Friday, October 26, 2012

Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bhikkhuni Ordination at Dharma Vijaya in Los Angeles

Thu, 2012-10-25 12:30 — editor
By Dr. Stephen Long
BGR Walk Santa Monica

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, one of the most brilliant and prolific Buddhist scholars of our time, was a guest at Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles this past weekend. Ven. Bodhi, author of approximately 25 books – many of them important translations of the Nikayas and other ancient Pali texts – was ordained as a Theravada monk in Sri Lanka in 1972 under the aegis of Ven. Ballangoda Ananda Maitreya Maha Nayake Thera.
He spent many years as editor of the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy under the direction of Ven. Nyaponika Maha Thera, and later served as BPS’s second president. The immense contribution he has made to the Buddha Sasana and Buddhist literature is immeasurable, and we are all grateful for his 40 years of selfless service and his vast body of work. Bhikkhu Bodhi currently lives and teaches in upstate New York.
He arrived in LA this past Friday to lead a three-mile walk through Santa Monica on Saturday to raise funds for Buddhist Global Relief, the non-profit he founded whose mission is not to proselytize for Buddhism, but to combat chronic hunger and malnutrition. Bearing in mind the Buddha’s statements that “hunger is the worst kind of illness” and “the gift of food is the gift of life,” BGR sponsors projects that:
• promote hunger relief for poor communities around the world. It pursues its mission by:
• providing direct food aid to people afflicted by hunger and malnutrition
• helping develop better long-term methods of sustainable food production and management appropriate to the cultures and traditions of the beneficiaries
• promoting the education of girls and women, so essential in the struggle against poverty and malnutrition
• giving women an opportunity to start right livelihood projects to support their families.
BGR also seeks to raise awareness of global hunger and advocate for an international food system that exemplifies social justice and conduces to ecological sustainability.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Ven. Walpola Piyananda, abbot of Dharma Vijaya, led a group of over 250 participants, both laymen and monks, in the Santa Monica walk, which was one of a dozen BGR fund-raising walks held each year in various cities of the United States. (Please visit to learn more and/or make a donation)

On Sunday, Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi presented a fascinating two-hour lecture at Dharma Vijaya to approximately 200 mostly-American guests, in addition to members of the Maha Sangha from various temples in the region. I gave a welcome speech, as did one of my Dhamma School students, Kalpa Samasinghe. The event was emceed by Ven. Maitipe Wimilasara, and organized by Ven. Kalabululande Dhammajothi and Ms. Cynthia Shimazu. A speech of gratitude was given by Dr. Ananda Guruge, and at the conclusion of the event Dr. Gamani Jayasinghe presented a gift to Buddhist Global Relief on behalf of Dharma Vijaya. Ven. Bodhi’s talk, which had been promoted in the Los Angeles Times, was entitled “A Path of Guidance Fitting for Our Time.” In the lecture Ven. Bodhi identified the three most serious problems that he feels currently challenge our global community (inequality of wealth, drone missile warfare, and global climate change), and he offered solutions for solving them based on teachings from the Buddha Dhamma. An insightful question and answer session took place after Ven. Bodhi’s revealing talk.
The following day Ven. Bodhi participated in a bhikkhuni ordination ceremony, which was officiated by Ven. Piyananda. During the past three decades both of these venerables have been strong supporters of the ordination of women into the Sangha, and on Monday four new bhikkhunis were added to the Order. Three of the women were of American origin, and one is from Sri Lanka. It is interesting to note that since the ordination of bhikkhunis began in America, thanks to the efforts of Ven. Piyananda, the late Ven. Dr. Hawanpola Ratanasara, and Ven. Henepola Gunaratana in 1986, the Order has grown each year so that now there are approximately 25 Theravada bhikkhunis in various monasteries in America. The ordination of American Theravada monks, however, continues to be quite rare, and is not a growing phenomenon.
The moving, two-part ordination ceremony was attended by approximately thirty-five male and female Sangha members, and 25 lay guests. A very special guest was Ruth Denison, the legendary 90-year-old pioneer Vipassana meditation teacher. She was the first Buddhist teacher in the United States to lead an all-women's retreat for Buddhist meditation and instruction. Her center, Dhamma Dena Desert Vipassana Center, is located in the Mojave Desert, in Joshua Tree, California. She was also a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and she sometimes still teaches at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Her presence was an inspiration to the female Sangha members to whom she offered words of encouragement. Ven. Piyananda and Ven. Bodhi offered special messages of advice to the new nuns, and the entire event was filmed by a Los Angeles filmmaker for inclusion in his upcoming documentary film about Buddhism in America.
Of particular interest – and most-definitely a historic first – was the ordination of Bhikkhuni Santussika. She is a white American, originally from Indiana, who now lives at the Karuna Buddhist Vihara in Millbrae, which is located in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. Her son, Ven. Ajahn Guna, has been a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition for the past thirteen years, and is a student of Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi and his traveling assistant during his current visit in California. Ven. Guna was not only present at his mother’s ordination; he also played a key role in the ceremony. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first case of an American mother joining her ordained American son in the Theravadan Sangha. Mother and son joined each other Monday night – along with Bhikkhu Bodhi and many of the bhikkhunis – at a five-day Western monastics conference at Thich Nhat Hahn’s Deer Park Monastery near San Diego.
Ven. Piyananda and the monks of Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara are grateful to have been able to participate in such a Dhamma-filled three days with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi as their resident guest. All of them bless Ven. Bodhi for his work for the Sasana, and wish him good health and a long life in which to continue to write, translate, and interpret the teachings of the Buddha.
- Asian Tribune -

Seychelles set to benefit from Sri Lanka’s fisheries experts -


Sri Lanka’s Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Development Minister Rajitha Senaratne is in Seychelles on an official one-week visit to discuss furthering cooperation in areas relating to his ministry.
He arrived in the country yesterday afternoon accompanied by a delegation of top Sri Lankan government officials.
The team was met at the Seychelles International Airport by the Minister for Natural Resources and Industry Peter Sinon and the ministry’s principal secretary Michel Nalletamby.
Seychelles Fishing Authority (SFA) chief executive Finley Racombo and its chairperson Philippe Michaud were also there to welcome Dr Senaratne to Seychelles.
Speaking to Seychelles Nation just after his arrival, Dr Senaratne said the Sri Lankan government has decided to have better relations with the island nations in the Indian Ocean.
He added that the ties between Seychelles and Sri Lanka are being further strengthened and that President James Michel’s visit there in August was a successful one.
Dr Senaratne said while in Seychelles, the Sri Lankan team will be able to understand the local fisheries industry and help to find ways to modernise it.
He added that cooperation between the two countries in the fisheries sector will be enhanced.
“The aim is also to see how to improve businesses between the two countries,” he said.
“It was also requested by the Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa for us to visit Seychelles to start some projects and improve the bilateral relations.”
Sri Lanka will also help Seychelles in the setting up of aquaculture and this will be an area for discussion during the visit.
Mr Sinon said the SFA is working on a master plan for the setting up of aquaculture in the country and this will be an area where the country will benefit greatly from the Sri Lankan expertise.
He said during the visit to Sri Lanka, he learned on the latest developments in the fisheries industry.
Sri Lanka is very experienced in boat building and part of the reason that the Bank of Ceylon, the country’s leading bank, is extending a line of credit to Seychelles, is for the local fishermen or those who want to invest in boats can borrow and get their boats built there.
“Representatives from the Bank of Ceylon were in Seychelles recently, agreements have already been signed between the two countries and we are now moving on to the next step,” he added.
Through this visit, we will be able to show where we have reached in the fisheries industry and how we can collaborate in the various aspects, Mr Sinon said.
Dr Senaratne and his delegation will call on President Michel at State House today and is also expected to meet and hold talks with several ministers.

Political freedom and Judicial Independence

Sun, 2012-10-21 02:47 — editor
By Tisaranee Gunasekara 

It is almost two weeks since the Secretary of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Manjula Tilakeratne was attacked in broad daylight, on a busy suburban road, by four armed men. The police have so far failed to make any headway in the investigation into this outrage. And the perpetrators of this most outrageous crime continue to remain safe, beyond the reach of law.
That curious – but not unexpected - failure speaks far more resoundingly than any ‘discoveries’ or ‘breakthroughs’ about the provenance of this heinous attack.
The police have failed to find the assailants of Mr. Tilakeratne for the same reason the police failed to find the killers of Lasantha Wickremetunga – or the perpetrators of so many previous (greater and lesser) crimes with political complexions. In the case of all these political crimes, the actual physical perpetrators may have been ordinary criminals; but their paymasters cum protectors are extraordinary personages beyond the reach not just of Constable X, Inspector Y or SP Z but also of the IGP himself.
“The most widely held theory of politics is also the simplest: the powerful get what they want”. Dani Rodrik (Project Syndicate – 2.5.2012)
In Sri Lanka, the ordinary crimes with no political involvement are easy to identify - the Lankan police in general manage to resolve them and bring the perpetrators to justice. The political crimes reveal their genesis in the curious failure of an otherwise reasonably competent police force to resolve them. The crimes with political twists invariably remain unresolved.
Several cases which are of critical importance to the rulers and the ruled of Sri Lanka are being considered by the Supreme Court currently. The outcomes in these cases will play a seminal role in deciding whether Rajapaksa governance exceeds all boundaries not just of justice and fair-play but also of enlightened self-interest. And it is in the atmosphere of raw physical intimidation, and of blatant impunity, created by the unresolved attack on the JSC Secretary, that the Supreme Court will be compelled to deliberate and decide on these landmark cases.
Former CJ’s Revelations
Last week, the former Chief Justice, Sarath N Silva, made an interesting revelation about the role the judiciary can play, for good or for ill, in the fate of a country and its people. The former CJ admitted that it was thanks to him that Mahinda Rajapaksa became the president of Sri Lanka. Had he and the Supreme Court headed by him not ruled in Mr. Rajapaksa’s favour in the Helping Hambantota case, Mr. Rajapaksa would not have been able to contest the Presidential poll of 2005, the former CJ revealed.
In the ‘Helping Hambantota’ case Mr. Rajapaksa was accused of misappropriating tsunami funds. It was not a case requiring complex constitutional interpretations; it was a simple case of fraud.
If Mr. Rajapaksa was innocent of any wrongdoing in the ‘Helping Hambantota’ case, then he deserved to be absolved of all charges and his record cleansed of any blot. That is what the law is for, and that is what the law should be for all people, big and small.
Unfortunately the former CJ’s latest remarks create a puzzling picture about the rights and wrongs of the Helping Hambantota case and consequently about the guilt or innocence of Mr. Rajapaksa. According to the former CJ, he and the Supreme Court enabled Mr. Rajapaksa to contest the election, “expecting Mahinda Rajapaksa in turn would safeguard the rights of the other people but it is not happening today” (Daily Mirror – 17.10.2012). Is the former CJ saying that the ‘Helping Hambantota’ ruling was based not on the rights and wrongs of the case but on political considerations? Is he indicating that the court did not find Mr. Rajapaksa guilty not because he was innocent but because the former CJ thought he would make a good, responsible president? Is Mr. Silva implying that the ruling in the ‘Helping Hambantota’ case was based not on laws and facts but on wishful thinking?
The 1978 Constitution created a behemothic executive. But the judiciary managed to retain its independence until the presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. It was President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who commenced the systematic undermining of judicial independence. Especially damaging was her practice of ignoring seniority and experience in appointing judges to the apex courts and using quasi-judicial methods to persecute her political opponents, alive or dead.
It was President Bandaranaike Kumaratunga who was responsible for the meteoric rise of Sarath N Silva. According to Wikpeida, he was “first appointed to the Supreme Court in 1995, then serving under her as Attorney General in 1996 and was appointed a President’s Counsel the same year”. In 1999 he was appointed the Chief Justice, over and above the far superior – and the far more senior - Justice Mark Fernando, a man renowned for his impartiality, knowledge and experience.
President Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was intent on unleashing her constitutional revolution (together with Minister GL Peiris) and she needed a pliant chief justice for that purpose. Mr. Silva had demonstrated that he possessed in ample measure, all the qualities indispensable in a political appointee, with the sterling role he played in the Presidential Commission on the assassination of Vijaya Kumaratunga. That Commission was aimed at whitewashing the JVP and placing the blame for Vijaya Kumaratunga’s murder on the UNP in general and President Premadasa and Minister Ranjan Wijeratne in particular. And the Commission fulfilled the wishes of the appointing authority, the President, to the fullest.
So Mr. Silva was appointed chief justice and for several years he made decisions favourable to the president who made him. In August 2001, the International Bar Association warned that the President and the Chief Justice were acting to undermine the rule of law.
As President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga’s political life neared its end – and with it her usefulness to him – did Mr. Silva look around for another patron? Was that why he picked on Mahinda Rajapaksa and enabled him to contest the Presidency?
The former CJ’s mea culpa – and the sordid tale of favouritism it hints at – could not have come at a more apposite time; it clearly demonstrates the absolute, indispensable importance of judicial independence. Without judicial independence, there is no rule of law, no justice and no fair play. Without judicial independence a democracy is not free and citizens are not safe. Without judicial independence, tyranny has an open field.
Today the Rajapaksas are attempting to bring to a deadly conclusion the war on the justice system launched by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga.
A Lankan internet-wag recently advocated that the appointment of Presidential offspring and neophyte lawyer Namal Rajapaksa as the Chief Justice would be the best way of ensuring that the executive, the legislature and the judiciary cease to be in conflict, that they see with the same eye, hear with the same year, do with the same hands and think with the same brain.
Indeed; a totally conflict-free relationship between the pillars of state is possible only if they are controlled by one entity. Conflict of opinion and action between the executive and the judiciary is what makes a democracy. Such differences are normal in any democracy; and to see in these normal democratic differences a conspiracy is indicative of a despotic mindset, which abhors dissent.
The Divineguma Bill and the 13th Amendment
The Divineguma Bill should be opposed not just by supporters of devolution and defenders of the 13th Amendment. The Divineguma Bill should be opposed by all those who do not want Sri Lanka to increase her pace towards full fledged despotism. Because the primary aim of the Divineguma Bill is to strengthen immeasurably Rajapaksa control over Lankan state and society, by transferring a whole gamut of economic powers into the hands of Brother Basil Rajapaksa.
Divineguma Bill is the Jana Sabha Bill by another name. The Bill will enable the setting up of several layers of unelected organisations from the lowest – the Grama Niladhari division - upwards. The Apex body in this multi-layered structure will be the Divineguma National Council and the minister in charge will have the right to appoint 6 out of its 11 members. The minister will be in control of the Divineguma Banks and Banking societies and the Divineguma Development Fund as well. The minister in charge will of course be none other than Basil Rajapaksa. Naturally; the Rajapaksas will permit the creation of such a powerful megalith only for another Rajapaksa.
The new Divineguma Department will be endowed with Rs.80 billion (more than education and higher education put together) to play development-poker with, behind a wall of official secrecy.
If the Divineguma Bill is approved it will set a dangerous precedent. The Rajapaksas do not want any dilution of their powers either through power-separation or power-devolution. The Siblings are opposed to the 13th Amendment for the same reason they were opposed to the 17th Amendment – both cause a slight dispersal of power.
There is little doubt that the Supreme Court made a cardinal error in providing such an easy and fast passage to the draconian 18th Amendment. But all that is water under the bridge. Our task today is not to dwell on past mistakes but to do what we can to protect whatever residue of judicial independence in the here and now.
For any democrat, the task of the hour is to defeat the Divineguma Bill, prevent the repealing of the 13th Amendment and most of all protect judicial independence. These three goals are paramount in any realistic effort to prevent the Rajapaksas from amassing more power.
- Asian Tribune -