Thursday, May 23, 2024

What is "Selflessness"


Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D. PhD 

Selflessness is the tendency to ignore one's own needs and interests and serve others.  Some describe selflessness as the way to greater spiritual awareness. Many religions teach selflessness. In Buddhism, selflessness is elucidated as anattā. Long-term Buddhist meditation practice aims at the realization of a "selfless" mode of awareness where identification with a static sense of self is replaced by identification with the phenomenon of experiencing itself (Dor-Ziderman et al.,2013). However, the Buddhist concept of "selflessness" is often perceived by Westerners as a recommendation for the dissolution of their ego (Michalon, 2001).

In the West, the self is perceived as an enduring entity (Michalon, 2001).  Freud described the self as a by-product of ego development. For Carl Jung self was a product of individuation. Freud extensively wrote about the selfish motives of human behavior. 

A self-centered person is often preoccupied with oneself and one's affairs. This is also known as egocentrism. Egocentrics are unable to understand or assume any perspective other than their own (Anderman & Anderman, 2009).  According to Baron and Hanna (1990), depressed individuals show higher levels of egocentrism. In addition, egocentrism has a negative effect on interpersonal relationships (Yamamoto et al., 2008).

Self is not a fixed or static phenomenon.   It is subject to constant change. Self is transient, evanescent, and inconstant.  There is no permanent or unchanging self. Everything arises out of nothing, comes out of the void, and returns to the void. This is not nihilism. It is the actuality and the real nature of the self.

Meditation is a journey toward selflessness. Meditation can untangle the sense of self. Self comes into being and dissolves. Self is an illusory belief. The meditator realizes the emptiness associated with self. This process helps to perceive the world without identification and without ego barriers. In meditation, the meditator enters a hypo-egoic state (Leary et al., 2006). Meditation breaks ego boundaries. 

Selflessness is not mealy a concept. Neuropsychologists have found brain changes during the process of selflessness. According to Dor-Ziderman and colleagues (2013), the experience of selflessness is linked to the attenuation of beta-band activity in the right inferior parietal lobule.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Eagles - The Inside Story

Don Henley is a great singer ; a founding member of the Eagles. He and Glenn Frey started a long journey. Don H has a remarkable, husky voice. I am so lucky that I saw him two times (once in Toronto and then in New Jersey). However,  I am not very happy with  how they (Don H and Glenn F) dealt with Don Felder - the main architect of the song Hotel California and a wonderful guitarist. (I got greetings from Don Felder with his signature last year). Glen F and Don H controlled the group in a dictatorial way. As a result of this micromanagement, Barney L and Randy M were forced to leave the band. Randy M who sang the unforgettable "Take It to the Limit," was depressed after he left the band and eventually died heartbroken. Timothy BS and Joe W were very submissive and did not go against the tide. That may be the secret of their survival. I fully agree that Don H and Glen F made great music. I wish they could treat the former members with more love, respect and recognition. My dream is to see Don H and Don Felder on stage with Joe W playing Hotel California once again.

Ruwan M jayatunge M.D. 

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Sexual Attitudes and Practices in Ancient Sri Lanka



 Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D. PhD 

Sex is a basic human need, common to all people at all times (Shokeir &, Hussein, 2004) and exclusively a biological function, defined based on that individual’s individuality and socio-cultural background (Kumarasinghe et al., 2022).


Ancient Sri Lankans had varied sexual lives. The ancient folklore and texts unveil the traditions of sexual behaviors among the ancient Sri Lankans. In ancient Sri Lanka, sexual desire was considered a vivacious force, and sexuality was redefined as a personal right. These conditions existed until the colonization of indigenous sexualities.


Culture is a drastic factor that affects the sexual lives of people. The ancient sexual behaviors and practices were affected by sociocultural, psychological and, biological factors. Ancient Sri Lanka was a male-centered society. In this society, sex was not considered sinful. Virginity was not viewed as a virtue; there were no practices of veneration of the Virgin.


According to Singh (1999) Sexual perversions are often a product of civilized life and most societies permit some degree of deviant sexual behavior as a relief from stress of routine life.  Sri Lankan culture has its own folklore and myths, and some describe incest, which in today’s world is considered taboo. Incest is sexual intercourse between family members and close relatives. The mythological Story of Sinhabahu describes the origins of the 'Sinhala' race testifies to the existence of incest. According to the Sinhabahu legend, the prince Sinhabahu married his own sister Sinha Seewali committing incest. Sontakke (2017) indicates that during prehistoric times, it appears that there was no such restriction on mating in close blood relations.


Buddhism was first brought to Sri Lanka during Mauryan Emperor Ashoka's period (Sangharakshita, 1975) highlights that Buddhism had no direct concern with the collective life of man on the social and political level. The ancient Sri Lankans lived according to strict hierarchical social organization and kings had unquestionable power. Many kings enjoyed extremely active sex lives. They had harems and used to engage in various sexual activities. The Mahavamsa, the ancient chronicle of Sri Lankan history, describes elegant and extravagant harems owned by powerful kings in ancient Sri Lanka. The kings had the practice of marrying multiple spouses. Polygamy was a vital political aspect of the king. They used servants who had been castrated to work in harems.


There was no rigid gender system in society. The ancient Sri Lankans never had a binary gender system, and there was room for a third gender. The third gender in ancient Sri Lanka were known as “pandaka. The people had compassionate attitudes toward the third gender. Although they were identified as seductive, pandakas were inclusive of society. Notably, there was no persecution against them. The third gender has been traditionally perceived and accepted.


Tantric influence on Sri Lankan Buddhism was significant, and Tantric attributes can be seen in ancient Sri Lanka. Many centuries before Sigmund Freud, Richard Freiherr von Kraft-Ebing, Albert Moll or D.H. Laurence, the Tantric Buddhist monks discussed the wider aspects of human sexuality. Tantric practice emphasizes the importance of sexual intimacy and spirituality. The practice intertwines spirituality, sexuality, and a state of mindfulness.


The ancient Sri Lankan women of nobility enjoyed certain individual liberties and sexual freedom. Anula (aka Anuladevi) was the first known queen regnant in Sri Lankan history. The queen Anuladevi of Sri Lanka reigned from 47 BC –to 42 BC had an uncontrollable and excessive desire for sex. She became famous for her promiscuous behavior and had an infamous reputation as a nymphomaniac.


King Kashyapa who ruled the country from 473 AD to 495 AD had his harem in Sigiriya citadel and had Persian beauties as lesser wives. Some of these pretty Persian women were depicted on the Sigiriya Frescoes.


There is evidence that social prostitution existed during ancient times. King Kumaradasa (6th century A.D.)  was highly influenced by the Indian poet Kalidasa and the king invited Kalidasa to live in his royal palace. During his stay the poet Kalidasa was poisoned by a prostitute and his death devastated the king and eventually, the king committed suicide over the poet’s death.


Some kings and noblemen in ancient Sri Lanka enjoy orgies. They practiced unrestrained sexual activity. A stone carving at the Nalanda Gedige, believed to have been built between the 8th and 10th centuries, depicts erotic allure and sexually explicit sculpture on orgies.


Robert Knox who lived as a prisoner for 20 years reported existing abortions and infanticides in the Kandyan Kingdom. He further describes polyandrous union in Kandyan society. Furthermore, he describes customs of hospitality that involved offering guests food, shelter, with one's own wife or daughter. This tradition was known as Bulath Hiraya. During this period, genetic disorders were emerging due to inbreeding, and this practice was intended to accumulate new genes in the common genetic pool. 


Rukule Padima (intercrural sex, which is also known as coitus interfemoris) was another mode of sexual behavior that was practiced by some aristocrats. They used underage girls for their sexual gratification. Even Pederasty (sexual relationship between an adult man and a pubescent boy) was a common practice among the noblemen. There was no taboo nature, and these practices were accepted in high society. However, there are no historical documents to prove that female pederasty existed in ancient Sri Lanka.


The institution of marriage occupied a unique place and the marriage of cross cousins was an accepted form, and it never fell under incest taboos. However, caste equality was strongly taken into consideration.


Homosexuality was not considered as a deviant behavior in ancient Sri Lanka. There were no legal restrictions on homosexuality.  Some kings enjoyed homosexual unions. The King Sri Vira Parakrama Narendra Singha (1707–1739 AD) was fond of being with young boys with embodiment of feminine traits.


Sexual beliefs and behaviors in ancient Sri Lanka indicate that the islanders relished a greater extent of sexual freedom compared to medieval Europe. There was no concept of sexual sin or sexual persecution that affected the population. The sexual repression carried out by the Inquisition In medieval Europe affected a great number of people. Between the 15th and 18th centuries, some 50,000 women were executed as witches in Europe, and most victims were burned at the stake. Most of these female victims were charged with sexual sins. Sexual attitudes and practices in ancient Sri Lanka indicate that the society had sexual tolerance and compassion. 




Kumarasinghe, M., De Silva, W.I., de Silva, R. et al. Unmarried Sri Lankan youth: sexual behaviour and contraceptive use. Contracept Reprod Med 7, 19 (2022).

Sangharakshita Bikshu. 1975. Buddhism. In A.L. Basham (ed.). A Cultural History of India. Oxford University Press: 83‐99.

Shokeir AA, Hussein MI. Sexual life in Pharaonic Egypt: towards a urological view. Int J Impot Res. 2004 Oct;16(5):385-8. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijir.3901195. PMID: 15475944.

Singh A. Regulation of human sexual behaviour, sex revolution and emergence of AIDS: a historical perspective. Bull Indian Inst Hist Med Hyderabad. 1997 Jan;27(1):63-74. PMID: 12575704.

Singh A. Social basis of deviant sexual behaviour: a historical perspective. Bull Indian Inst Hist Med Hyderabad. 1999 Jan;29(1):51-62. PMID: 12585287.





Monday, April 29, 2024

Private Timothy E. Upham ; Was he a Coward ?


In the movie "Saving Private Ryan, Private Timothy E. Upham joins the team as a translator without combat experience. He is a naive, more sensitive and inexperienced soldier. Was he a coward? He was frozen when he saw the mortal dagger fight between his team member Mellish and the SS soldier. Upham had the opportunity to shoot the SS Soldier and save Private Mellish. But due to confusion and inability to make discussions in extreme situations Upham did nothing and Mellish was stabbed to death. Killing a Nazi was a moral challenge for him.

Upham went out of his way and demanded his teammates and Captain Miller not to kill the POW Steamboat Willie . Then he was set free and Steamboat Willie was able to rejoin with a team of SS soldiers. In the final battle when Upham came to know that Steamboat Willie shot Captain Miller, a transformation began and innocence was lost. Without a hesitation Upham kills Steamboat Willie and becomes a real combat soldier.

Upham is a complicated character and we cannot judge him.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Death of a Salesman- an Attack on the American Dream


Ruwan M Jayatunge M.D. 

 “He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake, and then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished. Nobody blame this man. A salesman is got to dream, boy. It comes with the territory.”
—Death of a Salesman
Arthur Miller’s   Death of a Salesman is a superlative play that talks about the plight of a small man in a big system. According to the typical notion, the main character Willy Loman   pursues the materialistic success blindly until he falls into a pit where there is no escape. In a world where personal success is measured by one's financial prosperity, Wilily Loman is forced to be another member of a mad rat race. This race is decisive and given ultra-values by society. Those who are not up to the required standards are rejected as failures. They cannot further function in the system as responsible individuals. Their plight would be disastrous.   
The salesman Willy Loman's tragedy was linked to the social value system. He believed that personal and emotional growth and fulfillment could only be achieved through materialistic success. In a consumer culture, Loman had no other doctrine to follow, and basically, he was a waste product of the system. With the financial debacles and his self-punishing repenting and masochistic traits, Willy Loman the salesman is no longer a part of the American dream.  {The American Dream, commonly described as the ability to achieve any amount of success through hard work, is actually a great mixture of ideas, just as America is a great melting pot of cultures (Karim, 2020)}.
Willy Loman is a pathetic character who does not live in reality but is mostly trapped in his own delusional world. He strongly believes that there is a glass ceiling above him that prevents his success. Based on low self-esteem and low self-worth Willy Loman faces a competitive commercial world. The result would be inevitable, and he would become a loser. Hence, the Death of a Salesman is an individual tragedy as well as a family tragedy.

Willy Loman’s reactive depression is connected with delusions and self-punishing behavior. It is very hard to separate Willy's reality from his imagination. Although he is pursuing materialistic success, his final attempt at 'success', ends in self-destruction. It is a superficial tragedy that has no significant depth. The story of   Willy Loman does not reflect true human suffering. It is more like an artificial misfortune occurring in modern civilization.
Willy’s life philosophy was distorted. His obsessions and urge becoming a successful man only in a financial context make him miserable. False values and stereotyped social ratings give him a sense of failure. The Death of a Salesman is the result of human suffering in the industrial age, and his story reveals the paradox of human existence in a commercial world.
Arthur Miller was one of the great American playwrights who considered playwriting  as an act of self-discovery. He was influenced by the Greek tragedies. In Greek tragedy, the individual is influenced strongly by forces outside of the hero and he is not responsible for his actions. Arthur Miller implies that ideology destroyed the protagonist Willy Loman. Therefore he was not in control of the outside events. Many critics consider Willy a victim of society. He was exploited and discarded. (You can't eat the orange and throw the peel away - a man is not a piece of fruitDeath of a SalesmanWilly Loman, Act 2)
In a Capitalistic society the worker is exploited by the employer, and in a Socialist economy the worker is exploited by the state. Arthur Miller was (mistakenly?) regarded as a Communist who was propagating Socialist ideas in the USA. He was under surveillance by the FBI chief J Edgar Hoover.    Whatever was  Miller’s philosophy, there is a simple fact which says that Willy Loman was exploited, and that led to his tragic death. Considering his psychological condition can we think Willy Loman had better chances under the Socialist system?
Willy's reality profoundly conflicts with his hopes to keep his fragile ego up. His fantasies and day dreams and psychological anguish would make him vulnerable under any economic system. The salesman who is beginning to lose his grip on reality will not perform even under the Red system. One can argue that Willy has worked hard his entire life but he was not given a chance. The opportunity will never fall into your lap you have to grab it instead. This is a common rule in any system.
As a salesman, Loman produced nothing but dreams. As his elder son Biff said Loman had the wrong dreams. He exaggerated social values and strongly believed that the likability was his destiny. (He's liked, but he's not well liked; Death of a Salesman) He was self-critical and believed that he was not a fascinating personality. Willy Loman never had a noble purpose in life. His tortured memory, erroneous life philosophy and frustration were the key elements of his downfall. Therefore, Willy Loman became a forlorn failure.
Ironically, Willy Loman was not a victim of the system but a victim of his own fallacious life philosophy. It does not mean that the system in which he lived was friendly and humane. It may be a decadent and exploitive system, but still, millions of people lived under that system and did not become utterly depressed, fail, or commit suicide. As Dostoevsky said, people are resilient and they have an extraordinary adaptability to live under bitter life conditions. Willy Loman never faced the same life conditions as Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Gulags or as Viktor Frankl   in Auschwitz. Willy Loman’s society was absolutely competitive, and everybody had to face the struggle. The naturalistic law of   survival of the fittest was around him, and obviously he had to face it. But he failed.
 Some critics speculate that Miller's Marxist interpretation of money as a measure of self-worth is emphasized in his drama. In 1983, Arthur Miller made some comments on the dramatically created character Willy Loman. He said, "Willy, as misled as he is, to the very end of the play is struggling."  "It's the opposite of a passive person. He's struggling for some meaning in his life. Furthermore, he seizes upon what we would mostly consider the wrong meaning. But the struggle is exemplary."

According to Linda Loman , Willy Loman’s wife, her husband, was not surely the shining example of American dream. In Act 1 Linda, referring to her husband Willie Loman says that,  I don't say he's a great man. Willie Loman never made a lot of money. His name was never on the paper. He's not the finest character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention, attention, must finally be paid to such a person.
Linda was correct; he was not a great man, and he was not super rich. Terrible things happened to him. These terrible things were around him before he was born, and Willy Loman could not survive the life struggle. He conducted his struggle with a wrong life philosophy and with pseudo-social values. His struggle was wasted. As a result of that he became history.

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