August 16, 2009

Sri Lanka's "blend of faiths" a cause for hope

In the September issue of the Atlantic, Robert Kaplan writes that any hope for a lasting peace in Sri Lanka will depend on its ability to reconnect to the "blend of faiths" that lay at the very foundation of the ancient Kingdom of Kandy, from which the famous city in the island's heartland takes its name:

[E]ven if the artistic grandeur of Kandy has helped form the emotional source of Buddhist nationalism, which has proved itself as bloody as other religious nationalisms, Kandy’s religious monuments also offer a much deeper lesson: the affinity—rather than the hostility—between Buddhism and Hinduism. Buddhism arrived in Sri Lanka from India as part of the missionary activity of the great Mauryan emperor Ashoka in the third century B.C. And later eras of Indian history would witness an amalgamation of Buddhist teachings into Hinduism. A few miles from Kandy, deep in the forest amid glistening fields of tea, I saw statues of the Buddha and of Hindu gods under the same roofs, together in their dusky magnificence: in dark stone vestibules at the 14th-century temples of Gadaladeniya, Lankatilake [above], and Embekke. At the temple of Embekke, I lifted aside a veiling Hindu tapestry to behold the Buddha. At Lankatilake, I saw the Buddha surrounded on all four sides by devales (shrines) devoted to the deities Upulvan, Saman, Vibhisana, and Skanda—of mixed Hindu, Buddhist, and Persian origin. At the Buddhist shrine of Gadaladeniya, I saw stone carvings based on the style of the Hindu empire of Vijayanagar in Andhra Pradesh, in southern India. Each of these temples “reflects the fusion of Buddhism and Hinduism,” writes SinhaRaja Tammita-Delgoda in Eloquence in Stone: The Lithic Saga of Sri Lanka (2008).

You can read "Buddha's Savage Peace" here.

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His religious duties aside, the Dalai Lama is in a difficult position. He must keep the channels for peace and reconciliation open on the off-chance Beijing is willing to soften its line, and he must be a beacon of freedom and independence for the Tibetan people and oppressed minorities in China (such as with his appeadesigner wedding dressrance with Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer in Prague recently.) In this CNN interview from his Taiwan visit, he skillfully walks the tightrope.

Meanwhile, in what is becoming a regular event, China reports record numbers of tourists in Tibet.