The  Broken World  –  Buddhism and Existentialism.
Posted on October 5th, 2017

R Chandrasoma Koswatte  Nawala 

The renowned existentialist philosopher Gabriel Marcel used the memorable phrase ‘The Broken World’  to denote what he believed to be the cause of the ‘existential parlousness’  of mankind – the unremitting denial (or defeat) of  the  ‘ontological exigencies’ that irrevocably characterize his condition. Let us unpack the thinking behind this unsettling general proposition.  Life – in its myriad forms – is a continuous struggle to beat off the forces that conspire to defeat it. Being alive is an ‘attainment’ wherein a continuously assailed organization struggles to keep going – even, briefly, to prosper – before defeat and death. The great 19th century physiologist Claude Bernard found the defining feature of life to be the ‘constant adjustment of Internal Relations to External Relations’ meaning that life lacks the stability and definability of a truly eternal presence.  The leading characteristic of life in its myriad forms is the battle – that which Darwin called ‘the Struggle for Existence’.  Before proceeding further it is important to distance ourselves from a common use of the expression ‘broken’ or ‘ravaged’ by concerned nature-lovers  and others distressed at the planetary destruction going on due to man’s greed and insensitivity. Such assaults on the biosphere are nothing new and the history of our planet is replete with instances of vast destruction.  The Permian Extinctions and the Cretaceous-Oligocene  disappearance   of the Dinosaurs mark huge changes in the Biosphere due to a System-Breaking of some kind but our reference is to something radically different  – an inescapable metaphysical ‘breaking’ involving human life in its essence and the challenges structurally rooted in the world-system we live in.  The ‘brokenness’ that we highlight is a feature of life in a world that spawns us in order to defeat and kill us. The writer and philosopher Albert Camus  sees ‘absurdity’ as the best descriptive word to summarize our overall plight as hapless captives briefly nurtured and then pushed into decay and oblivion. Like Camus we must ask, what is the point of this tragi-comic farce? More pertinently, he asks ‘What can we do – given our brief life and our impotence – to counter the overwhelming odds of defeat and despair in confronting the ‘ontological exigencies’ that bedevil our life as sentient beings? The devout will speak of God, his supreme rationality and his encompassing benevolence but – as famously stated by Kierkegaard – God is dead.

It is this very problem – the most fundamental of all problems facing mankind – that The Buddha sought to illuminate and resolve more than twenty-five centuries ago. The word ‘Problem’ diminishes the deep and foundational metaphysics that triggers our questionings and reflections.  The Enlightened One realizing that the understanding of the very nature of life must be prior to prescriptions as to how life must be lived. He identified the cardinal attributes of the human condition –Anichcha,  Anatta and Dhukka. Orthodox Buddhist scholars and the devout translate these key words as ‘Transience, Soullessness and Sorrow’ and highlight them as ‘barriers’ that the human kind faces in ‘overcoming the world’.  In contemporary  jargon, the Arrow of Time, Decay and Impermanence make captive all that has being and bedevil all..  Attaining a kind of transcendence that stifles these ‘obstacles’ is an option much favoured by those who believe that there is an ‘awakening’ of an inner spirit that redefines life and puts meaning and purpose into what we see and do in this doleful world.  That this hope – of extracting goodness and meaning in a broken world – is radically unachievable – is the thesis of the ‘absurdists’ led by Camus. We must add parenthetically that The Buddha resolved the seemingly  insuperable conundrum by seeing a veiled transcendence  – a path to a true and higher vision by contemplating the festering  ‘rottenness’ of the world that nurtures us as a plaything.. In rejecting the Broken World, the Buddhist ‘solution’ is look beyond the world (through meditative insight) at the wellsprings of this misery and thereby re-define existence. This redefinition secures absolute release from a seemingly inescapable thralldom. This is attained through a vision (the Nirvanic Vision) that is vouchsafed to elite seekers of the truth.

Notwithstanding the charge of making a mockery of religion, it must be stated there is another route to transcendence that exploits science and technology to radically cast off the shackles that enchain us to this broken world. Since we cannot change or ‘repair’ the world, we must change ourselves – but not through moral crusades or a lofty spirituality but through a re-invention of our biological being. This is called Transhumanism – the engineering a new version of our species through bioengineering and computer knowhow. This transformed human may find the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ‘ a challenge easily mastered and the ‘existential exigencies’ that plague us gone forever. Henceforth, life will be beautiful – so it is hoped.

R Chandrasoma

Koswatte  Nawala

One Response to “The  Broken World  –  Buddhism and Existentialism.”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Manekshaw, BOLD STEP you say? In ONE WORD, that is UN-ADULTERATED HORSE MANURE!


    MAHINDA made the same MISTAKE when he PROMOTED the IDEA OF RECONCILIATION with UNREPENTANT TERRRORISTS and SEPARATISTS! He FREED them from the clutches of LTTE TERROR, but these INGRATES paid him back with UNREMITTING ENMITY, and even now are WORKING HARD to resurrect that SAME Tamil Tiger GULAG!

    IT IS TIME to STOP this RECONCILIATION CRAP NOW that has not WORKED to change the COMMUNAL RACIST MINDSET of Tamil people in the North and East.

    IT IS TIME to IGNORE their DEMANDS for DEVOLUTION OF POWER, and to just ACCORD them EQUAL RIGHTS and DEMAND EQUAL RESPONSIBILITY from them, just as we do from OTHER Sri Lankans.


    IT IS TIME for Sri Lanka to look to its DEFENSES and INSTALL a PATRIOTIC NO-NONSENSE Government that will IMPLEMENT & ENFORCE Laws that will PROTECT Sri Lanka as a UNITARY SINHALA-BUDDHIST Nation in PERPETUITY.


    If BASIL is PANDERING to Tamil and other MINORITY COMMUNALISTS, he should be STOPPED in his TRACKS!


    If you are a Sinhala-Buddhist Leader, DONT GO AROUND WORSHIPPING other religious DIETIES!

    HONOR & RESPECT other religious BELIEFS in a spirit of TOLERANCE, but DON’T go around participating in their RELIGIOUS RITUALS we ourselves DON’T BELIEVE, like an ACHCHARU Buddhist! Phew …. what a bunch of ADDLE-PATED GOOF-BALLS!

    Basil takes a bold step

    By Manekshaw

    The famous slogan put forward by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his Presidential campaign trail in the North was “known devil is better than unknown angel”. However, the Northerners and the Easterners preferred the ‘unknown angel’ for the ‘known devil’ by helping to overthrow the Rajapaksa regime with their verdict ‘whatever devil is a devil’ at the Presidential poll in 2015.

    A few days after the landmark verdict given on school girl Vithya Sivaloganathan gruesome murder case with death sentences passed on seven of the accused, the former Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa was in Jaffna to launch the political activities of his newly formed party Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna.

    Having been a prominent Minister and being a member of the Rajapaksa family, Basil’s visit to Jaffna last week was very significant in many ways as it was after the Presidential Poll defeat in 2015, Basil who was one of the main strategists of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Presidential election campaign visited Jaffna for the first time.

    After the discussions he had in Jaffna with his party men Basil met the prominent Hindu and Catholic religious dignitaries and spoke to them on the present situation in the North.

    Basil would have got the opportunity to read the pulse of the people in the North with the comment made by Rev. Gnanasampantha Paramachariyar, Chief Priest of the Nallur Gnanasampanthar Atheenam which is a foremost Hindu institution in Jaffna.

    More than a spiritual leader the Reverend Gnanasampantha Paramachariyar is a person who remained in Jaffna and witnessed the terrifying conditions in the Peninsula when the turbulent conditions engulfed the region.

    It is not only this Hindu dignitary even the Catholic Bishop of Jaffna is also an observer of the pre-and post war developments and their views as neutral persons were considered noteworthy by the local as well as the foreign dignitaries who pay courtesy calls on them.

    Basil Rajapaksa was briefed on the present mind frame of the people of Jaffna by Rev. Gnanasampantha Paramachariyar. The Hindu dignitary said: “First of all the Buddhist fanatics in the South should be enlightened on strengthening peace and reconciliation in the country. Extremism in politics or religion shouldn’t be allowed to derail the good efforts to strengthen the peace and reconciliation.”

    As Sri Lanka is blessed with all major religions in the world, except for Buddhist clergy there were hardly any clergymen of other religions who flexed their muscles in the politics of the country.

    So, the comment made by the Hindu dignitary from Jaffna to former Minister Basil Rajapaksa has clearly indicated that the efforts to strengthen peace and reconciliation should be carried out by getting rid of the involvement of Buddhist monks in politics.

    Constructive move

    Rev. Gnanasampantha Paramachariyar also mentioned categorically that the people in the North were not against any constructive move to bring about a political solution to the ethnic question.

    Later, addressing the press at the Jaffna Press Club, Basil Rajapaksa spoke positively on several issues on the peace building process in the North.

    Basil as Minister of Economic Development played a key role in rebuilding the post-war infrastructure facilities in the North and the East.

    So as a former Minister focused on the Economic Development Basil speaking to the press in Jaffna emphasized on the need of releasing the lands still in the possession of the Security Forces in the North.

    Basil though he didn’t meet the families of the involuntarily disappeared persons during his stay in Jaffna had pointed out the need of expediting the process to find a solution to the issue.

    In the meantime Cabinet Spokesman and Minister of Health Dr. Rajitha Senaratne commenting on the visit of Basil Rajapaksa to Jaffna last week said that if former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had listened to Basil he wouldn’t have lost the Presidential Poll in 2015.

    Dr. Senaratne’s comment is interesting as former President Mahinda Rajapaksa depended heavily on his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa to bring an end to the separatist war militarily in the North.

    However, even after ending the separatist war the former President depended more on Gotabaya instead of focusing on the economic oriented humanitarian activities and dealing effectively on the political front to build up the credibility of the North and East people.

    So, Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne being a member of the Rajapaksa government was absolutely correct that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa depending on Gotabaya even in the post-war period had led to the neglect of several humanitarian issues shattering the hopes of the people in the North and the East who expected that early solutions would be reached in releasing the LTTE suspects as well as in meting out justice for the alleged atrocities committed during the three decades of separatist war.

    Therefore, Basil Rajapaksa’s visit to Jaffna last week was an ‘eye opener’ for the previous regime to understand where they went wrong in getting the support of the Northerners and the Easterners as also a wakeup call to the present regime not to repeat the same errors his brother had committed in dealing with the North and the East.

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