Colombo-Hatton-Kandy-Narammala-Anuradhapura- Madhu-Mannar-Kilinochchi-Jaffna-Puthukuduirippu-Mullaitivu-Trincomalee-Batticaloa-Ampara-Embilipitiya-Nonagama-Waralla-Matara-Denipitiya –Galle-Ambalangoda-Colombo. (1stOct - 1stNov,2015)
The charm continued. The spell remained unbroken. Too much that just could not have been humanly structured happened in this 21 stop, 32 day, 14 pillow, 3000 km, all-expenses-met, faith-rewarding adventure around Sri Lanka. Too many signals that cannot be ignored: So many people met who responded to this message of personal change as foundational for bringing the change needed today for Sri Lanka’s tomorrow. So many places (14) ready to organise deeper IofC interactions for us - if and when we return. So one would be accused of sightlessness if we did not get the message, writ loud and clear,(“Will on Wheels?”) that the Universe conspired, every which way it could, to ensure we received through this journey: that at this point of historic democratic opportunity, Sri Lanka needs to find its unique, inspired, heart-winning, people-healing, people-freeing, grand theme initiative that brings the deeper reconciliation akin to modern history’s wondrous melting of centuries of Franco-German hate.
(Look at Germany and her readiness to admit to - and today even exhibit as tourist spots - the worst they did in history under Hitler. Which other nations have done that?)
Clearly Sri Lanka has to go beyond mere copy-paste or the ready repeats of what has been tried elsewhere. Half measures would ultimately sell the country delusion, depression and, god forbid, disaster again. Despite the innumerable outstanding minds and super-caring hearts we met, the “Sri Lanka Special” may only be born as those who really care, turn to starting their each day with silent searching from the inner voice in their souls to be gifted how this hurt-healing can be done.
The question is: Will enough Sri Lankans listen to their hearts and souls and not just their minds, especially brilliant though we found so many were. “Listen within to act without.” Or simply heed the famed Dr A T Ariyaratne’s words to us: “Your conscience will never mislead you.”
Foremost, it is apparent - and this just needs to be facilitated - that the whole nation ensures that “those who are hurt, are heard” – unrestricted and fully.
Then, all take to heart the “not where others have hurt me but where I have hurt others” theme.
Finally, crown it with every community deciding, within a generation or two, to “obliterate hurt and hate, heart by heart starting at my home” by listening to their heart and soul.
It will have to be justice first and then healing. Or else ‘the injustice may keep swamping the hurt-and hatelands in hearts’ Folly obviously to go ahead without draining these.
The question is will Sri Lankans see the warning in Edmund Burke’s “For evil to triumph, it only needs the good people to remain silent and do nothing”. Or do too little or, even more perilously, just carry on doing what they are doing. Then, wouldn’t that again be a recipe for Sri Lanka getting what it has been getting in the recent past? Surely everyone - but everyone - has to ask themselves daily: “What more should I do today for Sri Lanka?”
Everywhere especially in Kilinochchi, Mannar, Embilipitiya and Colombo, we found enough people who seemed to see the need for deeper housecleaning; and who prize what IofC has to offer Sri Lanka in terms of bringing change of attitudes and tangible change at the grass roots.
Sri Lanka could, in many wonderful ways, become this decade’s ‘Shining Star of Asia’.
Journey Journal Part 1 ended mid-way in Kilinochchi, the only place where we did the fuller 3-day IofC interaction with up to 20 young people, mainly Tamil women but including 6 Sinhalese. With the right further work there, this rebuilt former LTTE hub will definitely yield an IofC-effective, Tamil- Sinhala outreach team for the country.
The tool that emerged here as most powerful to use in Sri Lanka (or anywhere) was the Freedom Glass demo. This is where the good-looking flowers in a glass that is held up, are removed. What is unlovely about us and normally unseen by others in the glass of one’s life is shared and dealt with to find inner freedom and fulfillment. People chose different objects symbolizing points within them that represent what they need to become free from through all-important correction, restitution and renewal.
Some sample sharing:
- I will take off my mask. This thorn indicates my jealousy. Want to take out anger (chilli).
- I used a white cloth but if I am honest I have impure thoughts as well. I used drugs but I will stop that. I won’t treat my body as a stone… I feel free now.
- I have an attitude of revenge in my heart. I will take the pin out.
- There are things locked in my heart and I want to let them out. People say Sri Lanka is one country but I always felt that my province is my country because people have hurt us hugely. I have hated Sinhalese so much. But now I understand that some Sinhalese understand our issues. Yesterday Shashi apologized and cried; I feel healed.
- Currency notes show the money I have been dishonest about.
- There was a stone inside me. In my childhood, my parents separated. Since then I’ve hated both of them and society also because I saw similar problems there. But I realized I was wrong.
- Found leaves of different colours i.e. my friends; but I hate a person. Till yesterday, I wanted to kill him. Have decided to remove this, meet him. It won’t be in my glass anymore.
- I have not talked with one of my brothers for 5 months because he scolded me in front of other people. I wanted to mend this relationship and I served him a cup of tea this morning.
- I pretend to be something I am not. I have only respected my religion. Want to stop doing that and respect other religions… My mum left me as a child with my grandmother. In all these years I‘ve never called my amma, only my father. Today I decided to reconcile with her.
- I had a dream to become a lawyer but because of the LTTE period, I could not become one, and I pushed my dream on my son, but now I realize it was wrong on my part.
Remarks of our most generous host, Rev T S Joshua at the concluding session at Kilinochchi:
“I want to thank IofC specially because the Sinhalese are here and I am grateful for that.”
“Honestly till the IofC workshop started, I did not believe there would be any worth in this workshop. We have used theatre and been through many workshops for 23 years and it has not worked. But what you are doing is building people. That is what we need today. For a long time, we have been waiting for something like this.
“We in the North are waiting for peace. We feel development is not peace. Most of us have lost family members, body parts, property. 400,000 people have been finished. 65,000 Tamil war widows and 25000 women whose husbands disappeared forever (his figures). We have lost this kind of numbers. We will have a 100 years of pain. Everyone has a wounded heart and will have for at least for two or three generations… We lost our intellectuals too.
“In the last four years, the church through this post war dependency on them has used that to convert many people. I have not accepted that kind of thing. I wrote articles against conversion and the bishops were angry with me. So I had to leave the Church and practise my Christianity outside the Church.
“The IofC way is a very good way to bring peace to the heart. We should share these ideas with the Tamil community because they are still making the Tamils go against the Sinhalese.
“We want the 175 widows in 25 self help women’s groups in the three villages we work in and 35 university students out of 200 connected with us to get IofC. I strongly believe through IofC we can help them again and again. Also 27 orphans as they are living alone in the world. Having no parents, I think IofC can be a big strength to them as they need to listen to their inner voice.
“This is a fantastic thought in the 21st century for Sri Lanka. I feel God has sent you as messengers. The international community says you are all now in a good condition, but I know we are still in the dark in the North. IofC is like a light from the east. We welcome you again and again to our place and to our community. This is what we need today.
“You will see a change in our community the next time you come here. I want to respect and learn from the Sinhalese. I feel full now, I feel like I have started the change in me.”
Our host Fr Dixon, from age 18 is now 25 years into voluntary service, (“IofC volunteers inspired me that I am not alone in working in full time service to society without assured income!”) organized a meeting at the Sri Naga Viharaya of the Panchgani-returned Buddhist monk, Ven M. Sirivimala Thero.
This was to meet with five Muslim leaders for over two hours to hear of their plight. They were especially aggrieved about being grossly unjustly treated on housing. They felt it was all a signal that they were unwelcome back in the North. However, after we left, Fr Dixon phoned us about a meeting on the 25th anniversary of the mass expulsion of Muslims from Jaffna within an impossible 4 hour deadline, where the Chief Minister of Jaffna announced to the relief of the 500 gathered that they will build 1000 homes for Muslims! That day Fr Dixon also initiated a Muslim Tamil Relationship Association.
Meeting Prof Rajan Hoole, of the University Teachers for Human Rights- Jaffna, was being in the presence of brilliance and humility, wisdom and objectivity. Some of his dear academic and other colleagues were killed for speaking up against abuses by both sides. He too was threatened. Professor in Mathematics he was, pianist he is but that he is an equally powerful wordsmith is seen in his outstanding book ‘Palmyra Fallen” about the reality of the war years and its causes.
He said to us. “This illusion of Tamils being a minority in this island is a deluded picture.” Then he quietly gave us the key to Sri Lanka’s future, “We have to take the trouble to learn and understand what the others have gone through... Try and advance the reconciliation in our own life.”
In our travelling team we had Dr Navanyanam Kanagasabai, Jaffna Tamil brought up in Malaysia now living in Britain. She came to make a reconnection of the spirit with her parents’ birth-land. And to see how she can return to serve needs she sees, even if it means loosening her beloved British moorings. “I feel privileged to be a part of this plan and come to the land of my forefathers. It’s one thing to listen to the inner voice but the next step is to think of the community and come together and work together.”
Puthukuduirippu: not far from where LTTE supremo Prabhakaran was finally felled.
After the war ended in 2009, ‘IofC for Lifer’, Shashika together with other Sinhalese has been thrice to help Tamil families rehabilitate, clearing jungle-claimed lands where their homes stood shelled out. Jayadas, a forced LTTE recruit, is the son of the widow Stella whose land Shashi helped clear. Though prospects still seem depressing for her, she now has an incomplete home under the Indian housing aid of SLRs 550,000 per family. The deep scars of two decades of displacement, fear, uncertainty and misery seen on their faces clearly is the shared, tortured tale of hundreds of thousands.
Trincomalee: with its famed natural naval base.
The office of the Governor of the Eastern Province has a panoramic view of the famed harbour that big powers compete to have as naval base. H. E. Austin Fernando, a former Defence Secretary, has been clearly one of Sri Lanka’s ablest, veteran bureaucrats. Someone who speaks truth to power or to narrow nationalism, be it of Tamils or his own Sinhalese Buddhist clergy. On the current heat about the recent Geneva Human Rights Resolution on Sri Lanka he forthrightly observed to us. “If your hearts and hands are clean, why should anyone in Sri Lanka fear any probe - international, hybrid or national?”
Batticaloa: where the Eastern University is centred and which for many of the war years was an internment camp for 5000 including our host, University academic, Dr T. Jayasingam. He said “War is easier to wage than reconciliation.” Out of initial skepticism in the group of 30 – different faith leaders, business folk and NGO activists - he arranged for us to meet, at the end, several younger activists cornered Wima and Shashi wanting the “unique” IofC personal change emphasis brought in for the groups they work with, in future visits they urged our two IfLers to make.
Embilipitiya – Nonagama:
The experience in this JVP stronghold of the 70s and 80s around Embilipitiya was most revealing in that the IofC way of life found ready resonance with many who had allegiance to the revolutionary path of the JVP an armed youth uprising with Marxist tenets - aiming to take over and run the country and who brought in an era of terror. “We have the same rhythm in our hearts.” We were hosted by an educator, Dharmashri Malawalaarachchi, who still subscribes passionately to and yearns for a truly equal and just society. He sent letters of invitation to each of the parents of his 500 plus students to meet us. He also had us interact twice with many former JVP- committed citizens, scores of whose revolutionary colleagues were killed when the Government of the day annihilated allegedly up to 70,000 cadre members of the movement that was taking the nation and its youth by storm. Being of ideologically committed strain, they caught the basis of IofC instantly, as if this personal change factor was the trace element that completed their societal quest. They sensed - and found out -that we were operating on a shoestring with Shashi and Wima having put in their own money for this outreach. “We knew that you have put your own money. We felt it through the genuineness of your sharing. This is the beginning of our friendship. Please count on us for any future needs.” These new friends – Buddhist with Marxist leanings - had a concern:”This hall-full of people are fairly committed to changing society but how do we reach the people who do not come to this sort of meetings?”
Waralla: The hometown of our host in Sri Lanka, publisher/bookstore chain owner, Vijitha Yapa.
His father gave the community outstanding and abiding service especially through a school now in his name. Not as well known is that 43 out of 500+ students there are Tamils. In addition people everywhere found it wondrous when we told them that the Head Boy of the M D Yapa School in this Sinhala South region is a Tamil – the son of Indian Tamil tea garden workers!
We did a 90 min interaction with the senior students. The Art Teacher rushed to us at the end:“How on earth did you keep them interested all that while and getting them saying NO to stopping the session. We have extreme difficulty keeping them engaged for more than 15 minutes. You are not only doing volunteer service. You are collecting merits for the next life.”
Next, they want a 3 day programme there. And some teachers have already talked to other nearby schools to have IofC inputs on any future visit. (P.S: Vijitha says the principal phoned that the school bully admitted to him he had been hitting and bullying students, but after the visit of IofC, he has decided not to hit them and mend his ways!)
Matara: University of Ruhuna, Matara has a fairly impressive, sprawling green campus. Within minutes of hearing what this IofC outreach was about, Science Prof. E.P.S.Chandana, also Student Counsellor, wanted in. So a 2-3 day IofC interaction is on the cards there. The next time similarly, Keleniya, Sabargama, Wayamba Universities also want IofC programmes we were not able to find the time for on this visit. So, some employment assured, amongst Sinhalese youth in particular. What of Eastern University? Jaffna University?
Colombo: In the last 48 hours in Sri Lanka, 3 super memorable meetings with:
Sarvodaya head, Dr A T Ariyaratne, who started as teacher and then grew a social service movement active in 15000 villages; “The moment a thought comes, think if that will do any good to you or any good for the others?”;
Ven Banagala Upatissa, head of the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka and India, whose Colombo vihar was the only Buddhist temple Pope Francis has visited. His message to youth “Be your own Master and do a perfect job even if no one is looking”; and Mr C Maliyadde and Mr C D Casie Chetty in charge of the Centre of National Unity and Reconciliation, just formed by the new government to bring new unity for the future. “As bureaucrats we might only work on the surface but you are going deep into the grassroots… We have to wash out the inner feelings...I wish I could go and stay with Tamil families as you did.”
If enough Sri Lankans re-order their daily priorities and work for it, with inner inspiration and readiness to change themselves first, then it is possible their nation will have a future quite different from its past. It could be a huge gift of hope to the world today – and to humankind’s history!
‘Quotable Quotes’ generated or heard in this month:
- This outreach visit was just seeing the ribbons coming off the gift box so effortlessly, almost wondrously. We still have to work to find what is inside.
- Sri Lanka - the Asian nation of the year 2015 in strengthening democracy? Will it also strengthen the notion of justice within its shores?
- Shashi : If I accept any wrong that I have done I am starting the peace process.
- Did I help democracy and justice in my lifetime? How?
- At Kilinochchi Shashi said to Tamils “Tell all your pain to us Sinhalese. We are here to build brotherhood again. Say to me as a representative of the Sinhalese all you want to. Our responsibility is to build the future together. I need your support…. I say sorry to you that the Sinhalese govt has had the wrong policy but together we can do something for our country....What sort of ‘great culture’ of a 1000 years do we have? We write on buses, “This is the kingdom of Gautama Buddha” but where is the practice of Buddhism?
- Ven Dhammananda Thero of Walpola Rahula Insttute: The majority have to understand what the minority have gone through. Everyone in Sri Lanka is wounded and affected. The Buddhist greeting ‘suwapathwewa’ means ‘May you be healed’. The healing process will have to come to all. We need inter-religious dialogue programmes for social healing.
- Lalana Yapa: Again the time for us to build community relationship….1977 onwards the Sinhalese took on to believe that they were the greatest. IofC is about being open about the past. Time has come to look at the past and be honest or we will repeat the cycle. The Sri Lankan govt is ready to look at the past. IofC has expertise in personal reconciliation.
- Living with people on the ground is the real test of IofC work - after initial sessions.
- Prashant, a Tamil from Vavuniya: The Sinhalese don’t know what the Tamils need. And the Tamils don’t know what the Sinhalese are thinking.
- Nyanam: When hatred consumes us, we see enemies everywhere.
- Fr Joshua: We will have a century of wounded hearts.
- Kunaradnam Debora Jeevamalar: There has been Sinhala on Tamil oppression but also I have to accept that there has been Tamil upon Tamil oppression too.
- Fr Nesan: I sometimes don’t practice what I preach. At such times my words are powerless and don’t have an effect on others. I have learned that my preaching must be from my life experience.
- Croos: Just as Wangyal from Tibet felt towards the Chinese, we also hate India. I am sorry. Will use my 20 minutes to overcome my hatred.
- Sr Rubarani: War makes people either violent or if you are spiritual, compassionate. Untold stories need to be told.
- Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne: Your conscience will never mislead you. ….the moment a thought comes, think if that will do any good to you or any good for the others? Even if it does any good for you and if it will not do any good for others then don’t allow that thought to go beyond that, just discard it.
- Joe William, Director-Founder, National Peace Council: We were all imprisoned. Now we’re free. How do we use the space to find peace for this next generation? We want change but we ourselves aren’t changing. Putting plasters on wooden legs…We can’t have peace if there’s no respect for human rights.
- Suchith Abeyevickreme: The Buddhist youth need to package Buddhism as our own. We ran a “Hate has no place in Sri Lanka!” campaign.
- Who wants change? (All). Who wants to change? (Silence)…. Ownership of ideas for change become strong when we actually change. Our ownership of our religion starts when we start practising it – Wangyal
- Victory and defeat happen when it is about land, wealth and power. Victory and victory happen when the spiritual battle is won. Ashoka overcame self and had something to inspire all with.
- Jeremy Liyanage: From Buddhism I have taken impermanence and detachment. From Christianity, unconditional love and the biblical paradoxical not binary logic (leader and servant, the first shall be the last, to be strong you have be vulnerable)
- For the type of world I want, am I the type of person I should be? Am I the person I want to be? Or Can be?
- “I have realized that when I change, I feel empowered that I can actually bring change to the community because of the change in me.”
- In mindful sitting together or golden silent walk I hear more than I normally hear.
- Is my heart the full Sri Lanka size, covering all of it or is my real concern limited to my people’s area? What is the real shape of my heart? Does it have the North and the East in it? Can I find in my life what Sri Lanka needs to find? What is the size of my world?
- Sugathsri Ketaluwa Hewage, searching for deeper justice and equality in Sri Lanka: “Just want my children, above all, to become good people in life, whether they are working in an office or selling betel at a bus station.”
- What has Life given you? What will you give Life? The biggest or just a little?