Satyagraha For War?

Protest for ending the cease-fire, from my office


Once, cause Amma told me to, I went to a monastery. It was only one and a half days, nothing in terms of meditation, but it changed the way I saw everything. I’d learned about Buddhism since I was young and respected it as a philosophy, but I never really understood it as a practice until I meditated. And then I understood a lot better, and loved it. After that I meditated every day, until that and my general focus disappated. However, what I do remember, longingly, is that when I meditated and really tried, I could feel connected to and even love everything around me, including the bad. And by love I simply mean understand, not judge, but to simply accept, without fear or reservation. I’ve started meditating again, to get through some stuff but there is one thing I don’t understand. I don’t understand how Buddhism can justify violence in any form, and how monks could ever take a political stance calling for outright war.

One Precept

I’m not the best Buddhist by far, but I do remember at least the first precept. Do not kill. Specifically, to refrain from taking the life of living beings. This, like most things in Buddhism, is intensely personal and not really political. Going out and protesting against a cease-fire is a very worldly position (and defendable in that context) but in no way does it flow from Buddhism. The Buddha was pretty clear about the non-violence bit, and the right speech. Monks themselves don’t go to war, but I don’t see how they can advocate a violent situation. Again, note that I’m not saying war isn’t a defensible solution, I’m just saying it has nothing to do with Buddhism.

Satyagraha

Another bit of cognitive dissonance is the fact that the National Bhikku Front (another WTF in itself) calls this a Satyagraha. Now, Satyagraha is a philosophy of non-violent resistance pioneered by Mahatama Gandhi. I’m no expert, but here’s what he had to say,

In the application of Satyagraha, I discovered, in the earliest stages, that pursuit of Truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one’s opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For, what appears to be truth to the one may appear to be error to the other. And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of Truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but one’s own self.

Now, um, correct me while I wrap my brain around this, but these monks are staging a Satyagraha for… violence? As far as I can tell these protests are just that, garden variety protests. They aren’t a social movement in any sense, it’s just political pressure on the President, who isn’t really the opponent here. If they wanted to stage a real Satyagraha of self-sacrifice they’d go peacefully to Killinochi and take whatever comes with love and humility. Instead they’re advocating bombing the shit out of the place. By this definition a General could be staging Satyagraha if they don’t shout their orders.

Satyagraha is actually a holistic movement towards broad social and spiritual change, it’s not a simple tool to be used for whatever political means come along. It’s certainly not a means to violence.

The National Bhikku Front is a betrayal of both Buddhism and Satyagraha. Both are words and ideas deeply rooted in non-violence, and they have made them into so much cannon fodder. I do not object to their desire to end the cease-fire, I think that’s a defensible position. Not one I agree with, but defensible. However, I deeply object to their corruption of language, common sense and the Buddhist faith in order to advance political ends. In this world violence is a political reality and abrogating the Cease Fire may be a good idea. However, these are political positions and they have nothing to do with Buddhism and they have nothing to do with Satyagraha. In fact, they run contrary to the very spirit and letter of both. True Buddhism and true Satyagraha is a noble and effective path which we do not have the courage to walk in Sri Lanka. The least we could do is respect the names.

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37 Comments »

Java Jones
2007-02-23 05:42:38

The bigger problem is that the Sangha is doing nothing to cleanse the order of such a schism. One would hope that there are at least a few ‘elders’ within the hierarchy of priests who would try to preserve the purity of the Theravada teachings, but from all the evidence around us the rot persists.

 
2007-02-23 09:51:04

[...] blog posts Blogger Indrajit Samarajiva’s post on violence and Buddhism captures, as he succinctly calls it, the cognitive dissonance of Buddhist monks in support of [...]

 
2007-02-23 10:57:53

That’s why I don’t believe this is any longer a Buddhist country. Buddhists are people who truly adopt Buddhism in to their lives. How on earth could we call this a Buddhist country when even the monks doesn’t do that?
In my view, being a person who calls him/her self a Buddhist and not practicing it is worse than being an anti-Buddhist.

 
2007-02-23 11:02:57

What I find equally upsetting as the other monks being silent on this, is the normal population accepting this as a completely normal. I mean really WTF?

 
Fakri
2007-02-23 12:41:14

Couldnt agree more indi…its an absolute travesty that they are able to get away with this blatant hypocrisy …is this what our clergy have come to? Java Jones and Ravana are right, why don’t the Mahanayakes say anything as the leaders within the clergy?Surely the values of the National Bhikku Front directly tear at the very heart of Buddhism. Somewhere down the line buddhism and nationalism have got intertwined for the sake of political expediency and the clergy have all been complicit in this act of high treason.

So much for enlightenment.

 
NKR
2007-02-23 12:44:14

But who’s going to make that statement?

The mahanayakes are all political animals with their own agendas. The UNP has never been able to take these events and turn them around for PR purposes. The core Mahindians will tacitly encourage this to justify their own actions.

None of the significant political actors will call attention to how ridiculous this is.

 
Drunk at work
2007-02-23 14:44:45

The monks have no idea as to what their role is society is. They in my opinion are the most pampered, politically biased and selfish buddhist priest that exist in the world, not all but most of them. Their status is determined by what car they get picked up in these days, most of the high priests opting to travel in Montero’s, WTF? The system is so fucked up (high prests reaching mafia status) that it trickles down to the podi hamuduruwo’s.
It ultimately boils down to the fact that most Sri Lankans don’t have a strong sense of self worth so they sway in the wind and latch on to the only thing that can save them, this factor is also applicable to priests…

 
2007-02-23 18:03:55

Yeah, but surely there are millions of normal everyday Buddhists in this country who are not priests and who have no political ambitions who are able to voice their disgust at this on the media? Where are the letters to the editors?

Hamburg****
2007-02-25 16:46:30

Why should Sri Lankans be disgusted to see Sri Lankan citizens voicing their opinions in a non-violent fashion? Unless of course, Sri Lankans are disgusted with democracy?

 
 
2007-02-23 18:27:14

Just come to think of it – had not Indi blogged about it, would I have ever written any thing about it? I doubt. So wouldn’t most of the others. That’s the same reason why nobody protests against it. They need some one to lead them. But unfortunately, people who come forward to lead, most of the time has political propagandas..

 
2007-02-23 19:03:04

So, ‘IP to Nation’ is working , isn’t it? Cool. Previously saw it only on Ahmadinejad’s blog I think..

 
Java Jones
2007-02-24 11:31:59

This only reinforces my view that most folks treat commenting and/or expressing their views on of matters of ‘religion’ as a kinda taboo subject. My post on the proliferation of amplified stuff that comes mainly from temples and mosques with total disregard for the privacy of individuals drew very few comments. My post on religion resulted in very few comments – particularly about the sick practice of politicians trooping into the inner sanctums to get blessings of the ‘priests’, offering poojas (bribes?) for all manner of favours, etc. I think it has to do with fear – of rocking that ‘religious’ boat, of “God”, who may just set off a lightening bolt to strike the doubter down, or of others’ views of the particular criticism. Many folk would agree that certain ‘religious’ practices are worthless, but few have the guts to come out and express themselves – too fucking bad for the rest of us! All of the letters I sent to the press about ‘Buddhism’ and its perversion were left unpublished, It just goes to show how much doubt and fear is generated through blind faith!

Hamburg*****
2007-02-25 16:48:36

Perhaps the press thought that you were being a bigot about Buddhism. I hope you sent the same amount of letters to the press about “Christianity” and its ‘perversion’ as well.

 
 
Hamburg
2007-02-25 15:04:51

Get over it. Sri Lanka is a democratic country and people have the right to protest if they so wish. Why get into a huff and a puff when people exercise their rights in a democratic country in a democratic way? Would you rather people take to arms, claymore mines, suicide bombers and child soldiers to get their voice heard? Why should monks be barred from the democratic process if they are fully fledged citizens of Sri Lanka?

I find it hilarious how people sit in their armchairs and criticize others for being “bad Buddhists” when they themselves don’t even follow the 5 precepts (which are the basics required of a Buddhist). Take Indi for example, glug glug glug with the alcohol even when it’s the 5th precept. Heck, lots of so-called Buddhists do it. Change yourself and your own hypocrisy before pointing out flaws in others, otherwise you just end up sounding like a self-righteous bigot.

By the way, take a look at this picture:

http://lankatruth.com/photos/pnm/protest/20070222/DSC_8686.jpg

It’s people from the same protest Indi is referring to above. Note the Christian priest and the Muslim Imam?

Then take a look at this picture here:

http://www.independentsl.com/photo/bishop2.jpg

It’s a pic of Catholic Priests clamouring for war and singing hossanas to Prabhakaran.

But of course, Indi wouldn’t dare to criticize their participation in politics. Wonder why.

 
2007-02-25 15:36:13

The post of indi, in my view, was more on whether it’s correct for Buddhist monks to do “sathyagraha” according to Buddhism rather than whether it’s correct according to the constitution of the country.
The basic requirement to be a Buddhist is not to follow the 5 precepts; it’s to seek refuge only in the triple gem. Keeping the precepts is the practice of seela, which is just one element out of three (seela, Samadhi, panna) of the doctrine taught by the Buddha.

Hamburg*
2007-02-25 15:47:40

But Sri Lanka is not a feudalistic India of 2500 years ago. It is a democratic country where its people have rights. If monks want to take part in the democratic process then they are free to do so as Sri Lankan citizens. If monks want to take part in a non-violent Satyagraha, what should be the problem? Would you rather have them set off claymore mines in the city or place bombs on buses and trains? Much better to have a non-violent Satyagraha, is it not? How do you suppose monks should protest or voice their opinion? Let me hear a better idea, and “monks should stick to preaching and meditation” is not a solution in this day and age.

I’m sorry but I see a basic requirement of a Buddhist layperson is to follow the 5 precepts. Even under your conditions Indi is no practicing Buddhist since he gushes on about God (see his previous posts). Buddhists do not go to refuge in a God whether it be the Christian God, Muslim God or whatever.

 
 
2007-02-25 16:04:26

:D he he.. no argument on that.

But a Buddhist monk represents the doctrine taught by the Buddha. When a lay person becomes a monk they pledge to follow that doctrine. So if they divert from that – which is democratically ok – they become unsuitable to represent that doctrine. And it is democratically correct, if some one oppose such people representing the doctrine that they believe in…

Hamburg**
2007-02-25 16:13:48

Are you not aware of the basic Buddhist teaching of anicca (impermanence)? Once again, we are not living in an India of 1000 years ago. If you want to bottle Buddhism and keep it in a museum, then that is your perogative. But like everything else it changes with time and will continue to change – whether you like it or not, I’m afraid. Where exactly does Buddhism teach that holding a Satyagraha is wrong? Once again, can you please come up with a better way for Buddhist monks to protest? If you do not want them to protest non-violently, how exactly do you want them to protest? Are you actually going to argue that you would prefer to see them protest violently? Or do you want to prohibit them from opening their mouth and airing their views and convert Sri Lanka into a facist state?

2007-02-25 16:28:11

Ye every thing change according to Buddhism, except for the four noble truths. And Buddhists should be trying to understand those than fighting over the impermanent. And when it comes to Buddhist monks, they have a responsibility of doing so than lay people because they have to represent that doctrine.
I’m not arguing that there should be a better way for the monks to protest against something, but saying that monks should not be involved in such protests.
So to answer your question, I’m not saying that they should be violent no that they shouldn’t express their ideas. They should express their ideas only in the form of advises. And if the lay people don’t follow their advise, they shouldn’t go on to protest or fight against but should simply go back to their practice.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
Hamburg***
2007-02-25 16:42:48

Sorry but Buddhist monks are not the only “representatives” of Buddhism. Did you come up with this idea? Buddhist lay people who profess Buddhism and claim to be Buddhists are just as much “representatives” of Buddhism as are monks. What are your opinions on all our Buddhist soldiers in the army? How about Buddhist army commanders? As Buddhists shouldn’t they be practicing Buddhism and not bringing a ‘bad name’ to Buddhism? Why, they are much worse that our monks, then, aren’t they? Killing, butchering and bombing human beings while claiming to be Buddhists.

It is not up to you to decide for other people what they should or shouldn’t do. In Buddhism, people have free will to choose what they want to do. As a Buddhist – at least a claimed practicing Buddhist – you should learn to accept what other people choose to do out of their own free will (upekkha). According to Buddhist teaching, you are not an heir to the actions of others.

In my opinion your vision of what Buddhist monks should be seems to be an anachronistic vision that does not take into account the realities of the modern world or modern democracy or the history of Sri Lanka.

I would love to see you become a monk and see how you practice what you preach. Ditto for Indi.

2007-02-25 17:22:55

but Buddhist monks are not the only “representatives” of Buddhism – True

Did you come up with this idea? No I did not

Buddhist lay people who profess Buddhism and claim to be Buddhists are just as much “representatives” of Buddhism as are monks. – I disagree, whilst the lay do represent what they believe, monks do have a more superior role and a responsibility in the Buddhist society.

What are your opinions on all our Buddhist soldiers in the army? – Are you asking whether I think those who claim to be Buddhists are Buddhists? Then – no. Not based on the grounds that they break the precepts but based on the grounds they seek refuge in others than the triple gem. As I stated in my very first comment, I don’t believe this is a majority Buddhist country.

As Buddhists shouldn’t they be practicing Buddhism and not bringing a ‘bad name’ to Buddhism? Why, they are much worse that our monks, then, aren’t they? Killing, butchering and bombing human beings while claiming to be Buddhists. – Killing is a sin (for which negative karma is accumulated and you would suffer), but that doesn’t stop any one from being a Buddhist. But if a monk kills (after becoming a monk) then that disqualifies him from being a monk. – that’s in the sutta’s.

It is not up to you to decide for other people what they should or shouldn’t do. – Exactly. It’s not for me to decide what other’s should do. But I have the right to express what I think right and wrong according to the doctrine I believe in.

In Buddhism, people have free will to choose what they want to do. As a Buddhist – at least a claimed practicing Buddhist – you should learn to accept what other people choose to do out of their own free will (upekkha). According to Buddhist teaching, you are not an heir to the actions of others. – Correct again (but I don’t recall claiming to be a practicing Buddhist), but you are misinterpreting, they can do what ever they want, but I have the right to express that it’s wrong by the doctrine that I understand, just as you understood it’s wrong to kill by Buddhism.

In my opinion your vision of what Buddhist monks should be seems to be an anachronistic vision that does not take into account the realities of the modern world or modern democracy or the history of Sri Lanka. – Buddha clearly preached how monks could adopt to the changes of their society. And in my understanding the act of protesting against some political issue is clearly not acceptable in that guidance.

I would love to see you become a monk and see how you practice what you preach. Ditto for Indi. – I’m not preaching, but simply expressing; and I have given up the idea of becoming a monk as well :D at least for some time…

 
 
 
 
 
Hamburg*+
2007-02-25 17:38:03

That monks have a “superior role” and “responsibilty” (whatever that means) does not negate the fact Buddhist lay people are representatives of the religion they claim to follow. I have no idea how you can justifiably claim otherwise. And in whom or what do our Buddhist soliders take refuge in, according to you?

Regarding the rule on monks and killing, it’s not found in the suttas, it’s found in the Vinaya Pitaka.

I have no idea why you seem to believe that I am against freedom of expression or your right to express your opinions – especially since I am arguing that monks have the right to express themselves like all other Sri Lankan citizens. How exactly did the Buddha clearly preach “how monks could adopt to the changes of their society”? If protesting against some political issue is clearly not acceptable, then Buddhism is anti-democratic. Is that what your understanding of Buddhism is? That it is incompatible with modern democracy?

2007-02-25 17:54:25

I’m claiming that many who claim to be Buddhists are not. I’m not limiting that to soldiers.

Killing is wrong done by lay or clergy. But when clergy does that they become unsuitable to be clergy. Why?

I never told that any one is against my freedom of expression. Which statement made you interpret that?

Democracy came after Buddhism. And they serve two different purposes. Democracy doesn’t say it’s wrong for a soldier to kill the enemy; Buddhism says it’s wrong to kill (Note the word soldier is not mentioned). If you are interested in Buddhism, there are enough resources for you to learn. If you want monks to protest or to protect their right to protest, by all means go ahead. No one’s going to stop you. But that doesn’t make it right.

Hamburg++
2007-02-25 18:01:07

“I’m claiming that many who claim to be Buddhists are not. I’m not limiting that to soldiers.”

Yes. Including people like Indi who point at others, but are lacking themselves when it comes to practicing what they preach.

“Killing is wrong done by lay or clergy. But when clergy does that they become unsuitable to be clergy. Why?”

Isn’t this a question that should be put to the Buddha who supposedly came up with the rules?

“I never told that any one is against my freedom of expression. Which statement made you interpret that?”

You are going on and on about how you have a right to express your opinion. Well, I am not against that despite what you seem to believe.

And according to whom is it “wrong” to protest?

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2007-02-25 18:09:51

Isn’t this a question that should be put to the Buddha who supposedly came up with the rules? – Since it’s not possible to ask the question from the Buddha, all we can do is to judge by the Dharma we understand.

And according to whom is it “wrong” to protest? – According to the little amount of dhamma I know and understand.

Hamburg++
2007-02-25 18:13:46

“Since it’s not possible to ask the question from the Buddha, all we can do is to judge by the Dharma we understand.”

Which is at best a personal judgement. Just like all the different interpretations of the Bible and the Quran.

“According to the little amount of dhamma I know and understand”

Please explain.

 
 
2007-02-25 18:24:01

Which is at best a personal judgement. Just like all the different interpretations of the Bible and the Quran. – yes. But could buddha have preached about each and every thing that would happen in the world and how to judge them? Would he have had the time to preach how to train the mind to understand the four norble truths had he done so?

“According to the little amount of dhamma I know and understand”
Please explain. – The same way you came to judge that the monks have a right to do “sathyagraha” according to democracy.

Hamburg++
2007-02-25 18:28:07

“But could buddha have preached about each and every thing that would happen in the world and how to judge them? Would he have had the time to preach how to train the mind to understand the four norble truths had he done so?”

How does this change the fact that it is a personal judgement? You’re waffling now.

“The same way you came to judge that the monks have a right to do “sathyagraha” according to democracy.”

In other words, you have no clue, do you? I on the other hand, base my view on the idea of Sri Lanka being a democractic country where all her citizens have the right to protest, and dissent if they so wish.

 
 
2007-02-25 18:36:56

How does this change the fact that it is a personal judgement? You’re waffling now. – It’s a personal judgement based on some thing you know to be correct. So it is not “Just like all the different interpretations of the Bible and the Quran.”

In other words, you have no clue, do you? I on the other hand, base my view on the idea of Sri Lanka being a democractic country where all her citizens have the right to protest, and dissent if they so wish. – How did you come to the conclusion that a “sathyagraha” is a form of protest? Does the books of democracy carry the word “sathyagraha”?

Hamburg++
2007-02-25 18:45:42

|| It’s a personal judgement based on some thing you know to be correct. So it is not “Just like all the different interpretations of the Bible and the Quran.” ||

And you know this to be “correct” how? And yes, it’s just a personal judgement on your part, nothing more.

|| “How did you come to the conclusion that a “sathyagraha” is a form of protest? Does the books of democracy carry the word “sathyagraha”? ||

In a democracy, people have the right to protest and dissent. There need not be a book on democracy or the word sathyagraha. If people want to sit by the road side and go on a hunger strike protesting a particular issue, then they are free to do that. In your opinion, how should Buddhists protest? Or do you think Buddhists should not protest at all and just sit silently by and watch the world go by? I’m afraid you’re sounding like the frog in the well now.

 
 
2007-02-25 19:09:50

“In a democracy, people have the right to protest and dissent. There need not be a book on democracy or the word sathyagraha. ” – exactly, but I doubt your ability to relate it to your question on personal judgement, and to the rest (meaning – the answer to the personal judgement question, answer the rest)

 
2007-02-26 09:40:57

Protest is fine, but a Satyagraha is very different from a protest. The whole post is about the words, not the legitimacy of protest. A Satyagraha is a prolonged and self-suffering social movement, deeply rooted in the concept of peace. Not national defence or pride (as valid as those sentiments may be) but actual self-suffering peace, rooted in compassion for your enemy. You can’t have a Satyagraha for war, it’s an oxymoron.

 
2007-02-26 12:31:20

Skipped most of the last few comments, but one observation: Hamburg’s main counter point to Indi’s post is that since the monks are engaged in democratic protest, we shouldn’t complain about it. This is absurd.

Firstly, of course, any citizen has the democratic right of any citizen to say what they want to say. By the very same token, any other citizen can openly voice their disagreement with it. This is basically what has happened here.

Further, we are not judging the monks by the simple legal standard of an everyday citizen. They claim to be moral leaders, and therefore, we are judging them only by their lack of adherence to their stated code of moral conduct, or their stated moral philosophy, if you like.

 
2007-02-26 15:03:20

Related article in the New York Times

 
David Blacker
2007-02-26 16:09:44

I tend to agree with Ravana. Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it is right. Religious leaders have often been involved in protests (here and worldwide) and that’s fine. Religious leaders must be led by their consciences as much as anyone else. RC priests have often been criticized for their political (and often anti-govt) stance in South America and Africa, but this was often on behalf of human rights. But the main issue with these SL Buddhist priests is the subject of the protest (satyagraha or whatever). These priests are advocating war and violence, things that in fact their religion is opposed to. Yes, they’re within their rights, but if this is about rights, they should protest as private citizens and not as representatives of Buddhism.

Not everything that’s OK for the average citizen should be OK for a religious leader. For instance, it’s perfectly legal and acceptable to go nightclubbing if one wishes, but is it OK for a priest to do so? Obviously, religious leader’s are held to a higher standard (and rightly so), and are therefore much more representative of their religions than the average lay person. So the whole comment about Buddhist soldiers is obviously absurd.

 
Java Jones
2007-03-02 16:20:10

Shit! Missed all this stuf till just now. Looks like ol Hamburg is missin da forest fo dem trees! The gist of what I was commenting on is that (as David Blacker points out) is that these Buddhist priests are advocating war – and all the attendent horrors war brings with it. And what’s more, if the Sangha is concerned about the preservation of the Theravada doctrine, then they MUST stop the schism. They can’t have their cake and eat it as well. All the other crap that Hamburg is on about is totally irrellevant to this point. It has NOTHING to do with curbing freedom of expression or the right to protest – it has EVERYTHING to do with agitating against what the eightfold path recommends.

 
lankan
2007-03-22 17:16:24

Check tis out

Perhaps, this guy needed some extra money?!? next thing these guys want to do is go out clubbing /strip clubs…haha why not?! it is a democratic country, every one should have the right to do what they want!

 
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