Ignorance is not bliss | Daily News


Ignorance is not bliss

A cartoon published in a Sinhalese daily yesterday captured the tragedy that was Horowpothana without saying a single word: Two buses come along, one has the destination board “Science” while the other has “Superstition”. The latter is jam-packed, while the former is empty, save for the driver. This is the stark reality in our country.

People will opt for superstition at any and every given opportunity, leaving behind any rational thoughts. What happened in Horowpothana was a microcosm of this tendency, where people flocked to see a so-called “spiritual healer” in action. It ended in tragedy, with the deaths of two people who attended and hospitalization of 16 others.

Quite apart from the fact that people should not expect miracles where medical science has failed, the convergence of more than 25,000 attendees in the hot sun sans shelter and other basic facilities for nearly two days was a disaster waiting to happen. The spiritual healer and his team must be held to account for organising such a massive event without essentially thinking about, and making arrangements for, crowd management and facilities for participants.

While we are certain that the organisers obtained Police approval for this event as per procedure, there is a failure on the part of the Police too, as they have seemingly not looked at how the organisers would handle such a large crowd. This is essential from a security point of view too, given the recent events in the country. Thus Police should have “checked in” at the venue much earlier which would have exposed the shortcomings and even prevented the two deaths.

Going forward, this is a lesson for the Police in terms of ensuring that organisers provide all necessary facilities for gatherings of this nature. This is a free country and it would be undemocratic to ban any kind of legal public gathering, but Police should hereafter closely scrutinize the credentials of those who organise such meetings and the facilities on offer.

But the crux of the matter is that people will continue to embrace superstition instead of facts and reality, making them easy targets for those who wish to exploit them through a raft of false promises. Here we miss the voice of the late Prof. Carlo Fonseka who was a realist and more importantly, a rationalist. He could outright reject many superstitions after practically proving their uselessness. The Buddha himself debunked many superstitions and myths that prevailed during his time and exhorted his followers to accept any statement only after ascertaining its veracity.

Unfortunately, people tend to follow what their politicians do. The politicians run behind astrologers, other spiritual advisers and engage in superstitious rituals at the slightest hint of an election. If astrology is so accurate, the question remains as to why former President Mahinda Rajapaksa lost in 2015 despite his personal astrologer predicting a victory. The only lone voice in politics against superstition so far has been the JVP’s Anura Kumara Dissanayake.

If you open any newspaper, there will be plenty of advertisements on various superstitions including Yanthra, Mantra, Thovil and Bali to name a few. A lot of people, especially the poor and the middle class, fall for these shenanigans, spending their hard-earned money on charlatans, exorcists, kapuwas and the like. It is time for the State to begin a campaign against superstition and ignorance. Stern action should be taken against anyone whose actions lead directly or indirectly to the deaths and injuries of innocent persons.

It is also time that people separated their religion and faith from superstition. There is no place in Buddhism (or for that matter, in any other religion) for the likes of Bali and Thovil. It is easy to find solace in one’s own faith, rather than going behind dubious individuals and organisations that make false promises.

These rituals have been invented to prop up feeble minds and give hope to people. In the meantime, the pockets of those who administer such rituals get fatter at the expense of their victims. Religious leaders must come forward to educate their followers on the futility of following such rituals. Schools islandwide must catch them young, with at least a few lessons tailored to debunk the many myths and superstitions in society. In fact, education is the key to ending our dependence on superstitious beliefs and practices. This is the 21st century, not the 18th, and any practices that take us back to that era must necessarily be left behind.

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