Posted on September 18th, 2012

By Shelton A. Gunaratne, professor of mass communications emeritus  Minnesota State University

Because I have been applying Buddhist philosophy for more than a decade to critique the well-known Newtonian-Cartesian research paradigm and to develop a universally applicable systems approach based on the principles of dependent co-origination (paticca samuppada), I was curious to read an article titled “Encounter of the week: Our heritage as a model” (published in the Daily News Artscope, 5 Sept. 2012) about the claims of a Colombo University don, described as “the first Sri Lankan female professor of  journalism and communication studies.”

The article does not give the precise communication model the erudite don (with a doctorate from the University of Kelaniya) has created by ingeniously applying the guidelines of the Kalama Sutta (that Buddhists recognize as their charter of free inquiry) in Anguttara Nikaya.

The lady don clarifies that a model is “a simplified visual explanation of complex processes” that explains something universal, yet personal.” Her mission is to displace the rudimentary mathematical model of Shannon and Weaver (1949) so far reified by communicologists, who adapted it to fit interpersonal and intrapersonal communication, as well as mass communication. The Shannon-Weaver model is a linear model that depicted a sender transmitting a message through a channel to a receiver at a destination. It recognized that three levels of noise could affect communication””‚technical, semantic and efficiency. Berlo (1960) absorbed the mathematical model into communicationstudies with his SMCR (Sender-Message, Channel and Receiver) Model.

Schramm (1954), the progenitor of a circular model, paved the way for the next generation of communication theory. Schramm’s model, perhaps the first applied to dissect face-to-face human communication, depicted interpreters who were simultaneously encoders and decoders. His was a meaning-centered approach.

Barnlund (1970) initiated the third generation of nonlinear transactional models of communication.

I can imagine her cry of “Eureka!” when she found out the potential of Kalama Sutta to develop a rudimentary communication model with a Buddhist flavor considering that (in her own words) “our education system is overwhelmed with borrowed western ideology.”

With nary a semblance of humility that evinced her knowledge of Buddha’s ti-lakkhana concept of anatta (no self/asoulity), she confessed to the reporter,?         “I am a loyal Buddhist “¦ But I strongly believe that I have humbly performed my country by bestowing the world an oriental communication model for the first time in history.”

The don had presented her model at the July 2012 annual conference of the AsianMedia and Information Center held in Malaysia. She is confident that delegates from the 11 countries that participated in the Amic conference will incorporate her communication model into their syllabi.  Moreover, she has already canvassed the National Institute of Education in Sri Lanka to incorporate her theory and model in the advanced level Communication and Media Studies syllabus.

To apply further pressure on the educational hierarchy to propagate her “Communication Model of Epistemology Theory,” she had also convened a panel of equally eminent mass communication professors””‚J.B. Disanayake (retired), Tudor Weerasinghe and Ajantha Hapuarachchi of the University of Colombo; Rohana Lakshman Piyadasa, Ariyaratne Athugala, and Chandrasiri Rajapaksha of the University of Kelaniya””‚to sing hosannas to the lady who created this model inspired by scholar Sunanda Mahendra and in cahoots with the Venerable Dhammajothi Thera of the Buddhist and Pali  University.

In the Kalama Sutta, “the Buddha proceeds to list the criteria by which any sensible person can decide which teachings to accept as true. Do not believe religious teachings, he tells the Kalamas, just because they are claimed to be true, or even through the application of various methods or techniques. Direct knowledge grounded in one’s own experience can be called upon. He advises that the words of the wise should be heeded and taken into account. Not, in other words, passive acceptance but, rather, constant questioning and personal testing to identify those truths which you are able to demonstrate to yourself actually reduce your own stress or misery”¦.” (Wikipedia).

Our lady don says that the Buddhist model is superior to that of Shannon and Weaver or any other because:

?         “Nobody has paid much attention to analyze the communication process from the angle of epistemology prior to this endeavor “¦ The new model has two stages: common and special. “¦ At the common stage “¦ the communicator is the supreme power. At the special stage, the supreme power is the scrutinizer. “¦ No other model has dealt into the communication process “¦”

Good on you, professor.  I sincerely hope that subsequent scrutiny by your global peers will support your claims that I have highlighted in bold-faced type.  I based the current analysis on the Daily News article because you failed to send me your Amic paper when I sent you a message requesting a copy.

First, madam professor, your peers deserve a clarification on your claim that you bestowed the world an oriental communication model for the first time in history.

Western academic tradition requires a researcher to conduct a thorough review of research already done by scholars before he/she ventures into unraveling a thesis on a chosen topic.  This requirement is necessary to ensure that the researcher acknowledges the contributions of others and not plagiarize their work to re-invent the wheel.

I smell a rat that the lady don has restricted her ken of epistemology to a handful of local sources not heeding the Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas. Had she referred to the entries in the Encyclopedia of Communication Theory (Littlejohn & Foss, 2009) or done a Google search on her computer, she would have found at least a dozen or so Oriental and/or Buddhist scholars (including Satoshi Ishii, known for his en-based systems paradigm, and his Buddhism-based triworld communication) who have done yeomen’s work on de-Westernizing communication theory. They have elevated the Buddhist paticca samuppada (dependent co-origination) concept, and the Daoist yin-yang concept into a complex systems theory befitting the cybernetic nonlinear models widely used in communication studies today. They acknowledge the seminal contribution of Joanna Macy (1991) who analyzed the remarkable similarities between mutual causality in Buddhism and the general systems theory.

Apparently, the lady don is unaware of the contributions of the Sri Lankan expatriate scholars to Oriental/Asian/Buddhist communication theory. One of them has also developed a Buddhist framework for a non-Western genre of journalism.

Second, your peers deserve to know the basis of your claim that you were the first to analyze the communication process from the angle of epistemology.

Epistemology “is the branch of philosophy that considers the nature, scope, and limits of human knowledge” (Encyclopedia of Communication). In short, it is the theory of knowledge built by the theorists who study chosen phenomena particularly from a positivist perspective. They gather objective knowledge by a systematic look at the causal relationships of phenomena. In this sense, knowledge gathered through use of the scientific methodis by and large epistemological. Such knowledge is what we use for prediction. Subjective theory (typically used to dissect phenomena in the social world)|, on the other hand, holds that understanding is based on situated knowledge, found through using interpretative methodology such as ethnography and also interviews.

The other two primary branches of philosophy are ontology (theory of metaphysics) and axiology (theory of ethics).

If epistemology embraces such a vast area of objective and subjective knowledge, how can the lady don claim to be the first to analyze communication through the angle of epistemology? Perhaps, she is referring exclusively to the Early Buddhist Theory of Knowledge, the title of the seminal book that K.N. Jayatilleke published in 1963. However, I failed to find any acknowledgement of her scholarly indebtedness to Jayatilleke.

Buddha traced the perpetual dukkha (unsatisfactoriness) among all sentient beings trapped in the samsara to the mutual interconnection, interdependence and interaction of 12 nidanas (underlying factors). They begin with the co-arising of Avijja (ignorance), Samskara  (mental formations), Vijnana (consciousness), Namarupa (mind and matter), and Satyasana (sense gates). When these nidanas (evolve into sentient beings and) experience contact, feeling, craving, and cringing, they tend to overlook the truths of existence””‚anicca |(impermanence) and anatta (asoulity) that would entrap them in dukkha.

As a “loyal Buddhist,” the lady don should not violate the second precept. In the Kalama Sutta, Buddha did not approve the concoction of claims as facts using personal experience as a cover.


*Gunaratne is the author of an autobiographical trilogy: Village Life in the Forties””‚Memories of a Lankan Expatriate (released by iUniverse), From Village Boy to Global Citizen (Vol.1)””‚The Journey of a Journalist, and its Vol. 2 subtitled The Travels of a Journalist (released by Xlibris).







  1. nandimitra Says:

    Kalama Sutra preached by the buddha was the first time a religion accepted the concept of individualism, now proven neurologicaly by the fact that every brain is different due to the multiple variations of neuro transmitters that ultimately form thoughts. Hence each individuals perception of reality and the truth is different. If the thoughts are different How does one get agreement amongst Humanity. That is by creating institutions for the benefit of the many. Aptly proved again neurologicaly. The neo cerebrum or the large brain also called the social brain when stimulated gives a sense of well being , a sense of well being felt during prayer. Best explained by activity related to non self. Therefore productive communications can only occur when one practices non self.

  2. Vis8 Says:

    Professor Gunaratna: You could do much service to Sri Lanka by showing them how to communicate to the world. Communications and propaganda are sadly lacking and ignored in Sri Lanka.

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