Realistic approach to life


There are many practical and thought provoking doctrines in Buddhism and among them it is the key doctrine of dependency that Prof GA Somaratne has inculcated in his life. “I believe that many causes come together and give birth to something new. Things from the past and present work together. There is an inter-relationship between them — a dependency over each other,” he explained. “When you realise this you tend to discard your arrogance and ego as you realise that you are a part of this whole existence and we are dependent on other things.”

And it is this doctrine he relates to when he seeks for explanation of things happening in his life.

Journey so far

Prof Somaratne was 11 when he became a monk as a customary practice in Sri Lanka. “It was there that I learnt and developed an interest in Buddhism.” And this interest led him to take up Buddhist Philosophy at University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. But his thirst for knowledge was not satiated and he ventured into foreign shores. It was from Northwestern University, US that he completed his Masters and went on to do his PhD in Buddhist Studies from the same. He then went to University of Oxford in UK for his Post Doctoral Research.

He then started teaching at Miyazaki International College, Japan as a Lecturer and as an Associate Professor. In 2001 he joined University of Peradeniya and is currently a professor in Pali and Buddhist Studies. Besides that he has been also contributing as a Guest Lecturer at universities and is recipient of various honours and awards.

His contentment

“I feel that whatever I have learnt and am teaching is not irrelevant or unnecessary. It represents reality of ones life. If people whom I’ve taught can change themselves making wise decisions, think and care not only about themselves but others as well — for me that is the greatest satisfaction,” he said.

He hopes that people do not follow the principles of Buddhism blindly, but understand and then believe in it.

Shifting paradigm

As Buddhism helps in one’s liberation and to grow intellectually how important are statues and temples?

“Buddha requested statues to be placed at crossroads so people would see it and an inquisitiveness would develop towards it. This will lead him to know about the teachings of Buddha, so it serves it purpose. But once you advance intellectually, external things do not carry much importance,” he explained.

Eastern and western perceptions

Talking about the difference among the eastern and western perception towards Buddhism he said, “In this side of the world we are born as Buddhists, so we follow and practice rituals as a part of culture without properly understanding the doctrines. What we know of it has traditionally come to us but we don’t understand much of it. However, in the west, most people who follow Buddhism have converted into it, mostly after reading scholarly works, meeting people following or practicing Buddhism, so they have a better understanding of it.”

For a better life

Explaining about some principles in Buddhism that can lead you towards a better life, Prof Somaratne talked about concepts like suffering, impermanence, karma and death. “One should contemplate about these issues, one should have a goal in life and work towards achieving it. One should realise that he has certain responsibilities and work hard to fulfil it to the best before he dies.”

He also elaborated on the natural phenomenon of change and that a person doesn’t need to stay in the condition s/he is in, every person has the capability to change things for the better.

His visit to Nepal

It is the first time that Prof Somaratne is in Nepal and expressed joy at being here. “I am thankful to the Sri Lankan ambassador for inviting me. I am really looking forward to see the place where Buddha was born.”

He has come here for the Second Vesak Commemoration Oration and will be talking about Pluralism in the Buddha’s Teachings: From Exclusive Nibbana to Inclusive Vimutti.

The oration

Giving a brief insight about his session he said, “In this part of the world people are suffering from poverty, even in Sri Lanka we have terrorists problems. Such things are happening because people have not understood life properly. Buddhism helps you mature intellectually, by not understanding it we are letting things deteriorate and haven’t been able to achieve highest goals. Though people have their individual differences, we all have similar needs and desires, we are on and should work towards achieving a higher ambition. We should transform ourselves, be tolerant of each others ideas and behaviour and practice non-violence.”

He will also be talking about religious themes associated with Buddhism. “Attaining nirvana is very exclusive, it is the highest goal for Buddhists but there are secondary liberations too, one can experience it in percentages, it is progressive,” said Prof Somaratne.

Professor Somaratne will be delivering his lecture at the Russian Culture Centre on May 25