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More the Decline of Buddhist Order, Taller the

Ravi Palihawadana, Chairman, Dr. E.W. Adikaram Foundation
The teachings of Dr. E.W. Adikaram, a colossus of the intellectual tradition of Sri
Lanka in the 20th century are even more relevant today than during his time.
This discussion with Ravi Palihawadana, the Chairman of Dr. E.W. Adikaram
Foundation and Secretary, Krishnamurti Centre, Sri Lanka is a revisit of that
intellectual tradition. Books by Dr. Adikaram and J. Krishnamurti can be
purchased at Dr. E.W. Adikaram Foundation located at 310, High Level Road,
Colombo 6 (Telephone: 2811076) where a Reading Room and a Library are also

Today, when nationalism and religious bigotry are being whipped up more than at
any other time, isn’t Dr. Adikaram’s message even more relevant?

His was a timeless message. Yes, one can say that it is more pertinent today.
However, unfortunately, only the older generation is taking an interest in his ideas.
Despite having made his thoughts available on Facebook, etc, only a few individuals
of the younger generation are interested in his teachings.

Dr. Adikaram is known among some of us as a true Buddhist who never recited the
five precepts. What is your idea on that?

Yes, it is true that he didn’t recite the five precepts. But he never broke them either.
Having seen the trend towards following rituals rather than practicing the core
teachings of Buddhism; he couldn’t help observing that, “More the decline of the
Buddhist Order in Sri Lanka, taller the statues”.
Wasn’t there a controversy at the time regarding his not reciting the five precepts?

Yes. Once in the eighties when Gunadasa Liyanage interviewed Dr. Adikaram on
national television; Liyanage asked him, “Was it because you never broke the
precepts – having taken them once – that you don’t recite the five precepts over and
over again?” Adikaram retorted, “When you set out from home, do you make a
promise to yourself that you won’t smear on your face the muck you find by the
roadside? When you understand deeply the harm caused by such actions, they just
drop away from you. There is no necessity to make a promise to oneself to refrain
from them.”

Adikaram also maintained that it was not necessary to study all the Buddhist
scriptures if one understood the crux of Buddhist philosophy.

What can the younger generation gain from reading Adikaram?

I am reminded of what Professor J.B. Disanayaka said at the Adikaram birth

centenary lecture. Disanayaka mentioned that Adikaram was a multi-faceted
personality who was: 1. A first class linguist, 2. An educator, 3. An environmentalist,
4. A popularizer of science, 5. A philosopher, 6. A proponent of ‘Ahimsa’ and 7. A
social reformer.

As an educator, he also espoused J. Krishnamurti’s truism that, “The aim of

education should be to make a child flower in goodness.”

What are the basic tenets of Adikaram thinking?

1. Living a simple, uncluttered life.

2. Living by the light of one’s own insight without clinging to any dogma or belief.
3. Treating all living beings with love and kindness as a mother would treat her
only child.

If we lead our lives according to these three tenets; it will eventually lead to global
At present, there are accusations that there is an international conspiracy hatched
by Western powers against Sri Lanka. There is also the allegation that the
authorities are not doing enough to foster peaceful coexistence among
communities. What can be said about this?

Everybody is entitled to live according his or her worldview. But there is no basis for
alienating into separate groups according to religion or nationality. Once, J.
Krishnamurti was awarded a peace prize by the United Nations. In his acceptance
speech he mentioned that the very concept of United Nations is flawed. It does not
make sense to divide the world into separate nations and then try to unite them
under one umbrella. As long as we divide ourselves as Sinhalese, Tamils and
Muslims, there is bound to be conflict.

But isn’t it practical to accept certain conventions when there is such division?

These divisions are nothing but glorified tribalism. Wherever there is division, there
is conflict.

Why is there a tendency in our society to engage more and more in activities based
on superstition?

It is due to the lack of physical and psychological security. Although people are
becoming more knowledgeable, they are increasingly lacking in understanding.

In those days, Dr. Adikaram, Dr. Kovoor and Martin Wickramasinghe built up an
intellectual tradition. It has collapsed now. Why?

There may be a number of reasons. Let me mention one. The majority of people in
this country call themselves Buddhists. Although Buddhism places a special
emphasis on gaining insights through logical reasoning, people are happy leading a
life of conformity.
After Gunadasa Liyanage’s interview with Dr. Adikaram on national television, the
Maligakanda Temple invited Dr. Adikaram for a discussion. The monks gathered
asked many questions in earnest. One monk asked him about his hopes and
aspirations. Adikaram said, "I hope that before I die at least a few monks in Sri Lanka
would embrace Buddha’s teachings."

Interviewed by: Thimbiriyagama Bandara, Translated from the original Sinhalese

version (carried in the ‘Aththa’ newspaper on 26th January 2014) into English by
Ravi Palihawadana