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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Saffron robed destroyers of Sinhala-Buddhism

Can there be a more loathsome sight on earth than that of rampaging Buddhist monks in saffron robes? The sight is made doubly loathsome, because a ‘rampaging monk’ is a contradiction in terms – something that cannot be. The Buddhist expectation is that a monk in particular will have at least an outward demeanour of restraint.  Those familiar with the Vinaya rules will know how much emphasis is placed on the maintenance of this outward appearance of poise and self control by monks even though the monk may not be feeling any calm at all within. In Buddhism, inward calm is acquired through understanding, but the emphasis in the Vinaya is to control the outward appearance of the monk regardless of his actual state of mind.

It is said that Emperor Asoka of India first evinced an interested in Buddhism because of the outward demeanour of a novice monk he saw on the street. Had Emperor Asoka seen a marauding monk as in latter day Sri Lanka, instead of that novice monk of yore, he would have personally seen to it that every Buddhist monk in his empire was beheaded and the religion itself destroyed.    
Last week TV viewers once again saw the sight of Buddhist monks threatening, intimidating and almost assaulting another Buddhist monk at a press conference at Hotel Nippon when the Bodu Bala Sena invaded and disrupted a press conference called by a new organisation calling itself the Jathika Bala Sena.  This has serious implications. The last thing that we want is for rival political organisations invading and disrupting each other’s press conferences simply because one does not agree with what will be said at that meeting.  This is a country where not even press conferences of the Tamil National Alliance is disrupted even though the whole country is fully aware that they are plotting day and night with international conspirators to create a separate state. Apart from the implications for the secular politics of this country, the Buddhist faith itself is under stress as never before because of this mad monk phenomenon.  This writer has said this earlier and wishes to say so again that this is not a conspiracy launched against the minorities; it is a conspiracy launched against the majority community of this country by overseas conspirators with a handful of Buddhist monks as collaborators.
Anybody familiar with the way political parties in this country work will know that every political party highly values politicians and activists who can muster a crowd at short notice. Even among politicians, not everyone can do that. But some, by throwing money around, doing favours, doling out patronage and being with the masses, have the ability to muster a crowd with just a few phone calls. Such individuals are valued by leaders of political parties because it is such people who bring crowds for political activities at short notice. Everybody knows that nobody can do this unless there is money and patronage available. In the past couple of years we have seen the rise of not one but several organisations led by Buddhist monks who can muster crowds at short notice and who appear to have no shortage of toughs to do their bidding. All these organisations have goons who assault people in public with no care for the consequences. Even politicians do not have followings like that. The question that emerges is who is funding these operations? How is that these monks who were complete non-entities just two years ago, are suddenly able to muster gangs of thugs and go all over the country interfering in all and sundry?
Targeting minorities
Very often, what we hear especially from anxious minority community members is that organisations like the Bodu Bala Sena, Sihala Ravaya, and Ravana Balakaya are targeting the minorities. On the face of it, that appears to be the case. Even the latest incident is apparently due to an alleged settlement of Muslims on the border of the Wilpattu forest reserve.  Though these shows are organised to oppose something that is done or not done by some minority community, the actual casualties are not the targeted Muslims but the Buddhist faith. Last week what the Buddhist faithful saw on TV is the sight of one monk threatening another senior monk, addressing him as ‘miniho’ and actually raising his hand as if to assault that monk. These are sights that shake the faith of the Buddhists. The Sinhala Buddhist public has been so disgusted by such behaviour of these marauding monks that there now is no danger of any Sinhala action against Muslims. The Bodu Bala Sena first started this hate campaign by calling for a boycott of certain Muslim business establishments. There is now not the slightest chance of any such boycott succeeding as what captured the attention of the Sinhala Buddhist public was not the alleged misdemeanours of the Muslim businessmen concerned but the deplorable behaviour of the monks.
The vast majority of the Sinhala-Buddhist public are now indifferent to the shrill allegations against minorities being made by these mad monks. But just as the LTTE was never dependent on the support or goodwill of the Tamil people of the North and East for their survival, organisations of Buddhist monks like the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balakaya and the Sihala Ravaya do not appear to be dependent on the goodwill or support of the Sinhala-Buddhist public. Some mysterious source keeps them funded and regardless of how many members of the public they distress by their behaviour,  these groups are able to carry on their activities. Consider the following facts.
1.       Until just a couple of years ago, all these monks belonging to the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balakaya and Sinhala Ravaya were not heard of by the Sinhala Buddhist public.
2.       Even during the war, not one of them had gained any kind of prominence by trying to protect the Sinhalese from terrorism. One would have thought that given the concern that these monks now profess for the rights of the majority community, they would have taken up residence in the border villages and rallied Sinhala resistance to Tamil terrorists who were trying to destroy Sinhala villages in the border areas. But we saw no such thing.
3.       All these organisations, the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balakaya, and Sihala Ravaya emerged suddenly out of nowhere. None of the monks active in these organisations had ever even had a reputation as skilled preachers before they suddenly burst in upon the scene. All of them owe their notoriety entirely to acts of violence and unseemly disturbances perpetrated in full view of the public.
4.       Had these monks been doing anything to promote Buddhism in and around their temples they would have gathered a large following in the outlying areas even before they gained national notoriety and they would have been controlling perhaps whole electorates and towns. Even politicians would have had to talk to these monks first before being able to talk to the people of the area. But none of these monks appear to have any influence in the areas where they are usually resident.
5.       Even a prominent monk wielding much influence in the towns and villages around his temple, will find it difficult to muster crowds for activities outside the area. So the question arises, how do these complete non-entities find the resources to launch operations in Colombo and indeed all over the country? If such resources and organising ability were always available to these monks, how is that that they were not known to the public earlier?  
All these are questions that go unanswered. Most inexplicable of all is the fact that being monks, all of them seem singularly oblivious to the effect their behaviour would be having on the minds of the Sinhala Buddhist public. Each of these monks seem to be vying with one another to behave in the most violent and outrageous manner possible, to cause as much disgust and loathing among the very Sinhala Buddhist public they claim to be representing. Even with regard to last week’s incident, what gained the attention of the public was not the alleged settlement of Muslims on the border of the Wilpattu forest reserve, but the behaviour of the monks. These monks are not stupid. They should be fully aware that their behaviour is causing more consternation than the issues they claim to be protesting about. This is why this writer is completely convinced that all these organisations, the Bodu Bala Sena, Ravana Balakaya and the Sinhala Ravaya are all parts of an international conspiracy to destroy Buddhism in this country.
That would be the ultimate revenge for the international forces opposed to the Sinhala majority. After the war against Tamil terrorism was won conclusively in 2009, in a manner that amazed the whole world, the Sinhalese were riding high. Earlier, the impression was that the Sinhalese were weak, irresolute, fickle, cowardly and no match for the Tamil terrorists. That was put an end to with the war victory and the enemies of the Sinhalese were rendered speechless.   They have now responded with a conspiracy to destroy Buddhism from within, as a way of getting their own back on the Sinhalese. This mad monk phenomenon all started with a trip to Norway funded by a shady foreign organisation. The monks who went on this trip were not as mad as they now are before they went to Norway. Before this trip to Norway, all monks, even those who were directly involved in politics were acutely aware of the need to maintain an appearance of calm and restraint that the public expected of a monk.  After this trip to Norway however, all restraint vanished.
Now bhikkus engage in violence in public and justify it on the grounds that they are doing all this due to the concern they have for the country and the Sinhala Buddhists. The Sinhala Buddhists for their part have been more scandalised by the behaviour of the monks than by any of the ‘issues’ real or imagined that these mad monks have been talking about. With each such incident were monks engage in unruly behaviour clashing with members of other organisations, or with the police and even with other monks, Buddhist sensibilities are outraged. If Buddhist monks had behaved in this manner during the colonial rule of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, this country would by now be a completely Christian country.
Clearly, these agents provocateurs are out to discredit the saffron robe that has in many ways symbolised the Sinhala Buddhists. If these people were bona fide nationalists who are actually concerned about the activities of various minority communities, they would disrobe first if their activism necessitates behaving in a manner unsuitable to a Buddhist monk. But in this case we see that the saffron robe is being used as a shield to prevent action being taken by the police. Take last week’s incident for example. Had the individuals who invaded that press conference been laymen, the police would have baton charged and dispersed the crowd, and some of them may have even been remanded. But because the invasion was by Buddhist monks, the police took no action although they have initiated action on a complaint lodged after the incident. The police too have not yet evolved the procedures and practices to deal with monks who behave in this manner. Even the government is still groping its way around as no previous government had to deal with a phenomenon like this.
It is true that there were monks who did even worse than this in the past. Even the marauding monks of today have not been able to reach the peak attained by Buddharakkitha and Somarama who planned and carried out the assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D.Bandaranaike. But at that time, it was just two monks acting in secret. Buddhism survived Somarama and Buddharakkitha because until they carried out this assassination, there was no public misbehaviour by monks aimed at outraging Buddhist sensibilities. Somarama and Buddharakkitha targeted only one man whereas their latter day successors are targeting the whole Buddhist dispensation in this country.  They are out to destroy Buddhism as completely as the Sri Lankan military was able to destroy the military arm of the LTTE.
Cannot be unaware
The Ven Mahanayake theros as well as senior monks cannot possibly be unaware of the danger that these mad monks pose for the future of Buddhism in this country. Because of the actions of a handful of monks, the saffron robe has now become a symbol of disruption and political tension.  Like the government itself, perhaps the Mahanayake theros may have been waiting in the hope that this phenomenon will die a natural death when support from the public is not forthcoming. But as last week’s incident showed, it is not dying a natural death or at least it is not dying a natural death fast enough. As we pointed out earlier in thus article, these monkish organisations are (as the LTTE was earlier) not dependent on the Sinhala public for their goodwill or support.  A reaction to this phenomenon is taking place within the Buddhist clergy (albeit not vigorously enough) with one Nikaya prohibiting monks belonging to that organisation from participating in demonstrations, protests and other such activities.
But this phenomenon cannot be controlled with just one nikaya which is just a small part of a larger nikaya banning such activities. So far,  the Mahanayakes of the three nikayas have not taken any action to control the behaviour of their own monks. However when it comes to a matter concerning laymen, the Mahanayakes are quick to issue statements. Casinos are not a matter that concerns monks. Laymen should have a right to gamble or drink if they want to. The Mahanayakes who show much concerned about laymen (and foreign laymen at that!) going to casinos do not show any concern when it comes to Buddhist monks behaving in a manner that threatens to destroy the entire Buddhist dispensation in this country.  A few private mutterings of discontent will not do in situations like this. The Ven Mahanayakes have to wrest control of things from these thugs masquerading as monks.
The role of the Jathika Hela Urumaya also has to be questioned.  On an earlier occasion when one hysterical monk burned himself to death demanding a ban on cattle slaughter, the JHU tried to make hay while the sun shone by trying to emphasise that this monk had sacrificed himself for a cause. Now once again when marauding monks invade a press conference and threaten another monk, the JHU leaders are talking about Muslim settlements in Wilpattu with nothing at all being said about the behaviour of the monks who invaded that press conference. One would have thought that the JHU in particular would be more concerned about the image of the Sinhala Buddhists than that. The JHU seems oblivious to the fact that the behaviour of these monks is shaking the faith of the Buddhist laity and giving an added fillip to the wave of conversions to Christaianity taking place in the country. Earlier, if poor Buddhists had to be given various incentives to convert, today even middle-class Buddhists may be motivated to convert because of the thuggery, bigotry and sheer boorishness displayed by a handful of monks. If politicians belonging a political party were to behave like that in public, the popularity of that political party will plummet. Just imagine the effect that unruly clergy will have on a religion. The fact that the JHU appears oblivious to this fact is quite inexplicable.
Some may argue that while middle class Buddhists may be scandalised by the behaviour of these monks, that the Buddhist hoi polloi see these marauding monks as heroes who are championing the cause of the downtrodden Buddhists. But that does not seem to be the way things are turning out. If the Buddhist hoi polloi were grateful to these marauding monks who claim to be doing things on their behalf, then each of these thuggish monks would have a following bigger than Gangodawila Soma thera.  Does it look as if these marauding monks have been acquiring a following among the ordinary Buddhist masses even to the extent that crackpot monks like Pitiduwe Siridamma have, much less Gangodawila Soma thera? Besides, when it comes to expecting restraint and good behaviour from monks, there is no class divide. This is a matter central to the Buddhist philosophy and the code of conduct for monks.
The biggest joke of all is the political activism of a senior monk like Maduluwawe Sobitha Thera, who sees the executive presidency as the biggest danger to the country in a situation where Buddhism is being destroyed from within more surely than the colonial powers ever could from outside. That the Ven Mahanayakes of all nikayas are issuing press statements about casinos and Ven Sobitha Thera is campaigning against the executive presidential system at a time like this would have been hilarious if it was not such a tragedy.  Besides, what does it look like when senior Buddhist monks who cannot put their own house in order and ensure at least the bare minimum standard of behaviour expected of a monk in public pontificate on how laymen should behave and criticise political institutions in the country? The senior monks are now like failed school principals who cannot maintain discipline among their students.
To be sure, the Mahanayakes have less control over Buddhist monks than principals have over their students. However, there is something called moral pressure. If the Mahanayakes in one voice condemn unruly behaviour by monks, the thuggish monks too will be compelled to modify their behaviour as everything is finally dependent on public acceptance. As of now, because the Mahanayakes are keeping quiet, the marauding monks continue in their mission of destroying Buddhism and the public passively watch the goings on with mounting disquiet.  If the Mahanayakes take a united stand against this kind of behaviour by monks, the public will at least feel that the Buddhist establishment is untainted and that these marauding monks are just an aberration like Buddharakkhita and Somarama. But today, with the Mahanayakes keeping quiet, it appears as if the entire Buddhist establishment is acquiescent or paralysed in the face of this monkish thuggery.
The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether these monkish thugs have threatened and intimidated the Mahanayakes as well, the same way they intimidated that monk on TV? These are matters that have to be looked into by the authorities concerned. If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, what are the Mahanayakes doing while Buddhism is being destroyed from within by people with shady foreign contacts?  This is a conspiracy to turn Sri Lanka into another South Korea which turned from a largely Buddhist to a largely Christian country not due to colonial domination but through proselytization.  What better aid to proselytization than giving the targeted public the feeling that the religion that they belong to is a barbaric, Neandethral faith? What is the face of Buddhism in this country today? It’s that of Galagodaatte Gnanasara! Did we win the war against terrorism and restore the self respect of the Sinhalese in the world only to end up at such a pass?

The Island


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