Thursday, November 04, 2010

UNESCO- turns away from Indian, Chinese, and African philosophies to celebrates the World Philosophy Day 2010, with a hybrid philosophy of its own.

Philosophy is a subject apart from Education, Science and Culture which are within the purview of UNESCO. But Education being knowledge, philosophy could fall well within Education.

But philosophy is a diversity of knowledge, it is hence representative of different Cultures.
Therefore, probably as the religion, philosophy and culture of a nation are interrelated, in UNESCO Philosophy finds its place in the Sector of Social and Human Sciences.

Where ever it is placed, it is important that UNESCO has philosophy among its specialised programmes not only to popularise different philosophies among its member States, but also to exchange thoughts of philosophy among the member States to understand better each others religious and cultural philosophies to make that knowledge an instrument of international unity.

Many of the Nations among the 193 member States of UNESCO, had been colonised and their religion, culture, language, their way of life , and even their philosophies have been drastically affected by the introduction of the religions, cultures and languages of the colonial rulers.

Therefore, the time has come for these nations to re-discover there own uncontaminated cultures and philosophies, while learning to appreciate and enhance there own knowledge of the cultures, religions, and philosophies of other nations that share the world with them.

However, European philosophers prefer to acknowledge Greek philosophy as the foundation of their philosophies. The most ancient of philosophies for them is therefore, the pre- Socrates philosophy , and thereafter Socrates, and the Greek philosophers after him influenced the modern European philosophies.

Greek philosophy is based on nature, “The first of these were the naturalists. They were the first true Greek philosophers. The naturalists used logic and reasoning to attempt to answer all questions regarding nature. They had decided that most phenomena were not acts of the gods as previously believed. They believed that a logical and mathematical reason could be found for everything.” (

UNESCO seems to be satisfied taking as its source the European philosophers, who have roots in Greek philosophy. There is also another source from which the philosophers in UNESCO derive inspiration. It is the Islamic philosophers. Islamic philosophy is also influenced by the Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato whose philosophies were found translated in to Syriac language.

Therefore, there is a link between the Islamic and European philosophy both having roots in Greek Philosophy. This then is the root from which UNESCO draws inspiration for its philosophy.

But UNESCO says that it has been closely linked, not to speculative or normative, but to a different type of philosophy which is “..critical questioning which enables it to give meaning to life and action in the international context”. Does that mean, what UNESCO calls philosophy is a mutilated aspect of it, which is not linked to the speculative or normative-aspect of philosophy ?

Not being a student of philosophy it is rather difficult to gather the meaning of what exactly is the philosophy UNESCO is propounding . To an outsider to philosophy it seems that a philosophy cannot be changed, but one philosophy could be influence by another. With such admixtures will the modern philosophers of UNESCO discover a philosophy which is any where close to a universal philosophy ?

However, UNESCO explains its philosophy by stating that, “…UNESCO was born from a questioning process on the possibility of and necessary conditions for the establishment of long-term peace and security in the world. It is therefore an institutional response to a philosophical question, one that had already been asked by the Abbé de Saint-Pierre and Emmanuel Kant.”

It goes further , “…. one could also declare that it is a philosophical institution, since it intends to contribute to maintaining peace and security by heightening collaboration between nations through education, science and culture in order to ensure the universal respect of justice, of the law, of human rights and fundamental liberties for all, regardless of race, gender, language or religion, that is recognized for all people in the Charter of the United Nations. This end goal involves the recognition and implementation of a certain philosophy of law, of human rights and of universal history through means that are also philosophical.”

To an amateur it sounds that philosophy in UNESCO has altogether a different connotation from the accepted meaning of philosophy, “….a rational investigation of questions about existence and knowledge and ethics.”

If you start gathering together all subjects, democracy, justice, law, human rights , fundamental liberties, perhaps terrorism as well and put it into one copper caldron, to make a hybrid philosophy, it becomes a sort of a witches’ brew of a herbal melange, with dried frog legs, blood of cats, dragon nails and what not.

This is what happens to most of the things not only philosophy, but also human rights or elimination of terrorists by non Western Nations, when they come to the United Nations System, where they take a different dimension not within the understanding of the ordinary folk.
A politician of a leading nation speaking at a press conference when she was asked what is terrorism, she said: “…..The bottom line is that you cannot lump all terrorists together. And I think we’ve got to do a much better job of clarifying what are the motivations, the raison d’etre of terrorists. I mean what the Tamil Tigers are fighting for in Sri Lanka or the Basque separatists in Spain or the insurgents in al Anbar province may only be connected by tactics……….I think one of our mistakes has been painting with such a broad brush which has not been particularly helpful in understanding what we are up against those who pursue terrorism for whichever ends they are seeking.”
In the context of the above declaration, it would not be surprising if UNESCO were to put into its mixture, a universal respect to a certain category of terrorism calling it a philosophy of terrorism.
As in the case of UN where its Secretary General has set up a panel to investigate whether a developing nation that eliminated terrorism did not in its process of eliminating terrorism, violate human rights. If the panel from a distance after a lapse of an year finds that there were violation of human rights, it plans to take the country which successfully eliminated terrorism before a Tribunal for war crimes. That absurdity may be “speculative philosophy”, which UNESCO says is outside its philosophy.
However, for an ordinary person with common sense, if for whichever end, a group of people were to take guns, bombs, trains people as suicide bombs, and terrorises a country and its people, that group of people comes under the “broad brush” of terrorists, along with those who fly planes loaded with passengers in to Twin Towers, massacring people for no apparent reason, other than to satisfy the whim of a God that they believe in.

Does this come under the philosophy UNESCO is proposing as being, “..critical questioning which enables it to give meaning to life and action in the international context” ?

In other words speaking frankly, philosophy is philosophy without having to add new subjects and take out others to make it suitable to an imagined objective of an International Organisation.

UNESCO has 193 member states, covering different regions of the world. It is therefore a very rich Institution in terms of the wealth of knowledge, cultures, languages, religious beliefs, spoken and written languages, and philosophies. But yet UNESCO has a very poor Section of Philosophy. That is not a conclusion that I have come to, but it is stated by the Philosophy Section of the UNESCO itself.

In this disarmingly frank introduction to the subject, “ There can be no UNESCO without philosophy”, it is modestly stated, “…….But it is better to say that UNESCO does not have a philosophy in the literal sense of the word since it wants to be a privileged place for exchange and dialogue on the pluralism of experiences of thought and of world cultures.”

And it creeps out of this contradictory statement by saying, “… One could then state instead that UNESCO is a philosophy…..” If that is what UNESCO is trying to ladle out as philosophy it is not very encouraging.

It does not fall within the classical definition of philosophy, if it has some things added, and other things removed from the accepted norms. Then what is the philosophy UNESCO has in place of the “ literal sense of the word Philosophy”.
The introduction, “ There can be no Unesco without philosophy” states:
“Patrice Vermeren gives one of the possible interpretations of this tradition through his description of the philosophy used by UNESCO in his book La philosophie saisie par l’UNESCO.
It deserves credit for strengthening our commitment to revitalizing this tradition and to contributing, by all possible means, to popularize an international philosophical culture.
On this path, the “philosophical detour” – expression borrowed from Jeanne Hersch in her famous study on human rights from a philosophical point of view, undertaken at the request of UNESCO – is called for every day, and today more than ever.”
Hence it is seen from the above quote, that the Philosophical Section of the UNESCO’s contribution to the modern world is to popularize an international philosophical culture based on a “philosophical deviation” proposed by philosopher Jeanne Hersch on her “famous”,study on human rights from a philosophical point of view, and a modern philosopher Patrice Vermeren who wrote the book “ La philosophie saisie par l’UNESCO”.

We can make philosophies of many things, not only of Human rights, but also terrorism, as pointed out earlier, all that may be possible, but what is wanted today is a philosophy to bind, together, the different philosophies along with the people connected to those philosophies.

For that, one should learn to respect the philosophies and the cultures of different Nations from different regions of the world, not confining knowledge and respect to just European philosophy or concoct a new hybrid philosophy that will be a means to dilute all philosophies into one, in a sort of globalisation of philosophy.

To respect those philosophies of “others” one has to know what they are. It is the same with the different religious philosophies of the world, there should be an effort to understand the religions in the context of the modern world, not taking them “lock, stock and barrel” from ancient books, in the context of the Nations getting closer to each other through a highly developed technology.

There should not be any faith in the world which could claim to be the only true faith. We cannot allow representatives of any one religion kill or massacre people of other faiths in the name of the God they believe. It is the same with ethnic purity, people should not be allowed to break away territories or separate people to set up ethnically pure States.

Making use of human rights as a philosophy to make the UN or International Community to demand member states to recognise ethnic groups as separate entities, and give them political rights to set up separate States or Regional governments, would be a dangerous corruption of human philosophies.

Such a dangerous situation could be avoided not by introducing new philosophies but in bringing the old philosophies within reach of the ordinary peoples of the world in keeping with the evolutionary process of the civilisations. This popularization of philosophy is some thing that could be undertaken by the UNESCO, by organising workshops and preparing pictorial publications to be distributed in schools or to associations of elders.

It is like a multi-ethnic country, where each others cultural and religious differences could be made a means to unite the different communities, through an understanding, tolerance and respect to each others cultural and religious difference, not making them a means to divide and separate communities. The same principle should be applied to the whole world.

In order to organize such a universal unification, what better place is there other than the UNESCO. The British Minister of Education Ellen Wilkinson President of the UNESCO Conference held in UK in 1945, said:

“It is for us to clear the channels through which may flow from nation to nation, the streams of knowledge and thought, of truth and beauty, which are the foundations of true civilization”.

But these great words of wisdom of the past, are mutilated to day in the UN System. There is in recent times a move to use human rights as a weapon to keep the developing countries from rising above their state of under development. Terrorism which is despised by every correct thinking person had been used by certain countries along with the UNO, to punish a country for eliminating terrorism. These new philosophies based on human rights are therefore not being used for the benefit of the developing countries, but to keep them poor and dependent.

Hence UNESCO’s effort should not be to lie comfortably on a cushioned sofa of European philosophies, and invent deviation from them, to make UNESCO a privileged place for exchange and dialogue on the pluralism of experiences of thought and of world cultures, but to embrace all philosophies without distinction of their being European or non –European philosophies, and popularise world philosophies through its programmes of Education, Science and Culture, to make philosophy a rallying point for all Nations.

Very noticeable absences in UNESCO’s Philosophy programme are the Indian Vedic philosophies , Confucianism, Tao and other Chinese philosophies, Japanese Zen philosophy, Buddhist philosophy, and even the philosophies of Africa the cradle of humanity.

India has a long history of different schools of philosophies, but UNESCO’s failure to recognise it in the international context seems a part of a concerted effort to minimise the importance of Indian, Chinese and allied Asian philosophies, to give dominance to European philosophies and popularise it in the world.

When the Buddha was born in India 2600 years ago it is said there were 62 different schools of philosophies. They were mostly based on human life, and the suffering of the people. Suffering is universal . One should not come to the conclusion that suffering exists only in poor undeveloped countries.

Suffering is every where among the rich and the poor without distinction. And most of the ills of the world come from attachment, aversion and delusion. And all the conflicts in the world are rooted in one or the other, or all three of these causes.

Now with regard to the Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO, there is the most unforgettable phrase "Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed."

It was included into the preamble by the American poet and the representative of USA at the creation of the UNESCO- Archibald McLeish. He was not a Buddhist but as a poet and the Librarian of the Congress. He was certainly not a stranger to Buddhist philosophy.

Because, it was the Buddha who spoke of the importance of the mind in man. The first verse of the Dhammapada which contains the sayings of the Buddha reads:

“Mind is the forerunner of all states. Mind is chief; mind-made are they. If one speaks or acts with wicked mind, because of that, suffering follows one, even as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.”

The draft of the Preamble to the UNESCO Constitution was made by the British Prime Minister Clement Atlee quoting from “The General Epistle of James, Chapter 4”. It was refined by Archibald McLeish, to include his now famous words-“"Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed" ,
in place of “The General Epistle of James, Chapter 4”

That is the history, but today in the UNESCO’s programme of the Celebration of the World Philosophy Day 2010, none of the Countries in Asia-India, Japan, China, or Africa is represented.

Perhaps they may have been relegated to the “concert”, which is rather the cultural, than the philosophic aspect of the celebration of the Philosophy Day.

Could there be a Philosophy Day without respect to all philosophies of the World ?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Eva and the Sacrament of Baptism

We attended Eva’s sacrament of Baptism on the 10 October, 2010 held at the Chapel of……at Vaires sur Marne. Eva is 3 years old. She is a very talkative sweet little darling of three years.

She was dressed in a beautiful white dress. She was very proud and happy being the little star of the day.

Her brother much older to her is Hugo. Hugo seemed very proud of his little sister.
Giselle and Pierre took us to the small chapel where the Religious Ceremony was to take place was taking place there were three other little children baptised on the same day.

The Ceremony was conducted in Portuguese. I wondered whether the children understood what it all meant to be baptised. One little girl refusing herself to be baptised took refuge in her mothers arms. She would not allow herself to be taken to the water of sacrament, therefore the water had to be taken to her .

Eva was very brave.She allowed herself solemnly to be consecrated in the water of baptism.

Baptism -baptême in French, is the Christian sacrament, a water related ritual by which the believer is admitted to his or her faith. It may have been a ritual initiate by Jesus himself. In the New Testament it is said that, “ As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.”

John the Baptist immersed himself in a river, but he poured water on Jesus. Later the ritual was reduced to pouring water on the upper part of the body while the believer was standing in water. Now it is only a token of sprinkling water on the head which is called aspersion or pouring a little water on the head –called the affusion, where the water is poured thrice on the forehead. In what ever way baptism is performed, it signifies the admission of a believer to the Christian fold purified from the impurity of disbelief.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" John 3:5 RSV.

The baptism is also the means to save a Christian soul. A martyr who sacrifices his life refusing to renounce his religious belief is saved by identifying him as having baptised by blood. Those who have failed to receive ritual baptism in time, before death are accepted for salvation as having received a baptism of desire. All this indicates the necessity of baptism as a Christian.

However, the baptism as a necessary Christian purification was denied in the 16th Century by a Swiss reformist Pastor Huldrych Zwingly. Quackers and the Salvation Army both of Christian faith do not perform the rite of Baptism.

The words of Baptism is usually, “ in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, while other do it in the name of the Jesus only.

The Jewish “mikvah” is an initiation ritual similar to Baptism. Mikvah is also used to cleanse a person from impurity of being in contact with a corpse, before he is allowed to participate in religious performances.

The equivalent of such initiation into the religion is the Islamic practice of circumcision. Jesus was circumcised eight days after his birth. Though Mikvah could be repeatedly practised, both Baptism and circumcision are unique. The circumcision has been ruled unnecessary though not prohibited for the Christians through Apostolic Decree in 50 AD.

our little Eva was baptised of holy water before our eyes and is thus “ born of water and spirit” to become a true Christian.

After the ceremony we were to celebrate the event and Eva’s parents invited about a 100 friends and relatives to a cocktail and a sumptuous dinner at a very homely Portuguese Restaurant. The dinner was animated by Susana Lopes a Portuguese singer who sang tunefully melodious songs, and songs of love and patriotism.

After the dinner there was a much hip shaking dances brilliantly participated by Eva herself shaking her little hip to the maximum.

All that I watched from a distance sipping a tastefully bitter Lavazza cafee. We offered our best wishes and long life to sweet little Eva still not tired after the tiresome accession to her Christian faith, she was overjoyed receiving lots of gifts.

It also happened to be the Birth Day of her God Father Antonio, and naturally there were two big cakes one for the Birthday and the other for the Baptism.

Prohibited as I was from eating sugar I could not resist from sharing the Cakes, which I found were delicious. It was finally time for us to give our parting kisses and shaking lot of hands and say good night ….

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

L.S.S.P should take a lesson from one of its exemplary members the late comrade Wesley Muthiah.

On the 4 August,2007, our dear friend Wesley, parted from us leaving an empty space among his friends, all those who loved him, and had come to know him well.

Looking back at what a fiery political party LSSP was, and what it represented to Wesley, one feels sad that Tissa Vitarana and Vasudeva Nanayakkara are only the remaining embers of a dying fire.

If Wesley was there today he would still have refused to believe that, he would have rather said that they are like the glow of an ebbing sun that announces its rising again, like the LSSP coming back again to revitalise socialism in the uncertain political scene of Sri Lanka, where the people have not given up their resolve to weather the storms to chase political uncertainties, to await the hopeful message of Socialism that LSSP once brought to the historical political scene of Sri Lanka in the nineteen thirties.

That was the political commitment of Wesley. He sought no name, gain, or public applause. He was satisfied being in the background, doing his utmost to bring the message of the LSSP where ever he found himself. He was a dedicated “Samasamjist” who kept LSSP vigorously alive from his youth to end of his life .

More often, people are taken for granted when they are living and active. But once a person has departed, we begin to see him differently, for what he was in reality, we question, we begin to see what is missing since he had left us, and we measure him from the memories and the work left behind.

Wesley did not seek to convert any one to LSSP. But when speaking to those he met, his loyalty to the party and the principled attachment to socialism showed in his convincing arguments such that, those who listened understood that LSSP has more to it than what they had thought , and did not hesitate to accept an invitation to a meeting he organised.

That was Wesley , whether in Matale where he was working as a Labour Officer, or in UK where he was a teacher, and a Student member of the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn.

In Matale, his work took him to the tea plantations, where he came in contact with the poor, then neglected Tamil Estate Workers. The contact with these poor people, gave meaning to his political work. He was determined to help them to rise above their suffering. He organised the Matale Estate Workers Union, with a liaisons officer as a contact man between the Estate workers and the LSSP Group in Matale.

Even after leaving Sri Lanka, Wesley did not forget his dear Estate workers. He collected Sewing machines, type writers, and computers, at his own expense, and with the help of his friends, set up workshops around Nuwaraeliya, and Talawakele to help the children of the Estate workers.

Wesley was a socialists, who did not seek fame, popularity, political position, financial gain or self aggrandisement. He was a selfless man- a kind we rarely meet. He had taken away the " I , and Me " concept from him, giving himself selflessly to the cause of LSSP. He would willingly sacrifice even his own personal aspirations for the cause of the Party.

When he started organising the LSSP Group in London, he was preparing for the London Bar Examinations from the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn. But organising the LSSP Group took most of his time. He therefore had to choose between the Organising of the London LSSP Group, or preparing for the Bar Examinations. He chose the former, hoping to do the Bar Examinations later.

He was dedicated to the cause of LSSP, but significantly not as a political activist, but a loyal party member to promote the party among the people. Unfortunately, the LSSP lacks members like him today , and that is why the LSSP is in a sorry state, slowly fading in to oblivion.

Wesley stood by the Party giving his time and energy, through out its different phases of existence. Even when every thing seemed bleak, and the future of the party uncertain, Wesley did not relent his enthusiastic support, he intensely believed in a resurgence of the LSSP.

Wesley was a Christian not merely because his father was a Pastor, but Jesus was for him the symbol of the suffering poor exploited by the owners of the wealth and capital, LSSP was a way out for the mass of the poor people exploited by the rich and wealthy, to rise above their seemingly hopeless conditions of existence.

Wesley was always present as a member of the LSSP, to gather the sympathisers for a meeting, at an informal party, at his home or some place, to talk about matters relating to the LSSP , and inform them of the role they have to play to have a different political system that embraced the working class without any ethnic difference.

In the context of the sad state into which the LSSP has fallen to-day , one bitterly feels the absence of the people of the calibre of Wesley to revitalise the LSSP and keep it alive , organising workshops, lectures, and meetings to attract the attention of the sympathisers and well-wishers of the party. Wesley believed that if LSSP is to find its rightful place in Sri Lankan politics, it has to be with the people all the time not just during elections, to fold camps afterwards, until the next election time.

Wesley did not impose his point of view. He accepted criticism of the LSSP, and gave possible reasons for the errors committed by the Party. However, if the criticism was not justified he would quote from books, relate incidents and go all out to prove that the criticism was not justified.

The greatest contribution of Wesley, not only to the LSSP and the Left Moment of Sri Lanka but also to future generations of politicians, historians, and students, is his writings. When the Public Records Office of London released the secret files documenting Britain' s persecution of Ceylonese anti-war freedom fighters, Wesley conceived the idea of writing the history of the LSSP and the Left Movement in Sri Lanka.

He contacted late Sydney Wanasinghe, a fellow member of the Party and got him interested in his projected. This partnership, resulted in the issue of the first book, "Britain, World War 2 & the Sama Samjists", in January,1996, followed by, " Bracegirdle Affair" (1998), " We Were Making History", (2002), "The Case for Socialism"(2004), "Two Languages One Nation-One Language Two Nations" (2005), " Socialist Women of Sri Lanka" (2006), and "Colvin R de Silva: Selected speeches and writings", (2007).

These books tell the story of a wonderful political adventure, at times romantic, some times tragic , and often of an absorbing interest, about those who wanted to change the attitude of a people who were allowing themselves to be exploited by those who owned the land and wealth.

It also tells how the people, despite their cultural traditions and religious fervour were inspired by the pioneers of Marxism in Sri Lanka, and changed their way of thinking forcing the existing political system to accept principles of socialism.

This recorded history of the left movement of Sri Lanka will stand a monument to the memory of Wesley Muthiah.