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Meet Gandhi of Sri Lanka: AT Ariyaratne

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Sri Lankan
Photo: sarvodya.org

By Aanya Wipulasena

Moratuwa, Sri Lanka: The Gandhi of Sri Lanka, an 84-year-old Buddhist who has worked for nearly 60 years to bring education to rural areas, is stepping up his public role. Appointed late last year as one of three civil society representatives to Sri Lankas Constitutional Council, A. T. Ariyaratne now helps ensure democratic rule and good governance by taking a primary hand in appointing high-ranking public officials.

But the revered peace advocate remains dedicated to his grassroots efforts, which he says are steeped in his personal heritage.

I was born in a village and I know how important it is to empower people at the root level for real development, Ariyaratne says.

Ariyaratne is from Unawatuna, a small coastal village in Sri Lankas south. He became a science teacher at Nalanda College, a boys school in Colombo and, in 1958, he led a group of teachers and students in a program to help students in a remote village in Kurunegala District, in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka. That was the first of many trips by groups to help rural schools, and soon, the focus expanded from education to overall improvement of life in remote villages.

That work became Lanka Jatika Sarvodaya Shramadana Sangamaya, a social service organization known in Sri Lanka as simply Sarvodaya, which means awakening of all in Sanskrit. Ariyaratne is its founder and president.

The child development center represents just one type of Sarvodayas work. Villages submit requests for specific projects, whether a new well, medical clinic or other infrastructure or development. Projects are built by volunteers from all over the country. Sarvodaya District Centers also identify projects in needy areas.

In the process, people build bonds across religious and ethnic barriers, Ariyaratne says.

Caste, creed or religion does not affect us, he says.

For Buddhists, the Sarvodaya movement is an avenue for learning more about their religion.

A. Perera, a former additional secretary to the Ministry of Education and a former director general of the National Institute of Education, says that though he was born a Buddhist, he didnt understand the essence of Buddhism until he met Ariyaratne in Sarvodayas early years.

As a youth, Perera, now 85, joined his grandmother in worshipping at the temple every Full Moon Poya Day, which is a Buddhist religious holiday in Sri Lanka. But he only carried out these outward gestures of Buddhism, to identify as a Buddhist, rather than to live as one. Perera says his focus was earning money.

Ariyaratne, on the other hand, lived out the Buddhist principles that were preached in the temples, Perera says.

He takes Buddhist principles and applies them in daily life and communal work, Perera says.

Ariyaratnes message of serving people challenged his single-minded focus on income, Perera says.

Until I joined Ariyaratne at Sarvodaya I was finance-oriented and did not have any spiritual development, Perera says. Ariyaratne changed these attitudes in people.

Perera has been working closely with Ariyaratne since that time, both as a volunteer and, at one time, as Sarvodayas general secretary.

Ariyaratne stands apart from other social leaders because he treats everyone he meets with equal respect, says Fazrul Rahman, the senior chief moulavi (Islamic leader) of Kandy, the capital city of the Central Province and one of Sri Lankas major cities. He has been partnering with Sarvodaya for more than 15 years.

What Ariyaratne follows applies to Islam, Hinduism or Christianity alike, he says in a phone interview.

Ariyaratnes wife of 55 years, Neetha Dhammachari Ariyaratne, 73, says her husband lives out his beliefs in everyday life. Their six children grew up with children from various ethnicities and social backgrounds, she says.

Not once did he stop our children from interacting with others, she says. And the children did not need lessons of religious harmony 8211; they saw how their father did it and followed his steps.

In spite of the accolades and high position, Ariyaratne says his wish remains the same as when he began his community work more than 50 years ago.

I want everybody who comes in contact with me to look at the world and society with loving kindness, he says. Then translate that loving kindness into compassionate activities.

(The story originally appeared in bignewsnetwork.com)

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Lost in Time : The Less Explored Pamban Island and the Rameswaram Island | Travelogue

The land of temples, picturesque locales, architecture, and the home of the 'Missile Man' of India - welcome to the Rameswaram Island!

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Rameswaram island
We take you through a town lost in time, Dhanushkodi in Rameswaram island. Wikimedia

Rameswaram, September 15, 2017 : Off the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, some 500 km south of Chennai, lies Pamban Island. Seemingly a stone’s throw from neighboring Sri Lanka, this is an island steeped in historical significance, and with some of the most resilient people alive.

One of the longest sea bridges in the country, the iconic Pamban Bridge connects the mainland with the island, also known as Rameswaram Island. With breathtaking views of the Bay of Bengal, the journey to the island over this bridge rewinds one to colonial times, when it was built by the British to improve trade relations with Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Built in 1914 as India’s first-ever sea bridge, the 6,700-foot structure is in itself an engineering and historical marvel that has withstood several of nature’s furies — from storms to cyclones.

Rameswaram island
An overview of the Pamban Brindge. Wikimedia

The bridge initially ran up to the southeastern tip of the island, Dhanushkodi, now a ghost town. After a cyclone hit it in 1964, Dhanushkodi was washed away by the sea and is now a mere skeleton of the town it once was.

Remnants of its railway lines, church and the devastated dwellings of people can still be seen, though in very poor shape.

From the tip of the region, cell phone networks welcome one to Sri Lanka.

Visible from here is the Adam’s Bridge — a former land link between India and Sri Lanka, now undersea — that is also known as Rama Setu, the bridge believed to have been built by Lord Rama’s army to rescue Sita from Lanka.

Nambavel, a 50-year-old, says there can be no other home for him than Dhanushkodi, of pristine waters and picturesque views of the Bay of Bengal. Three generations of his family have lived here. Although the deadly cyclone forced many to migrate to villages around, some 50 families, including Nambavel’s, refused to leave.

“This has been our home for as long as we’ve known. We grew up playing in the sea water, then learnt to make our living through fishing or running petty shops,” Nambavel told this visiting IANS correspondent.

Rameswaram island
Residents of Dhanushkodi refuse to abandon their small town; for them the “sea is everything”. Wikimedia

“Even as many people we know migrated to nearby villages, there’s no home like Dhanushkodi for us — the sea is everything,” he said.

With sea levels rising around the world due to global warming, the region is constantly threatened by nature. But that does not deter Nambavel: “Even if another cyclone is close, most of us would like to be here, a land we’ve grown up in.”

Surrounded by sea and sand, the town cannot grow any crops and has no provision for electricity due to the wind velocity in the area. It is only the solar panels, an initiative of late President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam who hailed from Rameswaram, that light up the shacks of the few residents.

With Rameswaram considered one of the holiest places for Hindus, a majority of visitors make temples the focus of their travels.

Aiming to showcase the rich cultural and historical heritage of the island, apart from the much-visited temples, Utsa Majumder, the General Manager of the newly-launched Hyatt Place, Rameswaram, is working extensively on various itineraries that uncover the untrodden places in and around the region.

“There’s a lot more that the Rameswaram Island can offer than just the temples it is mostly known for. We want people to know that Rameswaram can be an experiential destination and not just a pilgrimage spot,” Majumder told IANS.

“From historic places that have stood the test of time to some incredible architecture and engineering like the Pamban Bridge, there’s a lot a tourist can see here,” she added.

The hotel offers these itineraries to travelers according to their interests, allowing them to explore different facets of the region, along with menus that present the cuisines of the land — from kuzhi paniyaram (rice batter dumplings) to kara kozhumbu (a spicy tamarind gravy).

Rameswaram Island
Local cuisine at Dhanushkodi. Wikimedia

The region also celebrates its much-beloved son Abdul Kalam. His two-storeyed house on Mosque Street is filled with thousands of his books and is always bustling with people.

A Rs 15-crore memorial to India’s “Missile Man”, inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 27, has also grown rather quickly as a tourist attraction. The memorial houses a copy of the last speech Kalam delivered at IIM-Shillong on July 27, 2015, a number of pictures of his meetings with world leaders, and a host of other objects.

As an island that is yearning to receive a boost to its tourism, even a bottle of water bought from a shack in Dhanushkodi goes towards supporting a family.

FAQs:

Reaching there: Flights to Madurai, the nearest airport, from all major cities. From Madurai, Rameswaram can be reached in 3 hrs 30 min (160 kms) by road.

For the picturesque views from a train, pick one that is available almost every hour to Rameswaram from Madurai Railway Station.

Stay: There are four-star, three-star hotels and smaller lodges in the town.

Best time to visit: October to March as the temperatures drop and stay between 20 to 30 degrees C, making travel easier. (IANS)

 

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Divert a Portion of Peacekeeping Budget to Under-Funded Peace-Building Activities: India

India highlights huge mismatch b/w funds for peacekeeping & peace-building among challenges for sustaining peace

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un human rights council
UN General Assembly elect 15 new members of Human Rights Council. Wikimedia
  • The 2017-18 UN budget for peacekeeping operations is $7.3 billion
  • Peacekeeping operations rely on the deployment of troops contributed by member-nations to try to physically prevent conflict
  • Peace-building and finding political solutions require civilian developmental, diplomatic and institution-building resources

United Nations, Aug 30, 2017: India has suggested diverting a portion of the peacekeeping budget to the under-funded peace-building activities because there can be lasting peace only with development and political solutions.

Criticising UN peacekeeping, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative Tanmaya Lal called on Tuesday for reforming the operations to align them with peace-building objectives and finding political solutions to conflicts — a view shared by UN experts and several countries, including the US.

“There is an obvious lack of appropriate investment into the political dialogue and a huge mismatch between resource allocation for peacekeeping and peace-building,” he told a Security Council debate on peacekeeping and sustaining peace.

While this problem was acknowledged, only lip service was paid finding the resources, he said.

Lal noted that only meagre resources are now available for development programmes and peace-building is allocated less than one per cent of the funds set aside for peacekeeping.

The 2017-18 UN budget for peacekeeping operations is $7.3 billion.

Therefore, he said: “We may consider whether the allocation of an appropriate percentage of funds from the peacekeeping budget to activities related to peace-building and sustaining peace in those situations could be an option to move forward to achieve sustaining peace in the various intra-state conflicts we are facing.”

“The long extending peacekeeping missions that go on for decades and elusive political solutions remind us the need to focus on long-term investment in sustainable development or institution building and inclusive political processes,” he added.

While peacekeeping operations rely on the deployment of troops contributed by member-nations to try to physically prevent conflict, peace-building and finding political solutions require civilian developmental, diplomatic and institution-building resources.

Lal welcomed Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s idea of ensuring greater cooperation between different departments of the UN, in particular bringing together the department of political affairs and peacekeeping operations for closer internal coordination, to effectively carry out its role of ensuring peace and security.

The Chair of Advisory Group of Experts on UN Peacebuilding Architecture Review, Gert Rosenthal, pointed out that organisationally the responsibilities for peacekeeping and development were split between the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council and the General Assembly.

“While there is considerable overlapping in carrying out these functions, generally the traditional ‘pillars’ of peace, human rights and development do operate in the proverbial ‘silos’ we all sadly have become accustomed to,” he said.

Also Read: UN Human Rights Chief Urges Iraqi Government to help Victims of Islamic State (ISIS) Sex Abuse 

“Peacekeeping missions alone cannot produce lasting peace,” US Permanent Representative Nikki Haley said.

“They can help create space for peace to take hold, but they must be a part of a larger strategy of coordinating the resources of the UN to prevent conflict to begin with and to address its causes,” she said.

Haley called for “a larger strategy of coordinating the resources of the UN to prevent conflict to begin with and to address its causes”.

Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed said that the Security Council should set realistic, up-to-date mandates that also have the flexibility to evolve over time.

“Looking ahead, we must work together to ensure that peacekeeping lives up to its full potential as an essential tool for sustaining peace, not in isolation, but as part of our new, integrated approach,” she said.

Lal also drew attention to a major challenge to peacekeeping which has changed its very nature — armed conflicts taking place within a country often involving non-state actors and international terrorist networks.

A member of the UN’s High-level Independent Panel on Peace Operations, Youssef Mahmoud, acknowledged this fact. He said: “Given that the drivers of instability tend to be transnational in origin and effect, the analysis should assess the drivers of peace and conflict from a regional perspective.” (IANS)

 

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Why is Spirituality Independent of any Religion? Read Here!

Bypassing difficult certainties and the truth of the human condition or getting a handle on at transient or deceptive joys both in the long run lead to misery and disappointment

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Spirituality and religion
Spirituality does not need religion. Pixabay
  • The Buddha didn’t encourage open deliberations around the idea of a “Self” or Atman
  • The upheaval of the Buddha was encouraging his voyagers to shed their individual histories and the aggregated baggage of custom
  • it is vital to remember the inherent holiness of human life and the glue that ties all of us together

New Delhi, July 29, 2017: Wise men frequently talk about the evasive present, a transient piece of time that vanishes the minute one endeavors to bind it. It is the thing that spiritualists have endeavored to verbalize, at times using words, and frequently without them.

Is it safe to say that it isn’t a paradoxical expression to touch base at the nonconceptual state portrayed by soothsayers through the guide of concepts?

Koans are utilized by Zen Buddhists for expression of the inconceivable. For Instance, “What is the sound of one hand clapping? It is a rhetorical question, meant to evoke a moment of Satorior momentary realization when one has the experience of the ‘NOW’ between thoughts which the statement evokes.”

ALSO READ: Ram Sethu: Why the Spiritual Importance attached to it is Debatable!

The Buddha didn’t encourage open deliberations around the idea of Atman or a “Self”, not on the grounds that he didn’t have confidence in that, but rather in light of the fact that he knew very well indeed the pointlessness of utilizing ideas to touch base at a nonconceptual state. Most importantly he focused on the significance of landing at an individual comprehension of reality; checking truth for yourself as opposed to relying upon literary expert or what somebody may have recorded thousand years back.

A Bodhisattva plays out a spiritual practice for testing situations like battle areas, brothels and untouchable provinces, comprehending agony and delight, aversion, and longing for, “sacred” and “profane” are insignificant constructs that must be broken up to land at reality.

Bypassing difficult certainties and the truth of the condition of human or getting a handle on at deceptive or transient joys both in the long run can lead to misery and disappointment.

People get a handle on at religion and gratification for the very same reasons – so as to accomplish transitory help or maybe freedom from the torment of the condition of human and be informed that all is going to be well only if a particular path or a particular Guru is followed, or change over to Scientology, Hinduism, Christianity or Islam.

The Buddha’s revolution was to motivate his fellow voyagers to shed down their past and the aggregated baggage of custom, as he considered them to be nothing more than hindrances to spiritual development, and make on caught up in the jail of desiring and aversion, feelings of grievances and spite.

As the maxim says, “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.” A point in the trip comes where the Buddha also ends up noticeably superfluous and can be abstained from.

He urged us to face reality. For instance, in the event that one feeling low, under the heavy baggage of one’s issues, it is very likely to be unhelpful to get a religious content on unique ideas of “enlightenment” believing that this will improve the circumstance. Despite what might be expected we are suggested to do meditation during upsetting sensations, clinically watch them, face them and remain with them for whatever length of time they are present; without grasping, judgment or aversion.

When we follow this for a sufficient duration; see our mental tides rising and falling and prepare ourselves to watch them as waves on a sea, composure, and peace will become conceivable. More essentially, compromise with the present minute, not getting away or fantasizing over the Shangri-La which the scriptures guaranteed.

The significant insight bestowed by the Indian seers to us  can be an impetus for individual change yet can likewise be utilized for spiritual bypassing, an expression which alludes to the utilization of spiritual practices as well as ideas as an instrument of denial – to abstain from managing uncomfortable sentiments, uncertain injuries, subdued traumas and essential psychological and emotional needs.

While exploring the regularly muddled and complicated world we occupy, it is vital to help ourselves on numerous occasions to remember the inherent holiness of this life along with the glue that ties all of us together.

-prepared by Harsimran Kaur of NewsGram. Twitter @Hkaur1025