly besieged 

Love's austere and lonely offices

The mysteriously enjoined in the middle of nowhere

Serendipity now!

Reflections on the unimaginable 

Jackson Anthony is a book and will be read 

A village called Narberth Bookshop

Gateway drugs to A-B-C

'Irvin' and other one-word poems

Earth pieces Kerala and Sri Lanka

Obligation as bomb and ocean

In the land of insomnial poets

In and out of shadows

Over to Eve

When you don't need an invitation, it's home

When the Canadian House of Commons applauded a Nazi...

Touching the touch-me-nots

The importance of not skipping steps

No free passes to the Land of Integrity

Hector Kobbekaduwa is not a building, statue, street or stamp

Rajagala and the Parable of the Panner

Let's show love to Starbucks employees!

You've got mail?

Octavio Paz and Arthur C Clarke in the stratosphere 

Enduring solidarities 

Coco 'Quotes' Gauff!

9/11 and the calm metal instrument of Salvador Allende's voice 

What a memory-keeper foregoes 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

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