Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”: Has the Author Bitten off More than He Can Chew? – Part II
Posted on October 5th, 2018

By Rohana R. Wasala

Defusing a live grenade before dumping it in a garbage heap

Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird”

K.K. Srinath’s novel Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”  is probably intended to be a literary hand grenade against the most radical spiritual thinker of all time, the Buddha. Though the novel looks like an ideological hand grenade, it will only succeed in exploding far short of its target, resulting in an unimpressive fireworks display in the local literary scene. From my point of view, in more prosaic terms, it promises to be a negative contribution to the rising healthy radicalism among the current  Sri Lankan youth. It is a potentially harmful, largely worthless  piece of fiction, though I don’t deny that the young writer shows a high level of literary talent, which, l for one, sincerely hope he  put to better use, in the interest of himself, and far more important, in the interest of all Sri Lankans including the majority Sinhala speaking community.

The target  readership is composed largely of millennials (those born between 1981-1996) and still unnamed(?) post- 1997 ns.  According to the dating system I am adopting here, the oldest millennials are 37 and the youngest 22. The oldest target readers in the last group are in their late teens. Srinath’s self styled ‘radical offering’ is perhaps not meant for members of the baby boomer generation (those born between 1946-1964) to which I belong, who are among the oldest Sri Lankans living anywhere in the world. The reactions to the novel found in the internet suggest that the millennials and the post-millennials can manage it without the benefit of our advice. The fact that there are many internet posts attacking the book particularly for cocking a snook at the country’s benign Buddhist cultural establishment proves this. I came across even a song poking fun at the copies of the book going abegging in the book stores due the appearance of a number of PDF versions on the internet.

But I still have to justify my intervention through this article. It is not hard to guess that at least some readers are likely to blame me for writing on this work of a juvenile author that has already earned so much public opprobrium for its casual swipe at Sri Lanka’s major religious culture. However, my feeling is that the controversial publication originating from the millennial generation has already galvanized its own nemesis from within itself. The negative marketing strategy that, according to young social media activists, the publishers used seems to have backfired. Instead of increasing, it tended to reduce, its sales. That reflects the fact that the internet can be used to defeat attempts to bamboozle people into making uncritical book purchases or into buying into unacceptable ideas, particularly among the millennial generation of Sri Lankans. Through their patient, perceptive, and practical response to a lost sheep of their own generation, the target readers of the novel have shown that they are confidently capable of successfully meeting Srinath’s kind of scurrilous attack on Buddhism and the  age old Buddhist foundation of the country’s tolerant cosmopolitan culture.  This article will contribute towards further neutralizing the harmful impact of the book, if any, on the wellbeing of the Buddhasasana and the Buddhism dominated culture.

Another, more important,  reason for this essay is that the hostile reception that the novel is accorded in Sri Lanka will invariably be bruited abroad by the usual enemies to the further deterioration of the country’s status in the eyes of the world. Powerful foreign observers  already look askance at everything said and done in defence of Sri Lanka due to the falsehoods propagated by the Tamil separatist lobbyists, and the so-called international community that use them as a cat’s paw for the promotion of their geopolitical goals in the region, while being indifferent to the suffering they knowingly or unknowingly cause to all Sri Lankans through their interference in our domestic affairs. These foreigners will not know the legitimate reasons why the book is attacked. But they will further confirm their misconceptions about Sri Lanka, such as that Sinhalese Buddhists are religious fanatics, that they don’t believe in the freedom of expression for minorities, etc. They don’t know the truth that it looks as if the most persecuted religious community in Sri Lanka are the Buddhists. So, the best thing to do on this occasion in order to counter such anti- Sinhala Buddhist criticisms is to explain what the controversy is all about in a language that they understand, that is, English.

When the first part of this article was published on September 29, 2018, I had very little to draw on. A couple of days later, I hit upon a PDF version of the novel, which enabled me to include more relevant information in this second part of the article. What appears in PDF form is a scanned copy of the book stamped with a capitalized logo repeated across several pages in faint colour: ‘Dedicated to the Holy Trinity of Gottfried, Peter, and Frederick’. These are three names famous in marketing; perhaps it is a dig at the alleged preoccupation of the author and the publisher  with the successful marketing of the product. This I take as an arbitrary negative comment on the book. Writing or talking about the book is usually frowned upon as giving undue publicity to this obviously anti-Buddhist publication. There are other similar PDF versions of the novel in the internet. I don’t know whether these are authorized or not, probably not. The availability of the book free online gravely undermines the negative advertising strategy of the publishers. Be that as it may, this allows me to talk about Budunge Rasthiyaduwa” with some familiarity.

I must confess, though, I only managed to rush through the volume once. That was enough for me to grasp the anti-Buddhist frame of mind of the author. But I grant that definitely there appears to be something in Srinath’s novel beyond the mindless dribble that constitutes a serious misrepresentation of the Buddhist moral philosophy and humanity’s Buddhist ‘religious’ legacy of the past two thousand five hundred years . Srinath’s sights are on an educated young patronage/readership. His choice of words is good; it is prose poetry or poetic prose.  There are literary allusions, echoes, parallelisms, and what not. Though he reflects a skewed view of fundamental Buddhist teachings, the country’s history, state handling of separatist terrorism, what he imagines to be the proper response to these from his contemporaries, and so on. However, much misreading of these things seems to bloat his false-prophetic ego. In the nonlinear narrative, the first person narrator’s identity remains in a surrealistic interzone of remembered reality and psychedelic hallucination.

A big mistake he commits is to assume that ‘radicalism’ is something new, something unique to the youngsters of today. It is not.  In our teenage years  in the 1960s, we were equally, if not more, ‘radical’, though that word was yet to come. Our society was more conservative than now, and hence unconventional ways were more challenging to adopt. Anti-establishmentarian was the word that had come into existence in the UK to describe a revolutionary ideology among the youth that demanded traditional values in art, music, politics, economics to be re-examined and changed. Jack Kerouac (1922-69) pioneered the Beat generation of writers in America with his novel On the Road” (1957) based on his travels across the US that involved indulgence in experimenting with drugs, listening to jazz music, and writing poetry. Nevertheless, he was a spiritual seeker inspired by Zen Buddhism. His novel Dharma Bums” (1958) is the story of a group of friends going in search of Dharma or the Ultimate Truth. The narrator in his contemporary William S. Burroughs’ novel  The Naked Lunch” (1959) is the junkie William Lee who passes through a series of false identities while moving from America to Mexico, ending up in Tangiers in Morocco, where his identity dissolves in a dreamlike state. William S. Burroughs was a junkie himself, and he admitted it. Burroughs was a kind of prophet, though.  In his The Naked Lunch, he accurately predicted ‘a virus venereal disease’ which he said would have a partiality for Negroes, though the Whites were not going to be immune to it. This was AIDS. He also predicted the emergence of Radical Islam more than fifty years before it actually did. Burroughs also foretold an epidemic of drug addiction, and a surgical method to remove fat from the stomach to control obesity, which today we call liposuction.  He claimed later in life that he was completely cured of his own drug addiction. Early to mid-60s saw the birth of the Rock band the Beatles in the UK, with their radical innovations in music, singing, and lyric writing. The countercultural  Hippie movement that began in America in the 1960s spread to the rest of the West. They rejected the social mores of the mainstream American society, and saw middleclass values as materialistic, exploitative and repressive. They adopted their own dress codes that showed voluntary poverty: rags, long hair, generally unkempt appearance, etc; they travelled on little, and used drugs. It was held at that time that druggies remained unwashed. This seemed true because Hippies were sighted among tourists in Sri Lanka at that time, and they looked dirty; locals considered them invariably dirty, but looked at them some amusement as well as kindness.  Westerners have long tended to look at Indian spiritual recluses as if they were a species of Hippies. I have read an educated Westerner, who has great regard for Buddhism, referring to the Buddha by that term in a non-derogatory, rather amused, way. Srinath’s story seems to have echoes of Western countercultural movements mentioned above.

A glance at the beginning and the end of Srinath’s novel may give the reader an idea about his thematic focus. He dedicates his ‘radical offering’ to my little son who came to my life uninvited, and whose arrival gave a keen sense of sight and purpose to me, who floated in the air aimlessly like a kite for amusement”.  In his son’s neck is a crucifix. A reader might feel that this evokes the allusion to prince Siddhartha’s silently taking leave of his wife and newborn son in the first paragraph of the book. It is in fact  a contrast: Siddhartha effected his renunciation on the birth of his son and left on his search for meaning, but in the case of Srinath, his son brought clear vision and purpose to his life. On the Dedication page there are three photos of the author; one taken alone, two with his son, with different significant pictorial features, which the reader can easily unravel the meaning of.  The cover is designed to highlight the central preoccupation of the novel. The name of the book is printed on a maroon coloured robe, the Buddha cheevaraya (robe), which is the most conspicuous external sign of the Buddha and his disciples, therefore, an object of veneration. In the case of Buddhist monks today, whatever the image of the individual monks, good or bad, the Buddha cheevaraya is held to be more worthy of veneration (being the symbol of the Buddha) than the individual wearer of the robe. The use of the Buddha’s robe as a feature of the cover design may be denounced as a form of desecration of a sacred object, too.

On the last page, is a poem, which could be put into English as follows:

This is not an epoch devoid of Buddhas.

Buddhas still wander about.

Their names and whereabouts are unknown.

There still are speaking animals

Miracles and wonders haven’t ended.

All hells and heavens do exist.

Therefore eternity

Has invaded this era.

Is deathless, no one dies.

Although all conditioned things

Are impermaneny

In this era, that rule not valid.

That is,

Anything is possible here.

In the 219 page book, there are many not very flattering references to incidents in the life of the Buddha, and doctrinal points. For example, on p.130, there is a sentence which may be translated as follows: A man enters civilization, not on lotuses, but through faeces.” There are other instances in the text where the narrator makes such scatological references as when he observes: If someone has not poked their finger in their excrement (played with faeces), they must be mentally ill. However, saying that a person connects to civilization, not through lotuses, but through faeces, is an unmistakable allusion to the Buddha-to-be baby Siddhartha’s fabled walking on seven lotuses soon after his birth.  The narrator says on p.169 that the best name for Renunciation is ‘Rasthiyaduwa’, that is, he conceives of Siddhartha’s renunciation and his six year long search for realizing the ultimate truth (Nirvana) as a ‘rasthiyaduwa’ (an aimless tramp). Towards the bottom of p.22 and top of p.23, we read something like this: Fighting for something meaningless like our kings fought over a piece of bone…. Similarly, people live for something useless. But finding something like that is very difficult. Nivana is something like that. Who benefits from Nivana, when the even person who acquires it does not benefit from it?” On p. 167-8, we read about a male who gets imprisoned in three palaces…

Both of the young social media critics of the novel mentioned in the first part of this article condemned the author for choosing a title that is so outrageously disrespectful  towards the Buddha; both warned the viewers not to be deceived by the apparent advertising ploy.  While denouncing the novelist for his despicable insensitivity to Buddhist religious sentiments in the choice of his title, they didn’t rule out the possibility of there being literary merit in it. In the first video, the uploader asked the viewers to warn their friends against buying this book by sharing his video. The second video I watched which had been made by a reviewer known by the pen name Vidu gave  a much clearer idea about the book. His impression was that the book title which was in bad taste was meant to create a pre-sale public controversy surrounding the book as a ‘negative marketing’ tactic. He didn’t  see in the book any significant attack on the Buddhist doctrine itself. His opinion was that the first person narrative was probably the delirious prattle of a fever-stricken patient or that of an overdosed drug addict” who imagined himself to be an enlightened one”, hence the sacrilegious title. (Phrases in brackets immediately above are my translations). Alluding to the Buddha’s famous words of wisdom to the young Kalamas who came to consult him, Vidu said that in a situation like this, we should not be influenced by what other people or sources say about the book, but that we should find out the truth about it for ourselves. He read the novel, found it to be a worthless  read and made his video to warn the viewers not to waste their money and time on it. Vidu ends his video with a quote from the Dhammapada about restraining the aimlessly wandering mind, which in English translation runs as follows:

Dwelling in the cave (of the heart),

The mind, without form,

Wanders far and alone.

Those who subdue this mind

Are liberated from the bonds of Mara

(This is verse 37 of the Dhammapada as translated by Indian scholar monk and meditation teacher Ven. Acharya Buddharakkhita. He explains Mara mainly as mental defilements.)

Vidu’s invocation of the Kalama Sutta and the Dhammapada is apt. His intellectual and ideological response to ‘Budunge Rasthiyaduwa’ is characteristic of the way that the younger generation are equipped and disposed to lead the emerging regenerative forces among themselves towards a stronger reaffirmation of the country’s traditional Buddhist identity. We of the older generation should be happy about this. It will definitely prove more effective than the ranting of some maverick monks, who, though, well meaning, are handicapped by the absence of a central Sangha leadership to report back to from the battlefront. Nevertheless, protecting the Buddhasasana has become the responsibility of these monks and the enlightened young Buddhist laity.

It is appropriate here to dwell a bit longer on Buddha’s advice to the young Kalamas. They came to him with a question. Their question was: Sir, various recluses and brahmanas visit our village Kesaputta. Each of them extols their own doctrines and criticize and condemn others. We are in doubt and perplexity regarding who among them to accept as telling the truth.” The Buddha’s reply was simple: Look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, nor by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher’. But O Kalamas, when you know for yourselves that certain things are unwholesome (akusala), and wrong and bad, then give them up…….And when you know for yourselves that certain things are wholesome (kusala) and good, then accept them and follow them”. Ven. Dr Walpola Rahula, in his classic ‘What the Buddha Taught’ (The Gordon Fraser Gallery Ltd, London, ) from which I am quoting above with very slight adaptation, adds the following: The Buddha went even further. He told the bhikkhus that a disciple should examine even the Tathagatha (Buddha)himself, so that he (the disciple)might be fully convinced of the true value of the teacher whom he followed.” (The source for this is, as Ven. Rahula , mentions in a footnote, Vimansaka-sutta of the Majjhima-nikaya).

So, on prima facie evidence, we may  conclude that ‘Budunge Rasthiyaduwa’ is a juvenile’s attempt at writing fiction based on an unnecessarily carping attitude towards Sri Lanka’s Buddhist cultural foundation. The novel is being overwhelmed by adverse criticism leveled at it by the majority of his own generation.  Both the writer and his critics represent two aspects of the religio-cultural-political melting pot that Sri Lanka has turned into at present. In my view, the agitated mixture of conflicting views among the youth augurs well for our currently beleaguered motherland. ‘Budunge Rasthiyaduwa’ can also be seen as criticism of the Buddha Dhamma aimed at proselytizing Buddhists. The attempted desacralization of symbolic events in the life of the Buddha, ridiculing key doctrinal concepts, tilting at the  history of the Sinhalese who are the foremost Theravada Buddhist nation in the world (The Pali  Tripitaka was committed to writing in Sri Lanka in the first century BCE) could qualify this work of fiction to be considered a part of a global movement that aims to destroy Buddhism, which is the strongest ideological challenge to the politically and economically more powerful religions in the modern scientifically enlightened world.

One Response to “Budunge Rasthiyaduwa”: Has the Author Bitten off More than He Can Chew? – Part II”

  1. Vaisrawana Says:

    It is obvious that in Paragraph 6 the word ‘representation’ is an error; the context makes it clear that the word intended is ‘misrepresentation’ :

    …………….. the mindless dribble that constitutes a serious misrepresentation of the Buddhist moral philosophy and humanity’s Buddhist ‘religious’ legacy of the past two thousand five hundred years ……………………

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