“Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”: Has the Author Bitten off More than He Can Chew? – I
Posted on September 29th, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

Great things are not accomplished by those who yield to trends and fads and popular opinion.Jack Kerouac

Most Buddhists are likely to bristle at the very mention of the title of K.K. Srinath’s novel because of its apparent characterization of the Buddha as a tramp, a vagabond, a vagrant or a dawdler. That’s because they are normal mature human beings; their reaction is justified. To associate Buddha with ‘rasthiyaduwa’ (vagabondage) even for a literary purpose is incredibly disrespectful of him. That is foolhardy on Srinath’s part. He could have avoided it. The language in the rest of the book appears to be no better as can be guessed from what we hear about it. But I will not condemn Srinath as a novelist offhand; probably, he has a great future in his literary career. That is, I am ready to give him the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

However, if Srinath is a serious writer of fiction, a literary artist, he should be able to justify the title he has chosen for his novel in terms of its content. That is, he should convince the serious readers that the intended meaning of the title is not its straightforward literal sense, and that he didn’t mean to insult the Buddha or disgrace Buddhism. He should do so because as (presumably) a Sri Lankan and a writer in Sinhala, he is dependent on the local Sinhala readership to which he is bound by unbreakable cultural ties; he is obliged to respect the cultural and religious sensitivities, and the corresponding literary sensibilities, that he shares with them. Using such a title as a mere marketing ploy, if such is the case, cannot be approved at all. In Christianity, using God’s name wrongfully is considered blasphemy: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”, says the Bible. Though there is no offence known as blasphemy in Buddhism, disrespect towards the Buddha or other religious founder is not acceptable behaviour in any civilized society. Paradoxically, though, while the quality of the book cannot be determined by merely looking at the title, the discussion generated by its profanity has the potential of leading us along different paths of discovery in our understanding of the emerging cultural, social, political, and economic anti-establishmentarianism of the millennial generation, which I view as a positive development that must be managed by responsible adults (unspoiled by power politics), both young and old.

K.K. Srinath strikes me, from what little I can guess from Vidu’s quotes from his text, as an educated but callow young man. But such first impressions can prove false; he could be a smart crook as well. However, the insult he has potentially caused to Buddhism is nothing compared to the criminally disrespectful attitude that some of our power-hungry political leaders adopt towards all religions in the name of reconciliation, and secularism, which they deliberately misunderstand and misinterpret or just obfuscate in order to use as a weapon against opponents. Readers, please reflect on the crimes (of commission and omission) that both supporters and opponents of secularism among our politicians (some members of the clergy engaging in partisan politics not excluded) commit against religions in our country, where, nevertheless, the masses are among the  most religiously disciplined people in the world.

While browsing through the You Tube, I came across two videos uploaded on separate occasions by two (obviously unrelated) young men who made some perceptive critical comments about Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”. The first one, through which I came to know about Srinath’s novel for the first time, was by a young expatriate worker in some foreign country. He castigated the author  for choosing the particular outrageous title. He said that the book could have literary value, whether it was of the highbrow or lowbrow kind, and that probably the book as a whole was not at all insulting to Buddhism. He confessed that he was making these censorious comments only by looking at the title, and not after reading it. However, he implied that he didn’t expect much from a person who was so callous as to adopt such a title. His view was that  readers first look at the title of a book before reading it, and form some idea about its content.

The book is addressed to a Sinhala readership, most of whom are Buddhists. They can naturally get offended, even if they later realize that what the author wanted to do was something like highlighting the hypocrisy of most average Buddhists who have not understood the message of the Buddha properly (Of course, this is a criticism that could be leveled against the average adherents of any religion). The young man’s view was that in a context where in Sri Lanka the Sinhalese Buddhist cultural heritage has been under sustained attack for a long time and where this has intensified in recent years, the people affected must be aware of deliberate offences and aggressive acts committed against Buddhism and Buddhists, and that they have a duty to take immediate steps to put an end to the dangerous trend. All that the peaceful Buddhists could possibly do was to pressure the authorities to enforce the law. That’s what the monks and Buddhist organizations are currently doing and, in fact, have been doing for many years already.

The second You Tube video dealing with the book that I watched was by a young man who calls himself Vidu”.  He offers a more informative and more elaborate review of the novel ‘Budunge Rasthiyaduwa’. He thinks that the title Budunge Rasthiyaduwa” is most probably not meant to be an insult to Buddhism; the title may be a reference to the alleged experience of a deranged individual (probably the narrator himself) who fantasizes about attaining Buddhahood. (We know that in fiction or poetry, the first person narrator or the speaker is usually an imagined character, not the writer himself or herself.) Vidu reads out one or two sections from the text which (as far as I understand) do not reveal any remarkable creative talent in the writer (Srinath) as a novelist or any profundity in his thematic engagement or his worldview. But that could be a deceptive impression. What the reviewer argues is that Srinath, following in the footsteps of his former teacher Upul Nishantha Sannasgala who is also his publisher, could be deliberately adopting an unscrupulous ‘negative marketing’  strategy (exploiting the paranoia-prone, multilaterally besieged state of the majority Sinhalese Buddhist community, in order to sell the book – This description and the adjective ‘unscrupulous’ before that are my elaborations). Vidu’s helpful suggestion to the viewers of his video is that they need not waste their precious time reading Srinath’s novel because he has already wasted two hours of his own time reading the book in preparation for making his review. So, the young reviewer’s negative verdict on the quality of Srinath’s novel Budunge Rasthiyaduwa” is clear.

Vidu selects some sections from the pages of the book to illustrate his points. Following is my free rendering into English of a paragraph from p. 5 of the book that he reads out:

After having lain on the floor clasping my hand on my chest, I stepped out onto the road. It was not because I have a wife. It was because I realized  the truth about life in the clearest manner. Siduhath became Buddha. In this Bhadra Kalpa, he is the fourth one. I don’t know which one comes next. There must have appeared countless Buddhas on this earth. They must have died in silence. At the same time, it is not a big deal by now for every man to feel as if he has attained Buddhahood. The time must have been 1 (am) in the night. I switched off the phone, never to pick it up again….”

There is much in the original Sinhala language text (quoted in translation above) that cannot be put across in a translation. The language and ideas used are offensive to Buddhist sentiments. I will explain a few below. The meaning of a literary text is a complex affair. Creative literature is verbal art. Among the many elements that contribute to its meaning or expressiveness is, of course, the most basic verbal part or words. The words of a language derive their multifarious meanings from the socio-cultural background of the speakers, particularly the native speakers of that language. Even in this very short specimen of Srinath’s writing, many words and idioms derive their expressive power from their connection to Buddhist literature: e.g., lokayama (lit. the whole world, actually it means all existence, more precisely, the illusion of being); athaembula (lit. ‘a nelli fruit on the palm’ meaning something known to one very clearly; it is a simile usually and exclusively used in Buddhist texts (Incidentally, Sinhala ‘nelli’ is from Tamil nellikai. The English term is Indian gooseberry, Phyllanthus emblica; the classical Sinhala word ‘aembula’ comes from Sanskrit ‘amla’); Bhadra Kalpa (lit. Auspicious Aeon); Siduhath (Sinhala form of Siddhartha, the birth name of the Buddha. The name Siddhartha is usually not adopted by Sinhala Buddhists out of respect for the Buddha, although it is a common name for boys in India); the verb ‘pasak wenawa’ (realize) is usually limited to Buddhist doctrinal contexts. The sentences in the original which correspond to I stepped out onto the road. It was not because I have a wife..” constitute an allusion to prince Siddhartha’s act of secretly leaving his young wife and newborn son in the middle of the night, embarking on his long journey of spiritual discovery. This (appropriately embellished) biographical detail relating to the difficult first step of prince Siddhartha’s launch into his search for absolute spiritual truth  is a recurrent motif in Buddhist literature, to which Sinhalese readers are  highly sensitive. It is a powerful concrete symbol of his Mahabhinishkramanaya (or the Great Renunciation) that inspires ‘shraddha’ (trust or faith resulting from the provisional acceptance of the Buddha’s teachings) in the Buddhist’s mind. These words and images are charged with deep religious evocativeness for Sinhala Buddhist readers. By applying such language to a rather sexually explicit, erotic context, Srinath, displays nothing but uncultured insouciance towards the Buddhist religion. It is not known whether Srinath did this out of abject ignorance or conscious design. These are my thoughts.

Vidu says that the first person narrative that follows this introductory section of the book strikes him as the delirious prattle of a fever-stricken patient or that of an overdosed drug addict. He suggests that the novelist might have chosen the title Budunge Rasthiyaduwa” because it is the befuddling story of a mentally deranged person who imagines that he is a Buddha that misleads the reader. (To be continued, still using Vidu’s hints, and my own insights)

9 Responses to ““Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”: Has the Author Bitten off More than He Can Chew? – I”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    Villification of Buddhism in Sri Lanka

    It is obvious there is an attempt to villify Buddhism and anything and everything associated with Buddhism in Sri Lanka today. There is a deafening silence from the politicians on this issue from both the so called United Opposition, the SLFP and the UNP. The reason is all of them have taken Buddhists and their votes for granted.

    In 2005 or thereabouts when Mahinda Rajapakse was president a book of pure fiction- Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown was published. The Catholic Church and the Cardinal himself took issue and said that this book should not be sold in Sri Lanka, because though fiction it looked at some matters close to the Christian story, the story of Jesus and his life with Mary Magdalene. Lo and behold it was done and even the non Christian population was deprived of reading an interesting piece of fiction by a renowned author. All this happened while it was a number one seller in the rest of the world. Out of all nations in the world, Solomon Islands – a hardly known island of former cannibals was the only other country except Sri Lanka that prohibited its sale. – no doubt another pitiless country under the jackboot of the Catholic Church. Da Vinci Code was in the No:1 Best Seller list for many months in most of the Western Christian Countries in that year!

    It is obvious that Mahinda Rajapakse took a very political decision , based on the close connection his wife has witht the Catholic Church considering the Christian / Catholic vote base and to satisfy the Christians / Catholics in Sri Lanka leaving aside the rights of the Non-Christians in Sri Lanka’s right to information / free speech etc etc. The Non-Christians , mainly the Buddhist English reading fraternity in Sri Lanka did not make a big fuss and the matter died there. Ironically Christian / Catholic vote did not materialise to help him in the Jan 2015 election!

    However, the same sentiment is not seen when Buddhism is vilified openly.

  2. Charles Says:

    There would be a time when people will reach the lowest level of humanity and be equal to animals. There would be a time when there would not be Buddhist Monks wearing yellow robes but there would be only those who wear a yellow thread on the wrist -a monk even fishing with a rod and a hook. It seems the time has already come. Apparently this man had not the intelligence enough to find a different title. However the vogue today from politicians down is to insult and ridicule Buddhism. Sumanthiran already wants all religions accepted at the same footing without giving a special place to Buddhism. They want to even write a new Constitution removing any reference to Buddhism.

  3. Randeniyage Says:

    These evil people who tried to make a joke out of “Theruwan Saranai” etc. will rot in hell, we don’t need to take revenge from them and collect bad kamma by developing anger.
    Looks like a friend of mine opened some wedding business with the name “Mangala Sutra” ( This man is a Buddhist).

    Let kamma look after them.
    There is a Sinhala kaviyak

    කරන කලට පව් මීරිය මීසේ
    විඳින කලට දුක් දැදිවෙයි ගිනිසේ

    Buddhism will not be affected by these stupid acts, but according to Buddha, it is corrupt monks that ultimately destroy Buddhism.

  4. Randeniyage Says:

    These evil people who tried to make a joke out of “Theruwan Saranai” etc. will rot in hell, we don’t need to take revenge from them and collect bad kamma by developing anger.
    Looks like a friend of mine opened some wedding business with the name “Mangala Sutra” ( This man is a Buddhist).

    Let kamma look after them.
    There is a Sinhala kaviyak

    කරන කලට පව් මීරිය මීසේ
    විඳින කලට දුක් දැදිවෙයි ගිනිසේ

    Buddhism will not be affected by these stupid acts, but according to Buddha, it will be corrupt monks that ultimately destroy Buddhism.

  5. Charles Says:

    It is good to wait until Kamma Vipaka take care of these sinners, but for the immediate what should the Government or the Mahanayake’s do. They can stop the sale of this book and perhapas charge the Author for insulting Buddhism. This book should not be allowed to circulate unhindered.

    Vijitha Yapa when I asked him whether he would take a book I was writing to be published, he said writing a book on Buddhism is a serious thing and one can go to Apaya if it is not well written and not only the Author but even the Publisher will have to suffer, and asked me to, get it recommended by Venerable Kiribathgoda Gnanananda Thero. I wonder whjo had published this book ?

  6. Vaisrawana Says:

    THE DA VINCI CODE of Dan Brown first published in 2003 was banned in Sri Lanka in 2005, according to Ratanapala above. Actually, I didn’t know this. That shouldn’t have happened. Sri Lanka is a secular democracy, though Buddhism has been nominally granted the most prominent place in the constitution. It is secular because the Buddhist establishment is separate from the state. The truth is that there appears to be official silence when the security of Buddhist places of worship in certain areas is threatened. Yet , the West, the Tamil separatists abroad, and foreign backed NGOs say that Sri Lanka must become a secular country, that is, they want Buddhism to be deprived of its constitutional status (which has already proved to be hollow). Because Sinhalese Buddhists are divided on sectarian grounds, the minorities have automatically become king makesrs. That is why politicians are at their mercy. The other reason for them to succumb to minority whims is because both Christians, Muslims and Tamils enjoy foreign patronage; they are globally powerful.

    The Catholic Church is a global power that is designed by the establishment to last for ever. There is great intrigue, mystery and even murder involved in the preservation of its secrets. A totalitarianism can only be built on a fiction if it is not undermined by fact. The Church manages to adjust to fact in order to survive, appropriately bending the divine law to suit the occasion, particularly in its uncomfortable but obligatory accommodation of science. Dan Brown says his novel The Da Vinci Code is based on historical fact. For example, the Priory of Scion referred to in the story is a European secret society founded in 1099 is a real organization; the existence of Catholic freemasonry is a fact. Another example , according to Brown is that “The Vatican prelature known as Opus Dei is a deeply devout Catholic sect that has been the topic of recent controversy due to reports of brainwashing, coercion and a dangerous practice known as ‘corporal mortification’”. (This was around the time the book was first published.) Dan Brown is not just a novelist. He is a graduate of Amherst College, Massachusetts; he also taught English and creative writing in Philips Exeter Academy, Exeter, USA.

    Banning a book is a violation of the freedom of expression. Equating Srinath with Brown would be a joke. But the right of freedom of speech belongs to both in equal measure. Srinath should not be silenced by the force of law or by denying the oxygen of publicity; his ideology (if he is found to have a claim to any coherent ideology, that iis) must be defeated. Equally important is the need to create public awareness of the reasons that invalidate Srinath’s sort of questioning of the validity of our country’s Buddhist culture.

  7. Ratanapala Says:

    When a stone is thrown a dog will look at the stone, but a lion would look at who threw the stone! This is what needs to be done. There is no point in analysing the bona fides of a pitiful earthworm named KK Srinath or his literary skills. What is happening in Sri Lanka is a concerted attempt to harm Buddhism, the Buddhist Establishment, and Buddhists in Sri Lanka.

    Rosy Senanayake told what they have in mind succinctly sometime ago – Buddhism Establishment in Sri Lanka must be destroyed. It is the Buddhism Establishment however weak, however corrupt and however partisan -(Malwatte Bathgotta)is the very foundation on which the sanity of our nation rests. Imagine it has gone to the Catholics like what happened to South Vietnam in the sixties and seventies. Imagine the Muslims in charge of the nation – would there be at least the token peace that we have among communities today?

    Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is right in that it is the Buddhist environment that provides the peaceful setting for all communities to live and let live in the island today. We can see the conciliatory voices coming from the North who have become brave enough to say that Sinhalese are not welcome there. Just imagine the Tamils to be in power today. The same goes with the Muslims who are spreading throughout Sri Lanka like a cancer invading Sinhala living space and buying out choice real estate!

    The need of the day is for a larger dialogue to genuinely see and understand the bigger picture. Otherwise we will never see the mountains for the trees! There is a larger conspiracy behind Nirwasthram Paramam Sukham, Tharuwan Saranai and the ‘mooning’ on top of a sacred site – Pidurangala. We just need to see the baby crocodiles in the tea-cup today to avoid the muggers in your bathtub tomorrow!

    We are being let down by our so-called Buddhist Politicians of all hues, who salivate for the minority votes and keep mum in the face of the tsunami in the offing!

  8. Dilrook Says:

    This seems to be a clever marketing plan ahead of book fairs. It has worked thanks to overreaction by some. Trying or wishing harm on the writer by physical violence, invoking a karma response or cursing only indicate the pathetic state of those who make those threats. This is exactly what those who market these look for. A clever response is needed to silence these attempts to cause those who do these shame and regret.

    Do not buy or read this book.

    A balanced analysis of the book is found here.

    “https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JDl2QcftTY”

    Strange that there are no artistes enjoying freedom of expression targeting Islam, Hinduism or Christianity in Sri Lanka.

  9. Vaisrawana Says:

    Don’t worry! If there are people read this article so carelessly as to take it as an advertisement for the book and go and buy it, thereby contributing to the augmentation of its sales figures, then they deserve the ‘wages of sin’ earned from such foolishness.

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