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An Interfaith Message on Human Rights for Vesak Day 2013

A few of the hundreds of children setting in Buddhist meditation under a Bodhi tree during Sunday School at Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Vesak (Vesākha, Wesak) was celebrated last week by many Buddhists around the world. It is believed to be the day on which the Buddha was born, the day he attained enlightenment and the day that his physical body died. Same date, different years.

My friend, Venerable Bellanwila Wimalarathana, is the chief incumbent of Bellanwila Rajamaha Viharaya in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He is also a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission, a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

Bishop Duleep Kamil De Chickera is the 14th Anglican Bishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka and is also a member of AHRC.

Ven. Bellanwila Wimalarathana wrote a letter to Christians on his understanding of Christ at Christmas last year prompting Bishop Duleep Kamil De Chickera to reciprocate with this letter to Buddhists at Wesak.

His retelling of the Buddha’s message of compassion, respect and coexistence is worthy, I thought, of a broader audience so I’m passing it along to you.

An Open Letter from Bishop Duleep De Chickera to the Buddhists of Sri Lanka Forwarded By the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

A seekers vision

I write in my personal capacity as a disciple of Christ, a student of Buddhism and one who perceives the universal wisdom and values in world religions as gifts for all and not just the adherents of a respective religion.

This is not an attempt to teach you what you know better than I; but an expression of my profound respect for the Buddha and the potential I see in the Dhamma for compassion, contentment and coexistence for all life. I know you will be patient with any shortcomings in my perception of Buddhism.

Compassion for all life

I have never ceased to be stirred by the Buddha’s compassion for all living beings; and not humans only. This all inclusive compassion makes sense, since compassion for humans only, if accompanied with disrespect for other forms of life upsets the balance in an interdependent life system. Consequently compassion for humans only, is short sighted and counter-productive; it inevitably induces chaos for all forms of life, including humans.

Within this wider framework however this teaching has a direct impact on critical human relations such as ethnic discrimination, inter-religious tensions, economic injustice, political intolerance and the collapse of ethical norms that we wrestle with today. Since compassion according to the Buddha is never selective and will not endorse divisive and oppressive systems, it is full of potential to transform these exclusive and destructive trends into a just and integrated system for all life.

Liberation from Tanha

From my early adult days I have found the Buddha’s analysis of the cycle of life in the four noble truths, most enlightening. His discernment of Tanha as the cause of suffering is a precise explanation of the human dilemma. The inordinate greed for power, dominance, wealth and material resources that motivate many, leads to aggression, suppression and suffering which eventually destroys all; the greedy, the content and Mother Earth.

The objective of life is consequently to overcome Tanha. This path ranges from the simple life style, which demonstrates contentment; to detachment, that state of selflessness which rises above the enticement of the market, the arsenal and a false sense of prestige and is undoubtedly a sign of true liberation.

The fullest manifestation of selfless detachment is demonstrated in total renunciation; the ability to point to the way by getting out of the way. This profound insight into self-emptying is an indispensible lens for personal and social evaluation which our leaders and people cannot afford to ignore.

The Wisdom of Ahimsa

That the Dhamma is received through self-realisation and bears fruit in Ahimsa, (transforming non-violence) safeguards personal privacy and prevents social aggression. Just as the Dhamma cannot be subject to force or manipulation to bring enlightenment, recipients of the Dhamma cannot indulge in these tendencies and to the contrary strive to overcome them. This, in my understanding, is how surrounding forms of life are respected and the Dhamma shared with dignity in ever widening circles.

This refreshing option to violence is undoubtedly one of the reasons that has made Buddhism a world religion. Consequently it is those who are the vehicles of this enlightened, non-violent and compassionate teaching who will continue to sustain and commend Buddhism today.

May the Dhamma of the Compassionate One, shed enlightenment and emancipate our beloved Sri Lanka from greed and violence.

With Peace and Blessings to all living beings.

Bishop Duleep de Chickera

Wesak 2013

Sailor, Rest Your Oars

“…I got Mad!”
John Meeks, Pacific War series
USS Parche (SS384) battling it out on the surface in the middle of a Japanese convoy

Today is Memorial Day in the United States. It is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  I was unable to make my annual visit to a military cemetery today so I offer the following as my tribute to those who have fallen, those still serving and those that have served.

A little over 50 years ago, I “earned my Dolphins” by qualifying as a Submariner on the USS Amberjack (SS522) and went on to serve 8 years on various underwater missions during the Cold War. My Amberjack was the second of that name and being commissioned on 4 March 1946, it did not see combat in WWII.

Her predecessor, USS Amberjack (SS219), had been commissioned on 19 June 1942, two days before my birth. Based out of Brisbane, Australia, she made three war patrols in the Pacific but did not return from her  third. Her last radio message was on 14 February 1943. She was presumed lost on 22 March 1943, her scheduled return date to Brisbane, Australia. Intercepts of Japanese messages implied she was sunk by enemy action on or about 16 February 1943 near Rabaul, Papua New Guinea.

I suppose every service member thinks his unit is the most elite, is exposed to the most danger and is the most effective fighting force in existence. Such attitudes are to be expected among highly trained individuals and units prepared for the sole purpose of destroying enemies that are in turn trying to destroy him and his comrades.

So without additional comment, I present the statistics for the US Submarines of the Pacific Fleet during World War II.

Two hundred sixty three US submarines made 1,474 war patrols in the Pacific. They sent 1,392 Japanese ships to the bottom for a total of 4.8 million gross tons. This accounted for over 54% of all Japanese tonnage sunk by all means.


Eighty six of those subs were involved in rescue operations plucking 504 US airmen from the sea after their aircraft were downed.

During the 1,347 days of the war, 52 or 1 out of every 5.5 US submarines were lost and 3,505 submariners made the ultimate sacrifice and went down with them. One out of every five U.S. Navy submariners was killed in WWII. The United States submarine service sustained the highest mortality rate of all branches of the U.S. Military during WWII.

USS Wahoo (SS238)
At rest with 80 submariners entombed
in the northern approach to the Sea of Japan
View of main deck gun, looking aft.

U.S. submarines made 1588 patrols during the war; 1474 in the Pacific, 87 in the Atlantic, 22 in Europe and 5 in North African waters.

There were 4 of the US Navy’s then 51 submarines in Pearl Harbor at the time of the December 7, 1941 attack. They were completely ignored by the Japanese pilots which proved to be a huge mistake on their part as 2 of them, the Tautog (SS199) and the Narwhal (SS167) later combined for 33 war patrols in which they sank 45 Japanese ships.

In total, the Pacific Fleet submarines received 36 Presidential Unit Citations, 53 Navy Unit Commendations, and 1,229 Battle Stars.

A Sailor’s Poem

Run silent, run deep
For freedom we fought to keep
How we spent so many days
Beneath the shimmering waves

A terrible foe we fought
And gave our lives; and freedom bought
Now our souls forever lie
Restlessly beneath the waves
So silent now, so deep

For it is not enough for you to weep
For we shall not have died in vain
Lest you forget for what we gave
We gave our lives, freedom to save

For if you forget our deeds
Then we shall never sleep
Though we lie so silent, so deep.

by Al Alessandra, July 3rd, 2005

Take Her Down. Take Her Deep.

“I saw the submariners, the way they stood aloof and silent, watching their pigboat with loving eyes. They are alone in the Navy. I admired the PT boys. And I often wondered how the aviators had the courage to go out day after day and I forgave their boasting. But the submariners! In the entire fleet they stand apart!”

James Michener, Tales of The South Pacific

USS Amberjack (SS522), my first ‘boat’

For eight years, beginning in 1960, I served in the US Navy’s Submarine force. It was an adventurous and memorable time that helped to give me a sense of immense pride and self worth. I left the service in 1968 and as time passed I became involved with career and family and I began to think less and less about those times. But now that I am 70, and realize that it was 50 years ago that I first qualified and earned my Dolphins, I find myself reminiscing.

Like many military units where danger has been shared on a daily basis, there is a heightened sense of camaraderie among submariners. The history and solidarity of this unique band has been kept alive by the Submarine Veterans of WWII, the U.S. Submarine Veterans, and the many books, articles and personal websites written and maintained by submariners.

“In over one hundred years of US Submarine Force history, sixty six submarines have been lost, almost 10% of all the submarines commissioned. During World War II, the U.S. Navy’s submarine service suffered the highest casualty percentage of all the American armed forces, losing one in five submariners. Forty-eight submarines of the United States Navy were lost in action during World War II. Some 16,000 submariners served during the war, of whom 375 officers and 3131 enlisted men were killed.”

This comradeship even extends to our sworn foes with whom we struggled during the long years of the Cold War. I remember that when the Soviet submarine K141 Kursk went down on 12 August 2000, many of the US submariner website authors posted tributes and prayer pages for the 118 officers and crew that died on the bottom of the Barents Sea.

“During the Cold War with the Soviet Union from 1948 to 1991, the U.S. Navy launched more than 2,000 secret missions against the Kremlin. The men who manned these “underwater U-2s” have gone largely unheralded.”

Recently, I have begun digging out old photographs and documents from those times in order to organize them (and my memory) and to preserve them for others who might be interested. I’ve begun to post some of the material to this website. It’s still a work in process but what I’ve done so far can be seen here: Silent and Deep

Much of the material is a retelling of my personal experiences and recollections but for continuity I’ve supplemented it with articles from other sources that I have collected over the years. Although I had a Secret clearance, none of the material herein is Classified. I have tried to give full attribution for all outside material but some of it was collected over 30 years ago and my notes weren’t that good.

The first submarine-launched Polaris nuclear missile was on July 20, 1960. This event was celebrated with a simple naval message from the commanding officer of USS George Washington (SSBN598) to President Dwight Eisenhower: “POLARIS – FROM OUT OF THE DEEP TO TARGET. PERFECT.”

Artist’s rendition of USS George Washington launching the first Polaris missile

“No one has done more to prevent conflict – no one has made a greater sacrifice for the cause for Peace – than you, America’s proud missile submarine family. You stand tall among our heroes of the Cold War.”

— General Colin Powell