I am fully aware that this letter can get drowned in the euphoria of defeating the Rajapaksa administration just a few days ago. However, I wanted to make this note specifically addressing the new Minister for Buddha Sasana.
I was in Sri Lanka in the last two weeks of December 2014, with one week dedicated to Buddhist meditation practice in a Monastery and another day to visit a monastic monk I knew in England now doing solitary meditation in a rock cave in Sri Sumedha Monastery (near the Knuckles range), in Bambarella, Sri Lanka. His cave was located on the left bank of a stream I suspect to be a tributary of Hulu Ganga. Despite being a day of flooding and landslides in that part of the country, I could see clean water in the rough cascade in contrast to the muddy water I saw in the Mahaweli river on the way from Colombo. That gave me the feeling that this area must have been relatively free from pollution and deforestation, making it perfect for solitary meditation and wildlife. I was so happy to see that the monk from England had finally got a good place for solitary meditation in Sri Lanka, that will offer opportunities for many more like me to obtain sound advice for meditation.
Upon returning to London, I got a message from the monk that surprised me. An energy company was planning to start building a Weir (a barrier built across the stream to accumulate water) and a Penstock (a tube/tunnel that carries water to a turbine downstream to generate power) right next to the cave, destroying the natural meditation environment. The monk wanted to have a discussion with the relevant company and the authorities to see if the Weir can be moved about 30-50 meters further down the stream. A person with experience in this area recommended the monk to put the story and his suggested solution in writing and post it to the Power and Energy Ministry, Central Environmental Authority, and few other relevant Government Institutes. Knowing how slow these official channels can prove to be, I posted a Facebook message asking for help to contact the Minister of Power and Energy as soon as possible to convey an unofficial message ahead of the official letter from the monk. Offers for help flooded in, and within few hours a message had been passed to the minister, and another message to the manager of the construction project to consider having a discussion with the monastery. A discussion took place on 21st January 2015, where the manager of the construction company and a representative from the Power and Energy Ministry openly discussed the matter. It was a pleasure to know that the construction company had agreed to move the Weir further down the stream and if that causes too much loss of revenue, they had even expressed willingness to abandon the project.
Why I want to bring this to the attention of the Minister of Buddha Sasana is that lack of clear provisions specifically addressing the vulnerability of the Forest Sangha Community can cause many more such disturbances to the Forest Sangha, while causing losses to the respective companies by having to face such issues not accounted for during the feasibility study.
By this note, I do not mean that this issue is limited to the Forest Sangha Community. It maybe relevant to other religions that have an element of solitary practice in secluded natural settings. Therefore, the issue may require a broad engagement across several Government Institutes than I think it is.
From a Buddhist point of view, all what I can do at this point is to kindly urge the Minister of Buddha Sasana to study this particular case, and find out the lapses in the provisions to come up with a broad set of solutions in the form of enriching already existing acts to protect and nurture the Forest Sangha Community in Sri Lanka. If you wish to go a step further, please identify more sites in the Wild to build Kuti’s for solitary meditation for not only the Forest Sangha, but also for lay people like us to take breaks from work to do meditation retreats to walk the eightfold path towards Nirvana the way we can.