Sri Lanka Express

Is our gratitude asleep?

  By Hassina Leelarathna


“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” – Maya Angelou

“When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?” asked sixteenth century French writer and philosopher Michel de Montaigne.  With the perils of the brutal terrorist war now behind us, almost five years to the day, some Sri Lankans are dozing off when it comes time to show gratitude to the brave men and women who made peace possible.

Or so it seemed last Thursday at a ceremony held at the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles in remembrance of the end of the 30-year long war, May 19, 2009, when Sri Lankan troops finally declared victory over the LTTE.  As in past years, the event was tag-lined “Los Angeles Remembers.”

Despite Los Angeles boasting the largest Sri Lankan community in the US, the turnout was small.   Letting gratitude go to sleep seems to be a human failing that has persisted through the centuries and across continents.

Among the grateful was Ajantha Sriramya who came straight from rehab where he had spent the past several weeks recovering from a stroke.   With the greatest difficulty he hobbled in holding on to a walker and aided by his daughter.  From time to time the once robust man stopped to catch his breath.  I’m told he went back to rehab that same night after the event.

If ill-health was no impediment to gratitude, neither was battling vicious L.A. traffic.   There was Rohan Gunasekera who drove 70 miles in the thick of rush hour from his home in Palmdale, a city with the dubious distinction of having the worst commute in Los Angeles County.   “This is the time the Sri Lankan troops really need our support, especially when some are being put in jail and some are being threatened with war crimes charges. Thousands of our young people died.  How can we forget?” he asked. 

Making up for the absence of lay expatriates (including leaders of some prominent community associations) were monks from several Buddhist temples facing the busiest time in the year with preparations for upcoming Vesak celebrations.  
 
A prominent attendee was Consul General Ms. Swarna Gunaratne. Appointed to the Los Angeles office just two months ago, Ms. Gunaratne  showed eagerness to put politics aside and reach out to all sections of the community, as several participants would later remark over tea and refreshments.  It was also an opportunity for her to ask for support for the consulate’s flood relief drive and she took it.  
Not surprisingly, gratitude to men and women who serve their country became the central theme of the opening speeches at the event. In his address, Ven. Walpola Piyananda called on all political groups to stop campaigns of retaliation and revenge and instead to give  and   pointed to the respect and dignity accorded to Americans serving in the armed forces and said  Sri Lanka should follow the USA’s lead. “America provides many benefits to those in the military.  Even at airports, there are special lounges for service personnel and you hear the announcements on the PA all the time.  That shows the respect given to those serving.  Sri Lanka could use this as an example,” he said.

Mr. Podinilame Dissanayake, main organizer of the event, reminded the audience that Memorial Day, a federal holiday in remembrance of those who died serving in the armed forces, was just around the corner (May 30).   “But in addition to Memorial Day, there’s Veterans Day (November 11) when Americans honor the men and women who served and are serving in the armed forces.”  Why he asked is similar treatment not given to the Sri Lankan forces, adding:  “It’s baffling that nearly 30,000 Sri Lankan troops lost their lives and their sacrifice is not given the same recognition as that given to US war veterans.”   

Touching on the same theme, with some variation, the evening’s main speaker,  Ven Dr Medagoda Abayathissa, senior lecturer of Sri Jayawardenapura University and Principal of the historic Sunethra Maha Devi Pirivena deplored the treatment meted to war veterans.  “Once we called them our saviors, our “Ranaviru,” but now they are being considered no more than mere guards,” he said.
Ven. Medagoda Abhayatissa
Consul General Ms. Swarna Gunaratne: "The country has successfully defeated terrorism and it's time to move on."

The Consul General took the opportunity to appeal for flood relief assistance and called on the community to come together to help those in need.  Click here for appeal emailed by the CG's office. 

Sri Lankans in Los Angeles gathered May 19 at the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara for a ceremony commemorating the defeat of the LTTE who waged a brutal 30-year war for a separate state.

The traditional Bodhi Puja led by Ven. Pandith Ambalantota Kolitha Thero was followed by Anusasana delivered by Ven. Walpola Piyananda Mahathero.  Ven. Dr. Medagoda Abayathissa, a senior lecturer at Sri Jayawardanapura University who is currently following a course of study in the US delivered a special sermon reflecting on post-war Sri Lanka. 
Flowers in remembrance of Sri Lankan troops

"Los Angeles Remembers" - Anniversary of the end of the LTTE War Commemorated

By Podinilame Dissanayake


“..සංහිඳියාවේ නාමයෙන් මහා ජාතියේ ඉෂ්ටාර්ථයන් සඟවන්න එපා..”

“Let not the core aspirations of the majority be overridden in the name of “reconciliation” …stated Venerable Medagoda  Abhayathissa at the 7th commemoration of victory day at the Daharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara in Los Angeles, California held on May 19th.
It was on this day in 2009, the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) declared the end of the separatist terror agitation waged by the LTTE for over 30 years, seeking  an independent state “Eelam”, in the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.

The commemoration was graced by the Hon Consul General of Sri Lanka to Los Angeles, Mrs Swarna Gunaratne.

The event  began with Buddhist religious ceremonies conducted by the Chief Sanganayake of US and abbot of the Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara, Venerable Agga Maha Panditha Dr  Walpola Piyananda, and Ven. Ambalantota Kolitha, Chief abbot of the Sarathchandra Meditation Center, North Hollywood.
Ven Piyananada later in his sermon praised the soldiers, who defended the country amidst many difficulties and shortcomings; over thirty thousand of them paying the supreme sacrifice in the process. There is an equal number who have been maimed and disabled and are being cared by their extended families, philanthropists and the government authorities. “However we are sad to note the present trend of some policies being directed towards victimizing the leadership of the earlier regime who brought about an end to the curse of terrorism. Sri Lanka being a Buddhist nation should not follow a path of revenge”, concluded the venerable monk.

Consul General Mrs Guneratne while appreciating the former president, the Defense Secretary and Field Marshal Fonseka and the three armed forces and police for their commitment in overcoming the LTTE, stated that she too contributed towards the cause as an expatriate Canadian. “The country has successfully ended terrorism and now it is time to move forward for permanent peace unitedly, without resorting to partisanship”. She further added, “today our country is faced with a serious calamity through country wide floods and earth slips, killing many dozens of our citizens and thousands being displaced. Therefore I call upon all, to rally round in helping those who have been affected through this natural devastation”. Mrs Gunerathne explained to the gathering how and where aid and donations could be made and directed.

A special sermon was delivered by the visiting Buddhist monk Ven Dr Medagoda Abayathissa, senior lecturer of Sri Jayawardenapura University and Principal of Sunethra Maha Devi Pirivena, Papliyana. The venerable monk stated that the present status of the ‘Ranaviruwa” has fallen to that of a “murakaruwa.”

“When the country was engulfed in full blown terrorism, with “Dalada Maligawa, Anuradhapura Bo Maluwa, Madhu church , Kathankudiya Mosque and other numerous places of worship were on target coupled with innumerable massacres, the country was desperately looking for  bold leadership. Effective political and military leadership was found through the Rajapakses and the three armed forces, police and the civil task forces, who worked tirelessly with the civilians to overcome the situation. During that period the soldiers were treated as our “saviors” and now that such has been eradicated the savior is being treated as a security guard. Terrorism arose through political rhetoric and scrupulous manipulations and instigations of politicians of all hues and color in pursuit of power”.
 
“Those of us who are middle aged and beyond, would find that our birth certificates are mostly signed by Tamil doctors, indicative of the inclusiveness that prevailed. This is also true of other professions. Separatism was stoked and blown by politicians, which ultimately resulted in untold misery, including the loss of many visionary politicians we had in our midst in the caliber of Lalith Athulathmudali, Gamini Dissanayake, Ranjan Wijerathne and many more, which in turn has brought about a severe dearth of sensible political leadership; a major predicament we face today; we have a dime a dozen politicians without a penny’s worth of competence.

” It has become a favorable pastime to beat up on and criticize the majority community which if continues may become disastrous. Let not the core aspirations of the majority be overridden in the name of “reconciliation”… he urged.

Along with the venerable monks of the Dharma Vijaya temple, monks of Sri Ratana international Buddhist center and Ven. Shanthi of the International Buddhist meditation center were also in attendance.

The event was organized by expatriate Sri Lankans in Los Angeles.