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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2704

May First, Vesak, Workers Day and St Joseph’s feast - What significance to Sri Lanka?

By Quintus Perera

Many are confused of what Buddhism aspires on war and peace and the Vesak season could be seen ideal for the people to dwell upon the Buddhist precepts on war and peace.

Dwelling upon the war, peace and how they could be viewed through Buddhist philosophy and its significance on Vesak, Ven Mahagalkadawala Punnyasara Nayake Thero said that in Buddhism the highest perception is the principles and precepts involving Amisa pooja and Prathipaththi pooja.

Things like alms giving, attaining Sil, and Bhavana are the triple religious observances (Punya kriya). Things like pandols, dancing, singing and musical shows on Vesak could be categorized as Amisa pooja, which are not important or essential in the observance of Vesak.

But when a religion goes to the people, they sometimes go beyond the strict principles of that religion and introduce traditions according to the social and secular needs, which has to be tolerated to some extent. In Buddhism these worldly things are called “Visuka Dharshana”.Ven Mahagalkadawala Punyasara Nayake Thero is felicited from his peace activities by Miniter Prof Tissa Vitharana  (File photo)Ven Mahagalkadawala Punyasara Nayake Thero is felicited from his peace activities by Miniter Prof Tissa Vitharana (File photo)

When Prince Sidhartha was born in the 6th Century BC, he was born to a world that was full of inequality, injustice. But at the time with the birth of the Thathagatha wonders have occurred. With His birth there was peace, there was tranquility and there was harmony in the world. In the animal world arch enemies like cobra and mongoos, crow and the owl became friends, providing harmony in the animal world too.

Ven Punnyasara Thero said that these examples portray a clear message of peace from the day Gowthama Buddha was born. When Prince Sidhartha attained Buddhahood He went to the battlefield with the message of peace. There was the conflict of Saakkya and Koliya to the point of war each other sharpening their weapons to attack on a dispute to share the water of the River Rohini.

Lord Buddha saw how foolish these men were to fight each other and also the utter uselessness of killing each other. Lord Buddha intervened and he averted a major battle and also convinced through his preaching the uselessness of war and killing each other.

Lord Buddha came to Sri Lanka from India to settle a dispute and averted bloody war when there was a dispute between Choolodara and Mahodara for a jeweled chair. Lord Buddha was able to convince the two parties of the waste of human life in war and averted it. The convinced parties ultimately offered the valuable chair to Lord Buddha.

Ven Punnyasara Nayake Thero insisted that if there is any Buddhist who glorifies and perpetrates war in whatever way that person is clearly against Lord Buddha’s teachings and stressed that if anybody is willing to promote peace not only in Sri Lanka, but anywhere in the world, there would not be any ideal time than during Vesak, where the entire Buddhist world commemorate the three great events in the Buddha’s life, Birth, attaining Buddhahood and His attaining Nibbana.

He pointed out that peace is the most important message the total life of Lord Buddha inherited to the followers of his philosophy, but it is really unfortunate that some of his so-called disciples while forgetting his message of peace, goes against his doctrine perpetrating war and calling for death violence, destruction and bloodshed.

It is most appropriate to call for world peace, especially peace in our country at a time the United Nations has recognized the Vesak.

Ven Punyasara thero said that within the Lord Buddha’s doctrine there is absolutely no place for any ethnic, class or any sort of differences among the human beings. Though there could be differences among the animal world, differences in the human family are completely ruled out.

The best example Lord Buddha has given in this sphere is that when mating human beings do not have differences between any ethnic groups, religious or caste divisions. It is the male and the female among human beings and not of any kind of other differences.

But in the case of animals it is quite different. Cats and bulls do not mate, cobras and pigs do not mate, but in the human world, there is the sex appeal between man and woman and this appeal would not be confined to within the communities of Sinhalese, Tamil, or any other nationality. Therefore Ven Punnyasara Thero insisted that Lord Buddha’s message is crystal clear.

To clear any doubts of the great teachings of the Triple Gem Ven Punnyasara Nayake Thero gave the relevant Gaatha in the Thripitakaya

“Yattha aathasu jaathisu – Lingan jaathi wayang puththu – Aawang naththi manussesu – Lingan jaathi mayan puthhu” meaning among the plants and animals there are differences but there is no differences whatsoever among the different peoples.

Ven Punyasara Nayake Thero is a hard-core Human Rights activist and and is a great peace mover, he used to move to North, East and boarder villages with a large number of other Monks in peace activities and he even has won various awards for working for peace.

Though most of the Sri Lankan workers have advanced the May Day workers commemoration activities to April 30, due to Vesak falling on May First, as world over commemorate the Workers Day on May First, it would also appear to be appropriate to dwell upon the Workers Day and to examine whether there is anything for the Sri Lankan Workers to commemorate or celebrate.

There was a time in post-Independent Sri Lanka the trade unions reached a climax wielding tremendous power which forced the then S W R D Bandaranaike Government into serious difficulties, due to widespread work stoppages and protests.

If work could be defined in a broader sense, it is essentially to provide basic physical needs of food, clothing, and shelter for human survival. Work is the story of humanity from the ordeal of hard work, sometimes of slavery with obedience mandated by the whip, to the development of tools and machines.

Advances in technology extend the reach of the hand, expand muscle power, enlarge the senses, and multiply the capacities of the mind. Great changes taking place throughout the world. But work involves more than the use of tools and techniques. The form and nature of the work process help determine the character of a civilization, but, in turn, a society's economic, political, and cultural characteristics shape the form and nature of the work process as well as the role and status of the worker within the society.

In western Christendom the Benedictine monks enunciated the rule that “to work is to pray,” bringing in spiritual rewards to work. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the development of powered machinery during the 18th and 19th centuries, in factories and fieldwork was gradually made easier. It is still considered as something different from pleasure.

The recent development of automated work devices and processes and the computer has led futurists to speak of a postindustrial stoppages and strikes. Unfortunately though some of these strikes were to win workers’ rights, there have been ulterior political motives behind them as politicians and political parties have led many of the trade unions.

What is happening in Sri Lanka is deplorable with the entire trade union concept is smeared with politics resulting in violating the working conditions. While some of the foreign countries offer the workers the best working conditions, highest pay and as a result they guaranteeing the highest rate of productivity, in Sri Lanka most industrial and commercial sectors dominated by multi-nationals and major local private sector industrialists with the connivance of the government is demanding the suppression of worker facilities and in fact some of them have been cruelly suppressed, with draconian laws to back such actions.

The authorities tried to proved that girls in garment factories earn very high salaries, but it is indeed by being a slave to work long hours and depriving the weekend holidays. But in many internationally reputed factories compel the workers to schedule their work on internationally accepted labour laws. Otherwise the consumers in developed countries refuse to buy those manufactured garments.

Sound Economic stability is fundamental for better conditions for workers. In Sri Lanka powers over workers show indifference with the only intent of self-interest. The 1994 PA government pledged workers’ rights with labour portfolio given to Mahinda Rajapakse and he compiled the Workers Charter. Due to pressure by the Employers the parliament failed to adopt it. But now the workers eagerly await the Charter to be implemented as Mahinda Rajapakse is today all powerful President of the country.

Interesting comments were given in the 1999 Ministry of Labour Performance report. “Discussions on drafting of the Employment and Labour Relations Act proposed to establish the legal background necessary to implement the policy guidelines formulated by the Workers’ Charter promulgated for welfare of the working population have been held. The final draft is now nearing completion.”

There is absolutely nothing the present day governments to be proud of in the sphere of comforting the workers for their contribution in the national economy. Governments have been condoning to various atrocities towards the workers, in stifling the age-old labour laws that provided some relief to the behest of the multi-national companies, donor countries and the international financial institutions.

Successive governments have for sometime been trying to tamper with the EPF by trying to invest it in various other areas of business. EPF has a particular benefit to the female workers as they work only for a limited number of years to obtain their dowry money and to make some jewellery to prepare for their marriages.

This Nation is most unfortunate that the so-called left parties have betrayed the workers as they have ignored the bounden duty of an opposition. And it is also most unfortunate that since for sometime the governments once formed have tried striffle the lawful opposition in parliament through various tactics and this time the government by taking a large number of opposition MPs. It must be understood that with good governance in a democracy there is a definite role for the Opposition to play. But today the government is trying to weaken the opposition and stifle it.

If the workers hands have been strengthened, they not only have won their rights, but also would have contributed immensely to strengthen democracy.

In Sri Lanka a number of churches, which are consecrated to St Joseph – the Patron Saint of Workers celebrate their annual feast on May First and while Vesak goes without liquor and meat like beef pork etc by law, most of the poor church feast celebrants have been handicapped as they normal wait to purchase their meat requirements on the feast day itself.

Celebrating the feast of St Joseph the Worker the Church cautioned the faithful to protect the children from worldly things like the television mania and the elders not to kill the unborn child in cold-blood through abortion as St Joseph protected the Christ and St Mary.

- Asian Tribune -

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