Saturday May 30, 2009
Ex-Envoy pens book on Buddha
By YIP YOKE TENG
DIPLOMATS are individuals appointed for peace missions and a book on peace penned by an ambassador who was in the profession for close to 30 years certainly carries weight.
More so when the book revolves around an icon known for centuries for his efforts in promoting peace — Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha.
There have been many books written about this great philosopher in history, but the author of Siddhartha Prince of Peace, Datuk Dr G. K. Ananda Kumarasiri, reckons that not many books regard the Buddha as an advocate of peace.
“We read depressing news in the newspapers every day, war and crime are happening everywhere.
“Peace seems so elusive, many have come out with efforts and suggestions on how to end war but none of these is working,” he said in an interview with StarMetro.
The former director-general of Asean said one of the reasons was that man’s understanding of peace was shallow as most were taught that war and peace go hand-in-hand.
“Peace in the real sense has nothing to do with war. One should find peace within oneself. If one is at peace, one has no problem with everybody.
“We achieve peace through the cultivation of a wholesome mind with the right values, attitude and thinking,” he said.
To the 67-year-old, Prince Siddhartha was a role model for the world to see how mortals could bring peace.
“Here is a man who perfected himself spiritually through his aspiration, determination and confidence. It is the thought of “I will, I must, I can” that made him so great,” he said.
The other side of this message is clear and positive — the goals of ordinary people are much more mundane than that of the noble prince and they can surely achieve them with the same attitude.
“I have been reading about the Buddha since I was small. I read more voraciously about him as I grew up but soon I felt that these books mainly narrated his life but had not looked at the lessons he experienced,” he said.
He referred to classical sources, particularly ancient chronicles and scriptures recorded by elder monks, scribes and poets.
The works by Venerable Sri Dhamma entitled The Life of the Buddha and Sir Edwin Arnold, The Light of Asia, also inspired him to delve into the Buddha’s unique character.
The book is meticulous, complete with maps and Sanskrit references for better comprehension.
Apart from being an adjunct professor at Universiti Utara Malaysia, Ananda is also an active dhamma speaker.
In addition to scrutinising and analysing Buddha’s encounters, Ananda tried to live like him to understand the emotions he went through at different points of time.
“How did he feel when his son was born? What traumatised him when he saw the old man? I tried to look at these life experiences through his eyes,” he said.
He said Prince Siddhartha was inquisitive; he asked questions and thus started to understand human beings.
The prince is not only his spiritual pillar, he is the guru for this diplomat who set up and headed the Centre for International Relations and Strategic Studies, and later appointed High Commissioner to Nigeria.
“My career is about trying to promote understanding, and he showed me the greatest devotion one can have in achieving that. If he can do such a big thing, I should be able to promote it in my own small way,” he said.
Siddhartha Prince of Peace is available through Buddhist associations. For details, call 03-7958 4182/ 03-5631 5299/ 03-5634 8181.
Resume of DATO’ Dr. G. K. ANANDA KUMARASIRI
Dr. Kumarasiri was a distinguished career ambassador of thirty years standing. He joined the Malaysian Foreign Service in 1966 and had many interesting and challenging diplomatic postings. He recalls with nostalgia his early overseas diplomatic appointments as Assistant High Commissioner in Madras (1966-1972), Counsellor in New Delhi (1972 -1975) and Counsellor in Tokyo (1975-1978). In 1979 he was seconded to the National Institute of Public Administration (INTAN) to set up and head the Centre of International Relations and Strategic Studies. He embarked on this daunting challenge with much trepidation. On hindsight, he regards it a rewarding and fulfilling experience, for among other interesting exposures, he became familiar with teaching and training methods and techniques. Reassignment to the Foreign Ministry saw him posted as Minister in Washington D. C. (1981-1984). In 1984, he was appointed High Commissioner to Nigeria with concurrent accreditation to Ghana. After pursuing a doctoral discipline (1986-1989), he returned to assume a number of senior positions viz. the Head of Inspectorate, Under Secretary of the Americas Division, and as the Director-General of ASEAN.
Another high point in his diplomatic career was his landmark book, Professional Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Management: The Malaysian Experience. The all-round accolades his treatise received speak volumes of his deep insight, professional skills and expertise in diplomacy and international relations. Prime Minister, Abdullah bin Haji Ahmad Badawi (who was then Foreign Minister), applauded his work, “To the best of my knowledge, no Malaysian or foreigner has produced a handbook or manual for professional training in diplomacy and the management of foreign affairs. While the Malaysian experience is unique in some respects, it nevertheless can be adopted and adapted suitably by developing countries." AsiaWeek magazine acknowledged, “Kumarasiri takes the art of foreign relations and dissects it with the unerring eye of a scientist. His book is a comprehensive case-study of diplomacy as it is practiced in Malaysia. The book should become the standard reference on Malaysian diplomacy.’’ Syed Adam Aljafri, writing in the New Straits Times lauded his creditable scholarship thus, “This is a book for all those with professional, academic training and personal interest in the fascinating field of diplomacy and foreign affairs. Congratulations to Dr. Kumarasiri on a notable contribution to Malaysian knowledge.” Another leading daily, The Business Times, noted,” This book is useful not only for practising diplomats but for all who need to understand diplomacy and foreign relations. Equally important, this book can also serve as a guide to other countries which wish to consider training needs for their diplomats, and may wish to set up teaching arrangements.”
Significantly, a number of academicians have also highly commended the book. For example, Prof. K. S. Nathan, a respected academic of the University of Malaya paid glowing tribute to the brilliant research and authorship, thus “There is little doubt that this corpus of knowledge represents a significant contribution to the field of Malaysian diplomacy and foreign affairs management. This book deserves to be read by all Malaysians.” An internationally renowned veteran diplomat and scholar, Dr. Vernon Mendis, praised the scholarship as, “an eye-opener as to how a country like Malaysia, has established a professional diplomatic service and organised a comprehensive training system for it to acquire the required skills and expertise to perform the tasks… One must be thankful to Dr. Kumarasiri for his initiative and courage in undertaking this work amidst pressures and opening the doors to others to share the enriching and valuable Malaysian experience. It is hoped that this pioneering and extremely illuminating scholarship will guide diplomats of the future.”
The book has recently been revised and published under a new title, Professional Diplomacy and Foreign Affairs Management: An Ambassador’s Insight. It enjoys the distinction of having a foreword by Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad who complimented, "Malaysians have good reasons to take pride in this book. Apart from other notable benchmarks, it is the first comprehensive manual for training in diplomacy and foreign affairs…The Malaysian experience can thus serve as an inspiration to other countries, particularly developing states. It can provide invaluable lessons at a time when many of their bureaucracies need guidance and training in statecraft."
Dato’ Dr. Kumarasiri who hails from Sentul was a keen sportsman. He captained the Victoria Institution school cricket team as well as the Malaysian Combined Schools side and represented Selangor State in the sport. He was also a key member of the Combined Malaysian and Singapore Universities Team that toured India and Sri Lanka in 1994. He continues to be keenly interested in sports, reading, art and collecting objets d’art and antiques.
A devout Buddhist, he has held several important positions in a number of leading Buddhist organizations in the country and abroad. These appointments include, being the President of the Buddhist Maha Vihara Brickfields and the Permanent Representative of the World Fellowship of Buddhist to UNESCO. He has regularly participated in international Buddhist conferences and meetings and is a much sought-after Dhamma speaker, addressing audiences across the country and overseas as well.
Dato’ Dr. Kumarasiri firmly believes that one should continue being active even in retirement. Apart from being appointed Adjunct Professor in University Utara Malaysia, he has carved a niche for himself internationally as a popular author of several notable books (published under the umbrella title, “Living Buddhism Series” ), that focus on the practice and practical application of the Buddha’s Teachings in daily life. His landmark books include:
Matu-Posaka: Paragon of Filial Piety, Angulimala, My First Word Book: Buddhist Pedagogical Approach, The Terrifying Drug Menace: Relevance and Role of Buddhism, Welcoming the Birth of a Child, Living Buddhism: The Way Forward, Living Buddhism: Advancing from Knowing to Being, My Alphabet Book: Buddhist Pedagogical Approach and A Compendium of Buddhist Personal Names: Heritage and Significance of Adoption.
He is happily married to Datin Asoka whom he regards as his most trusted friend of over thirty years. They have three grown-up children and two grandchildren.
Ananda, formerly K. Alfred, in the 1959 VI Cricket Team