May 21, 2009

Life of the Buddha

An excellent BBC production on the Life of the Buddha. Very well done.

Here is the YouTube page where you can watch the remaining segments;

Life of the Buddha

Quite a fine piece of work; the presentation of the Buddha's teachings is sympathetic and accurate, the look and feel of the dramatic scenes are believable.

Any points of criticism I could make border on hair-splitting. For instance, I don't think the Buddha on his return to Kapilavastu would have bowed to Yasodhara. And I did spot one anachronism; Prince Siddhattha riding a horse with stirrups.

May 20, 2009

Sri Lanka: What Next?

In Sri Lanka, the Tamil Tigers have been decisively defeated, and their leader, Prabhakaran, is almost certainly dead. Modern warfare is a cruel and ugly business and the cost in civilian death and suffering is always huge, and this conflict was no exception. And like in all modern wars, crimes were committed by both sides.

As a pacifist I cannot but deplore the method, and make no excuses for any crimes against humanity, like the shelling of hospitals, that may have been committed by the Sri Lankan military. Nevertheless, the end of the Tamil Tigers is a positive good.

The Tamil minority does have legitimate grievances, but this in no way justified the activities of the Tigers. These were probably the most cruel and bloody-handed terrorist group anywhere. The Tigers pioneered the use of the suicide bomb, using most often very young women. They had no compunction about hitting purely civilian targets, even the Temple of the Tooth. They forcibly recruited child soldiers on a large scale. And they terrorized and intimidated their own people more than anyone else. Prabhakaran was a figure who could only be compared to Pol Pot, a fanatic, probably a psychotic, who demanded absolute obedience. One of the biggest obstacles to finding a peaceful solution has been the systematic assassination of moderate and democratic Tamil leaders on Prabhakaran orders.

All this is true. But the Sinhalese side is not without blame. While the roots of this ethnic conflict run very deep (it is mentioned in the Vissudhimagga,) and the British bear some blame for playing their usual divide-and-conquer games, the modern on again off again civil war can be traced to the policies of the 1956 Bandaranaike government. A left-leaning nationalist and populist comparable to Nasser of Egypt, Bandaranaike promoted a unitary Sinhalese and Buddhist state. The linguistic rights of the Tamils were abolished; they were expected to conform to the majority culture.

This strain of aggressive cultural nationalism has persisted to the present day.Sometimes it wears the mantle of protecting Buddhism, but it is not in accord with the Buddha's teaching to oppress others. In no way is ethnic or religious chauvinism compatible with the Dhamma.

All this is past history. What is important is what happens now, and in the future. In the immediate term there is a humanitarian crisis pending in the north with up to a quarter million displaced persons living in make-shift camps who are in urgent need of food and medicine.

In the longer term, the only hope for peace and prosperity is for both sides to transcend ethnic tribal feelings and ancient grudges, to sit down to together and work out an equitable political solution. It may mean guaranteed minority rights within a unitary state, or a federal solution with a semi-autonomous Tamil province. The details are for the Sri Lankans to work out. It may actually be possible now that the Tigers are out of the way, provided that the Sinhalese side does not succumb to a triumphalist mood.