– The plot revolves around upper middle class liberal minded lovers, Niru and Sayuru who intimately connected while doing their masters studies on art history, archeology. Niru is full of self-esteem and the master of her own life. Though Sayuru is a qualified architect graduated from Moratuwa University, an old boy of Royal College, became very submissive/accommodating to her.
– The reader is allowed to rationalize the relationship from a social political perspective by taking a spiritual journey with the couple to find the meaning of life. The journey travels through historical sites in Sri Lanka, and then all the way to Tibet through India, with Niru at the helm.
– Niru’s grandfather is Ananda Coomaraswamy, born in Ceylon to the Coomaraswamy-Ramanathan family from Manipay, Jaffna of Vellalar caste. The book discusses the Coomaraswamy-Ramanathan family ancestry in great detail, and its deep rooted connection to South Asian civilization. However, Ananda C.’s mother was English and his early academic training was in England. Therefore, he was well aware of the modernistic philosophic trends in Europe. It would have helped him to develop his metaphysical view of traditional art and traditional philosophy moving to the other side of rationalist thinkers like Plato, Friedrich Nietzsche, Norm Chomsky. This disagreement goes back to the origin of Knowledge. From a rationalist perspective, we humans proceed from ignorance to knowledge through learning (reasoning, rational education), by mapping our experiences to forms. Forms/abstractions are stored within us (in sole), perhaps even before we were born. Prof Chomsky (world renowned Prof of linguistics at MIT) observes that the linguistics knowledge of toddlers far exceeds what they could have experienced in their short lives. From these observations Chomsky concludes that humans are born with emerging language “knowledge”. Genetics research postulates that this is a function of the brain, the brain has a faculty of language. This could be the reason why Bandara is a writer and I am something else. Anyway, this is where the challenge to Plato comes from, including his own student Aristotle – “origin of human knowledge”. This is the question Ananda C.’s philosophy is anchored on. Traditional knowledge/absolute truth/eternal truth or universal knowledge transcends rational knowledge. It’s the common denominator within each of the ancient religious traditions. Coomaraswamy went on a journey through ancient art to rediscover that universal truth. (So did Theosophist Henry Olcott and Helena Blavatsky, perhaps from a different aspect). I suppose the objective of the journey that Niru planned for Sayuru is to lift him up to another level from his current state of ignorance (rational education perspective). Ananda C. ‘s idea of Indian or Ceylon nationalism based on this line of thinking. He was opposed to the consequences of colonialism in South Asia, I believe, on the grounds that the destruction they brought about on traditional societies. This was reflected in how Sayuru felt about the treatment that Tibetan people, and their Vajrayana traditions, get from the Chinese Communist party, however, on the other hand he was ok with the modernism that Chinese Communist party has brought into the Tibetan region. I am looking forward to hearing more from Bandara on this line of thoughts.
– Why was Syuru so ignorant and needed to be reminded of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”
– Syuru comes from fictional ancestors who settled in the coastal area, traditional areas of Karawa, Durava and Salagama castes. His great grandfather was a hard working toddy tapper who emerged from the Protestant merchant class as a successful entrepreneur by building a spirit business. Being a shrewd businessman he is, great grandfather invested capital into other areas of the market to conceal the main source of his income, the spirit business. As was Ananda C., Sayuru’s grandfather, and father both had British rational education. However, they were denied the respect and status by the Sinhala Buddhist nation. Here we have a bourgeois class, but yet being treated as second class people by the traditional Sinhala Buddhist elites. So the family has unfinished businesses to be settled through Sayuru. With this background I wonder why Sayuru chose to go to Moratuwa U, instead of a Western university. He could be a mama’s boy. He doesn’t appear to be a person who has been trained to be the master of his own life. After meeting Niru he started to shine a light on the physical realizations of his own architectural designs/ideas/forms and noticed that what a misfit it is in the community that they have been designed for. What would you expect from a graduate who studied at a university which has no Faculty of Humanity and Social sciences? Have we seen a premier technology university in the West with no faculty of Humanity Social sciences? Prof Norm Chomsky joined MIT for a reason. What we have in Sri Lanka is a bunch of faculties, not universities- There goes Plato’s idea of lifting people up from ignorance to wisdom through education. With this social cultural background no wonder why Sayuru instantly became Niru’s slave. Isn’t this a conflict between Sinhala Buddhist nationalism vs universalism. (Vellalar Coomaraswamy traveled through Sri Lankan Buddhist vihara, Tamil Buddhist & Hindu art history, all the way to India to rediscover the essence of wisdom. What have we discovered? Kali Amma’s and Natha God?)
– As a student of Math/technology perspective this reminded me of the complementarity principle in physics – a complete knowledge of phenomena on atomic dimensions requires a description of both wave and particle properties (two independent aspects of nature). In essence, in a subatomic system when the particle nature of the matter is measured or displayed, the wave nature of the matter is necessarily suppressed and vice versa. In other words “In a situation where the wave aspect of a system is revealed, its particle aspect is concealed; and, in a situation where the particle aspect is revealed, its wave aspect is concealed. Revealing both simultaneously is impossible; the wave and particle aspects are complementary.”
– In that sense Rationalism and Empiricism should not be considered as opposing ideas, rather complementary to each other. If we shine a light on Rationalism we effectively concealed Empiricism, and vice versa. What we need is Rational Empiricism – Yin and Yan. So is Nationalism and Universalism (Laukika and Lokottara – one cannot have one without the other). Individualism (taking the ownership of my life) and collectivism (knowledge and values I have are not all mine, which is collective/universal knowledge.) can we have completely independent Theravada and Mahayana traditions and protect just Theravada?
– I guess, at the end of their journey both Niru and Sayuru elevated themselves to such a level that they became one (non-binary) by shining a candle on each other
I really enjoyed the book and learned a lot.