Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 16 August 2009





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Government Gazette

Be aware of what you do

According to traditional Buddhist texts mindfulness or Satipattana means paying attention to the things that you do. There are four foundations of mindfulness: Contemplating on the body (Kayanupassana), Contemplating on the feelings (Vedananupassana), Contemplating on the mind (Cittanupassana) and Contemplating on mental phenomena (Dhammanupassana).

These four foundations of mindfulness are developed by all Buddhist practitioners. Kayanupassana is the most common meditation practice.In mindful breathing you become aware of the entire process of breathing in and breathing out while keeping your body in the correct posture.

The author has described in detail how it can be practised while walking, lying down, eating, drinking, using the bathroom or speaking.

Mindfulness can be practised towards internal aspects and the 32 parts of the body and also nine cemetery aspects. This is done by looking at a dead body in relation to one's own mortality and impermanence.

However, these are reserved only for monks.

The practice of mindfulness by looking at a dead body has given rise to the myth that Buddhism is all about death. This is evident from the other practices of mindfulness which help us to maintain our sanity and happiness. For instance, when you practise mindfulness of feelings, you become aware of your pleasant feelings. You also experience painful feelings when you undergo an unpleasant situation.

Mindfulness of consciousness is important in that the meditator knows that when the consciousness is filled with lust. This applies to other experiences such as ignorance, hatred, or restlessness. When there is mindfulness of consciousness, one does not know that one is ignorant.

According to the author, mindfulness of mental phenomenon is the final foundation. Anger, sleepiness, laziness, agitation, worry and doubt form part of mental phenomenon. Monks who practise meditation know when they experience a sense of desire or absence of desire.

The book encourages Buddhists to follow the Noble Eightfold Path to overcome suffering. The Sammasathi is the seventh path which leads to Nibbana.

Without developing Sammasathi we cannot develop Samadhi or Concentration. In fact, Buddhism is based on Sila, Samadhi, Panna meaning Morality, Concentration, and Wisdom. Thus, mindfulness is one of the main elements of the Noble Eightfold Path.

The author points out that people practise mindfulness in a non-religious context without paying attention to Samadhi or Wisdom.

Mindfulness skills are used as tools to navigate the mind to free it from stress. This is very much evident in the affluent West where people undergo a lot of stress. Therefore, mindfulness should be practised meaningfully preferably under the guidance of a teacher.

Making a comparison between the practices in the East and the West the author comes to the conclusion that the modern approach to mindfulness meditation in a non-religious context is mainly designed to reduce stress and prevent further depressive relapses. Although Buddhist mindfulness practices are similar, their final goal is to uproot mental and physical suffering. This is clearly explained in Satipattana Sutta. According to Buddhism one who practises the four foundations of mindfulness will achieve one of the highest parts of enlightenment within seven days, seven months or seven years.

Near-death experiences have drawn a lot of interest among both Buddhists and non-Buddhists. The author says that some people experience out of the body experiences due to a chemical process triggered in the brain. He has cited many incidents to support his claim.I found the chapter on euthanasia quite interesting. According to the author, euthanasia is legal in certain countries such as Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Thailand which is a Buddhist country. In these countries euthanasia is viewed as an act of loving kindness.

However, there are countless anti-euthanasia activists all over the world. For them, euthanasia is another form of suicide which goes against morality and religion.

The Buddhist point of view is very clear on this matter.

Buddhism does not approve of euthanasia in any form because it is tantamount to taking somebody's life.

Taken as a whole, A mindful journey from birth to death is a useful addition to Buddhist literature. It broadens the horizon of our knowledge in no small measure.

Glimpse into contemporary Sri Lankan writings in English

Channels, the latest volume of writings by English Writers Cooperative of Sri Lanka, apart from its literary value, offers insights into the literary landscape of English Writings in Sri Lanka.

Over the years, Sri Lankan literature in English has been growing both in terms of quality and quantity. For the latest volume, 68 entries have been selected. The anthology includes both poetry and short stories. One of the important aspects of the writings in Channels is that it contains writings on a variety of subjects ranging from experiences in exile, impressions from first person's perspective and to the reflections of poverty and war.

In the short story 'Samanmali' by Hasini Apsara Haputhanthri, the writer portrays a vividly realised character of Samanmali drawing parallels with the life in Sri Lanka and the student's life in a cosmopolitan university in the UK. The short story, which won the first place in the short story competition conducted by the English Writers Cooperative of Sri Lanka, is not a mere account of a girl who flies to the UK for higher studies and a description of student life in a university city in the UK but also a sharp social criticism on the diverse mindsets here in Sri Lanka and in the UK.

"As I stand I see them as men and women, I also see them as white, intensely aware of my brownness, when they look at me I try to sense what they see in me. Then, I also see them as artists: the way they measure my body to the proportion of their pencils; the keenness, appreciation and dispassion in their eyes; the way they step back and look at their work after two hours of concentration and fall in love with it, yet not with me. There was a short of madness in them that healed me." The author masterly portrays the mindscape of the students who see Samanmali as a model. In a strange way nudity has shed her personality; for the students, she is only a naked model. They treat her objectively. Towards the end of the story, the writer states that though the name 'Samanmali' is an ill-fitting garment, the character still wears it. The writer in a most subtle and effective manner, highlights the folly of intransigent mindsets and perceptions, sometimes, formed based on ill-conceived notion such as one's name which is often associated with the personality of the person who bears that name.

The poem 'Fatherland, motherland and other Land' by Basil Fernando, questions widely held perceptions such as those of motherland, fatherland and heroes. It is a sharp criticism on the ideology of war. The poet questions the notion that history creates heroes and then asks who creates history.

"Grateful nations kill their heroes

And sing their praises

When madness reigns

Heroes live in coffins"

The poem is an indictment against conflict. However, the poet maintains objectivity so that the poem can be universally applicable in the context of conflict. The poem , among other features, is marked for its brevity of expression and inverting widespread perceptions associated with key words such as fatherland, motherland and heroes to convey an oppositional view. Other poems on the similar themes are "Life Goes On "by Chithra Premaratne-Stuiver and "To post a Letter" by Shireen Senadhira.

Through a common place scenario of posting a letter, Shireen Senadhira portrays a picture of a ghost town with an abandoned post office in a remote hamlet of the country.

"I clutched the envelope crushed

My black ink strokes hover intensely still

Even remote hamlets are

Affected by this wonton war

The empty school house stand forlorn

Struck pink by an evening sun

I remember school children tumbling out joyously"

It is the contrasting images of happy days when schools are occupied by joyous children, which juxtapose with eerily vacant landscape that drive home destructive nature of war which is now a thing of the past. In the short story, "Playing with fire", Neluka Silva stresses the danger of having extra-marital affairs. She has particularly used techniques of flashback effectively and making the victim the narrator of the story. Neluka's short story is one of the effective short stories in the anthology.

In the poem "The Girl from the Ditch", Sakuntala Mohini Sachithanandan portrays a picture of an impoverished community in the up country plantations. M.T.M Ebell's poem 'Door' describes the story of a door. Though simple in diction, Ebell has personified 'door' and the story is told from 'door's perspective. In the poem 'Iconic Bodies', Jean Arasanayagam offers a critical view of the female body.

"I feel this curious sense of nakedness

Clothing me, now devoid of costumed artifice

That created our females ....

Women's bodies becoming the literature

Of poetic imagination carried in the back-

Packs of literary travellers migrating from

One epoch to another"

The poet states that whether these decorative embellishments had actually changed the women's bodies and their textures or 'Lives otherwise prosaic or mundane'. In a way, the poem is critical of widely held perceptions of women and those created in literature which carry from one epoch to another. The poet wants to emerge from the prototype perception of women.

'The path', a short story by Ayathurai Santhan, revisits pre-conflict Jaffna. The story unfolds with a person cycling along a path. In the course of the description of the path, the author has revisited the pre-conflict Jaffna and the painful changes brought upon the people who lived on this path.

In 'A Silver of Spice to life', Nanda Pethiyagoda narrates a story which could have happened in a rural hamlet. The poem "In memoriam" Chamali Kariyawasam poignantly recalls the fallen heroes who have made the supreme sacrificed for the motherland. The poet states that the proud lion flag unfurls as 'heroes come, bearing the wounded'.

'So sweet this blood

On the land we call home;

Bitter the sound of

Tears drip dropping"

In the short story 'The post man', Anthea Senaratna turns rather a common experience into collective experience when she recalled that post man's presence has become a part of her routine. Following the transfer of the post man, the author realised that something was missing in her life. Dushy Parakrama's "Break up", though very brief, has captured the emotional state of a woman who has just after break-up with her husband. The Channel, among other things, offers an overview of Sri Lankan contemporary writings in English. It is noteworthy that over the years, Sri Lankan writers in English have devised language and idiom in English which is capable of expressing authentic Sri Lankan life experiences in English with a remarkable degree of clarity.

A handbook of Buddhism

Maha Balawath Bodhi Pooja

M.A. Manurathna

Price: Rs. 325

Sridevi Printers PVT Ltd, Papiliyana

Conducting Bodhi Pooja has been a popular religious practice of Buddhists throughout the years. In his latest book 'Maha Balawath Bodhi Pooja', Manurathna elaborates on the effect of conducting a bodhi pooja. He also gives in detail the correct way of doing it.

The book also contains Buddhist Gathas and Suttas such as Karaneeya Meththa Sutta and Maha Mangala Sutta.The writer has written several books on Buddhism. Manurathna who holds B.A. (Special) and a Post Graduate Diploma is also the Registrar of Pasdunrata National College of Education, Kalutara.

Book launch:

'Mema Hera Liyo'

By Tharanga Ranasinghe

Godage Publication

'Mema Hera Liyo' a collection of short stories written by Tharanga Ranasinghe, will be launched on August 18 at 3.30 pm at Library Services Board Auditorium. Tharanga, a teacher and a Journalist by profession, had published two other collections of short stories and Poems, earlier.

Prominent writer Sunethra Rajakarunanayaka, novelist and critic Dr. Liyanage Amerakeerthi and critic Chinthaka Ranasingha will deliver speeches on short story and Tharanga's contribution to literature. 'Mema Hera Liyo' is a Godage Publication.



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