Lester and Ivan: The Green Years

by Noel Crusz
If Lester James Peries is too well known in the film world, it is an experience to tell the story of Lester and Ivan and the green years. We all grew up together in Colombo South where the Galle Road was hardly widened and where trams ran, and schoolboys collected bus tickets to play marbles. As a student Lester always had his eyes on films.

At St. Peter’s College they were prolific readers: the Peries brothers, and Dr. Jim Peries and his wife Winifred spared no pains to give the boys all the latitude they wanted, to do their own thing. In the school library whilst the librarian Angelo Rajakarier was typing his Radio Ceylon talks for Great Contemporaries, Lester poured over the film reviews and literature.

Ivan, Lester’s famous artist brother was in my class, where Fr. Hugo Fernando the Mathematician taught us. Ivan was caught reading Great Expectations without doing his sums. So Fr. Hugo gave off his threat to dub him with "B.I". We dreaded that distinction of ‘Blithering Idiot’, which was done in a gentle sort of way and Ivan with his wavy hair, burst into laughter.

Both Lester and Ivan had a crack at the Classics, and it was Noel Phoebus, that brilliant

Classics scholar from St. Joseph’s, who taught us. How we crammed Mensa and Mensas, and suppressed our laughter. Phoebus attacked pupils if they missed the Latin declensions.

The Greek classes were also a martyrdom. But Ivan always paid a tribute to Mr. Phoebus, who in later years was to die, after being knocked down by a bus on Galle Road.

The Peries brothers like most of us owed a debt to the Classics and to the Latin and Greek we learnt at school. Lester confessed that Greek drama gave him the stability to translate action and mood and theme on films.

Yet it was in those green years that we were attracted to what the film had to offer.

The Peries brothers were sent by car from Dehiwela to St. Peters for Sunday school, and after Sunday school, Fr. Gregory Goonewardena had film shows in the science auditorium. Fr. Gunda, as he was popularly known had a Pathe Baby 9.5f lm projector which Fr. Maurice LeGoc had given him, along with a dozen 9.5 films. We enjoyed the free film shows.

We were often invited to Lester’s home in Dehiwela where we were treated to short eats and tea and Lester would speak of films. At that time Ivan was showing an interest in painting and later was to follow classes from Harry Peiris and David Paynter. But it was the cinema that attracted us, and Lester and Ivan would join us to come to the Plaza Theatre with the De Nieses and other school mates.

The early thirties reminded us of the part that Madan Theatres Circuit in the Plaza gave us. C. V. De Silva and the Caders were the men who kept the celluloid rolling. In the Plaza we saw silent films that were screened on the Gaumont Kalee 21 35mm projector. These were run by illumination from carbon lamps. It explained the fires that took place in the early cinemas when inflammable film was used. Lester can remember the early silent films that the Plaza screened. The music was provided by Papa Menzies or George de Niese at the organ or piano., players who matched music improvisation to the action on the screen.

But all the excitement came when as schoolboys we gathered at the pigeon hole of the Plaza ticket booth. There were no queues at that time and it was a free for all and a problem to extricate our hands . We almost had our shirts torn off our backs. One ruse was to get a fat boy like Jacob Rasanayagam to buy our tickets. His fist was big enough to cover the pigeon holes at the box office, and to terrify other film fans.

Most of our tickets took us to the gallery. They were 25 cents, and we braved the bug infested hard benches at the Plaza, with our heads held up high to see the film, a good part of it was distorted! The problem was often solved when students jumped over the barrier to the 3rd class seats, when there were dark portions on the screen. The genial C. V. de Silva turned a blind eye to our pranks.

It was a memorable day when sound films invaded the cinemas and The Plaza Theatre got a rehaul. There were colour posters of the new sound films displayed outside the cinemas. It was a dimension that enthralled us for the Talkies had at last arrived. I remember well the Tarzan films that were shown. One was with Herman Brix on The New Adventures of Tarzan. Stars like Bela Lugosi, Rudolf Valentino, Jean Harlow, Norma Shearer, Shirley Temple and Deanna Durbin hit the screens. The films we saw gave us all the grist for our discussions in Lester’s home. He always liked dissecting films, an art he was to perfect as a film critic, and later as a producer. Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan films cracked box office takings, and every schoolboy had a go at the Tarzan yells.

Lester’s green years were part of our transition too. It was then that Ivan showed us what his future held. Painting was his forte and George de Niese at St. Peter’s identified the inherent talent of his pupil.. In the family home at Dehiwela, Ivan set his easel and took to oil painting. From a post card he painted a large portrait of G. K. Chesterton, which J. P. De Fonseka bought, and exhibited..

For Ivan school life had its funnier side. Ivan hated Maths, and to his horror he remembered the Geometry class of Captain R. T. Samarawira, who wanted his pupils to demonstrate certain angles. The victim had to lift his legs for right angles, and triangles, but came a cropper to show obtuse angles. Schoolboys cheered as Captain Samarawira twisted the boy in various contortions to teach Geometry! One lad took his revenge by letting off air. Lester meanwhile produced his first book The Cathedral and a Star a volume of poems on various themes. Lester was already writing for the Daily News Blue page, which was edited by Hilda Roversi and later Betty Hunsworth. At that time we had Tarzie Vittachi, Francis Ashborn, Harrison Peries, Wendy de Kretser, Annette Swan, Alfreda de Silva, Rex Rabot, Andrew G. de Silva, Sujata Udugama, and other new writers, who got a start on journalism. We were also writing short stories published in the Sunday Times for the Young Timers Page, and I had many short stories published in the Sunday Times.

However, the green years saw us cycling to all the cinemas to see the new releases. Many were our trips to the old Regal, the Majestic, Empire and Olympia. It was Lester who joined us (as my old diaries show )for Alexander’s Ragtime Band. That film ushered Tyrone Power.

Lester may recall his desire to see Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald in San Francisco, a romantic tale of the San Francisco earthquake. My brother Hilary and I were pretty broke, so we talked our good Aunty Ada (of revered memory) to take us to the Regal to see San Francisco.

We told her it was the story of St. Francis Zavier. The good aunt bought our tickets and came with us to expensive seats. As the film unfolded, the good aunt took out her rosary, and Clark Gable at that moment on the screen asked Jeannette Mac Donald to raise her skirt and show her legs! My dear Aunt nearly collapsed in her seat. We had later to explain that the film had nothing to do with St. Francis.

Those were the years when films were real entertainment. Lester on his part got all the encouragement he needed to find his place as one of Sri Lanka’s great film producers.

Ivan went his way and painted as he went on.

Lester did confess that Ivan for forty years never painted an English scene. He got all his inspirations from the Dehiwela beach and the fishermen, the coconut trees and the sunsets that provided a riot of colour.

Lester admitted that Ivan went to England and really died a pauper. I remember Ivan coming back to Ceylon in the fifties, when he did the sets for Arthur Van Langenberg’s production of The Song of Bernadette at St Peter’s College Hall. Today an Ivan Peries painting is worth a fortune and hard to buy. Anton Wickremasinghe bought many of Ivan’s paintings.

Lester saw the future . I can recall his visit to Sydney, when we met him at Paddington, the scene of Art lovers.

It was the early years that gave Lester the break he needed. He learnt a part of the mechanics of films at the GFU, and with that doyen of the cinema George Wickremasinghe gave us some valuable films. But Lester had to find new fields. As a creative artiste the world was his oyster. He knew how to go beyond plot and theme and action, and yet blend the culture of a nation to the way he interprets his visual and story.

He can take all the encomiums for redeeming the Sinhala film from the’ South Indian song and dance patterns’. Yet there were times when Lester gave the old Sinhala films and producers their due.

He saw the work of B. A. W Jayamanne, and Eddie Jayamanne, and stars like Rukmani Devi and Mabel Blyth as the milestones. In a sense Lester gave credit to Aloy Jayamanne for exploiting the film commercially, and for providing Eddie Jaymanne the space he needed. The comedy that Mabel Blyth projected on the screen had hardly been equalled on stage and it is a pity that the stars of yester year have been forgotten if not neglected.

However, it was always an experience to recall the perpetuity of Lester’s film commitment. No awards can do away with his simple outlook on what a film has to offer. He knows his craft, and he is the first to admit that it takes almost a lifetime to understand it, let alone produce films that matter.

I always liked Lester’s film Sandesaya where Arthur van Langenberg played the Portuguese Captain. Lester said that the film was shot at the feet of a vast range of mountains at Belihuloya. Arthur was on the streets of Pettah learning his Sinhala script, and now and again shouting Para balli. This fascinated the street urchins who followed Arthur for free entertainment.. Lester admitted that Arthur showed unusual strength for his age in the fight sequences with Gamini Fonseka. But there was a hitch which only Lester recognised.

Lester was a perfectionist. In Sandesaya Ananda Jayaratne and Gamini Fonseka acted. Ananda was a beloved character whose days ended in tragedy. Gamini has gone ahead.

Lester as a film man felt that Arthur’s interpretation was not a success. Arthur could not readjust his stage outlook for the cinema. "He was inclined to posture, to strike an attitude rather than deploy his body and his movements to the building up of the character."

When I last met Lester at his home in Bambalapitiya I thought of those early years of the silent cinema. Why were we so enthralled in our teens? There was a time when we dug into the Plaza dustbins to collect the discarded footage of the orange coloured 35 mm film strips that had been spliced in the Plaza projection room the big projectors with their carbon rods and massive reels were an institution. I can recall silent films running with large discs rotating to provide sound.

Lester would admit that after all, there was a point in our enjoying Sign of the Cross and Ben Hur from the silent days. For Lester and Ivan Ceylon provided the cultural milieu to explore new themes. Today Hollywood’s Golden era is gone. All we get is violence, sex-and noise.

In our cinema adventures with the Peries boys we can remember the charm of The Citadel or the stunning performance of Paul Muni in The Good Earth or the heart rending moments of Bicycle Thieves. For Lester James Peries the critics are always there. They find fault with him for going on his groove. They feel that the commercial world of Television has grabbed him. This is short sighted. Lester as a pioneer has helped the Sinhala film to expand. He has given young film makers that spirit of adventure and creativity that the film needs.

It is good to look back, to see the young Lester in shorts, going up to the stage to receive prizes. As a writer his style was vibrant, and as a film conversationalist he has few equals. Lester can recall the days of Carol Reed or Hereward Jansz . With Willy Blake Lester forged new dimensions in the cinema. It was a long way from the 9.5 films we saw on Fr. Gregory Goonewardena’s Pathe Baby projector. As for Ivan, his memory is still alive in the sunsets on the Dehiwela beach, and on the canvas of oils that preserve his testament.

The travels and adventures of a Portuguese cap maker’s son

(1641 to 1659 )

The fifth edition of Ceylon of the Early Travellers by H. A. J. Hulugalle published by Arjuna Hulugalle Dictionaries has been released recently. We give below an extract from one of the chapters.

Joao Ribeiro was a lad of nineteen when he came to Ceylon to serve in the Portuguese army. He rose to the rank of Captain and was in the thick of fighting during the next eighteen years both against the forces of Rajasinha II, the Kandyan king, and the Hollanders who dislodged the Portuguese, capturing Colombo in 1656 and Jaffna in 1658. In his old age in Lisbon Joao Ribeiro wrote one of the interesting books on Ceylon of his time, which takes its place by the side of Robert Knox’s famous work dealing with the Kandyan kingdom.

Ribeiro was the son of a "barreteiro" or cap maker by profession of Lisbon. He left his native city in March 1640 in the fleet, which brought a new viceroy to India. The voyage took six months. In Ceylon the Portuguese were in a bad way. They had lost Negombo and Galle to the Dutch. The viceroy found an empty exchequer in Goa but felt that something had to be done to retrieve the situation in Ceylon. He fitted out a fleet consisting of "sixteen galliots and fustas, with four hundred soldiers and some brave Captains", under the command of Dom Filippe Mascarenhas, a man of great wealth, which arrived in Colombo in eleven days.

Ribeiro was one of the four hundred soldiers carried by the ships. Within a few days of their arrival the new force went into action and recaptured Negombo. Ribeiro describes with vivid detail the various campaigns against the Dutch, notably the defence of Colombo in the death pangs of Portuguese rule in Ceylon. On May 12th, 1656, the Portuguese surrendered the city after a siege which lasted six months and twenty seven days and in which the garrison was reduced to famine. The defence of Colombo, in which Ribeiro participated, has been judged the most gallant feat of the Portuguese in Ceylon. Ribeiro pays tribute to the bravery of a number of the Portuguese captains, among them Gaspar Figueiro de Cerpe, whose mother belonged to a respectable Sinhalese family. He is the hero of "Brave Island," a novel published in Ceylon, by R. L. Spittel and Christine Wilson.

Special importance

Of the last day of the siege, writes Ribeiro: " By nine o’clock at night we had no more men to fight with them and had they come and followed us into the street, without doubt they would easily have killed the few we had. That night they brought a quantity of fascines and earth with which they made parapets towards the city, and by morning they had turned the artillery; when we saw this, a Council was held to decide what should be done under the circumstances. Some voted for sending the few women and children we had into a church and setting it and the whole city on fire, while the few men who remained should die sword in hand in the midst of the enemy, so that the very memory of the people of the city might not be left, and the enemy might not boast of his conquests. The prelates of the religious orders who were present at this meeting vetoed the suggestion, declaring that such would be the work of gentiles and utter barbarians, and one condemned by all laws human and divine: our duty to resign ourselves to the will of God and not to oppose His divine decrees: for though His Majesty had laid special importance on the defense of the Island, yet it was his Ministers who would be called upon to explain why no relief was sent for this length of time.

Ribeiro always regretted that the Government in Portugal did not do enough to retain Ceylon, which to him was "the loveliest parcel of land, which the Creator has placed upon this earth." He thought that the Portuguese should have settled in Ceylon in larger numbers than they did. If a beginning had been made with smaller settlements, the larger would have volunteered if they heard the success of the former. "Thus", he writes, "Ceiloa would have been peopled, our forces united, our countrymen enriched and delivered from anyone who could oppress them at any time, and our Kingdom becomes the most prosperous and wealthy the world has ever seen, as in the remarks I have still to make".

Strategic position

He argued that Ceylon had resources of which few countries of its size could boast. "Its cinnamon is the best in the world; its gems are in such abundance, and only diamonds and emeralds are wanting; its elephants are the most prized of any within our discoveries, its pepper is the finest in the East, the pearls and seed pearls of its waters are considered very excellent...Methinks those who declared that this Island is the terrestrial Paradise, did so not in consequence of its fertility or the profusion of every kind of dainty to support life, not for the blandness or the healthiness of its climate, nor for the Footprint two palms long which the gentiles have fabricated to attract veneration to the spot but because, while its extent is limited, it produces such abundance of riches". There was also its strategic position.

Ribeiro’s description of the country, its people and their habits is based on shrewd observation and is a valuable contribution to the social history of the time. Land tenure, administration of justice, rites and ceremonies, food habits, medical practice, nature of marriages and customs of the Sinhalese, wild animals, the pearl fishery and peculiarities of elephants are among the subjects with which he deals in the first part of the book. The pearl fishery brought men from many countries. Ribeiro writes:

"Half a league to windward on the same shore all the businessmen who come there assemble and a free Fair is held, laid out like some gallant city with streets and rows of shops; where they collect every kind of merchandise which our discoveries trade in with the nations of Europe and the whole of Asia. For this purpose they bring their gold, silver in bars and wrought, all kinds of precious stones, amber, perfumes, carpets, meleques, money, with the rarities of all the provinces of the world, in such a fashion that if there is anything anywhere of which one can spend time and money in seeing it, it is this great Fair. From the surroundings is brought every variety of food, and though the people are numerous and of various races and religions - Christians, Jews, Moors and Gentiles - they can all obtain the food to which they are accustomed.

Sacred mountain of Ceylon

"Here everything is bought and sold which each one would like to take to his own country - not only pearls, but everything on which profit can be made". The Fair lasted fifty days and it must have been among the most famous of its kind in the East.

Like others who came to Ceylon and lived to write about it, Ribeiro describes Adam’s Peak, the sacred mountain of Ceylon. "This mountain", he writes, "is one of the wonders of the world, for although it is situated twenty leagues inland, on a clear day sailors can see it the same distance out at sea".

Ribeiro was a man of religion. He often invokes the name of the Supreme Being. When the Constantino de Sa fell in battle, he says: "At last wounded by bows and arrows he yielded up his soul to the Creator". Although he glosses over the cruelties of the Portuguese he does not always condemn the Sinhalese rulers. For example he writes that, after the battle of Gannoruwa, in which the Portuguese were completely routed, "the King and the Prince of Uva issued orders not to kill the Portuguese who remained alive".

When the war against the Dutch was over, Ribeiro was taken prisoner and sent to Batavia, from where he returned to Portugal in 1659. He saw service in Europe thereafter and was for a time Captain of the garrison at Funchal in Madeira. While there he married Sona Felipa, daughter of Pedro Catanho, a member of a noble family of that island. Her brother Matias Catanho had been Ribeiro’s companion during his service in Ceylon. In 1680, Ribeiro returned to Lisbon and commenced to write the "Fatalidade Historica" which he dedicated to King Dom Pedro II on the 8th of January 1685.

A French translation of the book in a greatly abbreviated form by Abbe le Grand was published in 1701 in Paris. The Academy of Science of Lisbon produced the original Portuguese version in 1836. The late Sir Paul Pieris published an English translation of this in Ceylon which ran into four editions.

Ribeiro’s prologue to his work says: "These memoirs cost me more to acquire than to commit to writing, because they were obtained not from hearsay, but from toil and experience. To commit them to writing I had not to steal the time from any other occupation. They are not published for the display of rhetoric or style, for such should not be expected from a soldier who has spent the best years of his life in war. They are due to my regret that there is no one willing to occupy himself in placing on record the greatness and the events of Ceiloa so that they may reach the notice of everyone".

There are many fuller descriptions of Portuguese rule in Ceylon by contemporary writers like de Queyroz, de Barros, Couto and Friar Negrao. Captain Ribeiro’s account was based on the first-hand experience as a soldier. Though his memory may have failed him sometimes, his is a sober and responsible piece of work by a man of faith and understanding. "The worst", he says, "is that in spite of everything, someone who reads or hears this might say - and with a certain amount of reason - that these are exaggerations and falsehoods, to ascertain if I can obtain reward and acquire some reputation for myself. I therefore protest before Jesus Christ that I have set out no matter which is fictitious, but the pure and simple truth".

Captain Joao Ribeiro died in Lisbon in November 1693. Dona Felipa whom he advised "to occupy herself for such portion of life as still remained in praising God our Lord", found consolation in a second husband.

Bringing Theravada Buddhism to the West

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi
Asoka Weeraratna was a man of vision who had the drive and stamina to translate his vision into fact. He once told me that his favourite saying of the Buddha was, "Do not become discouraged and give up, and do not rest satisfied with partial achievements." He himself took this piece of advice to heart. Whenever he set himself a goal, he did not merely dream about it and sing praises to its glory. Rather, he worked with incredible foresight and energy to make the goal a reality.

Because he followed these guidelines, Asoka Weeraratna’s life was crowned by three great achievements: the establishment of the German Dharmaduta Society in Sri Lanka; the founding of the Berlin Buddhist Vihara in Germany; and the creation of the Nissarana Vanaya Hermitage at Mitirigala.

Already in the 1950s, he foresaw the potential for establishing Buddhism in the West, and to make his own contribution to the westward movement of the Dhamma, in 1952 he founded the German Dharmaduta Society. He started the Society in the back room of the family shop, though later it moved to premises purchased with funds he acquired through a zealous fund raising drive.

Asoka realized that if Buddhism was to send down roots in Germany, it was not enough to set up a base for German Buddhist missions here in Sri Lanka. He saw the need to have a Buddhist centre right in the heart of Germany itself. Thus, under his initiative, the German Dharmaduta Society purchased Das Buddhistische Haus in Berlin (built by Paul Dahlke in 1924), renovated it, and in 1957 brought * back to life as the Berlin Buddhist Vihara. In the same year, Asoka Weeraratna organized the first Buddhist mission to Germany, led by three Sri Lankan Bhikkhus accompanied by himself. From that time to the present, monks from Sri Lanka and elsewhere have lived at the Berlin Vihara, helping to maintain a Theravada presence in Germany.

Asoka Weeraratna later turned his attention to the construction of the Nissarana Vanaya Hermitage at Mitirigala, which became one of Sri Lanka’s most respected meditation monasteries. He equipped the monastery with all the facilities conducive to the meditative life. He found an accomplished meditation master, yen. Matara Sri Gnanarama Mahathera, to direct the meditation training, and then’ his mission accomplished, he himself entered the Buddhist order under the name Ven. Mitirigala Dhammanisanthi Thera. After his ordination he himself spent over a year at the Berlin Vihara in the early 1980s.

Buddhism comes to the West

The topic of this seminar is very timely, for in many Western countries today Buddhism is the fastest growing religion. In North America, Western Europe, and Australia-New Zealand, hundreds of Buddhist centres have sprung up almost overnight, offering teachings and meditation retreats even in remote regions. Today Buddhism is espoused not only by those in the alternative culture, as was the case in the 1960s, but by businessmen, physicists, computer programmers, housewives, real-estate agents, even by sports stars, movie actors, and rock musicians. Thousands of books on Buddhism are now available, dealing with the teachings at both scholarly and popular levels, while Buddhist magazines and journals expand their circulation each year.

What is characteristic of Western Buddhism in its present phase of development is the focus on Buddhist practice, especially the practice of meditation. In this phase it is not the academic study of Buddhist texts and doctrines that dominates, or the attempt to interpret the Dhamma through the prism of Western thought, but the appropriation of Buddhism as a practice that can bring deep transformations in one’s innermost being as well as in the conduct of everyday life. This does not necessarily mean that Buddhist practice is being taken up in accordance with canonical or traditional Asian models. Adaptations of the Dhamma to Western culture and ways of thinking are commonplace, but Buddhism is viewed principally as a path to awakening, a way that brings deep understanding of the mind and makes accessible new dimensions of being.

The need for a living transmission

Today, as Western interest in Buddhism increases, it is left to those of us who continue Asoka Weeraratna’s legacy to find a systematic way to establish the Theravada Sasana in the West. Here I must stress an important point. It is not merely texts and ideas that Westerners are looking for, not merely the Buddhism of the books, but persons who display the truth of the teaching in their lives. Thus when we consider how to establish Buddhism in the West, we should not think merely of the pure canonical Dhamma, but of a living transmission.

This takes us to the heart of the issue. Theravada Buddhism, in its orthodox mould, has always looked upon the monastic order, the Sangha, as the bearer of the Buddhist heritage. Thus, if Theravada is to take hold in the West, it seems it should come about through a monastic transmission, guarded and upheld by lay support. Without this, we would probably wind up with a watered down version of the Dhamma.

The need for a monastic transmission, however, immediately runs up against a practical problem. In Sri Lanka today there is a severe shortage of monks who exemplify the personal qualities needed by a Buddhist "messenger of Dhamma" (dhammaduta). This shortage has negative repercussions for the whole project of propagating Theravada Buddhism abroad, making the Theravada something of a still backwater on the otherwise lively Western Buddhist frontier.

The problem of monastic education

Although I do not have an easy solution to this problem, it would be wise to make a preliminary diagnosis of its origins. I would suggest that the fault lies partly with the system of monastic education that prevails here in Sri Lanka. This system is extremely inadequate and needs drastic revision with respect to the aim, depth, and breadth of monastic training. If a monk is to go abroad to spread the Dhamma, he must have not only a thorough knowledge of his own Theravada tradition, but some acquaintance with other subjects too. These include the history and schools of Buddhism, comparative religion, and English. He should also know, or be ready to learn’ the Language of the country in which he will work.

Beyond these specific areas of competency, he will need the intellectual openness and acuity to comprehend the dispositions, attitudes, and worldviews of people from a different culture and relate to them in meaningful ways. He must have some grounding in the practice of the Dhamma, too, for knowledge of books and doctrines, however wide, will be fruitless if not coupled with dedication to the practice. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find a monastic institute that can impart the necessary training and the Buddhist prelates, due to their conservatism, are resistant to changes.

The need for revitalization

This problem may also be aggravated by the sharp distinction found in the Theravada monastic tradition between the so-called "village and town monks," devoted to preaching and community service, and the forest monks, devoted to full-time meditation. Thus we face this dichotomy: educated town monks without deep personal insight into the Dhamma or experience in meditation, and meditation monks without much inclination to propagate the teaching.

Since it would be inappropriate to prevail upon monks devoted to full-time meditation to take up a more active vocation, the remedy needed to redress this imbalance seems to require a revitalization of meditation practice within the bhikkhu training institutes. But meditation practice does not occur in a vacuum. It occurs under the impetus given by a clear understanding of the foundations and objectives of the Buddhist spiritual life. Thus what we really need is a rejuvenation of the spiritual challenge at the heart of Buddhist monasticism.

Personally, I do not think it is prudent to try to create institutions expressly for the purpose of training monks as dhammadutas. Such institutions could well attract monks keen to go abroad for the wrong reasons — to gain prestige, to become popular, perhaps to find employment and disrobe. It is wiser, I feel to strengthen programmes in the existing bhikkhu training centres. At the same time, we should keep an eye open for capable bhikkhus enrolled in these programmes who display the qualities needed to propagate the Dhamma in the West.

A quiet service

Despite the shortage of qualified dhammaduta monks, scattered across the West there are a few Theravada viharas and Buddhist centres whose incumbents, in their own quiet and non-assertive way, are working to spread the Dhamma. Prominent among them we find Sri Lankan monks, who often must take up this task with much hardship and self-sacrifice. Such monks generally do not have large organizations behind them, or financial backing from home, but through their dedication to the Dhamma and compassionate concern for others, they actively seek to help Westerners find their way to the Buddha’s path. Their selfless work deserves appreciation and support from all sincere Buddhists in this country.

A superb duo

Review by Chitra Malalasekera Ranawake
A hall packed to capacity proved that the violin and piano duo - Stefan Milenkovich and Rohan de Silva in a challenging programme proved their continued popularity in a sell-out concert. Charming and poised, yet with a beguiling modesty, they brought the audience to their feet with every work.

The Beethoven Sonata is a chaste work of traditional purity warming up, as it were, the mood of the evening. As in any exercise a warming up period is as important as a final calming down to provide the atmosphere and aura for maximum impact.

The vivacious Allegro was bouncy, quick and bright with immaculate phrasing, subtle gradation and clean simplicity in the runs. The Andante was taken at a fine tempo, the tone of the violin exquisitely shaded and the piano responding with delicacy.

The Allegro Piacavole was (at the pleasure of the performers) the pizzicato crisp and the piano responding intimately.

The ravel Sonata for which I had been waiting eagerly made me whoop mentally with delight at the harmonies - open ended fourths and fifths and a blur of chromatic chords that made you tingle. With shades of Debussy’s Cathedrale Engloutie, gorgeous plucked strings and tittilating whisper-soft responses. The plangent Blues were intriguing in their classical garb.

And finally the ceaseless Allegro - a whizzing busy movement ending with a flourish that drove the audience crazy demanding an instant replay!!

After the interval came the Paganini La Campanella, a demanding virtuoso work which I enjoyed performing myself when I was a young performer on piano. This was a different arrangement. Full of brilliant glissandos and subdued pianissimos, you wondered if you had heard it or imagined it. The canpanella ended with a dazzling finish.

Wienawski - Souvenir de Moscou is I think a nostalgic work, beginning with grandeur and moving through many variations - some familiar, others less known, providing much interaction between violin and piano. The piano sometimes takes over the melody, with the violin providing the accompaniment. It has originality and verve with a rhythm motif over which the melody wavers. It is dance-like with strong rhythms and hints of gypsy tunes.

The final scheduled work - Ravels Tzigane brings the gypsy violin to the fore - for Tzigane was name given to the Hungarian gypsy noted for his fierce violin playing and provocative dance rhythms. The duo captured the mood with exotic rhythms and scintillating virtuosity bringing it to a close with an exciting flurry of music.

The first encore was another Paganini - Variations showcasing the violin with the piano in sensitive accompaniment

The surprising ending was Charlie Chaplin’s popular melody from Limelight - "I’ll be loving you, eternally," which showed Chaplin was as imaginative in his music as in his film direction and acting.

I have no doubt the concert of August 1 was equally successful.

The garlanding of Stefan Milenkovich by a Differently Abled Youth was a poignant touch.

Liberal leader objects to ethnic enclaves

Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha interviewed by Nayana
Question: Why does the Liberal Party consider constitutional change to be necessary?

Answer: The main reason is that the present Constitution is quite hopeless as far as any form of principle is concerned. Excessive powers are given to the Executive Presidency. There is no mechanism to build up institutions that would be parallel repositories of power. There is a failure to address practical questions like development and the empowerment of people, and an absence of clear directive principles.

Q: What do you consider to be the main responsibilities of government?

A: Government has three main responsibilities: Security and law and order, social justice, and economic development. On the first subject there should be-clear cut distinctions between the powers of the legislature, executive and judiciary. There is a need to make clear that the organs of security, i.e. the Armed Forces and the Police, are not instruments of a particular government but servants of the nation. On social justice the Liberal view is that it should not be ‘pushed’ by the State in the sense of taking from one person to give to another, but that the State should concern itself with basic priorities such as health, welfare and infrastructure. Economic development should largely be left to the private sector but the State should play a regulatory role. Such regulation should be based on the underlying assumption that the purpose of private sector activities is not the benefit of the private sector but the benefit of the consumer. The consumer is inadequately protected from monopolies, whether in the private or the State sector. Unplanned government reactions have also been at fault for example the reduction in the price of bread without considering its impact on the paddy farmer. There should also be a de-politicizing of appointments to public boards which should be open to scrutiny by the Legislature.

Q: Is it correct that the Liberal Party is advocating the real French system of Government where Ministers are chosen from the Legislature but vacate their seats on appointment?

A: We feel that both the Presidential and Westminster systems as practiced in Sri Lanka give too much power to an individual who is seen as the representative of the party that dominates Parliament. We advocate either a system where Ministers are drawn from Parliament but function outside it, or are appointed from outside but are subject to approval by Parliament. Then Parliament can perform its principal functions which are to pass laws, monitor administration and keep public accounts. Where the executive and the legislature are amalgamated, the legislature cannot effectively challenge the executive. We also favour a strengthening of the Parliamentary Committee system where MPs could divide themselves according to their respective fields of expertise or interest and act as a professional watchdog as well as providing advice. Thus MPs would become contributors to policy formulation as well as monitors.

Q: Do you approve of the secrecy that surrounded the recent constitutional discussions between the parliamentary parties?

A: Not at all. But the decisions reached will require a vote in Parliament and a referendum before implementation. This will not happen till after the elections. A new Parliament will have the option of amending the proposals. There will be pressure from forces not presently represented in Parliament who are seen as generally more representative of the people or a substantial section of them. However we are glad that the Government is even at this stage pulling its proposals before Parliament. We feel they should have done this several years ago and seen how Parliament responded instead of trying to win political victories in other respects. Some sort of consensus between the major parties would be a positive development. However it is clear from the news briefings that both parties have no idea what principles they are following in making decisions. On one hand there has been a watering down of the original proposals in terms of the powers that will be devolved. But on the other hand, there has been no change from what was the original stumbling block of the whole devolution package which is the admittedly artificial merger of the North and East

Q: What in your view are the reasons for devolution?

A: The principal reason is that centralized administration does not empower people at the periphery. In Sri Lanka practically everything has become centralized. All MPs live in Colombo and send their children to Colombo schools. The tie between themselves and the facilities available in their areas is non-existent. The consequence has been fifty years of utterly lopsided development. It has affected the North and East as well as areas such as Moneragala and Hambantota. However, the sense of alienation is less in the Sinhala rural areas than in the Tamil areas because their MPs are part of the Government. What is wanted is empowerment. The present concentration on the Provincial Council is inappropriate as this would still require persons at the periphery to travel long distances to their provincial capital to transact business, e.g. from Tissamaharama to Galle. While some policy decisions will have to be made at provincial level, administrative decision making should be at smaller levels such as the Pradeshiya Sabha.

Q: Should the present provincial boundaries in the North and East be maintained?

A: In a sense all provincial boundaries are artificial. However, any attempt to revise those boundaries will give rise to different logics that will end up in different assumptions. I strongly dislike the idea of revising administrative boundaries on the basis of ethnic enclaves as this is a recipe for ethnic cleansing. Therefore I would advocate sticking to existing provincial boundaries but giving more administrative power to units like the Pradeshiya Sabha.

Q: What is your view on the North-East merger?

A: Members of the Liberal Party have different views on this. My personal view is that it would not make much sense in the present context. If the rationale is to create a Tamil majority region, then the Muslims and the Sinhalese in the East would each want their own regions. Therefore it makes much more sense to work with nine provinces but to give them full powers to cooperate where cooperation is desired, on the lines of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike’s Regional Councils Bill. The powers of each Province should be subtantial including rights on investment issues. To keep economic policy entirely in the hands of Central Government would take away one of the main purposes of devolution.

Q: Apart from administrative issues, what in your opinion are the other grievances of the minorities?

A: Primarily the language issue. This has been adjusted in the Constitution by making Tamil a national language but in practical terms under our education system most children have a functional knowledge of only one language. Each community is trapped in its own language. As a result many administrative offices work only in Sinhala and Tamils find themselves precluded from Government jobs. Today the proportion of Tamil speaking people entering the public sector is very small in relation to their population. In 1978 District quotas were introduced for University entrance on the basis that the majority community was under-represented. Then why not introduce quotas into public sector employment where the minorities are under-represented?

Q: Given that a large number of Tamil people live outside the North and East, do you think the present insistence on the recognition of a ‘traditional Tamil homeland’ will actually help the security of the Tamil people as a whole?

A: The Liberal Party view on devolution has always been that it has nothing to do with ethnic minorities or homelands. Our view is that devolution is necessary because individuals at the periphery have been penalized by the powers at the centre. That deprivation was worst for the minorities in the peripheral areas because minorities in the Sinhala majority areas were able to participate more in the life of the nation. Therefore there may be a case for over-compensation of these people just as there is a case for over-compensation in education for students from deprived areas. Dealing with deprivation requires both empowerment and concerted economic development. In a context where the Central Government has not been able to give economic development to those areas except during brief periods soon after independence and during the Premadasa era, there is a case for allowing those people to do things for themselves.

Q: Are there any measures which you could like to see implemented in connection with the forthcoming general election?

A: We have made several statements on this subject. I do not understand why the National Identity Card has not been made compulsory for voters. There should be more powers given to the Commissioner of Elections to cancel flawed polls. There should be a firm enforcement of the laws against putting up posters and also the prohibition on people gathering around polling booths. The process of getting international election monitors should be started earlier. Finally, the Police should realize that they are responsible to the public, not to the Government in power.

Q: The Liberal Party has stressed the need for a value-based constitution. But would this make any difference as long as there is no change in the values of the politicians who operate the system?

A: Change will not come quickly. But once you have the values on record, there would be a standard against which both legislation and the behaviour of politicians could be measured. The public would be more aware of these values, thus speeding up the process of change. However there must also be measures to reduce the power of politicians.

The essentials of constitution-making

by Dr. Piyasena Dissanayake,
Secretary, National Joint Committee

According to a news report in the "Daily News" of July 11,2000, at a meeting held in Colombo, Mr. Hasan Ebrahim, Chief Executive Officer of the South African Constituent Assembly made the following remarks that should serve as an eye-opener to our Constitution-makers:-

"A Constitution is much more than a set of rules about how a Government will be run. It tells us who we are, where we have come from and, most importantly, where we want to go"

He further said:

"A Constitution has to be made rather than drafted. It is vital that people are consulted in this task. A Constitution will be a crippled one unless and until people are involved in its making. Constitutions, thus, cannot be made in "smoke-filled rooms." They must be discussed among the people, for, a Constitution should be respected, by all -this is vital. Constitutionalism and democracy thus intertwine".

As regards the question that was asked in South Africa and, which is often asked in this country too - "What do ordinary people know of Constitutions?:- Mr. Ebrahim’s answer is very revealing."

"We need to speak to the people and we did", he said. "The politicians listened to the people and took note of their ideas on the Constitution. There was a transparency in the process. Therefore, it didn’t give cause for any suspicion in the people’s minds.... politicians formed multiparty panels and these were taken to selected villages to ascertain their views. Thus political adversaries come together to consult the people... We had to explain to the people what the Constitution meant and how it impacted on their everyday life. The Constitution was discussed widely in the media. At feast one article was carried everyday in the Newspapers".

Although technical expertise could facilitate the process of Constitution-making, experts should not be allowed to dictate the process. We in this country have been made to believe that Constitution-making is such an esoteric exercise that only experts in the rape of constitutional lawyers are capable of making Constitution, and, even more important, only Constitutional lawyers can understand them., this being something, quite beyond the grasp of the ordinary citizen with his limited intelligence. Besides, the constitutional document should be worded in a language which could be understood by the ordinary people.


Mr. Ebrabim’s explanation of the procedure adopted by the Constitution-makers in drawing up the South African Constitution should be an eye-opener both to our Constitution-makers as well as to our people. The most striking feature of the process was its transparency and, one might even say, the enlightened manner in which the South African Constitution-makers approached their all-important task with the people being kept fully is formed of the proposals and given every opportunity of making their views known before the proposals were finalised.

In this connection it is interesting to note that, even in India, Constitution-makers intend to consult the people. According to media reports, the expert panel headed by a former chief justice recently appointed by the Indian Government to revise the Indian Constitution has decided to organise regional seminars across India "to involve maximum number of people in the exercise and to know the views ofthe people on the issue".

The contrast with the procedure adopted by our Constitution-makers could not be more striking. All the Constitution foisted on the people of our country since independence have been produced, not after a dialogue with the people, but in air conditioned rooms in Colombo. The 1972 Constitution, the 1978 Constitution and the Constitution that has now been assembled by a few persons deliberating behind closed doors were all prepared on the basis that no consultation with the people was necessary, the politicians being the sole repository of all wisdom . Unlike the Constitution-makers of South Africa and India for whom it is the people who mattered, constitution-makers of this country display an utter contempt for the people. Far from consulting the people they keep secret from the people the decisions they have reached and intend to place the draft Constitution before Parliament without disclosing its contentrs to the people.

They regarded the people as ignoramuses who have no conception of what a Constitution is, so the less they know about it, the better, their only function being to swallow the Constitution when it is thrust down their throats by "experts". In any event, there are "constitutional experts" who are prepared to explain the Constitution to the people, for a fee, of course!

We do not think it necessary to labour the point, for it should be clear to everyone what a vast difference there is between the enlightened attitude of the South African and Indian Constitution-makers who proceed on the principle that the most important consideration in constitution-making is to determine the needs of the people by consulting them and then prepare a Constitution designed to meet those needs, and the closed minds of our Constitution-makers whose attitude is that there is no need to consult the people as the Constitution-makers in their wisdom know what is best for the people who should gladly accept what they have produced after deliberating in secret in their air conditioned rooms. Such a Constitution comes nowhere meeting their needs. Moreover, even if it is inimical to their interests, they have little or no opportunity to air their opposition.

Not too late

However, since the draft Constitution has still not been placed before Parliament, we think it is yet not too late to rectify the matter by consulting the people and making them partners in the task. We think the best procedure towards this end would be to adopt some of the measures introduced by the South African Constitution-makers. This is the only way in which the drawers of the Constitution will be able to feel the pulse of the people and prepare a document that will meet their needs and aspirations.

Once this exercise has been completed, a new draft of the Constitution should be prepared which embodies the views expressed by the people. This draft should be placed before the people and their views invited. Such views can be considered by, say, a Parliamentary Select Committee which can do any fine-tuning that may be necessary and prepare the final version of the Constitution. A Constitution prepared in such a manner should have no difficulty in meeting the legal retirements for the introduction of a new Constitution, namely a 2/3 rd majority in Parliament and the approval of the people at a referendum as it would, unlike previous Constitutions, be, for the first time, truly a Constitution prepared by the people for the people.

One great advantage of adopting this procedure is that the Constitution would be brought closer to the people. Having contributed to its making it would, in a sense, be their own document, intelligible to them and no longer an arcane instrument prepared by Constitutional lawyers that can be understood only by Constitutional lawyers. It is only then that Sri Lanka would graduate to the status of a mature democracy with the people themselves fully involved in the grievance of their country, having taken an active part in the preparation of its basic law.

Tales of lifetime
Mr. C. E. Belleth’s clever strategy

by Gerald Cooray
I was asked to coach the under 16 cricket team. I decided on the Captain and told Mr. Belleth the Senior Cricket Master in charge of my choice. Mr. Belleth told me "I think it is best if we defer the announcement for a few days. At present, I suspect your man is just not ready to assume the captaincy. Let’s keep him in suspense for a time. And then I am sure we will find him ready to carry the responsibilities of captaincy. Meanwhile, when he comes to ask you if he has been selected, say we have some doubts and are considering the matter".

I followed Mr. Belleth’s advice. Then after some time, when the captain "to be" had paid me a few visits, he told me "Next time he comes, tell him we have chosen him. But with reservations and we will therefore be watching his performance carefully".

The strategy worked and he proved to be a splendid captain and the team did quite well that season.

I shall always remember Mr. Belleth as a kind-hearted gentleman. But when the occasion demanded, as proved by his clever strategy, he was very discerning and could not be fooled.

Learie Constantine Coaches

lt was a great thrill for me to welcome Learie Constantine when he was persuaded to come and coach an Under 16 cricket team while he was in Ceylon under contract with the Ceylon Cricket Board.

I have already dealt with Constantine’s valuable contribution in full detail in a tale entitled "A Great Encounter’.

In my tale, I said "Here was a man who did not just explain how you should bat, bowl or field. Whatever he said, he demonstrated. I have a vivid recollection of the advice and demonstration he gave to a young fast bowler on our side".

Apart from his natural gifts, charm and modesty, what impressed me most was his innate ability to get his message across.

Mr. R. C. (Bob) Edwards

I remember with affection one of my beloved mentors. I refer to Bob Edwards. He was my form master in Form IIA. A super teacher. Later, when I became a member of staff, he was a very valuable counsellor to me. I can’t thank him enough.

He was humorist, artist, church organist and musician. But above all, he was a truly Christian gentleman.

I carry vivid memories of his vibrant humour, his amusing sketches on the Blackboard to illustrate his lessons, which often had us doubled-up in laughter.


In my five years at Royal, I taught about 500 boys. I wish I had written this account of my memories earlier. Because, at this point of time, nearly fifty years later, I can remember vividly only those who were outstanding.

It is indeed sad to know that some of these outstanding students that live so vividly in my memory have died.

However, I do not wish to imply that the rest, whom I can’t remember, were ordinary. Rather, what I wish to say, is that in their own way, they were all exceptional. They were a credit to their College which stresses the value of knowledge, good sportsmanship, loyalty and respect to elders.

Let the deed of one whose name I cannot remember, speak for the rest.

It was in the early sixties. I was representing the Government of Ceylon at an overseas conference. Even though the Government had sanctioned my travel, I still had various obstacles to overcome before I got my travel documents.

I found myself pressed for time and it seemed to me that I would not be able to get to Thomas Cook in time to collect my travellers cheques before they closed for the day. And my plane was due to leave at dawn the next day.

I phoned Thomas Cook and explained my predicament. It was my lucky day. The voice at the other end immediately I mentioned my name said "Sir, don’t worry, I’ll keep Thomas Cook open till you come".

Now, undoubtedly, he would have done that for any teacher at Royal. Loyalty and duty were ingrained in him as it was in the rest of those I taught. That is not being ordinary. It is being extraordinary.

It was a privilege to teach them.

Vivid recollections Lal Jayawardena and Singha Basnayaka

Both brilliant and right throughout the year shared the first two positions in class. What impressed me was the extremely friendly rivalry between them. They respected each other. Both were perfectionists and even when awarded high grades would ply me with questions about the quality of their work.

Gamini Iriyagolla

Intellectually very alive. I have vivid memories of the constant dialogues we had in the History class. He would take nothing for granted. The question "Why" was always very much in his mind.

Lalith Atulathmudali

A very diligent student, who was a glutton for work. Very respectful and loyal. Also very aware of the need to keep physically fit. After he had left school, I used to meet him regularly at the SSC Swimming pool. He told me "Swimming keeps me fit".

I last met him when he attended my son’s wedding in Colombo.

St. Patrick’s, Jaffna 150-not out

by Prof. Bertram Bastiampillai
Hundred and fifty years in the lifetime of a school is remarkable and an occasion worthy of remembrance and celebration. Sadly in view of the present atmosphere in the island especially in the North celebration is out of the question even in a mild manner. In the Northern Peninsula of Jaffna away from the harbour of Ceylon in the south a Jaffna Catholic English School was set up in 1850. It was managed by Fr. Mauriott, a Roman Catholic missionary and the first principal of the Institution was Mr. Foy an Irishman, a few local teachers served catering to the educational needs of the children in that area in the town.

Begun in this humble manner this school continued to impart a Catholic value based instruction. Among the first teachers there Fr. Xavier was ordained as the first Tamil Priest in Ceylon now Sri Lanka.

In 1860 following the energetic efforts of Fr. Bonjean, a leading missionary, the school commission which was like the Department of Education supported the Jaffna Boys Catholic school with a government grant and renamed the school as the Jaffna Boys’ Seminary in a non denominational manner.

Usually government grants have been hitherto given only to Wesleyan and Anglican schools and Bonjeans achievement was a breakthrough, since Catholic imparted education was officially recognised.

Education Authority

The school produced students for local exams based on the Cambridge system. In 1880 however the education authority, Mr. Bruce who later became a famous colonial official, introduced the Cambridge exams in place of the local examinations. At this time two of the foreign Roman Catholic Brothers, Conway and Dowling, arrived in 1862 and gave to the existing local staff new strength and enthusiasm.

Under the Catholic Brothers the school provided education almost free. For an year a sum of Rs. 6/= was levied which was hardly a fee.

By 1878 the leading Catholics of Jaffna agitated for the introduction of higher education in the Northern Peninsula in the Jaffna school. Leadership in this movement was provided by Roman Catholic Priest Fr. Murphy.

Specially significant

The year 1881 was specially significant. On 10th January the college was named St. Patrick’s College. The name has lasted till today and is known far and wide. The first principal of the new St. Patrick’s College was Fr. J. R. Smythe. He had been a protestant, a civil servant who was Magistrate in Jaffna when he converted to Catholicism. Smythe was educated in Trinity College, Dublin and served as Principal of St. Patrick’s College till 1883.

By this time St. Patrick’s College expanded its curriculum and taught French as a subject in 1884. Two good teachers Brothers Dunne and Wheeler joined the College Staff. Later Fr. Patrick Dunne as he now became the fifth Principal of St. Patrick’s College. Fr. Dunne paid keen attention to studies. St. Patrick’s achieved success at various examinations. Moreover students from the college joined various government and private offices and some of the better students took to the professions like law, medicine, and engineering. The success of St. Patrick’s was well known and much admired by parents of Jaffna and elsewhere.

Shorthand and typing were introduced by Fr. Dunne as he found them to be useful to help students to find employment. Fr. Dunne in addition introduced a system of shorthand in Tamil and published a book which became very popular. By 1900 the 50th anniversary of the Catholic School which began in a modest way in 1815 was celebrated as its golden jubilee now as the better known and popular St. Patrick’s College which had been called earlier Jaffna Boy’s Seminary.

In 1903 Fr. Charles Mathews a graduate of Ottawa University in Canada joined the college. Under him the educational institution flourished and expanded gaining success in studies, sports and other extra curricular activities. He laboured as the head of St. Patrick’s till around 1936.

Meanwhile on 10th January 1906 the Silver Jubilee of the institution as the first Catholic College in the island had been celebrated. The era of Mathews yielded to that of Fr. Long who held sway till the 1950s.

The era of Long is associated with grand achievements in scholarship, sports, competitions and other extra mural activities. Long was the last among the colonial Catholic figures to have administered St. Patrick’s. And he is now popularly known sometimes to the extent of dwarfing all others. The other local figures on whom the mantle fell in the post independent years are unfortunately ignored. There is a tendency to forget the contribution of scholarly figures like Fr. Arulnesan and his successors.

No doubt today St. Patrick’s remain hardly spoken of because of the troubled conditions that envelop the northern part of the island from 1970s onwards gradually getting worse and worse. Nevertheless as a prime Catholic institution, building solid citizens and men of character wisdom and knowledge and in contributing useful citizens both to the community and country St. Patrick’s continues to serve as one of the foremost educational establishments.

The buck stops here!

by Mrs. Shehara de Silva
Deputy Director General - Promotions
Board of Investment of Sri Lanka

There comes a time, when surely enough is enough. When we, the business sector must collectively move away from paralysis, inertia, and sheer dismay at the shambles of a protracted war and the lack of adequate policy, vision, or competencies of the status quo. we must step outside the whole circus arena of confrontational adversarial politics that is self-defeating in the least.

There has to come a time, when either we cross the Rubicon and de-camp as wave upon wave of Sri Lankans in the last several decades had; or, for better or worse, dig into the trenches, prepare ourselves to take an increasingly active role in shaping the face of our business environment, set aside the constraints as a given and try and make things happen.

Surely those of us who may be lucky enough to have a choice, and yet have decided to weather things must be ready to take that extra mile or two to get things done. Business must move on its own momentum, thriving on chaos - the added impetus that creates its own shock to the system and makes one so much tougher and more resilient. Of course, the private sector has shown the capacity for resilience.

But are we tough enough? Could we be leaner, meaner, and more creative? Have we set our world-class goal posts? Have we set in place the partnerships and alliances to build world-class products and services? Have we harnessed our own competencies and maximised their potential? It brings to mind the advertisement carried in the Harvard Business Review, which talks of the Goose that layed the golden egg. "Once upon a time there was a well defined goal, one directed the organisation towards it and plop, out came the desired result". Tough times now. We need to know what agenda we need to build and how to do it. We need to cut costs, and yet build our people. We need to invest in Information Technology solutions and yet deliver bottom line. We need to hold the bottom end of the bottomed out equity market, while creating shareholder confidence that the market will eventually swing. Oh yes, we know all this and more, feel good truisms such as transparency, corporate governance, people development. But the only plop these days is another debacle or regulatory block.

John Keells

But is it that bad? Despite all this, the economy has grown by 6% in the first quarter. Yes, we’ll say exports have had a good run. Companies like John Keells have grown by 25% in their bottom line. No doubt detractors will say "it is only the ports deal." Or as they said two years ago, "it is a lucky run on plantations". Isn’t that the name of the game to be able to compensate for downfalls in other business activities, and do the right things at the right time? Sometimes all these improving business models such as cross-functional teams, reducing waste, redesigning business processes may not be enough. It is rather the ability to face tough questions and re-invent ourselves, as perhaps the Development Finance Institutions and Insurance Companies and Fund Management Companies might now realise.

When British Airways announced it wanted to be the world’s favourite airline, it took a decision to be a different kind of airline, not merely a better one in what it was doing. We need to create new language, we need to completely underwrite a change process, confirm our organisational weakness and summon the courage to abandon what is for what might be. No bird-in-the-hand hesitancy, no looking back, no one foot in the past glory of successes built and one foot in the future. Remember, it is not moon dust we seek, but sustainable growth in the bottom line. Sometimes, it is not managing the pieces that count; it is managing the context. What we need are transition management teams and project champions that will make things happen and have delegated authority to set priorities and keep the momentum so a critical tipping point in the change process can be engineered. We need to drive our selves to that edge.

Let us play another track. Have we refined our powers of negotiation and built it into a recyclable resource? Have we grappled with inter-company, inter-group knowledge management and leveraged it across our business, with a strategic drive at the 7 deadly sins of corporate complacency ? Rate yourself and see.

1. Inconsistent product quality

2. Slow response to the market place

3. Lack of innovative and competitive product offerings

4. Non-competitive cost structures

5. Inadequate employee involvement

6. Unresponsive customer support systems

7. Inefficient resource allocation


How many of these factors are dependent on the external environment? And how many of these hold true as barriers for success in our top export markets? Is this an inherent gap in our competitiveness? Don’t we know that if we don’t target shareholder value, surely, we will not be relevant? Yet, we still find analysts and Chief Executive Officers grappling with earnings per share, as the piece-de-resistance. They have not worked things out, still. Remember always that avoiding action or investment that destroys shareholder value such as overpaying for acquisitions, or over investing in low return projects, or adding unproductive overheads, as opposed to encouraging actions that create value, such as increasing sales without compromising on yields, broadening operating margins, improving cash flows, and increasing capital turnaround, is what it is all about. But above all, it is about the intangible capability to be resilient, and competitive, to be able to not merely grow market share, but to be able to identify and pre-empt new adversaries in a changing marketplace. Take the historic example of the top three auto players in the world (at that time all Americans), who took too long to realise that they were not competing domestically against each other, but that their true threat was Japan and that they had changed the battleground to quality as the key driver. Are we today at the same point where Japan was in 1992 when Akiro Morito, Chief Executive Officer of Sony warned his compatriots away from the insularity and cultural paranoia "that we the Japanese businessman" must take the lead? He went on to argue cogently, that it was the business community that needed to bridge the gap that government and historical cultural animosities could not transcend, that the success of Japan was dependent on the continued growth of the US economy.

Can we see the parallels in where we stand today, vis-a-vis the Free Trade Agreement, and the links we need to forge to maximise our competitive edge, or are we too hidebound in the paranoia of being swallowed up ? Do any of our Big three private sector companies in both tourism and plantations/tea ever think of the Research & Development opportunities they have in using the inflow of tourists, to test market our tea and develop insights in global consumer taste preferences? What does it take? A tea shop or two at their hotels, where tea is served and brewed and tourists are taught the old fashioned way of drinking tea and then asked to venture into new pastures and panake in our consumer panels in return for free tea. Do we know that rituals are part of brand empathy that we must exploit if we are to preserve what we stand for. And Sri Lanka does stand for tea. But above all if business took a common stand and partnered for growth. If the big three tourism players used their combined clout to tap the 400,000 plus tourists as a springboard to test new value added products, or tied up with Sri Lankan Airlines in database marketing and a referral system that traveller bring traveller, can win room nights or frequent flyer points, our tourism would get a fillip. If competition became in some instances co-petition, towards Industry training and maintaining of standards, we could perhaps leapfrog from a non-player in global competitiveness to a force to be reckoned with. The Insurance Industry would be a classic example. Again, if the big players in tourism took a common stand on hiking their room rates and holding it, sooner or later, we will ride through to a higher premium traveller.


Have we ever stopped and looked at what we can do to build human capital as our little bit towards creating a nation that is more competitive? National policy and implementation is but one paradigm in which we as individuals, and as corporates can do our bit too. Let us take a trivial example that musters much passion yet; the old boy network. Loyalties are so great and yet look around and ask which old boy has pledged to make his old school the most Information Technology driven educational institution in the country, or visioned it by going on and trying to drive a project of getting a computer into each class. Reality is, we cannot control the power blocks, the security guards making fast bucks and the whole spectrum of issues that come in the wake of fund raising and project management in the microcosm of our little schools.

We cannot exert power and influence to keep the system clean. Can we then complain about the larger bureaucracy and political and public sector abuse? Let us commit to and make our spectrum of influence function with transparency and effectiveness. Let us make our visions and make them happen. It might cost only a million or so to set up schools of training that the children of our support staff can have access to, in the companies we run. It takes 10-12 computers and a teacher who trains the driver’s and peon’s kids after school, and gives them a greater exposure and an opportunity to get off the poverty block. And above all, it might create a huge level of gratitude and team building to the corporate as a caring institution that is value driven. What does it take? Ideas, a little money and the will to make it happen. Or drive social responsibility programmes, with each institute like Singer or Unilever setting up small institutions of learning where children can have access to Information Technology. The empathy building techniques are many and the brand goodwill mechanisms and customer loyalty justifications are many. The example of what Bell Atlantic did 10 years ago in creating one of the first ever models for using computer networks in public schools, to enable communication and learning beyond the classroom, in their "Project Explore" is a case in point. Part of it involved getting inner-city kids and their teachers to use computers at home and the project became the catalyst for increasing the use of technology to transform middle and high school classrooms and to involve parents in their kids education. Union city’s schools once threatened with state takeover have become national role models and Bell Atlantic found new ways of handling data transmission. It refined its goals for video on demand and identified new markets in distance learning (Harvard Case Study).


What we as a Nation need are the old selfless Panadura/Moratuwa type philanthropists with community vision, or champions of key imperatives that shift out of the eternal damnation that the Nation is falling into, as one of "pass the buckers" in a relay to nowhere. The engine of growth despite all so far, cannot run out of fuel in our Nation’s most critical hours of need. We need to stand up and be counted.

In summary companies need to put their own houses in order by being more productive, driving quality unrelentingly, sharpening their competitiveness and thus their flexibility and response time to market needs Parallel to this, they must incessantly drive cost reduction as continuous improvement. They need to come together through organizations like the Chamber, with active participation that goes beyond mere leveraging of private agendas or individual organisations. National issues must be the focus and we must build linkages, pool resources across-sectors and across business groups, and then drive it with a passion and commitment that really challenges our priorities.

A nation delinquent of those who will be held responsible will never come of age. We believe we can still make it if we accept that the buck stops here.

Toronto College of Buddhist Studies inaugurated

By Kirthi Abeyesekere
History was made in Canada when the Toronto College of Buddhist Studies [TCBS] was inaugurated at an ‘Open House’ ceremony. It is the first ever institute offering a comprehensive course in Buddhism. The idea, mooted three years ago, and reported in ‘The Sunday Island’ of November 2, 1997, has finally taken shape.

The Canadian College is non-sectarian in the sense that the studies would not be confined to ‘Theravada Buddhism,’ but will include other Buddhist Schools of Thought. This is evident in the composition of the eight-member, multi-ethnic and representative Board of Governors that include Burmese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Tibetan, Japanase and Sri Lankan personnel.

At the inauguration held to acquaint the public with the concept of the study courses, Governing Board President, Prof. Suwanda H. J. Sugunasiri, said that the TCBS would be "the first and only institution of higher learning in Canada to provide for the systematic study of Buddhism."

The study course would culminate in a ‘Certificate in Buddhist Studies’ after one year, and a ‘Diploma’ in two years. Eventually, the College hopes to achieve university status, offering a Degree in Buddhism.

In a post-inauguration interview with ‘The Sunday Island,’ Dr. Sugunasiri who is also the President of the College, said, "Our interest is to provide our students with the opportunity to study Buddhism in all its forms of expression from an objective point of view, with or without a personal commitment to its practice." Dr. Sugunasiri is a Research Associate in Buddhist Studies at the University of Toronto, and a Past President of the Buddhist Council of Canada.

Elaborating on this concept, Dr. Sugunasiri said that "the idea is to prepare people to live a better life in the real world through the practical application of Buddhist teachings." He said the course is not intended as a means to gain employment. As an illustration, he cited the case of a Jamaican bank employee who had applied for admission to the course. She believed that such a course of study would help her to create a better working environment.

Three basic Buddhist Ethics

Prof. Sugunasiri emphasised that the TCBS is not a temple. "If you want spirituality, you go to a temple. This (the College), is a place for learning." However, he observed that the courses of study would be based on three basic Buddhist Ethics - ‘Seela’ (Discipline), ‘Samadhi’ (Concentration) and ‘Panna’ (Wisdom) - the ‘tri-partite division of the Noble Eightfold Path. Most people, Dr. Sugunasiri observed, are interested only in either, ‘Seela’ or ‘Samadhi..’ "We try to bring them together."

The one year certificate course comprises an introduction to Pali in which language the earliest Buddhist texts were recorded, and English as a second language. This is said to be unique in that the course is intended primarily for monks and nuns to facilitate communication in the English language for the purpose of sharing the Dhamma. The emphasis will be on all four language skills - listening, speaking, reading and writing.

The college strongly recommends this course for "those trapped in their temples - to help them get out of their prisons".

The Two-Year Diploma programme offers three courses:

(1) Buddhist pastoral care intended, either for those already employed in the existing system of correctional institutions, hospitals and seniors’ homes, or for those seeking to enhance their employment opportunities in their fields. The course is offered in consultation with the Ontario Ministry of Correctional Services and the Canadian Association of Pastoral Education.

(2) Community Teaching - intended for Sunday school teacher or anyone involved in providing Buddhist education to children in Canada or anywhere else.

(3) Dhamma Outreach - for those interested in taking the Buddha message to communities in Canada or overseas, not hitherto serviced

Academic framework

"The goal of the college is to provide an academic framework for the study of Buddhism with the aim of helping to produce better human beings through their personal spiritual growth," says Dr. Sugunasiri, adding that there is a great need for better behaviour, more compassion and greater inter-human relationships.

The studies will facilitate the application of Buddhist principles to everyday living. Emphasis is also placed on community awareness of Buddhist principles, designed to contribute to the development of a harmonious multi-cultural society.

The faculty, drawn from the University of Toronto and York, consists of academics qualified to teach in particular areas. They are Prof. Janet McLellan, Ph.D (Sociology of Religion); Prof. Leonard Priestley, M.A. Mphil, Ph.D, who reads Chinese, Pali and Sanskrit; Prof. Sugunasiri, M.A. MEd. Ph.D. who reads Pali, Sanskrit and Sinhala; Prof. Evan Thompson, M.A. Ph.D and Prof. A. K. Warder, MA. Ph.D. who reads Pali and Sanskrit.

"Canadian Buddhism is a rich representation of the tapestry of world Buddhism," Dr. Sugunasiri said in his welcome address at the inauguration ceremony. "The increasing number of native-born Canadians are looking at Buddhism seriously, both its practice and philosophical systems." Yet, he said, opportunities in Canada for studying Buddhism are sadly lacking. Canadian universities offer an introductory course or two, and rarely, much more. "Where the Buddhist centres engage in some educational endeavours, each of them, understandably, limits itself to its own particularistic variety."

The TCBS is intended to fill this vacuum, says Dr. Sugunasiri, adding that a significant feature of the programmes is meditation as both, theory and practice "so fundamental to Buddhism, yet least welcome in the world of academics."

The TCBS whose doors will open in September, is an incorporated, nonprofit, non-sectarian institution "dedicated to the pursuit of Truth in the best Buddhist and academic tradition."