Category Archives: ethnicity

The Better Man

One a very hot and sunny day I had the joy of listening to two ladies go on about their Lord, even though I kept telling them I didn’t believe in god and that I simply wasn’t interested. They didn’t seem to get the hint when I kept smirking and raising an eyebrow each time they started on a new topic. Not even the beads of sweat that kept dripping down my face seemed to bother them. Of course they were well armed with umbrellas!
After around fifteen minutes of standing and running the risk of serious sun burn, I was released, promised another visit and given two pamphlets about how I can be saved. I never saw the two ladies again. Maybe they had already decided that I can’t be saved.
Now I’m not making fun of these ladies even though I hate them and their kind as much as I hate those door-to-door salesmen. Not that they don’t have a whole lot in common! However, I don’t think they should try to convert me even when I have made my religious beliefs quite clear. Just as I respect them enough to not hurl swear words at them, they should respect me and let me live with my beliefs.
So we talk at great lengths about respecting the beliefs of other people. Yet, are we really ready to accept that people believe in things that we don’t? Or that they don’t believe in things we do?
Recently, I was surprised to see the shock on a certain individual’s face as he was told another was an atheist. So even though we may not try to crucify those who don’t have the same beliefs as us, we still take some time to grasp it. To really understand their beliefs.
When talking about beliefs, they go beyond religious beliefs. I mean, religions aren’t exactly as complicated as they are made out to be. You either have a god or many gods or none at all. When you die, you either go to heaven, hell, are born a human or animal or if it’s the end of Sansara, well, good for you!
But there are other things that build walls around people. Humans around the globe are still trying to understand homosexuality. Our opinions and knowledge and acceptance of things either make us more friends or more enemies.
However, there is a difference between tolerating a homosexual, an atheist or a murderer and understanding or rather accepting why they are so. I may not understand certain things about various cultures and I may not agree with them, but I accept them. I would never even consider covering my head with a scarf or wearing a pottu. Yet, I wouldn’t tell someone not to wear a scarf or pottu in my home.
There are certain principals I have, and certain things I live by. My grandmother called me an ideologist recently, telling me that I don’t seem to give people room in my life if their ideologies don’t match mine. However, my ideologies deal with the basics about life. They have nothing to do with one’s religion, race or culture.
This is why I guess, I didn’t lash out at the two ladies marketing their religious sect. This is why I patiently listened to them, even though I wouldn’t expect them to listen to me talking about my beliefs. You need to accept that people have different beliefs. Maybe you don’t understand them. Maybe you don’t agree with them. But you need to accept them.
And it is with acceptance that you understand. I’ve rarely felt like an outcast in my own country because I belong to the ‘majority.’ A Sinhala Buddhist in a Sinhala Buddhist nation. My father is a Christian, working in Thailand, a Buddhist nation. He recently arranged an alms giving for the Sri Lankan Airlines anniversary and he said, “I’m a Christian working in a Buddhist country.” He added that he had to respect the country’s traditions and beliefs.
Sometimes we are in that minority. And when the majority-minority issue is more than just numbers, it becomes difficult to be proud of being the beliefs that makes us the minority. But we need to respect each other. And if a certain set of people seem to think they deserve respect, show them that respect. It wouldn’t hurt anyone. Yet, don’t respect that majority because you are the minority, but because you think they deserve it.
My father’s uncle recently told me the last words of his grandmother. A rough translation of them would be, “suffer small loss, and maintain peace.” Sometimes in life, we have to accept that we aren’t the most powerful. But by doing so, we are being the better person. In the end no Sena or All Ceylon organization will judge us and our actions. Some people believe God will do the judging. I think our karma will do the talking. But no matter what, our actions say a lot about us. So don’t try to get the last word, don’t try to win the battle. Respect and accept. Be the better man.

Labels that Define Us

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We tend to blame the universe, or nature, or life for so many things. And so we believe we can’t be this and that and can only be this or that because that’s just how the world is. Yet, it is humans, through centuries of beliefs, who have made it seem impossible for someone to be this and that.
Sinhala Buddhist is a term we have heard of. So called patriots call them selves Sinhala Buddhists. Extremists call them selves Sinhala Buddhists. And those who word marriage proposals in newspapers use the term Sinhala Buddhist. I too consider my self a Sinhala Buddhist. I’m Sinhalese, the ethnic group; and Buddhist, the religion. Yet, these are two different things. I’m not a Buddhist just because I’m a Sinhalese. Nor am I a Sinhalese just because I’m a Buddhist. One doesn’t make me the other.
Yet, there are certain images or assumptions made. For instance, all Moors are Muslims. This has led to Muslim becoming an ethnic group and Islam their religion. It is also believed that Tamils are either Hindu or Christian and Burghers are Christian.
Once while flipping through TV stations, I came across a program where a Buddhist monk was giving a Bana sermon in Tamil. My first thought was, “who on earth is this monk trying to talk to in Tamil?” This was because I always connected the Tamil language to the ethnic group who I thought were either Christians or Hindu. Yet, what about the Buddhists in the North? Would they not know Tamil? Even if they moved there from other areas, Tamil would be the language they were used to, after years or even decades of living there. So they would also like to listen to a Bana sermon, like all of us. And yet, language could stop them from clearly understanding the message. Thus a Bana sermon in Tamil seems like something all Buddhists who know Tamil would appreciate.
So we have those labels. A pottu on a forehead would immediately label someone a Tamil, most likely a Hindu too. And all of us have those labels. It’s what makes us who we are. I’m so many things and while these things are sometimes a real bother, they are what define me.

Shailee the Sri Lankan will take her country’s side no matter what. Her blind patriotism can seem foolish because her knowledge of Sri Lankan politics is non existent. Yet, she’s proud to be a citizen of such an amazing and beautiful country. She may complain that the buses never run on time, but is in fact thankful Sri Lanka has such flexible systems.
Shailee the Sinhalese loves the tradition and culture. She happily embraces and follows most of the New Year rituals. She wishes she was more fluent in Sinhala, although she feels more comfortable talking in Sinhala as opposed to English.
Shailee the Buddhist loves temples; the peace and quiet and the sense of safety that surrounds temples. She also likes to read bits of the Dhamma, and is proud of the religion she was brought up believing, and decided to really make her choice later on.
There are more labels that make me who I am. But these labels don’t limit me. For instance, being a Buddhist doesn’t stop me from loving churches, being a Sri Lankan hasn’t stopped me from loving Thailand and being a Sinhalese hasn’t stopped me from loving the Tamil language and culture.
Labels are important. A man is nothing without those labels. Yet, labels shouldn’t limit us to on set of people, one section of society and one set of beliefs. Of course one cannot be a Buddhist and a Christian, yet, you can embrace certain sections or fragments of other labels.
You don’t need to be this or that. You can be this and that. Knowing this is important. Don’t try to always define your self, but let those labels that define you or shape your life, make you someone more accepting of the world, instead of limiting you.